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Holocaust Survivors - Their Stories ~ Page 3
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"Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you.
Fear not your friends, for they can only betray you.
Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and betrayers
to walk safely on the earth."
(Yiddish poet who survived the Holocaust only to die in a Communist prison in Poland)
Ref: Lookstein, Haskel: "Were We Our Brother's Keepers?" New York: 1985.
Prisoners of Dachau, at Liberation, Cheering the Liberating US Soldiers: We Are Free ... Free ...
Faces and Voices of Holocaust Survivors
Ursula was born in Bublitz, Germany, in 1925. She grew up in a traditional Jewish environment and attended a state school in Bublitz, where she experienced some anti-Semitism. Her father Leonhard's corn merchant business dwindled after the rise of Nazism. While visiting her grandmother in Kolberg, Ursula witnessed speeches by Hitler. Her family moved to Berlin after they lost their business in 1937. Ursula's father was arrested during Kristallnacht.
After Leonhard was released, Ursula's sister Kate was sent to the United Kingdom to work as a domestic servant, and Ursula and her sister Eva were sent to the UK on a Kindertransport train. After a two-week quarantine, they were placed in a Jewish home in Burgess Hill, Sussex, where they resumed their education.
Ursula remained at the home until she was fifteen. She later joined Eva in London, where they shared a room together. Ursula found employment as an apprentice in a sewing factory in London. She married in 1968.Ursula on her first day at school in Germany holding the traditional cone of sweets that marked the occasion
Anne's father was a patent attorney and patent engineer before the war. During Kristallnacht, Anne's teacher warned her and the other students to be careful on their way home - her father went into hiding.
Anne left on a kindertransport train in January, 1939. She arrived in Southampton by boat and then took a train to London, where she was met by her uncle. She lived in a hostel from January 1939 to September 1939. She was evacuated from London and sent to a small village in Bedfordshire, where she was housed with a family. Both of her parents got out of Germany before the war started, and were reunited with Anne.
She left England in March, 1940, and married in 1953. In the post-war period, Anne worked as a newspaper reporter, in public relations, and in fundraising.
In this clip she recalls her preparations to leave Germany on aKindertransport train, and describes how she coped with saying goodbye to her parents.
Anne's father was a patent attorney and patent engineer before the war. During Kristallnacht, Anne's teacher warned her and the other students to be careful on their way home - her father went into hiding.
Anne left on a kindertransport train in January, 1939. She arrived in Southampton by boat and then took a train to London, where she was met by her uncle. She lived in a hostel from January 1939 to September 1939. She was evacuated from London and sent to a small village in Bedfordshire, where she was housed with a family. Both of her parents got out of Germany before the war started, and were reunited with Anne.
She left England in March, 1940, and married in 1953. In the post-war period, Anne worked as a newspaper reporter, in public relations, and in fundraising.
In this clip she recalls her preparations to leave Germany on aKindertransport train, and describes how she coped with saying goodbye to her parents.Anne, aged 4, on the balcony of her apartment in Berlin, in 1930
Harry Bibring was born in 1925, in Vienna. His father owned a clothing shop. Harry enjoyed ice skating, learning about mechanics, and spending time with his sister, Gerta.
In November 1938 Harry's father's business was destroyed duringKristallnacht, and he was arrested soon after. Harry was transferred to a school that permitted Jews to attend. After his father was released from prison, the family intended to flee to Shanghai. His father was robbed on his way to pay for the tickets. Thinking of the safety of their children, Harry's parents arranged for him and his sister to flee to the United Kingdom on aKindertransport train, where they would be sponsored by a family friend.
Harry went to school in London until the advent of the war, when he was evacuated to the country. On his 14th birthday, he had to return to London, where he worked as a shop boy in his sponsor's clothing store. Harry corresponded with his parents until their deaths early on in the war. He later moved out of his sponsor's house and found work as a mechanic's apprentice until the end of the war.
In May 1945 Harry met his wife-to-be; they married two years later. He went to night school in order to become a professional engineer. During this time he and his wife had a son. By 1958 Harry had three degrees and worked as an engineer, and later he taught engineering until he retired in 1991.Harry, aged 2, taken while on holiday in Vienna
Paul M. Cohn, (Childhood in Hamburg).
On 21st November 1938, following the Pogrom Night of 9th/10th November 1938, the British government decided to take in Jewish children from Germany, and offer them refuge from Nazi persecution. The Jewish communities in Germany, and relief organizations abroad, such as the World Movement for the Care of Children from Germany, organized the rescue operation. On 2nd December 1938, the first Kindertransport arrived in the East Anglian port of Harwich, England. Between December 1938 and the beginning of September 1939, around 10,000 children were brought to England by ship.
Only Jewish children were given refuge. They had to separate from their parents. The majority of the children never saw their parents again.
Kindertransport to Harwich, 15.12.1938.
On board 300 Jewish children from Hamburg and environs.
According to a communication from the Hamburg state archives, dated 19.01.1991, the records make very little reference to these Kindertransports. A report from the Hamburg Landesjugendamt (Youth Welfare Department) states that: "von der jüdischen Gemeinde in der letzten Zeit mehrere Transporte jüdischer Kinder in ausländische Pflegestellen getätigt (Polen und England)" ("The Jewish community has recently organized several transports of Jewish children to foster homes abroad (Poland and England)"). On 6,12.1938, the Devisenstelle des Oberfinanzpräsident Hamburg (Head of the Foreign Exchange Department) observes: "Nach Rücksprache mit ... der Paßpolizei legt die Gestapo Wert darauf, daß auch für die mit Sammeltransport aus Deutschland auswandernden Judenkinder Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigungen der Zentralen Paßstelle für Paßzwecke vorgelegt werden. Es werden in nächster Zeit noch etwa 1.000 Judenkinder aus Hamburg auswandern" ("Following consultation with ... of the passport police the Gestapo consider that also Jewish children emigrating from Germany on group transports should submit documents to the central passport office certifying that they have no taxes, loans, etc. outstanding. A further 1,000 Jewish children will be emigrating from Hamburg in the near future"). In a letter dated 5.01.1940, referring to a teacher at the Talmud-Tora-Schule (Talmud Torah School, No. 30 Grindelhof), who had accompanied Kindertransports at the end of 1938 and in the Spring of 1939, the Hamburg Gestapo informed the foreign exchange department that: "Er hat für die Auswanderung jüdischer Kinder sehr gut gearbeitet. Mit seiner Hilfe sind vom November 1938 bis jetzt ungefähr 1,000 Kinder ausgewandert." ("He has done a good job assisting in the emigration of Jewish children. With his help, around 1,000 children emigrated between 1938 and today").
Jewish children on a Kindertransport arriving in England, December 1938.
In the summer of 1989, in London, a thousand former Kindertransport children held a 50th anniversary reunion. Sabine Brüning and Peter Merseburger made a documentary film of the occasion: Als sie nicht mehr deutsche sein durfen. Über die Kindertransporte nach England.
Paul Cohn, from Hamburg, is one of the former child refugees who appears in the film. He was separated from his parents as a child and rescued from Nazi persecution by a Kindertransport to England. Today he lives in London. His parents' attempts to emigrate were unsuccessful, and on 26th December 1941, Julia and Jakob Cohn were deported to Riga, in Latvia, and murdered there.
A plaque commemorating the Kindertransports has been erected on the dock at Harwich.
Paul M. Cohn:
Childhood in Hamburg.
Paul Cohn, 1980.
I was born, in Hamburg, on the 8.01.1924, the only child of my parents Julia and Jakob Cohn. Both my parents were born in Hamburg, as were three of my grandparents. Previous generations of my family came from Hamburg, Leipzig, Berlin, Greiffenberg, but so far as I have been able to trace, always from Germany. They considered themselves German (at least until 1933); my father fought at the front in the First World War, was wounded many times, and awarded the Iron Cross (the highest decoration for bravery awarded to the German armed forces in wartime). Because of his hesitation in emigrating, it became more and more difficult. Unfortunately, his attempts were unsuccessful.
When I was born, my parents lived with my maternal grandmother in Isestraße. When she died, on October 1925, my parents moved into a rented flat in a new building in Lattenkamp, in the district of Winterhude. The front of our building overlooked the elevated railway which I frequently observed, being interested in technical things. At this time very few people owned cars; when, in 1928, I contracted scarlet fever, I was taken to the hospital in a one-horse carriage. At the rear, we overlooked a laundry yard, with many horses and carts, and a few delivery vans; but the small adjacent chicken run was more fascinating. The cock crowed in the morning like an illustration in my favourite book "Max und Moritz" by Wilhelm Busch.
Here I spent happy childhood years, mostly unaffected by the political and economic crises of the 1920s. My father owned an import business and my mother was a teacher, and although we did not live in luxury we had sufficient. As my mother worked during the day we had a home help, but mostly I had to rely on myself, and was happy playing alone. I was a house-mouse and only reluctantly played outside. There were numerous children in the neighbourhood, and a few of the older boys had the upper hand.
Class photograph with the teacher, Frau Rödler, Alsterdorfer Straße School, 1931.
Paul Cohn, back row, fourth from the left.
I attended a kindergarten for a while. In April 1930, I entered school (Alsterdorfer Straße School). I was very eager to learn, and could hardly wait the day. I enjoyed the lessons, less so the breaks, as I was often teased and was unable to defend myself. I have no evidence that antisemitism played a role. (There were one or two other Jewish boys in the class, but this was not a topic). Our teacher was very nice and I got on well with her. When she became absent for a long period, due to illness, the class was divided up among other classes. I acquired a male teacher who continuously picked on me and punished me without cause. When my parents visited the head teacher they learnt that he was a National Socialist. As nothing could be done to remedy this situation, in 1931, my parents moved me to the Meerweinstraße School. The school had been founded in 1930, and my mother taught there. The school was very progressive, for example it was coeducational. By chance, my form teacher was Jewish. She, and my mother, were the only two teachers at the school who were Jewish. I experienced no antisemitism during the two and a half years I spent at the school. Politics was not a topic, and religious education lessons were not compulsory, "Lebenskunde" (Ethics) being the alternative. In 1932, a small sensation occured when one or two boys, (not from my class), came to school in Nazi uniform. During the break they were gazed at like rare birds. There were no repercussions.
Things were very different after 1933. My father's business, which had declined over the previous years, was wound up. In April, the "Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums" came into force, (The Act of 7.04.1933 to re-establish the civil service with tenure. With the re-establishment of a "national" civil service, with tenure, civil servants could be dismissed. Civil servants who were not of "Aryan" descent i.e. Jews (by Nazi definition), were compulsorily retired from work) and, in October, my mother was dismissed. Only after long negotiations was she able to obtain a small pension, due to her 25 years of public service. My parents now decided to send me to the "Jüdische Schule in Hamburg" ("Jewish School in Hamburg" (the Talmud-Tora-Schule, at No. 30 Grindelhof), in the Grindel quarter. This was a considerable distance from where we lived, but it was ideal preparation for secondary school entry, that was to take place in 1943. I remember that we had the same arithmetic book in the Talmud-Tora-Schule as we had in Meerweinstraße, but in the latter we were on page 17, whereas my new class were on page 34. Shortly thereafter, the class teacher invited my mother to the school and informed her that I had much to catch up on. I was especially to master mental arithmetic. After I had recovered from the shock I worked flat out. Intensive learning was totally new to me, but an enjoyable experience. At the end of the year I had no difficulty with the entry exam for secondary school. If I had remained at my old school the result could have been very different. The main reason for the change of school was that I should be in a sympathetic environment. I was conscious of the difference between school in the Grindel quarter and my home in Winterhude. We experienced practically no open antisemitism there. It was more common that someone spoke in a friendly way to us, but added that he officially had to think and behave in such and such a way. It is possible that this behaviour blurred how imperative it was for a Jew to emigrate to survive. The ever more far-reaching antisemitic laws made this alarmingly clear, and at the same time made the possibility of emigration more difficult. In mid 1937, we moved to Klosterallee. This not only brought me nearer the school, and other pupils, but gave me a greater feeling of security, as most Hamburg Jews lived in the Grindel quarter. The location of the flat also made it easier to attend the synagogue. We were not orthodox Jews but attended synagogue on high holidays.
Apartment house in Klosterallee, 1937.
These school years were a delight for me. We had many teachers with doctor's degrees, who made learning a pleasure. The German lessons given by Dr. Ernst Loewenberg, the son of the poet Jakob Loewenberg, gave me a knowledge of and predilection for my native language, that I have never lost. The English lessons seemeed to me more entertainment than learning. When I later came to England I had no problem in communicating. As I left school at the age of 15, I only had a short introduction to the natural sciences: Physics for a year, and Chemistry not at all. The Mathematics teacher was our form teacher. He was a disciplinarian, and I was somewhat cheeky. From the very start a poor relationship developed between us. But mathematics was my favourite subject, and he was an outstanding teacher, so we gradually came to respect one another.
Emigration was a continual problem, that became acute in 1938. On the Pogrom Night of 9th/10th November 1938, my father, like most adult Jewish males, was arrested by the police and imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. School was interrupted as most teachers had been imprisoned. My mother had the double task of getting my father released and of finding a possibility of emigrating. Due to mass unemployment most countries were unprepared to grant work permits. To acquire an emigration permit one had to find someone to guarantee that the emigrant would not become a burden to the state. Unfortunately, we had no connections abroad. The only place that did not require an entry permit was Shanghai, and all ships sailing there were fully booked. Then the Netherlands offered to admit children without a guarantee. My mother immediately registered me, and I began to learn Dutch. My father was released after nearly four months imprisonment. Before being released from the concentration camp the prisoners were informed that: "Wir entlassen Euch nur zu einem Zweck: damit ihr auswandert. Wenn Ihr das nicht tut, könntet Ihr Euch hier mal wieder finden. Und dann kommt Ihr nicht mehr raus". ("We are releasing your with the sole intention: that you emigrate. If you don't, you could find yourselves back here. And then you won't get out again"). Now emigration was essential, but practically impossible. Shortly before this, one had to hand in all gold and silver; each family was allowed to retain a maximum of six pieces of cutlery; furnishings could not be taken when emigrating. Money had been frozen earlier.
In Spring 1939, England announced it was prepared to take in children without guarantee, and my parents immediately registered me, regarding the island safer than the Netherlands, which was unfortunately shortly thereafter confirmed. In April 1939, I left school, one year before the school-leaving exam. The formalities were fulfilled, and my emigration, on the Kindertransport to England, was scheduled for 21st May 1939. A refugee committee in England had found me a job on a chicken farm. Failing a work permit, I was not allowed to do paid work, but was to learn farming, and when 18 years old be was to be sent to the dominions, where there was no lack of work.
I was very sad having to leave my parents behind, but I was aware that our collective chance of emigration could improve when I first travelled to England. My parents appeared to be in good spirits at our parting, although they must have had the premonition that we would not see one another again.
The 4½ hectar chicken farm, with around 5,000 chickens, was owned by a couple who needed assistance with the work. The actual work was easy, principally feeding and watering the birds, and mucking out, but it involved around 70 hours work a week. I only had three afternoons free every two weeks. I had grown up a towny, but I knew this was the chance of a new life. I corresponded regularly with my parents throughout the summer of 1939; I pursued the possibility of work for my parents, e.g. as housekeeper and gardener (my father was an enthusiastic "Schreber-Gärtner") (allotment gardener). My efforts were unsuccessful, and when war broke out all possibility of emigration ended.
From this point on, I only received a short letter once a month from my parents, through the Red Cross, that I answered. It was also sometimes possible to send longer letters via relatives in America. The letters became less and less frequent, and at the end of 1941 they stopped altogether. At the end of the war I learnt that my parents had been deported, on 6th December 1941, to Riga, in Latvia, and had not returned.
The rest is quickly told. At the end of 1941 the chicken farmer had to give up his farm due to lack of feed. After a short training as a precision engineer I acquired a work permit, and worked in a factory for 4½ years. During this time I took a correspondence course to study for my school leaving certificate. With encouragement from the committee for refugees I passed the Cambridge Scholarship Examination, and was awarded a scholarship to study mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1951, I graduated with a PhD. I then spent a year in Nancy, France, as Chargé des Recherches, then as lecturer in Manchester and London universities, and finally as Astor Professor at University College London, until 1989 when I retired. I continue to do research in mathematics.
How have I settled down here? In a way, very well, which has to do with the unprejudiced manner in which my English colleagues have accepted me. I married an English woman of Jewish descent, and we have two grown-up daughters. However, I am conscious of my origins; I am not a genuine Englishman - but I am also not German any more. I do not feel homesick. It is a yearning for something that no longer exists, something like a pain in a leg after it has been amputated. I have often, professionally, visited post-war Germany, Frankfurt, Bielefeld, Darmstadt, Duisburg, Berlin and several times the Oberwolfach Research Institute. I have a good relationship with German colleagues, but my home is here in England.
A photograph of the nine-year-old Grete Glauber in the 'Fremdenpass' or alien passport issued by the German Third Reich which allowed her to migrate from Austria to England in 1939 as one of the 'Kindertransport' children.<movinghere.org.uk/galleries/roots/jewish/holocaust/holocaust.htm>
Harry Themal's official German identify card.
The J indicates he is a Jew.
Birth: October 19, 1931 - Kassel, Germany
Date of Arrival in United States: November 29, 1943
Avocation: Educator - Hollcaust, Hebrew, Health, Hadassah
Personal: Married, two sons
RUTH ON HONEYMOON, 1955
RUTH'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Ruth and Lou
Army Base, B'er Sheva, Israel, 1989
AUNTY PHYLLIS AND
UNCLE IZZY LEVINE
Manchester, England, 1940
RUTH AMSTER MEADOR – MY STORY
Sixty years after W.W.II I received a letter from a Dutch journalist via the “Kindertransport Association”. Albert Kelder was writing an essay about the last boat to leave Holland on May 14, 1940 with 80 children who were permitted to emigrate to Great Britain. Through the efforts of some very courageous men and women of vision and compassion 10,000 children left Germany never knowing if they were ever going to see their parents and other family members again.
I was born into a close knit Jewish family whose ancestry in Kassel, Germany dated back over a thousand years. My parents struggled economically during the early Hitler regime; nevertheless, my sister Marion and I experienced a happy, orthodox and loving childhood.
On November 9th, 1938 “Kristalnacht” (Night of the Broken Glass) my young life was shattered. I was seven years old and my whole world went topsy turvy. I can still see the fear on the faces of my parents as they whispered together on how to save the lives of their two precious daughters. I was told to place a small amount of clothes and other necessities into a tiny suitcase. My parents, in desperation and with unbelievable courage put me on a train bound for Amsterdam, Holland. This was the first leg of my journey on the Kindertransport. I never saw my mother, aunts, uncles and grandparents again. Hitler had done such a good job of exporting his anti-semitic propaganda that no country would accept Jewish families, particularly adults.
I was safe in an orphanage in Holland for a short time. Truus Wijsmuller-Meyer, a Dutch Christian social worker assembled 80 Kindertransport children, including me and placed us on a boat, the “Dodegraven”, the last ship out of Holland. We landed in Wigan, England. Eventually, I was again very lucky; a wonderful Jewish family in Manchester, England gave me a home, care, love and a new life. When the war ended I was reunited with my father in the United States. I was taken care of so well by the Levines in Manchester that I was fearful of leaving their comfortable home with an air raid shelter.
Arrival in America was not exactly what I expected but I adapted to the new environment. I studied hard, was an excellent student and pursued a professional career in Nursing.
I was very fortunate to meet and marry my husband Lou who was an elementary school teacher. We have enjoyed a long happy marriage and have two wonderful sons.
I credit Truus Wijsmuller-Meyer with rescuing over 10,000 mostly Jewish children who were destined to die. I owe her not only my gratitude but my life.
We, the Kindertransport survivors have become productive citizens of many lands. It is incumbent upon us to tell our stories to future generations. We see the seeds of hatred and prejudice in the new millennium. We must learn from the past and teach our children to be pro-active in building a better world. “Tikun Olam”.
RUTH WITH SISTER MARION
AND FATHER MARTIN
New York 1947
RUTH WITH HETTIE GUINESS
Reunion in South Wales, 2000
Ruth, Lou, Ron, David
Syosset, New York, 1972
Great Neck North High School
ALONE IN THE CROWD
by Jackie Moller
North Shore High School
Daddy why did you leave me?
Mommy why did you let me go?
Where am I?
You tried to save me but here I am now
Cold, naked, scared, alone
Screaming in the darkness that no one can see
Feeling the terror that no one can feel
We are all in this together
We are all in this alone
by Jackie Moller
North Shore High School
by Aaron Levine
Herrick High School
by Jackie Moller
North Shore High School
Who are you?
You aren’t the one I knew
What have they done to you?
Come back to me
Dear sister, who taught me all I knew
Who shared my life with me
Who are you now?
Cold, withdrawn, alone
Entirely a shell
And nothing but a stranger
Dear father, strong and loving
You seemed cold yet you kept me safe
What did they do?
Frail, weak, shriveled and bent
They sucked out your life
Sapped your strength
You have nothing left for me
Who are you?
Shadows of yourselves
What have they done to you?
You will never say
Come back to me
You are nothing but a stranger
HAPPY BIRTHDAY KRISTALNACHT
by Jackie Moller
North Shore High School
Shattering screams fall to the ground
and get lost among the breaking glass
You can almost hear them bleed
We are here
Huddled in a womb of porcelain tile
Afraid to move, afraid to breathe
Awaiting our bloody birth
Or is it our Death?
It seems we’ll never know
A knock at the door
We all freeze
They start to kick it down
We are pushed into the world
By our deadly birth
AMONG THE FEW
by Morrit Summers
Great Neck South High School
The Schouten Family
The Schouten family of The Netherlands saving the little girl Lore Baer
Lore Baer was born in Holland just before World War II. Her parents, who were Jews, had fled there for safety after Adolf Hilter came to power in their native Germany. But in 1940, the German Army invaded Holland. The Baers were no longer safe.
At the age of four, Lore was separated from her parents and sent into hiding. First she was placed with a couple in Amsterdam, and later she was sent to live with the Schouten family in Dutch farm country. Whenever Nazis came close to the farm, the Schoutens would bring Lore to a neighboring village, or hide her in a secret room. Lore lived in hiding for several years and grew to love the family who cared for her. It was due to them and their efforts that Lore survived the war and was reunited with her parents.
Edith Hahn Beer
Secrets Revealed: The story of a Jewish woman who married a Nazi officer to survive
Edith Hahn Beer has published the story of her remarkable life.It is an account of her survival - a tale of stealth, of the difficulties of assuming a false identity, and her subterfuge to avoid death in wartime Germany. Fleeing from the Nazi labour camps, Hahn Beer adopted the identity of a Christian nurse and married a Nazi officer. She became the model Aryan housewife and gave birth to a daughter. After the war, the Russians deported her husband to Siberia. In the 1950s in the new state of East Germany, Hahn Beer reclaimed her Jewish identity and became a leading judge. However she fled to the West when the Russians tried to make her become a spy... Here you can find out more about her remarkable life and listen to her in conversation with Sylvia Horn, presenter of Everywoman.
Hahn Beer's Youth
Hahn Beer grew up in Vienna, Austria where as a young woman in the 1930s she studied law. She lived with her widowed mother and as Anti-Semitism grew her family began to suffer. They were forbidden a radio and telephone, denied medical care, and then evicted from their home. She was not even allowed to sit her final law exams.
Eventually, in 1941, she was sent as a slave labourer to North Germany where she worked in an asparagus plantation and then a paper factory.
'We worked up to 80 hours a week, we didn't have enough to eat. Like the other girls, my periods stopped.'
A year later, Hahn Beer was sent back to Vienna ostensibly to join her mother, but she escaped from the train. Two weeks earlier, her mother had been deported to Poland she never heard from her again.
Her New Identity
Hahn Beer went into hiding. She was helped by a Christian friend, a young woman, who risked her life by giving Edith her papers and pretending that the papers had been lost in the Danube.
'It was a very brave thing to do'.
In 1942, Hahn Beer who was now 28, travelled to Munich. There she assumed the identity of Grete, a young poorly educated nurse and joined the Red Cross.
One day in an art gallery in Munich, when she was sitting in front of a painting, Werner Vetter, sat down next to her. He was a typical young Nazi Officer: a tall, blond man with a swastika pin in his lapel, on leave for a week. He started talking to Hahn Beer about art and the couple saw each other every day of his holiday. He had known her for only seven days when he proposed. Hahn Beer tried to talk him out of it, telling him that they couldn't marry in wartime, but in the end she whispered the truth to him - that she was Jewish. In response he too admitted that he had lied and was not in fact single, as he had claimed. In fact he was going through a divorce and had a child. The couple married and never discussed her past again.
Hahn Beer suppressed her personality and retreated into herself. She became bland and dutiful, never speaking out or attracting attention to herself - an obedient hausfrau. Her husband was autocratic and demanding, running his fingers along the shelves to test for dust and spying on her when she was cooking. She avoided shops where she would have to give the heil Hitler salute, and refused to hang his picture in her house. It was too risky to have friends, and she had only a few acquaintances. When she gave birth to her daughter Angela, she refused to take any painkillers. The pain was dreadful but she feared that she might reveal something under the influence of the drugs.
At the end of the war, Vetter was sent to a Russian labour camp in Siberia. Hahn Beer, took her Jewish identity card, which had been kept concealed in the covers of a book, and obtained a court order to change her name.
Life In East Germany
Hahn Beer's law training was now officially recognised, she was made an attorney and then a family law judge. She remembers this time of her life as happy period, she enjoyed being a judge and raising her daughter. When Vetter, returned from Siberia he found that his meek wife had been transformed into an empowered professional. Restless and frustrated he was reunited with his first wife. Hahn Beer agreed to a divorce. She says that she would gladly have stayed in East Germany, but it wasn't possible, as the Russians wanted to recruit her to the secret police.
''I couldn't have done that - it would have been like joining the Gestapo.'
Hahn Beer fled to Britain with her daughter where she joined her sister, who had lived in London since before the war. There she found work as a housemaid and seamstress.
Hahn Beer is now 84. In 1957, she married a Jewish jewellery merchant, who had also lost his mother in the Holocaust. She raised Angela as a Jew. In 1989, five years after she was widowed, she moved to Israel. Initially she kept in touch with Vetter, and Angela visited him when she was a teenager. During one of her visits however, he hit her following a row over her not attending Christian religious classes at school. The women then broke contact with him and now have no idea as to his fate. Hahn Beer says that her whole life was a risk. She doesn't know if she loved Vetter, but she bears him no ill will. She says that she will never forget those who helped her.
'I am just happy to be free.'
My Grandmother's Story
Interview by Dalia Levine
My grandmother, Sonia Bar, was only in her teens when Hitler spread messages of hatred across Europe and the world. Her remarkable experience about how she escaped, and the hardships she endured, was told to us when she visited my school in October. My grandmother was born in Radzivillof, Poland on June 10, 1922. She had two younger siblings, a sister named Sarah and a brother named Isaac. In her hometown, she was surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins; about 200 people were in her extended family. Her father made a comfortable living by selling eggs. Belonging to the middle class, she and her family lived a very comfortable and successful life until 1939 when Hitler rose to power.
Dalia's Mother, Dalia, and
In 1939, Poland was divided between the Germans and Russians; the Russians entered the divided Poland. "I lived in the Russian Zone (Radzivillof, Poland) at this time. I found myself surrounded by a new regime, language, and regulations," she told me. Sonia had to study the new language (Russian) from the beginning.
"It wasn't easy, but I knew that in order to survive I had to do my best," she stated. She continued her education and received an assistant teaching diploma. Sonia was given a job teaching children in the second and fourth grades, preparing illiterate youths before they were mobilized to the army.
In 1941, she married Israel Bar, whose father sold tobacco and owned a food store. Eight days after marrying Israel Bar, the Germans crossed the border and broke their agreement with the Russians. And, thus began the "cruelest" war. There were rumors that England was going to be involved in the fighting, and for this reason people hesitated to leave their property and run away. In addition, people remained because the Russian borders weren't open for everyone.
"There were rumors that the Germans were cruel, but nobody could believe that something so catastrophical as this could happen," Mrs. Bar told me.
Because my grandmother was a teacher, she was forced to teach about Joseph Stalin, "as it was written in the text books," provided by the authorities. As a result of this, she was deemed a communist. "I was far away from being a communist then, and I'm far away from being one today!" she said. She was afraid that the Ukraine population, which hates communists, would punish her family because of her (teaching about Stalin and communism). She urged her husband to ask the Soviet authorities, with whom he worked with and did favors for, to help them escape from the German occupied Russia.
A miracle happened; one of the people agreed to take my grandparents a few kilometers so that they could be closer to the Russian border. "My heart sank to see the people who weren't able to go on the truck. It was one of the only trucks out. On the truck was a judge, the head of the police, and other important people," she stated.
She said, "I started the life of a refugee -- with only the clothes that I had made myself. We [my husband and I] ran, and nightly bombing followed. There were one hundred jets in one squad." She began her way through Kiev, then Krakov, then Stalingrad. (She went on a two thousand kilometer journey.) To cross the border, all the children were given sleeping pills so that they would not cry. As refugees they got three hundred grams of bread a day -- that's all. With the little jewelry they possessed from their wedding, they were able to get enough money to escape in time. In addition to selling their jewelry, they used cigarettes to buy bread.
She and her husband were brought to unsettled areas in Asia and Europe. During the war, she spent five years in Russia. "There wasn't even water," she remarked. The refugees had to build shelter for themselves. Fifty people slept in every shelter. The refugees started to build a metal factory. "He who didn't work did not receive bread," she stated. Bread was the only food they could get -- no milk, no sugar -- just bread and water.
While in a refugee camp Mrs. Bar got malaria. As a result of the malaria, she started to shake and get "the chills." Even though her temperature was as high as forty degrees Celsius, she survived because she had hope, faith, and courage. "Dirt, mosquitos, lice -- a lot of people died, but I survived," she said.
When the war ended, Mrs. Bar and my grandfather went back to Kielce, Poland, but not her hometown, because there were pogroms there. On her way to Poland, while riding in a train composed of seventy cattle cars, she gave birth to my mother, Rivka, near Tashkent, Russia. The conditions on the train were atrocious. There wasn't even water or cloth to clean the baby. Later, she wrote letters to people of her town to see if anyone survived. She received the terrible and shocking news that all their relatives were brutally massacred by the Nazis.
"Without knowing the past, we will not know the future."
She left Poland and continued to Czechoslovakia, Austria, France, and finally to Germany where she spent two years in a displaced persons' camp. In May 1948, when Israel was declared a state, she went to Israel, "The Promise Land," with her family on an illegal boat called the Galilee.
Again, they started a new life, in a new country with a new language. When they began their life in Israel, they had nothing. Sonia's first job in Israel was tending to chickens on a chicken farm. She could not work far from home because she had to tend to her two daughters, Nina and Rivka. Her husband did not know that she worked on the side. He would not have allowed this because he did not believe that his wife should work.
"It was not easy, but I took courses again to renew my diploma. I became a teacher," she said. In 1948, when olim (newcomers) came to Israel, Mrs. Bar had fifty-six students in her class. She worked very hard and raised two daughters.
"It was difficult, but pleasant," Mrs. Bar said. "We built a beautiful country, with a lot of hope that brutality and Nazism would never ever rule the world!" Mrs. Bar told me.
Before the Holocaust, Mrs. Bar never believed that someday she would be so poor. During and after the Holocaust, she found herself in this situation. After the Holocaust, she tried to build up her future, but she was a different person. "The sun shines differently on me -- after what happened. I'm the only one who survived from a family of two hundred. Only five people survived from my town," she told me.
Mrs. Sonia Bar believes that the Holocaust is a lesson; even if the Germans were trying to protect themselves saying: " 'We only obeyed the rules,' and other people saying, 'There was never a Holocaust,' they should experience what it is like to be the only survivor from a family of two hundred. Maybe then people will understand what we [the persecuted] went through. Who knows if their (Nazi) poisoned minds will ever clear up, and if the future will be better?"
Mrs. Bar adds, "Without knowing the past, we will not know the future. Everybody should understand that there are good people and bad people; I know that the Germans were a belligerent people fighting for expansion. The geographic location determined the actions during World War II, but their actions were not justified."
Mrs. Sonia Bar now resides in Israel. She is a retired school teacher, who taught in Israel for seventeen years. She now helps Russian "Olim" (newcomers) learn Hebrew. Mrs. Bar speaks seven different language which include German, Russian, Polish, Ukraine, Jewish (Yiddish), Hebrew, and English. Mrs. Bar gets great pride from seeing the successes of her two daughters, four grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.
Survivor of the deportation to Transnistria
My name is Miriam Bercovici nee Korber; I was born on September 11, 1923. I am a pediatrician and I still work for the Community, doing house calls for the assisted patients; I also work for the Lauder kindergarten and school twice a week. I was born in Campulung Moldovenesc and I spent the first 18 years of my life in that town.
On October 12, 1941, all the Jews in Campulung Moldovenesc, as well as all the Jews in the entire Bukovina, were deported to Transistria with their families. They didn’t tell us where we would be taken. They just gave us 48 hours to get used to the idea and to prepare ourselves for this trip; we had no idea what the trip would mean for us.
Our small family was composed of myself, my sister, my parents, and, most importantly, my grandparents; my 84-year old grandmother was blind. They took us to the railroad station. We didn’t board in the town’s main station, but in Campulung Est, a marshalling yard only used by freight trains. The worst thing about our departure wasn’t the fact that we boarded freight cars, but the walk from the town to the marshalling yard. It was a Sunday morning and the locals were coming out of the church. We had known those people for ages and some of them were friends of my father’s, who had been born in Campulung. My grandfather had lived there too and it appears that even the grandparents of my grandparents are buried in Campulung. Well, none of these mattered. Those people, who had been our friends and whom we used to greet with ‘Good afternoon, neighbor’ or ‘How do you do, Ma’am’, had suddenly turned into strangers. They stood on both sides of the road and some of them expressed their hatred towards us in the most fowl way. This was the first truly painful thing that I experienced.
The train ride lasted several days. I couldn’t tell whether there were three days and a half or four days and a half because I lost track of time. They crammed 40 of us in each car. Those were cattle cars that had been cleaned before we got on. We were randomly distributed. I found myself in the same car with the town’s lunatic – you see, every town has its own mad woman. The passengers in my car also included my grandparents, other old people, and a child in a wheelchair. The first time we got off was when we got to Cernauti. For three days and a half or four days and a half, we had to relieve ourselves on the train.
The journey ended when we got by the River Dniester. They forced us to get off the cars and we found ourselves in the middle of an empty field, next to the river. It was raining. It must have been October 15 or 16. There was mud everywhere and no shelter. They told us they would take us further east, across the Dniester, and that we weren’t allowed to carry any valuables – money was out of the question. We had to exchange everything we owned for rubles. And so we were left with nothing at all.
We had already realized that things were serious, but it was only then that we understood just how serious they were. In my first night there, I witnessed a man go insane; an absolutely normal man turned into a madman. He was Mr. Garai, the druggist, a respected gentleman from Campulung. My father was a craftsman, but the druggist was an important character in a small town like ours. Well, this man kept saying: ‘But I paid all my taxes. I am druggist Garai; what do you want from me?’
Before long, everyone became everyone’s enemy. I remember that we were trying to avoid another group of deportees from Iedinetz who were full of lice, even though we were deportees ourselves. We began to fear the others. The process of dehumanization was at its best. That was the worst thing that could possibly happen. The moment I got off the train, I realized we were in for that. And I would like to skip to the end. Although I survived, I could never get over it completely. Even today, I dress warmer than the other people, because I still suffer from cold; even today, I store more bread than I need, for fear I would run out of it and starve; even today, I dread any form of authority.
Yet, despite everything we endured there, on April 15, 1944, I set off for Romania together with 9 other youths like me. My father had been deported ahead of me, so he wasn’t with me.
Bronia S. was born on July 12, 1915 in Galicia, Poland. When she was a baby her family moved to Vienna, where much of her extended family was living. Her father had studied law in Poland, but couldn't practice in Vienna so he entered the family textile business. Her sister Paula was born there in 1919.
She remembers a beautiful childhood in Vienna. She felt protected, and didn't experience any anti-Semitism in the public schools she attended. Her family was secular, yet maintained their Jewish identify and traditions. She attended the School of Commerce and at age nineteen began working as a secretary for a lawyer. In 1933 they started hearing things about Hitler and the Nazi party, but she feels that they lived in a dream world and Germany seemed very far away.
On March 13, 1938 Hitler and the Germans marched into Vienna. Suddenly every Gentile household had swastikas in their windows. Jewish men were arrested and forced to clean the streets with toothbrushes. Jews weren't allowed to sit on street benches. The family was evicted from their house and lived in a single room. Her father was in Poland on business at the time of the occupation. He arranged for a passport for his wife to join him in Poland. In January 1939 Bronia was illegally smuggled across the border into Poland. Her sister followed six months later.
Once she arrived in Poland she wasn't allowed to speak German for fear of the anti-German feelings at that time. The family applied for visas to the United States. On September 1, 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. The fighting lasted for ten days. Immediately the Jews were forced to sew a Yellow Star on the front and back of their clothes. Germans would walk by and pound them on their backs. They became terrified to leave the house.
Soon they were evicted from their home and moved to what was to become the Lodz ghetto. This was the poorest, dirtiest section of town. In May 1940 the ghetto was sealed. No one was allowed in or out. The Germans appointed a sixty-seven year old Lithuanian, Chaim Rumkowski, as head of the Jewish community. Bronia was one of the young women working in the Jewish administration under Chaim Rumkowski. He believed that in order for the Jews to stay alive the ghetto had to perform a function. Workshops of every kind were set up.
The Germans supplied rations to those who worked. They were very meager rations, consisting of bread and soup at lunch. Bronia's mother and sister worked in factories and her father was appointed prosecutor for the internal justice system. On one occasion a few people tried to escape and were hung from the gallows by the Germans. Others tried to escape and were electrocuted on the barbed wires.
Hans Biebow was the German administrator of the ghetto. There were transports into the ghetto from various foreign countries and from small towns around Poland. There were also continual deportations from the ghetto. At one point there were two hundred thousand people residing in the ghetto. Rations were never increased regardless of how many people there were. The Gestapo insisted that Rumkowski provide them with specific numbers of Jews for deportation. They made it clear that if he didn't comply, they would choose people arbitrarily. Initially, Rumkowski tried to choose people who were obviously ill and dying. Later, the Gestapo demanded groups of children. Bronia recalls Rumkowski pleading with the Gestapo, but to no avail. On one occasion, when he refused to cooperate, the Germans did make their own selection.
No one knew what "deportation" really meant. Rumkowski used to tell his staff that this situation couldn't last much longer and that they needed to survive one day at a time. Bronia was married in the ghetto in September 1943. The Lodz ghetto was liquidated in August 1944, and Bronia, with most of her family, was on the last transport out.
Bronia was in a cattle car on a train for five days. They arrived at Auschwitz and immediately the men and women were separated from each other.Bronia was stripped, showered and shaven and then spent six days at Auschwitz with her mother. They were taken to Stutthof and there they were reunited with Paula. This was a joyous reunion for the women. During the time in Stutthof they slept and ate on the floor. Most of the time, however, they spent standing for roll calls. Her sister contracted scarlet fever. They were able to see their male family members over the barbed wire. One day her father made a sign to Bronia which indicated that her husband had died.
The women were moved to Dresden in December and worked in a munitions factory. The conditions there were better. Mr. Biebow was again in charge of the factory and Bronia worked in the office after attending role call. On April 11, 1945 the city was bombed by the Allies. The prisoners were taken on a Death March. Before they left, a kindly German woman gave Bronia a religious "schutzbrief" (chain letter) which was to protect her. She has kept this with her since.
The march took twelve days. On the eleventh day Bronia and her sister suggested that three of them commit suicide by walking into the river. Their mother begged them to wait until the next day which was Paula's birthday. That day, April 23rd, they arrived at Theresienstadt. The German guards had deserted the camp by then and they were greeted by Jewish prisoners who took care of them. They were liberated on May 8th by the Russians.
Bronia went to Prague to seek out a friend of her husband's. Her mother eventually joined her. Her sister reunited with her husband in Bergen-Belsen. Bronia started to work for the Joint Distribution Committee in Czechoslovakia; there, she met her second husband and they got married.
When they realized that the Communists were going to take over the country they decided to leave for Israel, where their son was born. Her husband's brother was in Vancouver, and they decided to join him there. Their daughter was born in Vancouver. In 1952 her husband was killed in an automobile accident. Bronia went to work for Alaska Pine and raised her children with her mother's help.
István Katona] (b. 1924 -- )
..István Katona at 20 I was born István Katona in 1924. My father was the manager of a large agricultural estate in Kartal, a village of few thousand people, 40 km from Budapest. We lived the normal Hungarian assimilated Jewish existence: I went to Jewish elementary school, had my Bar Mitzvah, went to the local synagogue on High holidays. My mother kept a kosher household.
My father was only 55 years old when he was forcibly retired in 1942, due to the Hungarian anti-Jewish laws. The law restricted the number of Jews in certain professions. The same year, when I just finished High School, my parents moved to Tarnaméra, the village where my father was born. As Jews were not allowed to go to university, I went to the town of Gyöngyös, where I started an apprenticeship as an electrical mechanic.
The Germans occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, and imposed a new government. This government, with German supervision and the enthusiastic participation of the majority Hungarian population, brought in daily more and more restrictions. Jews were not allowed to travel, at the train station they arrested all Jews, who were interned and later deported. Within weeks we had to wear yellow stars. Within six weeks of German occupation, by the end of April, we had to move into newly erected ghettoes. At first, these ghettoes were organized only in the country. In Budapest at that time they established the so called "yellow star houses" where the Jews had to live, and later they had to move to a ghetto too.
The ghetto was the most horrible, humiliating, soul destroying experience. My parents had lived a comfortable, middle class existence. My father was a proud Hungarian, his eyes were filled with tears in hearing the Hungarian Anthem and not by hearing the "Shema Yisroel"
It was already a shock leaving our home in 1942 and moving to Tarnaméra, in a small part of our ancestral home. My father, now without a daily occupation at 55, felt like a useless homebody.
In Tarnaméra everybody knew he was a Jew, even without yellow stars. One felt a Jew, like one is black haired, has freckles, or limps. It was a fact, which could not be changed. But to wear a yellow star, to become a target of ridicule, shattered my parents.
..Jews being deported from Koszeq, Hungary, 1944 [Yad Vashem Archive] On the end of April 1944 the gendarmerie told us, "be ready, you will be moved to a ghetto, you are allowed to take 10 kg. of clothing, cooking utensils etc., but not valuables, mementos". To us, life ceased to exist. We were told to hire a horse-drawn carriage, at our expense, to go to an unknown destination.
In the first days of May 1944 we were taken to Bagolyuk, an abandoned mining settlement close to Eger, approximately 40-50 km away.
What waited for us was the hell coming to earth. Hungarian gendarmes and German SS kicked and hit everybody. They ordered us to get off the carriage, run to one of the houses, and 2-4 families had to occupy a room. The brutality dehumanized everybody, not only the ones who did the beating, but us too. Old friends fought for the corners of the room, which looked more comfortable. The same happened in the kitchen, with cooking and food, if food was available at all.
For me personally, the ghetto life did not last long. First, as a young man I was conscripted to the ghetto police. Within two weeks came the order that everybody born in 1924 should go to a forced labor battalion on the 15th of May, 1944. My parents were downhearted to be parted from their only child, but thought --very realistically-- that everything would be better than the ghetto. How true it was, though I did not know that at that time.
..June 15, 1944: Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz In a late effort to keep control of the Hungarian Jews, the Horthy regime called up every Jewish man to labor battalions attached to the Hungarian Army. My two uncles volunteered and survived. My father who was a strong practical man, said to them, "I will not go, somebody has to stay with the women and children." There were approximately 15-20 relatives in the ghetto. He stayed, went with them to Auschwitz, was separated from them on the first selection, and finally killed in Dachau.
At that time, I didn't know what would happen to my parents. I had the vague idea, that they would work somewhere to help the war efforts. And in any case, we had the firm conviction that the war would not last long and that the Allies would win. We never thought about the viciousness of the Germans.
When every rail carriage was an essential war necessity, when the Russians had already liberated half the Ukraine and were already in Romania, they packed the whole Jewish population from the Hungarian countryside in cattle cars and deported them to Auschwitz. It happened to my parents: their entire ghetto was deported within three weeks of my departure.
..Hungarian Jews on their way to the gas chambers. Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, May 1944. [Yad Vashem Photo Archives] When they arrived in Auschwitz, my mother made --most probably-- the same selfless, unwise, lethal decision, that my father made weeks earlier. At that time, my father did not grab the last opportunity of going to the labor battalion "because somebody has to stay with the women." My mother who was 47 years old, a strong, good looking healthy country woman, probably said "I stick to my sisters-in-law, with the small children" and was sent with them straight to the gas chamber.
My father was ordered to the other side and was taken to Dachau, where according to the very precise, very complete German documents, he died of "old age complications" on the 27th of February, 1945.
He was not even 58!
I was called up into the labor battalions with all the boys born in 1924 on the 15th of May, 1944. Although we were wearing the yellow star, we did not experience any problem in boarding a train to Jolsva, in northern Hungary, a part of the country which had belonged to Czechoslovakia from 1918-1938. It was an exhilarating feeling to sit in a passenger train carriage and not be kicked, abused and swore at by all and sundry. We were assembled randomly, about 300 in one battalion, and given a group of guards of old Hungarian peasant soldiers. Our number was 107/302. Our guards came from the surrounding country side, which was a lucky break.
The Czech republic was a real democracy, based on equality, multiparty system and civil liberties for all. Our guards lived in that democratic --although for them alien-- state for twenty years. They were ethnic Hungarians who first welcomed the Hungarians back in 1938, but after 6 years of Hungarian rule, they saw the difference.
They were not harsh to us, in fact our treatment was mild compared to stories heard elsewhere. We had to work hard, and they were strict but not cruel.
I straight away met an old acquaintance, Stephen Herman. I acquired lifelong friends, like George Varnai in Sydney, Laci Ivan in France and that helped. Stephen lived in Spain after the war. We worked in Ozd in the steel mill, in Putnok in a timber cutting camp and later, from July, in Budapest. Here we were housed in a bombed-out block of flats in Reitter Ferenc Street and worked in the army food depot, and later in the railway station, all the time loading and unloading goods trains. Half of the battalion was from Budapest. These boys --legally or illegally-- went home to visit their families on weekends, who by now lived in the "Jewish houses", and they brought in food, clothing etc. Even I went out to visit my mother's aunt, who was my only relative in Budapest.
On the 15th of October we were standing in line for lunch. The radio was on and we heard Horthy's proclamation for asking for peace with the Allies. We were extremely happy, our freedom has arrived.
Some of the boys, who worked at the railway station unloading weapons and ammunitions, got hot under the collar, commandeered the horse-drawn carriages of the battalion and went to the railway station to collect weapons and arm ourselves for the eventual liberation.
It took less than six hours for the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Nazi) Party to take power from the Horthy regime, with the tacit but forceful help of the German Occupation Army. Somebody on the street noticed that we had armed ourselves and reported us to the police or the Arrow Cross Party.
Police on trucks arrived and as we had already heard on the radio, that the Nazis had taken over the Government, there was a surrender without fight. The trucks took us to the Police Headquarters. We stood in the corridor for hours with both hands held up in the air, facing the wall. Any slackness was rewarded with a rifle butt in the back. One by one we were led in and interrogated. When the police found out who were the "ring leaders" who brought in the arms, it was about 4 AM. They kept the "instigators", about 15 men, who, after further interrogation, were deported to Auschwitz. The rest of us were escorted back to our quarters. We were given additional guards, as the Arrow Cross did not trust our regular army personnel, who had been with us since May.
Within two weeks, on the 29th of October, 1944, we were given marching orders to an unknown destination. Approximately half of the battalion were Budapest boys. Most of them deserted, went home or somewhere in the city, illegally hiding, as they thought it a better risk for survival. We from the country had no choice at all, nowhere to go.
The direction was to the west. We reached the Hungarian-German [former Austrian] border in less than a week on foot, [about 200 km]. It was horrible, our group was now part of a big march. Our battalion had a fairly good behaved, formerly Czech citizen "crew," but there were guards supervising even them, and these guards did not think twice: anybody who tried to escape, or was too sick to walk, was summarily shot.
On the 4th of November, 1944, at the border, they turned us over to an SS officer, who commanded a guard outfit of teenagers in the uniform of the Volksturm, a German auxiliary brigade. Our sergeant major stood us in line and started to sing an old Hungarian song "Now anybody should tell me in my eye, whom I offended in my life time" [Most mondja el valaki a szemembe, kinek mit vétettem én életemben]. He started to cry, because most probably he knew what is waiting for us.
Contrary to other people's experience, we were herded to a passenger train. The doors were locked, a guard was placed on each connecting platform. We passed railway stations without stopping, for several days. One day, we reached the station of a large city, where lots of German Red Cross ladies were waiting to give food and water for German troops going or coming to the Eastern and Western Front. They could not fathom who we were, the passengers, so they tried to comfort us. They were rudely repelled by our guards, but we were a curiosity for the people on the station, as we had civilian clothes and were in custody.
We arrived in Buchenwald, as we found out later, on the 9th of November, 1944. At the station funny looking, striped-clothed people surrounded us, asking in German and Yiddish to give them all the food and clothing we have, as the Germans will take away everything anyway. We did not believe a word they were saying. How could it happen to us, we were brought here to work, but anyhow, we are part of the Hungarian Army.
Within minutes we were rudely awakened. We had to strip, put everything we had down, sent to shower, then barbers removed any hair [everywhere] we had, and naked --in November-- marched to pick up the striped prison clothes and wooden shoes. In a short time, we looked the same as the "funny people" in the railway station. We were taken to an office building, SS guards asked our name, date of birth, and profession, then they asked, when were we taken prisoners by the German Army? Some of us said, that we are not prisoners, we are in the Hungarian Army. These people were quickly reminded with a box on the ear or a kick in the private parts, that what we are, stinking Jews. Nevertheless in the German files, we were called "Hungarian Jewish Political Prisoners," as I have personally seen in records I saw when I went back to Buchenwald in 1990.
Everybody was given a number, reminded, that we now had no names, just numbers, which should be noted and answered, when called. I became No 87645. My friend, Laci Ivan, who had an unbelievable mathematic memory became No 87654. He was "annoyed" that he received a number, which could be so easily remembered.
..Survivors of Buchenwald [Yad Yashem Archives] We were housed in barracks. At the end of the barracks lived the KAPO, usually a German common criminal, sometimes a political prisoner. All were hardened men, with long years of struggle just to survive behind them. Whoever survived and became a KAPO, went through lots of things in the camp, so his life meant more to him than ours and he behaved accordingly.
Everybody had to sew his number on the jacket and a little triangle, according to classification. Green for criminals, blue for murderers, red for political, pink for homosexuals, and yellow for the lowest of the low, the Jews. The beds were multistory and two people to a bed. Morning and night we had to stand for hours on "Appell" (roll call), they counted and recounted us.
In the neighboring barrack was the whole Danish police force, as they had disobeyed the German order to deport their Jews.
The food was tea in the morning, soup for lunch and a piece of bread with a tiny bit of margarine, sausage or jam [one of these on different days] for dinner. We were constantly hungry, not knowing that this is only the beginning.
My occupation was registered as electrician. A couple of days later there was a notice on the barracks board, asking for tradesmen to report in the office. One of my friends, who was an electrical instrument repairer, went for "Erdarbeiter" as he translated this as "farm laborer." But the correct translation was "construction laborer." He could not do that job and died shortly.
I reported for an electrician's job, as did a few friends from the battalion, who were tradesmen. One even brought his cousin, hoping he could pass as an electrical assistant. So we were sent on November 15, 1944 to SCHLIEBEN to work in an antitank missile factory [Panzerfaust] I was put in the electrician's unit, in a separate section of a barrack. Our KAPO was a Polish political prisoner with the name of Narczys. I do not think he ever was an electrician, but a fairly reasonable man. He covered his back and we had to work hard, but he was not cruel. We also had a German electrical foreman, a local electrical master from the village, who was quite decent.
Every morning we had an "Appell" count and marched to the factory. At night even the dead had to be brought back, recounted and if the number was not right, they recounted and recounted again and again for hours. The guards were extremely cruel. The favorite pastime was to take off a prisoner's cap and throw it against the electrified barbed wire fence. The prisoner was ordered to pick it up. Then either he was killed by the high voltage of the fence or shot as a would-be escapee.
One day --as usual-- I was speaking in Hungarian with my friend Jancsi Csillag, while working on an installation. A guard from the tower shouted in Hungarian "you stinking Jews, work and don't talk" We found out that he was an ethnic German from Hungary, who had joined the SS. He was with us until the liberation. He tried the same "hat trick" with me one day, jokingly or spitefully, I don't know. I didn't fall for it and he didn't force the issue.
As electricians, we had better food, better quarters and could move in the camp without guards. The best job was working in the kitchen. Some piece of equipment or an appliance went wrong frequently. We made sure of it. An extra bowl of soup, a piece of bread that we could obtain, made the difference between life or death. A favorite was the potato skin, thrown on the scrap-heap. We collected them, washed, and baked them on the barrack stove: it was a veritable feast.
.Buchenwald Prisoners After the Liberation -- April 12, 1945.
Buchenwald was an "international" concentration camp established in 1937 next to Weimar, Germany. Until the end of March 1945, approximately 240,000 people from about 30 different countries passed through Buchenwald and its satellite camps (about 130 in number). 43,000 of them were murdered or perished as a direct result of the harsh camp conditions. Several thousand more died after the liberation, from disease and starvation. [From Yad Vashem Archives]Whoever gave up, died. A friend of mine was a student of agriculture, a boxer, a giant of a man. He said on the first day, that one can not survive treatment like that, that he is not an animal. He died within months. Of course it also depended on the job. The missile had a yellowish substance, TRINITROTOLUOL as the explosive. It was so dangerous to the health that even the Germans gave extra milk for the people who worked with it. Nevertheless, they died emaciated within a short time.
Our life, as Hungarian Jews, was especially hard to bear among the other, mostly Polish Jewish prisoners.
There was an enmity between Hungarians and Poles. The Poles could not understand why the Hungarians did not speak Yiddish --which for them was an everyday, national language. They despised us for that, for the fact that most Hungarian Jews were assimilated, thinking of themselves as Hungarians first, who also had Jewish religious beliefs. Polish Jews were Jews, not Poles --Jews and nothing else.
Apart from cultural differences there was an other factor, which I could understand but never condone. They constantly reminded us, that they had been forced into ghettoes and taken to concentration camps 4 - 5 years earlier, while we had lived freely, albeit restricted by "mild" anti-Jewish laws. The Pole who was in the camp was a survivor of a bitter struggle just to live, and wanted to live, even by treating us badly.
I survived in spite of that constant reminding that I was a "traitor" who lived well, while they had suffered.
I was lucky with my trade, and also I firmly believed, all the time, without any doubt, that I would survive, I had to survive.
The German foreman brought in newspapers, so from that we knew that the war would not, could not, last long. So we did everything to survive! My firm belief in that made me psychologically strong. There was barely a minute when I doubted that I would survive.
Some of the people in charge of the Buchenwald Camp
[Courtesy USHMM] --- +Enlarge Image The Camp commander was a German air force officer, who was wounded in the Eastern front. He was not an SS, and behaved better than an SS would. In January 1945, the factory, HUGO SCHNEIDER WERKE, established an other assembly plant, in FLÖSSBERG. As they needed electricians, some of us were taken there. We noticed the difference between the two camps right away. No paths between the barracks, just melted snow and unbelievable mud. Everywhere bodies, where they fell, and left there for days, just a warning to us. Hungarian Jews were brought from Budapest in December, to erect --from nothing-- a camp and factory on the outskirts of the village.
Within days our KAPO contacted the commander in Schlieben, who came around [he was the commandant of both camps] and told the Flössberg SS to do something, as the circumstances did not help the production and the German war effort. He was not worried about our health, but about the number of missiles. That was his only concern, but we were lucky that this helped us too.
Towards the end of March came my only moment of doubt about my survival. I was extremely weak with diarrhea, miserable after the exceptionally cold 1944/45 winter. My left big toe had been frostbitten since 1941, an extremely hard winter, when I walked to school, so now it was inflamed enormously.
..Children and youths are being led in columns by soldiers of the 3rd US Army to a hospital sick bay after the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany, April 13, 1945.
Accidentally I hit my thumb on my left hand with a hammer, and it become infected, with an inflamed lymph node under my left arm. I went to the camp hospital and asked time off from work. There was a Hungarian doctor, who told me, that he would not do that, as anyone unable to work will be sent back to Buchenwald, to an uncertain fate, indicating death. But, he said, he needs an electrician in the hospital, so I could be a hospital orderly, sleep in my own corner in the storeroom, and have a bit better food. It was my lucky break, I even could help my friends, like George Varnai, who was at that time in the hospital (later on he was shipped back to Buchenwald, but it was the last days of the war, so he survived).
In that hospital, I received my first and lifelong lasting lecture about Communism. There was a Russian doctor, a political prisoner of war, so he could work only as an orderly. He said that when war ended, the Soviet Union would dominate the whole of Eastern Europe and Hungary would be a colony! But --he said-- do not hope for much: the whole middle class, the rich peasants, would all be liquidated [he explained, how it was done in the Soviet] and in any case, Jews are incapable to become good Communists, as they are socially, morally and by their tradition not suited to it. So it seemed that for me, there was no future, as I had so many bad points.
US Army Liberating Buchenwald, April 1945
[US National Archives]
.On the 13th of April 1945, we were already hearing Allied tanks roaring, and seeing flares up in the night sky. Then a trainload of cattle wagons were brought in the camp, everybody was packed in, and we started our journey.
There was 3 more weeks of misery for us, even they could have easily left us there and saved their own hides. But it was more important for the SS to make sure that we would perish. As I found out in 1992, when we went to Flössberg for a visit, the Americans arrived in the village one day later, the 14th of April.
..Prisoners are forced to build the "Russian Camp" in Mauthausen, Austria in 1942.
[Photo credit: USHMM Photo Archives} We were on the train for about two weeks, taken through Germany and Czechoslovakia and finally to MAUTHAUSEN.
I do not know how I or anybody else survived the train trip as we seldom if ever had anything to eat. I have only a very vague recollection about the journey. The only thing I remember that from time to time the train stopped in the middle of nowhere, we Franz Ziereis,
Commandant of Mauthausen from August 1939 to May 1945. [Andras Tsagatakis Photo Collection, courtesy of USHMM] were let out, to throw down the dead bodies. I definitely remember looking for charcoal, as everybody had diarrhea and that was the only "medicine" available. Finally, we walked from Mauthausen train station to the camp, on the top of the mountain.
My spirit rose, when the Hungarian speaking SS --from our old camp-- came alongside me and said. "It will be all right now for you, the war will not last longer than a few days, but what will happen to me?" I did not dare to tell him, what I thought, that he deserved what he will get [or is he today a wealthy businessman in Germany?]
In the camp, it was the usual procedure, never mind that the war was close to the end. Shower, delousing, back to the same dirty uniform, march down to the so called "Russenlager" a section of the camp, which earlier housed Russian POWs, but now was the place to collect deportees to die from "natural causes". Within days the SS disappeared, and the camp was taken over by Viennese police. On the 5th of May, 1945, the Americans arrived, not believing what they saw.
..Survivors count the corpses of prisoners killed in the Mauthausen concentration camp. [Source: U. S. National Archives, College Park, Maryland]
The Americans wanted to be helpful, so they gave us food. Lots of people died in the next weeks from over-eating. People who were feeble, sick, hungry, ate the --rich and plentiful food and died. Laci Kantor, who days ago had kissed me, and thanked God that he had survived, that he was free to go home to his parents, laid in our bed next morning, dead by my side.
Six thousand (6000) inmates await disinfection in a Mauthausen courtyard, July 1941. After 24 hours of waiting, nearly 140 had died. [PBS, USA]Slowly the Americans realized the situation and erected tents for hospitals and took the sick there. Every hour a little bus arrived, picking up 12 people, who were laid out in front of our barrack, waiting for the transport to the hospital. My instinct for life gave me strength to crawl out on my own accord, and lay beside them. The hospital bus came, there were 13 people. What could they do? They took 12, and would come back for the 13th an hour later. I was among the 12. Who knows, maybe this hour made the difference between life and death. I knew I had to do it.
I received blood and sugar transfusion and in two weeks I was up in the main camp, ready to be repatriated.
All nationalities were separated for transport, so my friend from Northern Hungary, János Csillag, became again a Czech citizen, to return to Nove-Zamky, [Érsekujvár].
The Jews from Transylvania, in 1944 a Hungarian territory, had a problem [Transylvania, in Hungarian Erdély, was taken in 1920 by the Trianon Treaty from Hungary and became a Romanian territory. Hitler gave it back in 1940 to the Hungarians]. They wrote to King Michael, to send a train for them. The King replied, that it must be a mistake, they must be Hungarians, as Jews were not deported from Romania, so why don't they go back to Hungary. It was the way he paid back to the Transylvanian Jews, who always regarded themselves Hungarians, even under Romanian rule, between 1918-1940.
..Mauthausen at liberation by the US troups [United Staes Photo Archives] Our transport back to Hungary started on the June 1, 1945. Mauthausen was in the American zone of occupation. The border of the Soviet zone was at Linz, where we changed trains. The first impressions of a Russian soldier was not flattering. They were dirty, hungry, and nearly always drunk. In the afternoon in Vienna we had to cross a bridge --bombed in the Danube-- on foot. Everybody had to show his left armpit, for the tell-tale sign of the SS tattoo of the blood group. My left armpit was swollen, puss oozing for the last 3-4 months. I had an infection after hitting my left thumb with a hammer, losing my thumb-nail. So the Russian soldier said I must be an SS, who tried to get rid of his tattoo. To make it worse, I was wearing a stripped down German uniform, given to me by the Americans. The boys traveling with me told him in several languages, no, not SS, Jewish, Konzentrationslager, but to no avail. He locked us [as everybody very valiantly stayed with me] into a shed, saying that the commandant will decide our fate in the morning.
During the night, there was a knock on the wall. An Austrian man asked us, why were we locked in. We told him, that one of us is a suspected SS, wrongly accused. He broke the wall of the shed and lead us through the gardens to the street, where we reached the sector occupied by the Western Allies. Who knows, was it his good heart, or did he want to help an SS?
Next day we went by train to Hungary. I did not go further than Szombathely, a border town, where the Hungarian medics put me in hospital. I had three weeks of freedom since liberation, weighed 35 kg., with my 183 cm height. I was operated on my armpit, received antibiotics, and good nourishing food.
When they felt I was well enough, around the middle of July, I went to Budapest, where I knew I had my mother's aunt. The train travel was a nightmare. People stormed the train in the second it pulled in the station. Thousands traveled, mostly for scrounging for food, as Budapest, 6 months after liberation, was a city of starved people, totally without affordable food supply. There was a rampant inflation, one's wages was not worth a kilogram of bread at the evening of a pay-day. People sat even on the roof of train carriages, just to get somewhere, somehow.
My reaction from the concentration camp was, that I could not conceive anything funny. I spent 10-14 days in Budapest before going to Tarnaméra. One day I went to see a Charlie Chaplin movie. The audience roared with laughter about the misfortunes of the little man. I could not understand why they laughed. I just felt sorry for him. So I walked out in the middle of the screening.
When I reached Tarnaméra, I realized that I arrived back to a forgotten existence that I had left just 15 months ago. Those months were eradicated from my life, when I became a non-person in a near to animal existence, from October 1944 to May 1945.
Nobody recognized me, not a living soul, but one.
When we left to the ghetto, we gave our little fox-terrier to a neighbor. The dog was on the street, came towards me, licked my trousers, sniffed and jumped up and down. I became myself again, who, at last, been recognized and loved --by a dog.
Our tenant seemed glad to see me, and told to go to the police station, where my friend Alex Seidner (now in Melbourne) was the local chief. He was the first Jew, who returned to Tarnaméra in the early spring of 1945, so he became the police sergeant. I slept in a bed, washed myself, ate and tried to become a normal person.
It sank in slowly, that I would not see my parents again. Even in the summer of 1944, we thought that they would be taken away from the ghetto to work. Some people even received a postcard, from a mysterious WALDSEE, somewhere near to Switzerland on the map.
I did not receive any, but I did not get very worried. In the concentration camp we saw men, women, but no children or old people. But the daily struggle, just to survive, blunted our senses. It was not selfishness, that we did not think about anything not connected with our daily survival, it was pure animal behavior. The Nazis did not think, that we were better than an animal, so by their treatment we became one.
In the next months, after inquiries, I found out that apart from me, only two uncles and two cousins survived from the whole family. The family consisted of: 1 grandfather, 2 parents, 19 uncles and aunts and 19 cousins. So 5 of us were left out of 41 persons! 36 murdered by gas, by beating, overwork, or starvation. Nobody will ever know the exact truth about how they died.
"Thank you for the courageous and brave American Soldiers who came to rescue us. Without them I would not be able, 54 years later, to write these lines. Honors to those who gave their life to make this possible." -Michel Depierre.
... April 11th, 1945 ... The first military man that I saw was a Canadian Captain who spoke French. They distributed some food. It was so good, since we were dying of hunger for the last nine months. Only skin was left on our bones.
I was born July 22,1926 (72 years old when I wrote this) at Villers-Vermont (Oise) France.
Present Address: Residence "Gilles de Lorris", 60400 Noyon France (100km North of Paris)
I was the oldest son of 10 children. Lived the first 10 years on farms at villers-Vermont until 8 years old then at St Samson La Poterie until 10 years old with my grandmothers and parents.
Then I family moved to Noyon where I still reside. From 1936 to 1940 attended primary school in Noyon and then started working to help out the family. From 1940 to 1944 worked in a factory.Joined the Resistance Movement to Fight the Germans
On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), I joined, in the forest near Noyon, The "Maquis des Usages" (resistance movement) to fight the Germans.
I recycled weapons, grenades, and guns. Reception of British parachutes. Also I gave aid to British and American Aviators that were shot down.
On June 23, 1944 "Le Maquis" (The resistant team) was attacked by the Germans. Two resistance fighters were killed but we killed 6 German soldiers. The fight was tough. With our machine guns (British machine guns called STEN ) we won over the 40 German soldiers, when there were were only twelve of us. Two of us were only 17 years old. We were in a hunting chalet surrounded by the Germans that we had to repel to escape.
We took the opportunity, after they retreated in a truck, to escape and walk 15 km in the forest. The next day the Germans came back and bombed the chalet. The Gestapo organized a manhunt, so we took refuge in huge underground caves.Arrested
On returning to Noyon to inform my family, the Gestapo arrested me on July 20th, 1944. They took me to the Prison of Compiegne where I was questioned and tortured.
On August 16th, 1944 we were moved to the camp of Royallieu near Compiegne, where other resistance fighters were gathered from all over France. 55,000 resistance fighters left Compiegne during the war for concentration camps in Germany.
The next day August 17th, 1944, we are locked in animal wagons (80-90 person per wagon) in Compiegne forest. Our destination is the concentration camp of Buchenwald where we arrived 92 hours later, completely dehydrated. It was during August in a incredible heat, we received only a 1/4 liter of water during the trip. People were dying, others were losing there mind. Some of them were leeching the water condensation on the steel at night. For the toilette facility only a metallic bucket in the middle of the wagon with an unbearable odor, was available.
We arrived at Buchenwald exhausted on August 21st, 1944. Strong people became, in 92 hours, very old. We slept for three weeks outside on the garbage heap of the" big Camp". We were shaved from head to toe and given striped uniforms.300 Prisoners were Killed
August 23rd, 1944 the camp of Buchenwald was bombed by the Allies. The factory near the camp and 58 barracks (Headquarters) were destroyed. Not too much damage in the camp but three hundred prisoners (deportees) were killed.
Towards September 10th, 1944 I was sent via "Transport Train" towards the Dutch border. We crossed Cologne (koln), went down the Rhine towards Koblenz. The Allies are progressing so fast that we could not leave the wagons and the train was forced to return to Buchenwald. The Germans only took food for the one way trip so, on the way back we traveled three days without anything to eat.
Two days later I got really depressed when I learned that I'm leaving For the Camp of Dora (Nordhausen) to work in the underground Factory of the 'Mittelbau where we built the VI and V2 rockets. Only dead comes back from Dora in Wagons and trucks to be burned in the crematorium of Buchenwald.Cruel Hell
From September 15th 1944 to the beginning of April 1945 I was in the most cruel Hell. Twelve hours per day or night (eighteen hours when we rotate team) we must carry on our back extremely heavy equipment in and out of the tunnel With almost nothing in our stomach, under the rain, snow, mud, in extremely cold weather, clothed in a poor outfit, wood clogs with fabric on top which get hooked in everything and under the beatings of the "55" and "Kapos" (Often ex criminals just out of jail).
I touch the bottom of misery and mental distress. Although, I had a strong constitution from a very athletic life, my health declined rapidly. I was admitted at the "Revier" (nursery) toward March 15th 1945 for complication to a wound received in the temple by a kapos. From then on, my health became worse with numerous diseases one after the other: Pleuresie, Lymphangite, dysentrie, etc.. (I don't know the English translation of those diseases).
April 3rd and 6th evacuation of Camp Dora. People in charge of the "Revier" wanted to evacuate us right away, they said that everything will be destroyed with flame throwers. With my extreme weakness I tried to go down on the Appel Plaza. But when I see the poor people in front of me being beat with tool handles, I hide behind a barracks and go back in the block where the nurse immediately sent me back out. So, I went around the Block and pushed a window who thank God opened. I'm in a empty room and my Heart is beating really fast. I collapse and lose consciousness.Prisoners Burned to Death
When I finally regained consciousness I saw the town of Nordhausen burning about 7 km away. It was only when I came back to France that I learned that the "SS" put thousand of prisoners (Deportees) incapable of working in their barracks. The allies thought they were bombing a military installation. Around 1500 prisoners (Deportees) were killed.
On the 7th or 8th of April, the "SS" abandoned Dora except for a few dying prisoners (Deportees) like me. The camp is evacuated. We stayed a few days in this "no man's land".
On April 11th, 1945 The American Army investigated the tunnel and the Camp of Dora. Shocked, they discovered about a hundred men dying in the Revier (nursery). The first military man that I saw was a Canadian Captain who spoke French. They distributed some food. It was so good, since we were dying of hunger for the last nine months. Only skin was left on our bones.
April 19th, 1945, we had gained a little more strength so they walked us to the airfield of Nordhausen. There Dakotas (Airplanes) brought supplies to the Front. American military set up tents. There is on tables some beautiful white bread, but nobody to care for us. Maybe to avoid diseases? But also because of the war they didn't have time for us. They let us sleep outside, fortunately, it didn't rain. I lay down on the workshop of a demolished building.
On April 2Oth, 1945 a Dakota took us from Nordhausen to "Le Bourget" Airport near Paris, where Parisian people discover what deportation is.
On April 2lth, 1945 I returned to my house in Noyon by train. I am very tired. It will take me several months to recover. For more than 15 years I'll have nightmares every night.
I will get married on December 19, 1946. We would have four children, two died. We have today Jean-Marc born on July 11th, 1948 and Sophie born on July 26th, 1965 married to Sylvester Samuels a U.S. Marine who lives in Oceanside, California.
Today, I'm 72 years old. I'm retired after working 50 years. 37 and a half years in Civil Service (Travaux Publics de l'Etat).
From the 10 to 19 April, 1945 in the Dora Camp when I was resting in the sun in front of a block some American soldiers photographed me. I remember in particular a black soldier. I'd like to find those photographs because the one I have was taken more than a month after my return, and after numerous care.
Thank you for the courageous and brave American Soldiers who came to rescue us. Without them I would not be able, 54 years later, to write these lines. Honors to those who gave their life to make this possible.
Lucille Eichengreen, German Holocaust Survivor
(survived the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, Neuengamme, and Bergen-Belsen to identify and testify against her former Nazi captors.)
DETAIL: In 1925, Lucille was born in Hamburg, Germany and lived with her mother Sala Landau, and her father, Benjamin Landau. Her sister, Karin, was born in 1930. On October 27, 1938, her father was arrested for the first time, but returned later in spring of 1939. On the same day that World War II began, her father was taken again, but only his ashes were returned in September 1941. Lucille was 16 years old in 1941 when her regular schooling ended after being deported to the Lódz Ghetto in Poland where she remained for nearly four years. Lucille arrived in Auschwitz in August, 1944 and was later transferred to the work camp, Dessauerufer in October 1944. She was then transported to the slave labor camp in Neungamme in November and December of 1944. There, Lucille and other inmates cleared bombed buildings and shipyards until the long walk to Bergen-Belsen in February and March
Birth: April 29, 1932 - St. Quentin, France
Survived: Hidden by Righteous Gentiles
Date of Arrival in United States: December 15, 1949
Avocation: Docent and Eye Witness
Testimony on Holocaust
Personal: Married, two children, four grandchildren
RACHEL AND IZZY EPSTEIN
Roslyn, New York
RACHEL AND BROTHER LEON
THE RIBOULEAU'S FIRST VISIT
with Rachel, Izzy and Brother Leon
HENRY AND SUZANNE RIBOULEAU
Rachel's Adoptive Parents
Receiving Silver Medal
Rachel's Best Friend
by Maxine Botesazan
Great Neck North High School
“Out of tragedy there can come goodness. It is evil that provides the breeding ground for goodness and kindness,” confirmed Rachel Epstein, as she told me the miraculous story of how she survived the Holocaust. To most, the Holocaust represents the worst case of genocide known to man. On the other hand, such an event enabled true heroes to emerge and save lives. The heroes of this story are Suzanne and Henri Ribouleau, along with their 2 sons Rene and Marcel.
At the age of ten, on July 19, l942, Rachel’s parents were dragged away by local policemen “for questioning.” When her parents were seized by the five French policemen, the neighbors, M. and Mme. Ribouleau, came up to see the commotion, and insisted on taking care of the children. Little did they know that neither they nor Rachel and her brother would ever see their parents again. And so they embarked on their journey. M. and Mme. Ribouleau, risked their lives every second for the next three years.
One may wonder why Suzanne and Henri put their own lives and the lives of their children in jeopardy to save two complete strangers. They were often asked such questions. Were they family? Were they friends? Were they Jews themselves? They were none of the three. Merely driven by the goodness of their hearts, they continued to care for both Rachel and her brother, even when times got rough. Neighbors questioned their dedication to these two and Jewish children. They simply replied, “We are saving two children. How can anything bad ever happen to us. G-d would never allow it.” Others were baffled as they watched Suzanne and Henri turn down great rewards from Germans for these two Jewish children. In an era of inhumanity and barbarians, members of the community could not understand that the Ribouleaus took care of these children out of pure compassion and kindheartedness.
The self-sacrifice of both Suzanne and Henri Ribouleau was astounding. Since they had not declared Rachel and her brother to the government for food allotments, they would take portions of their own children’s food to feed them. They even paid the rent on Rachel’s parents’ apartment all through the war, constantly anticipating their return. They rescheduled work hours so that someone would be home to watch Rachel’s brother, who was only five at the time. They had the courage to stand up to all, who had come after these Jews. Even when they had scarcely escaped from the Germans who had come to their home in search of the kids they continued to protect these helpless children. Although the Ribouleaus’ were a family, selflessness was not the only characteristic that earned them respect.
Suzanne and Henri Ribouleaus’ fearlessness, compassion, and self-sacrifice helped them redefine the meaning of hero. As heroes, not only did they save these two Jewish children, but they also were the instrument that led to a family of ten more lives between Rachel and her brother after the war. We cannot only commend the Ribouleaus’ for the lives they saved, but also for saving our faith in humanity. It seems ironic that the Holocaust, an event where millions were murdered for religious differences ultimately helped unite a Christian family, which embraced two Jewish children into their lives. And so I leave you with Rachel Epstein’s grateful words, “No we have not forgotten.”
by Holly Nadel
Herricks High School
KNOCK AT THE DOOR
by Elizabeth Klein
JFK/Bellmore High School
(Surviving the war to become a leading cardiologist.)
. Marek Edelman at the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial.
By MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN
October 3, 2009
Marek Edelman, a cardiologist who was the last surviving commander of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Germans, died Friday in Warsaw. He was 90.
A friend, Paula Sawicka, told The Associated Press that Dr. Edelman had died "among friends, among his close people," at her home, where he had lived for the past two years. For many years he lived in Lodz, Poland's second largest city.
Dr. Edelman was one of a handful of young leaders who in April 1943 led a force of 220 poorly armed young Jewish men and women in a desperate and hopeless struggle against the Germans.
He was 20 when the Germans overran Poland in 1939, and in the months that followed he watched as they turned his Warsaw neighborhood into a ghetto, cutting it off from the rest of the city with brick walls, barbed wire and armed sentries. By early 1942, as many as 500,000 Jews had been herded into the area.
In worsening conditions of hunger and brutality, the ghetto residents, wearing the obligatory Star of David armbands, were forced to sew military uniforms and produce other war materials.
Then, starting on July 22, 1942, the ghetto population began to shrink ominously. Each day, armed Germans and the Ukrainians serving with them prodded and wedged 5,000 to 6,000 Jews into long trains, which departed from the Umschlagplatz, a square at the southern end of the ghetto. At times they lured people onto the trains with loaves of brown bread. The Germans said the trains were going to factories where work conditions were better.
Marek Edelman and the young people with whom he had forged clandestine links knew that such claims were lies and that the human cargos were in fact being taken to camps near Lublin, where they were shot, put into boxcars with quicklime or forced into gas chambers. He and his colleagues talked about armed resistance but had no weapons at the time.
He spent every day at the Umschlagplatz watching as trains were loaded and sent off. He was there ostensibly in his official capacity as a messenger for the ghetto hospital, carrying documents in his pocket that enabled him to pull people off the trains by designating them too ill to travel. Since the Germans held to the fiction that the passengers were being sent to better surroundings, they made a show of holding back the sick. In fact, young Marek used the passes to save people who would be useful to the Jewish Combat Organization, then being formed.
"I was merciless," he recalled many years later. "One woman begged me to pull out her 14-year-old daughter, but I was only able to take one more person, and I took Zosia, who was our best courier."
On Sept. 8, when according to German records 310,322 Jews had been put on the trains and sent to the death camps and 5,961 more had been murdered inside the ghetto, the liquidation was suspended. There were some 60,000 Jews still in the ghetto. The leaders of the Jewish Combat Organization were certain that the Germans would try to finish the liquidation, and for the next six months the organization planned for armed resistance.
At 4 o'clock on the morning of April 19, 1943, as German soldiers and their Ukrainian, Latvian and Polish henchmen marched through the ghetto to round up people, they came, for the first time, under sustained fire. By midafternoon they were forced to withdraw without having taken a single person.
The fighting continued for three weeks. On one side were 220 ghetto fighters, hungry and relatively untrained youths deployed in 22 units. Each unit had a pistol, five grenades and five homemade bottle bombs. They also had two mines and one submachine gun.
Ranged against them, on a daily average, were 36 German officers and 2,054 others with an arsenal that included 82 machine guns, 135 submachine guns and 1,358 rifles along with armored vehicles, artillery and air power used to set the ghetto ablaze.
Dr. Edelman buried his fallen comrades and used his knowledge of the neighborhood, where he had grown up, to find escape routes for units that were pinned down. Many years later he would say that no one ever established how many Germans they had killed: "Some say 200, some say 30. Does it make a difference?"
"After three weeks," he recalled, "most of us were dead."
At the end he found a way out of an encircled position, leading 50 others with him.
Eventually, he took part in the Warsaw uprising of 1944, when for 63 days Poles fought valorously but unsuccessfully to liberate their capital from the Germans.
Once the war ended, he threw himself into his medical studies and became a doctor in Lodz. For 30 years he kept his memories and thoughts about what happened to himself, concentrating on his medical work and becoming one of Poland's leading heart specialists and the author of a much-used textbook on the treatment of heart attacks.
Even after Poland's anti-Semitic campaign of 1968, when he was demoted at the hospital and most of the remaining Jews in Poland, including his wife and two children, emigrated, Dr. Edelman stayed. He was unwilling, and perhaps unable, to tear himself away from the place where East European Jewry had once thrived and then perished as he watched.
Then, in 1976, he suddenly spoke out, telling Hanna Krall, a Polish writer of Jewish origin, what he had so carefully remembered. The recollections were stark and surprising. He challenged those who claimed that there had been many more than 220 ghetto fighters. Most provocatively, he insisted that it was not more meaningful or heroic to die with a gun in one's hands than to perish in apparent submission to an overwhelming and invincible evil.
"These people went quietly and with dignity," he told Mrs. Krall, speaking of the millions killed in the Nazi gas chambers. "It is an awesome thing, when one is going so quietly to one's death. It is definitely more difficult than to go out shooting."
After the book appeared, Dr. Edelman was often sought out by visitors from around the world, whose questions he would sometimes wave aside gruffly, saying that people who had not been there could never understand the choices made in the ghetto.
He would cite the example of a nurse in the ghetto hospital who he said was greatly admired, and deservedly so, for smothering newborn children to save their mothers the inevitable pain that would come when the babies starved to death.
He would dispute the use of the word "uprising," saying that it normally implied some slight prospect of victory. In the ghetto, he said, there was no such prospect.
"It was a defensive action," he would say, or, "We fought simply not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths."
Marek Edelman was born on Sept. 19, 1919, the only son of a family that spoke Yiddish at home and Polish at work. His father died when he was very young; his mother, who worked as a secretary at a hospital, died when he was 14. While going to high school he was looked after by his mother's friends from the hospital.
Dr. Edelman was an early member of the Solidarity free labor union and was among those interned when Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in 1981.
Two years later he was asked to serve on the organizing committee for an observance of the 40th anniversary of the ghetto uprising. He declined, saying that to do so "would be an act of cynicism and contempt" in a country "where social life is dominated throughout by humiliation and coercion."
Eight years later he served as Solidarity's consultant on health policy in the round-table talks that led to democratic rule for Poland. In the first free elections, he ran for the Polish Senate, losing narrowly. He kept working at the hospital in Lodz, dodging any suggestion that he retire. He held an honorary doctorate from Yale.
Dr. Edelman's wife, Alina Margolis-Edelman, a pediatrician, died last year in Paris. She had worked as a nurse in the Warsaw ghetto. He is survived by their two children, Aleksander, a biophysicist, and Ania, a chemist, both of Paris, as well as two grandchildren.
The Polish title of the book Mrs. Krall wrote about Dr. Edelman could be translated as "To Finish Before God," with the implicit idea being one of racing with God. But when the English translation was published by Henry Holt and Company, it was called "Shielding the Flame," a reference to a passage in which Dr. Edelman explained his philosophy both in the ghetto and later as a doctor.
"God is trying to blow out the candle, and I'm quickly trying to shield the flame, taking advantage of his brief inattention," he said. "To keep the flame flickering, even if only for a little while longer than he would wish."
Photograph from the Harry Faiwl Collection, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.
Survivors in Ebensee. The man in the foreground is Mr. Faiwl, originally from Kalisz, Poland, imprisoned in Warsaw ghetto, Czestochowa ghetto - Hassak labor camp, Bedzin ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Swietochowice and Ebensee, where he was liberated by the U.S. Army. (May 6-15, 1945)
Holocaust survivor keeps stories alive.
Woman was sent to Auschwitz at 5 years old.
(She was featured in book by local author.)
Staff writer of The Holland Sentinel
(October 19, 2002)
Sometimes, Tova Friedman meets someone who believes the Holocaust never happened.
That's when she shows them her tattoo on her arm, "A27633," a mark she was branded with as a 5-year-old girl at Auschwitz. Four million perished at the German concentration camp.
"They told me I no longer had a name," said Friedman, who told her experiences as a Holocaust survivor to honors and political science students Friday at Grand Valley State University.
"Some people told me I should have got rid of the tattoo," she said. "I respond by saying that it was nothing I did. The world should be ashamed, not me.
"Sometimes you are going to meet people who say the Holocaust didn't happen," she told the students. "That's why it's so important for me to talk. Most of them didn't make it. By telling you my story, I also tell you their stories. I just don't want them to be forgotten."
Friedman is director of Jewish Family Services in Highland Park, N.J. She was in West Michigan this week taking part in a PBS documentary on the Holocaust by GVSU station Channel 35. It will air in about 18 months.
Her experiences were published in the book "Kinderlager: An Oral History of Young Holocaust Survivors." Holland resident Milton Nieuwsma wrote the book in 1998 and attended her lecture.
"Her life is such an inspiration," Nieuwsma said. "The courage that she and her mother exhibited is amazing. The message Tova conveys today is one of tolerance."
Although 64, she dates her birthday to Jan. 27, 1945, the day the Russian army liberated her from Auschwitz.
Students listened intently as she described how she was transported to Auschwitz for three days in a cattle car by train without food, water or any privacy for people to relieve themselves. She and her mother were separated from her father on the way to Auschwitz. She told how all the prisoners were stripped and had to walk naked by the Nazis to see if they were healthy.
"Some people didn't pass inspection," she said. "They were shot or taken to the crematorium. We smelled the smoke and the burning flesh."
All the inmates had all their body hair shaved off. She had long braids.
"Hunger was unbearable," she said. "All I thought about was food. I forgot about my mother and father. I forgot I belonged to anybody."
Afterward, several students said they were both horrified by the atrocities and inspired by Friedman's courage.
"It was very heart-wrenching, but very inspirational at the same time," said Brett Billedeau, 20.
"I think it's amazing she portrayed it so well," said Jeri McGhee, 21. "It's inspirational to us that something so tragic can be expressed and not held back. She wants everyone to know about it."
Shortly before liberation, Friedman and a group of other children were taken to the crematorium to be put to death.
"I wasn't worried," she said. "I thought because you were born Jewish, it was some sort of crime. We're Jewish and we have to die. That's just the way it is."
The children were given orange towels to wrap themselves in after they were told to remove their clothes.
"I remember standing and utterly freezing standing in the towel," she said.
Then after some confusion, the soldiers returned the children to camp. She doesn't know if there was a malfunction in the equipment or if they weren't the proper group to be executed that day. The Germans kept meticulous records and did everything according to orders.
"I consider it a complete and utter miracle," she said. "The miracle is I came back."
"Abandon all hope ye who enter here."
Dante Alighieri's inscription on the entrance to Hell.
The entrance to the feared death camp of Auschwitz, author-psychoanalyst
Viktor Frankl's home as prisoner of conscience of the Third Reich.
ARE YOU PRONE TO DESPAIR? I highly recommend this book for anyone who questions life and wonders if it has any meaning or value. Frankl's reason for writing his life affirming book:
"I had wanted simply to convey to the reader by way of concrete example that life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones. And I thought that if the point were demonstrated in a situation as extreme as that in a concentration camp, my book might gain a hearing. I therefore felt responsible for writing down what I had gone through, for I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair."
"WHY DO YOU NOT COMMIT SUICIDE?"
DR. FRANKL ASKS HIS PATIENTS
from preface to Man's Search for Meaning by Gordon W. Allport
"...in one life there is love for one's children to tie to; in another life, a talent to be used; in a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving... As a long-time prisoner in bestial concentration camps he [Viktor Frankl] found himself stripped to naked existence. His father, mother, brother, and his wife died in camps or were sent to gas ovens, so that, excepting for his sister, his entire family perished in these camps. How could he - every possession lost, every value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination - how could he find life worth preserving?"
Even in the degradation and abject misery of a concentration camp, Frankl was able to exercise the most important freedom of all - the freedom to determine one's own attitude and spiritual well-being. No sadistic Nazi SS guard was able to take that away from him or control the inner-life of Frankl's soul. One of the ways he found the strength to fight to stay alive and not lose hope was to think of his wife. Frankl clearly saw that it was those who had nothing to live for who died quickest in the concentration camp.
"He who has a why for life can put with any how."
Frankl wrote the following while
being marched to forced labor in a Nazi concentration camp: We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road running through the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."
That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another on and upward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look then was more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth--that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when a man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way--an honorable way--in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory."
In front of me a man stumbled and those following him fell on top of him. The guard rushed over and used his whip on them all. Thus my thoughts were interrupted for a few minutes. But soon my soul found its way back from the prisoners existence to another world, and I resumed talk with my loved one: I asked her questions, and she answered; she questioned me in return, and I answered...
My mind still clung to the image of my wife. A thought crossed my mind: I didn't even know if she were still alive, and I had no means of finding out (during all my prison life there was no outgoing or incoming mail); but at that moment it ceased to matter. There was no need to know; nothing could touch the strength of my love, and the thoughts of my beloved. Had I known then that my wife was dead, I think that I still would have given myself, undisturbed by that knowledge, to the contemplation of that image, and that my mental conversation with her would have been just as vivid and just as satisfying. "Set me like a seal upon thy heart, love is as strong as death."
Man's Search for Meaning
Both a concentration camp prisoner and world-respected author and psychotherapist in his lifetime, Viktor Frankl writes the following advice about happiness:
"Again and again I therefore admonish my students in Europe and America: Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run - in the long-run, I say! - success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it."
Of course, the important part is the "...in the long-run..."
A great man has left the earth; let us not forget him or his message.
Rest in peace Viktor Frankl! Viktor Frankl at Ninety: An Interview
by Matthew Scully VIKTOR FRANKL, RENOWNED AUSTRIAN PSYCHIATRIST, DEAD AT 92 3 September 1997
Web posted at: 23:37 CEST, Paris time (21:37 GMT)
VIENNA, Austria (AP) Viktor E. Frankl, author of the landmark "Man's Search for Meaning" and one of the last great psychotherapists of this century, has died of heart failure. He was 92.
Frankl died Tuesday and his funeral already has been held, the Austria Press Agency reported today, citing the Vienna Viktor Frankl Institute. It gave no further details.
"Vienna, and the world, lost in Victor Frankl not only one of the most important scientists of this century but a monument to the spirit and the heart," said Vienna Mayor Michael Haeupl.
Frankl survived the Holocaust, even though he was in four Nazi death camps including Auschwitz from 1942-45, but his parents and other members of his family died in the concentration camps.
During and partly because of his suffering in concentration camps, Frankl developed a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy.
At the core of his theory is the belief that humanity's primary motivational force is the search for meaning, and the work of the logotherapist centers on helping the patient find personal meaning in life, however dismal the circumstances may be.
Frankl's teachings have been described as the Third Vienna School of Psychotherapy, after that of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.
In "Man's Search for Meaning," which has sold approximately nine million copies worldwide and been translated into twenty-three languages. The Library of Congress called the book one of the ten most influential books of the twentieth century. Frankl said: "There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life."
According to logotherapy, meaning can be discovered by three ways: "(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering," he wrote.
"We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation," he insisted, a theory he gradually developed as a concentration camp survivor.
"As such, I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable," he wrote.
Viktor Emil Frankl was born in Vienna on March 26, 1905. His father worked his way up from a parliamentary stenographer to director at the Social Affairs Ministry. As a high school student involved in Socialist youth organizations, Frankl became interested in psychology.
In 1930, he earned a doctorate in medicine and then was in charge of a ward for the treatment of female suicide candidates. When the Nazis took power in 1938, Frankl was put in charge of the neurological department of the Rothschild Hospital, the only Jewish hospital in the early Nazi years.
But in 1942, he and his parents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp near Prague.
Frankl returned to Vienna in 1945, where he became head physician of the neurological department of the Vienna Polyclinic Hospital, a position he held for 25 years. He was a professor of both neurology and psychiatry.
Frankl's 32 books on existential analysis and logotherapy have been translated into 26 languages. He held 29 honorary doctorates from universities around the globe.
Starting in 1961, Frankl held five professorships in the United States at Harvard and Stanford Universities as well as at universities in Dallas, Pittsburgh and San Diego.
He was awarded the Oskar Pfister prize of the American Society of Psychiatry, as well as honors from several European countries.
Frankl taught regularly at Vienna University until he was 85 and was an avid mountain climber. He also earned a pilot's license at 67.
He is survived by his wife, Eleonore, and a daughter, Dr. Gabriele Frankl-Vesely.
Ella and Samuel Freilich
Ella and Samuel Freilich, Holocaust Survivors from Czechoslovakia
Ella Freilich, the mother-in-law of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, died on August 6, 2004. She was 87. Ella and her husband, Samuel, fled Czechoslovakia as the Communists came to power. They arrived in the United States in 1949, a year after their daughter, Hadassah, was born. Hadassah and Lieberman are now married. Born in Rachov, Czechoslovakia, Ella was the youngest of four siblings. In 1944, her family was sent to Auschwitz, where her mother and two sisters died. She was liberated in 1945. She later worked in Prague and in 1947 married her husband, a lawyer and rabbi who also had survived a Nazi labor camp. [AP]
Postwar reunion of Abraham Foxman and his parents, Helen and Joseph Foxman cica 1946. This photograph was taken at a DP camp in Bad Gastein, Austria. Abraham had been hidden in Vilna by his Polish Catholic nursemaid, Bratislawa Kurpi, who baptized him and raised him as her son, Henryk Stanislaw Kurpi. Abraham Foxman is the National Director of the ADL today.
Credit: USHMM; Photograph #05010
It didn't seem so at the time, but Sala Garncarz was one of the lucky ones. When the Nazi invaded Poland in 1939, she was a 16-year-old Jewish girl living in Sosnowiec, a town close to German border. She volunteered to take the place of her older sister, Raizel, who had been ordered to report to a Nazi forced labor camp for six weeks. But the six weeks stretched into almost five years of servitude for Sala, in seven different camps, with a pittance for wages or none at all, filthy quarters and an abundance of typhus-carrying lice. Her luck was that her labor-worthiness as a seamstress saved her from Auschwitz, a main extermination center, where her parents and other family members died. The story of Sala (she is alive and well at 82 and has grandchildren with her husband of 60 years, Sidney Kirschner) is told in a stirring new exhibition at the New York Public Library, which draws on more than 300 cherished from her family and friends; and a diary she managed to squirrel away during her years of servitude (for a while the Nazis let forced laborers send and receive mail, provided it was written in German). Crucial elements of her saga --which she kept under wraps for more than 50 years-- include the protective support of an older campmate, Ala Gertner, later hanged at Auschwitz for her part in an uprising there; the kindness of a local German family to whose home she was sent under guard to use its sawing machine; her close comradeship with female workers at various camps; her introduction to her husband, then a G.I., at a Rosh Hashana service after the camps were liberated; her postwar discovery of her two surviving sisters; and her emigration as a war bride to the United States in 1946. [By Grace Glueck, Art Listings, The New York Times, March 10, 2006, p. B27.]
"Letters to Sala,"
Bringing One Woman's Holocaust Experience to Life
By KATHRYN SHATTUCK
March 11, 2006
A time capsule from the Nazi Labor camps,
Letters posted with Hitler stamps and inky Z's for "zensiert," or censored. Tattered diary pages in Yiddish. The photograph of a young woman and her first love, peeking from the darkened doorway of a barracks. To those educated in the ways of the Holocaust, the most startling aspect of these documents is that they survived, and their bearer with them.
Postcards and a photograph from "Letters to Sala," at the New York Public Library. [Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times]
Sala Garncarz Kirschner with her granddaughter Abby Kirschner at a public reading of her letters, March 8, 2006. [New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish division/Sala Garncarz Collection.]
Now they are on view through June 17 at the New York Public Library, in the exhibition "Letters to Sala": more than 100 postcards, letters, photographs and diary entries (out of a total of 300) that chronicle one woman's experience of the nightmare that unfolded as thousands of Jews from western Poland were transported to Nazi forced labor camps.
They speak to the life of Sala Garncarz, who from the age of 16 to 21 worked in seven camps &emdash; and painstakingly saved every paper that passed through her hands.
Encased in glass, the yellowed documents, their Yiddish, Polish and German script faded across 60 years, are redolent with frustration and longing. Each is labeled with a summary of its contents; about 30 letters are translated in full on electronic screens. Photographs of the Garncarz family in happier times hang on the walls.
Ms. Garncarz, now Sala Garncarz Kirschner, and her daughter, Ann Kirschner, presented the letters to the library's Dorot Jewish division in April 2005. They form a time capsule of extraordinary breadth from a less documented arm of the Nazi camp system, said David S. Ferriero, director of the research libraries.
Ms. Kirschner hopes to pass on her mother's legacy. Her book, "Sala's Gift," is to be published by the Free Press in November, and a documentary and a play about Mrs. Kirschner are currently in development.
The letters tell of a past locked away by a young woman who hoped never to resurrect it, and of the eventual understanding between a mother and a daughter.
"These letters, I knew that I've got to have them," Mrs. Kirschner said in a telephone interview last Sunday, her 82nd birthday and 60th wedding anniversary. "They were a link to my home, to my friends, to my life, to everything. They helped me survive. These letters were my most precious thing."
So precious that she once buried them, and another time threw them under a building, to ensure their life. And then she tucked them and her memories away, sharing them with no one -- not Sidney Kirschner, the American G.I. she eventually married, nor their children -- until 1991, when, scheduled to undergo a triple bypass, she presented her daughter with a box.
"These are my letters from the war," she said.
"At that moment I thought only of one thing: I don't know if I'm going to survive the surgery, and I don't want to take them with me," Mrs. Kirschner recalled. "My children are adults now. They can handle it."
Her daughter said: "I think she was at first annoyed at my ignorance of what they were and who the people were and where she had been. It was almost as if she had forgotten her own years of silence."
A literary scholar and media consultant, Ms. Kirschner spent the next 15 years unraveling her mother's story as she cataloged and deciphered the documents with the help of translators.
"When I first got them," she said, "it was if the letters were written to me, they were so fresh. I read the letters so often that I could recite them in my sleep."
Slowly, Ms. Kirschner unveiled a fearless young woman who, at 16, volunteered for what was to be a six-week stint at a forced labor camp in her sister's place. Though Raizel was two years older, it was Sala who was the bolder, scurrying through the night to scavenge food for her family, hiding in a tenement in Sosnowiec, near Krakow.
"What I was thinking at the time was that I have a better chance to go than my sister, who was very into religion, very timid," Mrs. Kirschner said. "I believed it was my destiny to go, and I wanted to go. They promised that if one member of the family went, the rest would be safe at home."
Her father, a Hebrew teacher who wore his beard long, blessed his daughter but did not see her off at the train. At the station, her mother wept and refused to release her.
"I could not stop looking at you mother, because I felt something inside of me tearing, hurting," Mrs. Kirschner wrote in her diary on Oct. 28, 1940. "One more kiss, one more hug, and my mother does not want to let go of me. Let it go already, it is torture."
It was then that she met Ala Gärtner, the woman she would call her guardian angel. Older and more sophisticated, Ms. Gärtner took the frightened teenager into her care as they journeyed to Geppersdorf, Germany, part of a network of 160 sites with 50,000 workers. The men in Geppersdorf built a branch of the autobahn, while the women did the chores to sustain them.
And the letters began to arrive, mostly from Raizel, who slowly mastered the German language required by censors. "When mother received your postcard, she was the happiest person in the world," Raizel wrote in November.
Less than a year later she told of the families' deteriorating circumstances. "May God always look after you," she wrote. It seemed, she said, as if "He has turned away from here."
There were small kindnesses. In Geppersdorf, Mrs. Kirschner worked as a seamstress in the home of a German family whose daughter once removed the young woman's Jewish star and took her for a walk in the city. Later the family sent a package of food and clothing. It was delivered by their son, an SS officer in the camp.
In September 1941, Mrs. Kirschner was allowed a three-day furlough home. In the summer of 1942, she was offered a second visit by a guard she had befriended, but on the departure date, Aug. 12, he failed to show. That day, her parents' ghetto was raided. Her sisters were sent to labor camps, her parents gassed at Auschwitz. Ala Gärtner was hanged there three years later for her role in an uprising.
Mrs. Kirschner spent 1944 and 1945 at Schatzlar in a remote corner of Czechoslovakia, forgotten but out of harm's way. The letters stopped coming; now there were only the birthday cards sent within the barracks, written in Yiddish and decorated with images of forget-me-nots.
In 1945, shortly after her liberation by the Red Army on May 8, Mrs. Kirschner met her future husband. She arrived in New York in 1946, one of the first war brides.
"How many daughters get to know their mother as a brave and beautiful 16-year-old girl in the most extraordinary circumstances?" Ms. Kirschner asked. "Every letter became a way of reassuring herself that she mattered somewhere in the world, which is why saving these letters became to her exactly the same as saving herself. If these letters didn't survive, she didn't exist."
Chaya Gertzman – Personal Interview
I was born and grew up at Ydniz village – 30 kilometer from Novoselitsa. My core family included parents Rivka and Eliezer (Layzer). I was born in1932, and my younger brother was born in 1934.
We left the village when I was 8 years old, and I never came back.
Most of the people in Novoselitsa were poor but their education was basic. It was a Jewish village and the mayor was a gentile. There was one gentile street. We were the only traditional Jew family in the whole village: we ate kosher food, at the holidays we went to the synagogue; I remember clearly the synagogue at the opening prayer of Eve of Atonement. I studied one year- first class at Rumania and first class again in Russia because there, the children started learning at the age of 7. In September 1941 the Germans came. There were a lot of Rumanian collaborators. Before the holidays they banished us from the houses, and we walked all way to Transnistria:
('Trans' = over, 'Stria' = river). A lot of people died on the way, and they plunder our property. We hid in the bushes for a couple of hours, and when we came back to our house, we didn't find anything beside some torn pictures. We were all together including grandpa, grandma and aunt.
They scattered us in Ukrainian Jewish villages. The village was a kind of a "Kolhoz".
The conditions were very bad: no food no heating and water was from the snow. In the end of the winter there were only 20 people alive, among them my mother and I.
My father who was a healthy man died first, my grandmother died of sorrow the following day, and my younger brother died lost.
Someone brought us every now and then "Makuh" (sunflowers seeds), which kept us alive. In the spring I was close to death but apathic. People started working in the village, digging holes from which they got food. My mother worked out side as well and she got a loaf of bread and five hard boiled eggs. When the Russians invaded Besserabia we decided to look for our cousins and on the way I saw a little girl non Jewish, playing outside wearing my favorite dress. In 1943 we took a train to Novoselitsa to my grandparents house and we were the first ones to arrive back home. Half the city was burned, in houses lived Gentiles. My grandparents' house remains as it was because it was used as a Gestapo office (I was 11 years old).
Several days later more relatives arrived and we lived together in minimal condition. In this period we started thinking about immigrating to Israel.
We moved to Chernivtsi where we were helped by people from Israel.
We moved to Yugoslavia and then shipped to Cyprus instead of Israel.
In November 1947 I arrived to Israel.
GLORIA A. GLANTZ
Birth: May 22, 1939 - Wegrow, Poland
Survived: Hidden by Righteous Christians
Date of Arrival in the United States: April 5, 1950
Avocation: Holocaust Educator
Personal: Married, two children
THE PRZEPIORKA FAMILY
with Infant Gloria
GLORIA'S PARENTS WITH
BROTHERS ZELIG AND YITZCHAK
Shabbat Dinner, Poland, 1932
Murdered in Holocaust
Murdered in Holocaust
Murdered in Holocaust
Murdered in Holocaust
“COURAGE UNDER FIRE”
THE STORY OF GLORIA A. GLANTZ
by Amy Nadel
Herricks High School
Gloria was born in 1939, in a small town called Wegrow in Poland where she lived with her parents and two older brothers until the age of three. During that time, Wegrow was primarily Jewish, but by 1944, no Jews remained. In 1942, when she was three years old, her mother took her to a small farmhouse outside the village of Wegrow and left her there to live until the war was over. After being introduced to Mrs. Kowalchik the owner of the farmhouse, Gloria was instructed to call her “Matka” which means “mother” in Polish and her name became “Gucia.” She was also told never to reveal her Jewish identity.
Gloria said she “seldom smiled, ate little, and cried a lot,” while adjusting to her new home. Soon the memories of her childhood began to fade but her mother’s singing would always be imprinted in her heart. In time, Gloria grew to love her Matka and her new home, and was raised as a Christian child, reciting appropriate prayers to prove her faith. German soldiers would appear with flashlights at all hours of the night, searching for hiding Jews. Luckily, Gloria was a convincing child and recited her prayers so well that the soldiers always believed her.
When the war ended in 1945, Gloria had only one aunt who survived WWII and was still living in Europe. Gloria’s aunt Norma came to the small farmhouse and told “Matka” the entire story. She wanted Gloria to
immigrate to the United States to live with her aunt Esther and Uncle Max Bernstein in New York who had emigrated to America before the war. In August of 1946, Gloria left her Matka and at the age of seven was sent to a Lutheran orphanage in Sweden for one year. The waiting period for immigration to the U.S. was years away so her aunt and uncle, the Bernsteins, asked their friends in Canada if they would allow Gloria to stay with them for a few weeks until they found a way to get her to New York. What was supposed to be three and a half weeks turned into three and a half years and Gloria became Gloria Morantz in Montreal, Canada. Finally, Gloria arrived in the U.S. and was able to move to the Bronx where she was renamed Gloria Bernstein and was adopted by her “Mom” and “Pa” Esther and Max Bernstein.
Now, Gloria is married and has a new name once again, Gloria Glantz. She has two wonderful children and she recently retired from teaching at the Shelter Rock Elementary School of Manhasset. Her passion is keeping the story of the Holocaust alive. If she could speak to her real parents for three minutes, as one of her students requested, she answered: “You are not forgotten. The suffering of our people is not forgotten. The Jewish people still lives. You have two humane, intelligent and delightful grandchildren. You would have loved them dearly. You would have been proud of me, your youngest child. I have a rich life, filled with love, friendship, family and joy… And my life is filled with music, a gift I got from you, mother. You are alive in my heart always.”
IN MEMORY OF GLORIA'S MOM
by Joey Amron
Syosset High School
by Elizabeth May
Herricks High School
LOOKING FOR JEWS
by Romal Ghandi
Herricks High School
by Alyssa Miller
Herricks High School
Born: Siauliai, Lithuania
March 28, 1928
Nesse was born to an observant Jewish family in Siauliai, known in Yiddish as Shavl. Her parents owned a store that sold dairy products. The city was home to a vibrant Jewish community of almost 10,000 people. It had over a dozen synagogues and was renowned for its impressive cultural and social organizations.
1933–39: My family was very religious and observed all the Jewish laws. I attended Hebrew school and was raised in a loving household, where the values of community and caring always were stressed. After the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, we heard from relatives in Lodz that Jews there were being treated horribly. We could not believe it; how could your neighbors denounce you and not stand up to help you?
1940–44: On June 26, 1941, the Germans occupied our city, just four days after the invasion of the USSR. In the weeks that followed, SS killing units and Lithuanian collaborators shot about 1,000 Jews in the nearby Kuziai forest. In August, we were forced to move into a ghetto, where we lived in constant hunger and fear. There I witnessed many "selections," during which men, women, and children were taken to their deaths. My father was among them. In 1944 as the Soviet army approached, the remaining Jews were deported to the Stutthofconcentration camp. There I was given the number 54015.
From Stutthof, Nesse was transported to several camps, and was sent on a death march in January 1945. In the freezing cold winter weather and with little food, many of the prisoners died. On March 10, 1945, she was liberated by Soviet troops. In 1950 after spending five years in the displaced persons camp in Feldafing, Germany, Nesse immigrated to the United States.
Ruth Glasberg Gold
It is with deep emotion that I stand here on this world stage to tell my story. Thank you for an invitation that honors not only those who are here, but the memory of those who are not. For all Holocaust survivors, this is a moment of ultimate redemption. I still cannot fathom the mysterious coincidence of January 27th being proclaimed by the UN as the International Day of Holocaust Commemoration, and how amazing it was to receive an invitation to testify on this very date. Because it was on January 27th 1942 - exactly 67 years ago - that I was left an orphan alone in the world.
I grew up in Czernowitz, the capital of the province of Bukovina, in northern Romania. There I spent the most memorable years of my short, happy childhood. Back then I was a carefree little girl protected and spoiled by my loving family. I had an older brother, a violin prodigy, whom I worshiped. I loved school; I had many friends and many dreams. But Hitler’s Nazi regime had other plans that brought an abrupt end to my education and my childhood.
I am a child survivor of Transnistria, which is an area between the Dniester and the Boug rivers in Southwestern Ukraine. Hitler gave this territory to fascist Romania, as a reward for its alliance with Germany. My journey into despair started in November, 1941 when I was 11 years old. About 2,000 of us were rounded up by Romanian gendarmes, herded towards the train station and compressed 50 to 80 people into cattle cars. During the next four days of this horrifying journey, some deportees died of suffocation, hunger and thirst. On the fourth day the train stopped and soldiers unbolted the doors. Starving, exhausted and filthy we could barely walk. We were ordered to form a column and were led on a death march through the vast, muddy fields of Transnistria. We were forced to walk about 25 KM a day, and only at night would our escorts allow us to rest, usually in abandoned barns that we shared with corpses of those who were unable to continue. The Romanian soldiers deliberately took us on detours for 2 long weeks to exhaust and further demoralize us. The old, the infirm and children, who could not keep pace, were left along the roadside. The graven image of frozen naked corpses on both sides of the road was the first of my many horror scenes to come.
My Holocaust experience is different from others. I have no tattoo, because I am a survivor of a less organized and methodical plan of annihilation. The Romanian methods were primitive and barbaric, but not less lethal than those of Nazi Germany. They did not bother with tattooing, filming and photographing their inhuman acts. They threw themselves into action without restrain and with such ferocity that appalled even the Germans. The Romanians’ most efficient system was to abandon the people without providing shelter, food, or any of the essential necessities for survival, and to let them die an agonizing, slow death caused by illness, exposure, starvation and despair. In addition to the above, they burned Jews in warehouses, suffocated them in cattle cars, or shot thousands in front of common graves; the victims had to dig themselves.
We need to remember the thousands of victims throughout Romania, killed between 1940-1941 in brutal pogroms and massacres committed under the aegis of Antonescu’s fascist governments. 280,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews as well as 11,000 Roma (Gypsies) fell victims to the Romanian Holocaust. December 1941 was a bitter and oppressive winter. We were worn out by hunger, thirst and the forced marches. My family and I ended up in a camp called Bershad. It was one of the largest and most infamous camps in Transnistria. We found shelter in a small room of a partially demolished house with a dirt floor, without doors or windows. In Bershad there was no electricity, running water or even outhouses. We had to share this room with about 20 other deportees. There I became a helpless witness to the agonizing deaths of my roommates my family included. In three short weeks I lost my father, then my 18-year-old brother and finally my mother. I was left to fend for myself in a hostile, macabre environment; an orphan alone in the world. There was no one to love me unconditionally anymore, no one to care about me.
As the mortality increased, the dead remained piled up against one wall of our room for days, or weeks, until they were picked up by the undertakers. My mother was the last one to die, and her body was left there for two weeks, during which hungry dogs tore at her flesh. When the undertakers finally took the corpses away, they simply dropped them on the frozen grounds of the cemetery. After the death of my family, my life precariously depended on strangers. Thanks to the kindness of some Bershad inmates, I survived. They rescued orphans from barns and alleys, from ruined houses and from among piles of corpses. Tiny people. Children with aged faces. Bundles of silent sorrow. A stark mirror image of myself. Our guardians housed us in one room with a single plank-bed. Boys and girls were packed onto it like sardines. Incidentally, one of those boys, with whom I shared the misery, is with us today. I would like to acknowledge Michael Surkis. Michael could you please stand up?
I am often asked: “How did you survive?” I believe it was the magical power that came prophetically from my mother when she predicted: “Everybody in this room will die. Only you will survive. You must bear witness!” These words kept me alive and preserved my humanity. Above all they enabled me to record without pencil and paper all the details of the horror around me, which I later included in my book titled "Ruth's Journey: A Survivor's Memoir".
After the war I joined a Zionist youth commune and escaped from Communist Romania on a freighter bound for the British Mandate of Palestine. But we were shipwrecked in the Aegean Sea and interred by our British rescuers in a Cyprus refugee camp for a year. Finally we were free to continue our journey. In 1948, the United Nations declared the formation of the State of Israel. I joined in the building of a new kibbutz. (Or “collective farm”) There, in the nourishing soil of my new homeland, I planted my severed roots and the healing process began. I served first as a kibbutz medic, then resumed my disrupted education, and completed my studies to graduate as a HADASSAH registered nurse. I was 14 years old when I gave my first written testimony right after liberation.
Today sixty four years later, I am still testifying, because there are those who dare to deny the horror and reality of the Holocaust, laying a foundation for this kind of inhumanity to be repeated, whether in Cambodia, Bosnia,or Darfur. I am hopeful that the UN in its quest to prevent terrorism and genocide will establish a global education foundation that will reach out to children all over the world. I also hope that the silent majority would become the vocal majority.
I wish to dedicate today’s testimony to the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust; to the survivors of Transnistria; to all the victims of the Romanian Holocaust, Jews and Roma. I hope their souls will find some comfort in knowing that what happened to them and their loved ones will never be forgotten. I also dedicate it to the 21 thousand righteous gentiles, in particular to Dr. Traian Popovici, the mayor of Czernowitz, whose courage saved 19,600 Jews from deportation. We, the child survivors, are the last witnesses to the most tragic chapter in history. We returned from the abyss of human misery and survived to speak the unspeakable.
By telling our stories, by teaching about the Holocaust and writing our memoirs, we force ourselves to recall the painful past in order to assure future generations of children an innocent and happy childhood free of menacing violence. Now we want to be assured that our efforts were not in vain. We want to live out our lives secure in the knowledge that these inhumanities will never happen again - not because there are laws which say they are wrong, but because PEOPLE say so. It is people who should admonish one another with the biblical command Zachor, Remember! Thank you.
The views expressed by private individuals do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.
Mounds of bodies.
One hole for a toilet and another for graves.
Every body cavity searched for gems.
A Bond Tragedy and Time Couldn't Break
By JOSEPH BERGER
December 29, 2004
The two sisters were inseparable.
They endured Bergen-Belsen together, and when the British liberated the concentration camp, it was Irma, herself frail, who pushed Hilde's shriveled frame in a wheelbarrow toward a neighboring village so they could recuperate together.
They came to the United States together and lived with their second husbands in adjoining apartment buildings in Washington Heights. (Their first husbands had died of typhus in the camp.) As if that were not close enough, they moved in 1967 into a single suburban ranch house in Englewood, N.J., which they continued to share after their husbands died.
Until yesterday. That was when Irma Haas, 97, and Hilde Meyer, 94, set off from Kennedy International Airport for Israel to spend the remainder of their lives in the same residence for the elderly in Jerusalem.
Irma Haas, 97, left, and her sister, Hilde Meyer, 94, arrived at Kennedy Airport yesterday for a flight to Israel. The sisters, who shared a house in New Jersey, will settle together in a residence for the elderly in Jerusalem.After a driver mistakenly took them to Newark Liberty International Airport, they arrived in cliffhanger fashion barely 40 minutes before takeoff. With canes across their laps, they sat next to each other in wheelchairs as El Al security hurriedly examined their passports and put them through the requisite grilling about who had packed their bags and whether they had received any gifts. Much of the time, Hilde, looking frightened, clutched Irma's left arm with her right hand.
"She cannot let go of me," Irma said, mentioning their wartime terror. "She is afraid she would be brought somewhere and I would not come."
While many Diaspora Jews dream of living out their lives in the Jewish homeland, those who actually make the journey usually do so when they have plenty of years left. But the sisters make no apologies for waiting so long.
"We were very happy here," Irma explained as they packed on Monday for their last great adventure. But she said they could no longer do the things that made them love Englewood, like walking a half-mile on Saturdays to their Orthodox synagogue. And so the question became where they could live out their lives most practically.
It didn't hurt that their Jerusalem residence, Beit Barth, is near their cousins and that the building has a synagogue. But most important, they had often visited Israel on tandem vacations and had always yearned to settle down there - together, of course.
"That is where I feel at home," Irma said. "It's the only country in the world that gives Jews a home without any restriction. After the Holocaust, this is how I always viewed it."
The sisters were part of an El Al flight of more than 200 North American Jews who were being resettled in Israel by a private organization, Nefesh B'Nefesh (Soul to Soul), and the Jewish Agency for Israel, a quasi-governmental group. The agency is trying to increase Israel's population; four years of violence has dried up the sources of immigrants Israel needs for economic growth. In two and a half years, Nefesh B'Nefesh has settled 3,000 Jews, helping them find jobs and schools and slicing away bureaucratic tape in arranging driver's licenses, bank accounts and other details. The Jewish Agency pays for the flights and offers tax cuts on purchases of houses and cars.
Both sisters are slight of build and wear gray shaytls, or wigs. Irma is hardier, Hilde more easily rattled. They were born in Londorf, a town in Hessen, a German state where their family's roots stretch back hundreds of years.
Irma promised her mother that she would always take care of the more delicate Hilde. They did live apart for a time. During the Nazi era, Hilde married a Dutchman and lived in Amsterdam. Irma, a schoolteacher, visited her there, and when she returned home, the Germans gave her 10 days to leave the country.
She had to say goodbye to her fiancé, a dentist, but she was able to rejoin her sister in Amsterdam. The sisters lived in the same neighborhood as Anne Frank, whom they sometimes saw lugging her school bag and who died in Bergen-Belsen.
Irma learned that her fiancé had boarded the St. Louis, an ocean liner that was one of the few ways out of Germany, but that it was turned back first by Cuba, then by the United States. The bittersweet outcome was that he was able to rejoin Irma in the Netherlands, one of the European countries that absorbed the stranded passengers, and marry her. But after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, the two couples were sent to Bergen-Belsen.
After the war, Irma wanted to move to what was then Palestine, but Hilde craved security, and they settled in the United States.
There were other affinities. Hilda remarried in 1949, to a doctor named Nathan Meyer, and Irma remarried in 1956, to a picture-frame merchant whose name was also Nathan - Nathan Haas. Both lost their prime childbearing years to the war. Both took classes together in Judaism. While Irma taught kindergarten, Hilde was more of a homemaker. Irma handled their finances, but both ate the challahs Hilde baked.
Judy Marcus, their second cousin, who accompanied them on the flight, said the two sisters seemed to have eluded the arrows of sibling rivalry. "They were never jealous of each other," she said. "They were always happy whatever the other one had."
About two years ago, Hilde was briefly hospitalized and pleaded that Irma remain at her side. Mrs. Marcus said she told a hospital official: "They are Holocaust survivors. They can't be separated."
"They made a special dispensation to allow Irma to sleep in Hilde's room," Mrs. Marcus recalled. "But Irma would not have left anyway, even if it meant sitting up in a chair all night."
By Chris Bergeron / Daily News Staff
February 28, 2005
Like many other young children, 12-year-old Helga Weissova drew pictures of her nightmares.
Starving neighbors picked through garbage for something to eat. A tired woman boiled sheets to keep typhus from spreading. People waited for the dark truck that would carry them to the crematorium.
Helga didn't dream up her demons.
Growing up in the Nazi-controlled ghetto of Terezin in Czechoslovakia, she witnessed the Holocaust through a child's clear eyes as it consumed her world.
With crayons and paintbrushes, she recorded institutionalized barbarities and everyday decencies in images that still sear the soul.
One of the drawings by Helga Weissova-Hoskova shows two violinists performing an impromptu concert in primitive barracks. (Contributed Photo)Her paintings and drawings are on display at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester in an exhibit of extraordinary power.
The 36 images in "A Child Artist in Terezin: Witness to the Holocaust" can be seen in Smith Hall in the fourth floor lobby above the Rehm Library through March 18.
Built northwest of Prague in 1780, the city of Terezin (known in German as Thereisenstadt) was transformed by Nazi occupiers into a ghetto where Czech Jews were kept as workers before being sent to extermination camps.
After three years at Terezin, Helga Weissova was one of the lucky ones.
She lived - as just one of an estimated 150 to 1,500 children who survived from among the 15,000 who spent time in the stone-walled fortress.
Helga was sent to Auschwitz with her mother Oct. 14, 1944, and on to labor camps at Freiberg and Mauthausen.
Now 74 and known by her married name, Helga Weissova-Hoskova, she is one of the Czech Republic's best known artists.
Friends cherish artwork
Hana and Edgar Krasa also survived Terezin to forge new lives in Israel and now in Newton.
Decades later, they befriended Weissova-Hoskova at a 1991 Boston exhibit featuring Terezin artists and regard her drawings an invaluable testimony of enduring righteousness.
"These drawings are the truth," said Hana Krasa. "There will be a time when there are no living witnesses. I hope these drawings help people understand what really happened."
In 1941 at the age of 21, Edgar Krasa "volunteered" to go to Terezin as a cook as part of an agreement to protect his parents from deportation to a Polish labor camp.
Now 84, Krasa is a sturdy animated man with thick graying hair.
He said the Nazis forced 60,000 Jews to live in a converted fortress designed to hold 7,000 people. Due to disease, malnutrition and mistreatment, 33,000 Jews died at Terezin and 88,000 Jews were deported from there to Auschwitz and other camps where they were killed.
"I'm a pretty tough guy. I'm not very emotional," said Krasa, sipping coffee. "It was reality. I lived it. Boys became men. Women grew up fast."
Though both spent several years in Terezin, the future husband and wife never met because men and women lived separately. Krasa, however, knew his wife-to-be's father, a respected leader in Terezin's Jewish community.
Since immigrating to the United States in 1962, the Krasas have returned twice to Terezin and agree that Weissova-Hoskova created art that honors people who refused to surrender their humanity.
Thomas Doughton, a lecturer in the college's Center for Interdisciplinary and Special Studies, said the exhibit documents the experience of one young woman at Terezin. "Sixty years later, we wonder what we have learned. It's an area of contestation," he said.
The exhibit is cosponsored by the Holy Cross Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture, CISS and the Cantor Art Gallery. It is offered in collaboration with Clark University's Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Exhibit "Forging a New Life: The Jewish in Central and Eastern Europe on the Cusp of a New Millennium."
Doughton uses the exhibit in his class on the Holocaust to encourage students to ask: "How should we live in response to the darkness that surrounds us."
In class, he urges students not to view the drawings as a "chronicle of victims," comprising stereotyped images of Jews, "perpetrators, liberators and bystanders."
Rather, Doughton hopes viewers regard the drawings as one artist's humane response to anti-Semitic genocide.
"It's helpful if students can see (the drawings) as an expression of one kind of accommodation to a horrific experience. It's important students understand people who didn't survive ... live on in the memories of the families, friends and neighbors," he said.
Helga Weissova-Hoskova was 12-years-old when she was deported to Terezin on Dec. 17, 1941, along with her parents who'd hidden paints and brushes among their belongings.
After the child first painted an imaginary snowman, her father encouraged her to "draw what you see."
For the next three years, she embraced that advice, chronicling the commonplace indignities of camp life with sharp-eyed detail.
Most pictures are on single sheets of paper about eight- by 11-inches.
Mothers carry children and an elderly woman, wearing a Star of David badge to identify Jews, leans on a cane as newcomers arrive in Terezin. A violinist performs a makeshift concert for camp members in a drab barracks. Men carry loaves of bread into the camp on a wooden cart used to carry away corpses.
The childhood drawings combine realistic portrayals of daily life with an abstract universality that reaches beyond Terezin.
Roger Hankins, curator of the Cantor Art Gallery, said, "These are drawings by a child of great skill." He suggested that Weissova-Hoskova's art could be interpreted as an attempt to understand her drastically changed circumstances or "give form to her fears."
Hankins observed the subject and style of the drawings became "a lot more dramatic" as time passed.
As conditions worsened, several of the later drawings featured childlike fantasies of gaily dressed children carrying platters of food through fields of flowers. Others showed castles in clouds.
Perhaps the most ominous of the later drawings depicts people lining up for "A departing transport," a truck that carried them to death camps, including the artist's then 46-year-old father.
Weissova-Hoskova and her mother survived and returned to Prague where the artist lives today.
As the war approached its end, Edgar and Hana Krasas' lives took separate, violent turns.
Edgar Krasa was sent to Auschwitz. He recalled stepping from a train with hundreds of other Jewish prisoners who were herded into two lines, to the right for forced labor to the left for the gas chambers.
"There were miles of electrified barbed wire. I saw a chimney and asked a Nazi guard why there was so much smoke. He told me it was the bakery,"he said.
On a work detail, Edgar Krasa tried to flee and was shot in his side and left for dead in a ditch.
Crawling into the forest, he found other escapees who kept him alive. After hostilities ended, he returned to Terezin and found both parents alive.
In early 1945, Hana Krasa's father was taken from Terezin with 20 other men and forced to throw thousands of boxes containing the ashes of Jewish dead in the Ohre River to hide evidence of Nazi war crimes. Her mother was sent to Auschwitz. She never saw her parents again.
Asked whether she still felt embittered by their "death," Hana Krasa paused and then said firmly, "They didn't die. They were murdered."
After years of near starvation, Edgar Krasa returned to his trade as a restaurant cook, gaining 80 pounds in six weeks to regain his pre-war weight of 163 pounds.
After the war, Hana and Edgar Krasa met at a New Year's Eve party in 1946 and were later married.
He joked, "At one point, she proposed and wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."
Amid the post-war chaos, Russia installed a communist government and the Krasas fled Czechoslovakia to Israel in 1950. In 1962, they emigrated to the United States where they raised their two sons, Daniel and Rafphael, who live in Newton and Natick, respectively.
Edgar Krasa spent 22 years as an administrator at the Jewish Rehabilitation Center in Boston working alongside his wife, and in 1985 opened his own restaurant in Brookline.
Now retired, he remains active in "Facing History and Ourselves," a Brookline nonprofit dedicated to educating students about the Holocaust.
Hana Krasa, who doesn't like to speak before audiences, shared her family's story with her grandchildren. She was moved when her 11-year-old granddaughter, Rebecca, wrote about Terezin for a school report using books with Weissova-Hoskova's drawings.
Hana and Edgar Krasa pray children like Rebecca will never again have to live the nightmare portrayed in the artist's drawings.
On their bedroom bureau, they keep a sprig of edelweiss from the years before the war and a stone carving of "chai," the Hebrew word for "life."
"This is what we always wanted for our children, a better world," said Hana Krasa. "When I see my children and their children, I know with certainty the Nazis did not succeed in eliminating our people. This is our family. This is sacred."
Alex Ossowski, a Catholic, was born in Starogard, near Gdansk (then Danzig). With the German occupation of Poland in 1939 Alex witnessed Jews being humiliated in the street by German townspeople, whom he had known and thought of as normal people. A group of priests, teachers and Jews were taken hostage, and shot in a nearby forest a few weeks later. He and his elder brother worked as house painters, but in 1940 Alex’s brother was arrested and sent to Stutthof concentration camp, where he died within two months.
In 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Poles of Danzig were declared to be Germans and could be conscripted into the German army. The following year, when his call-up papers arrived, Alex fled to Warsaw. Assuming the name Stanislaw Jankowski, he joined the AK, the Polish underground army. During the Warsaw ghetto Uprising in April 1943, he and a friend were assigned the job of finding hiding places for two members of the Jewish underground who had escaped through the sewers during the uprising. They organised accommodation and food for the men.
In the summer of 1943, the Germans hatched a scheme to lure Jews out of hiding by promising them that they would be exchanged for Germans interned abroad. A Gestapo agent, Lolek Skosowski, helped spread the word, and sold the necessary documents at exorbitant prices. The Jewish underground had tried but failed to assassinate Skosowski, and now Alex was ordered to do the job. He was told that Skosowski had diamonds on him, and that the Polish underground needed the money. But Alex was caught while lying in wait for him. Interrogated under torture, he claimed that he did not belong to the underground but was planning a robbery. He was believed, and sent to the notorious Pawiak prison.
After two months, he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. On arrival Alex and the other prisoners were sent to the de-lousing station, where all their hair was shaved. They were then quarantined for two months, barefoot and sleeping on bare boards. After this they were made to do pointless work: carrying stones or sand from one place to another, then back again. Alex was put to work digging drainage ditches near Crematorium V, and could see people being herded into it to be gassed and burned.
Alex was especially affected when people he had come to know were sent to the gas chambers. One day he fell ill and was sent to the camp hospital, where, because he knew German, he was taken on as a clerk. He befriended some of the other patients in the hospital, such as a Jewish musician, Mr Cybula, who would entertain the patients with lectures about the great composers. But 'the SS, especially for Jewish holidays like Yom Kippur, would select Jewish people' – which meant that those deemed unfit would be killed. The doomed Jews would pray and sing the Hatikvah – now the national anthem of Israel – and Alex sang along.
Dr Krammel, the SS doctor at the hospital, seemed decent, so when Cybula was selected Alex pleaded with Krammel to spare Cybula’s life. He refused. Alex remembers a Jewish boy with a broken leg, who knew that he would fail the selection. Wanting to avoid an agonizing death in the gas chamber, he asked Alex to get him poison. Alex traded some garlic from his monthly food package for a poison pill from the hospital chemist, also a prisoner. Alex assumes that the boy took the pill after he was taken away.
With the Red Army approaching Auschwitz, Alex was evacuated to Sachsenhausen and then Buchenwald. He worked making munitions until the camp was liberated by American troops. Alex settled in England after the war. He has his own business, and has raised three sons.
Barbara Stimler was born in 1927 in Aleksandrów Kujawski, near Poland’s border with Germany. Her childhood was happy: she was an only child and her parents showered her with love and affection. She had many school friends and encountered little antisemitism.
Following the invasion of Poland in 1939 Barbara and her parents had to leave their home and seek shelter with her uncle in Lubraniec in central Poland, which seemed safer at the time. However, they were soon forced to move on to Kutno in January 1940, where they were arrested and placed in a disused tobacco factory with many other prisoners. While here, Barbara had to watch as her father was cruelly ill-treated by the SS – to the point where he almost died. People interned in the factory were also forced to witness the execution of randomly selected men. One night Barbara and thousands of other Jews were transferred to a large dilapidated sugar factory. Conditions here were dreadful – the place was terribly overcrowded and the prisoners were desperate with hunger and disease.
Through connections with the Jewish Council, Barbara’s uncle arranged for the family to be moved back to Lubraniec in July 1940. However, at the end of 1941 all Jewish men, including Barbara’s father, were deported for forced labour in Fort Radziwil. Barbara never saw him again.
Three months later all the Jewish women in Lubraniec were deported to the ?ód? ghetto where Barbara got a job in a children’s hospital. Whilst there Barbara’s mother became paralysed and unable to fend for herself, and Barbara had to make her meagre rations suffice for the two of them. Every morning Barbara had to drag her mother to a hiding place in a ditch, hoping that her mother would still be there on her return from work.
Barbara’s job ended abruptly when an SS unit appeared in the hospital with gas cylinders and gassed all the orphans. Barbara would be haunted by her memories of this episode for the rest of her life. She had to start looking for another job, but one Sunday morning in the summer of 1943 she was suddenly arrested and deported. Before being put on a train Barbara had to say goodbye to her paralysed mother. Their parting words were, ‘God should be with us’. Barbara’s train took her to Auschwitz.
From Auschwitz she was dispatched to a farm in Parazkow on the pre-war polish border to dig anti-tank defences. Then in December 1944 she was forced to march towards Germany with only snow for food and wooden clogs for shoes. Those unable to walk were shot on the spot. During one overnight stop on a farm, Barbara and a friend hid themselves in a very large haystack and were able to separate themselves from the march. They lived on snow and raw potatoes for 11 days. A farmer betrayed them and they were re-arrested, but a sudden air raid by the Allied Air Force gave them a second chance to escape. They arrived in a place called Lieben and had to declare themselves Christians in order to find food and work until the Russian army arrived. Upon liberation Barbara and her friend began the journey back to Poland. A newspaper journalist in Poland helped her to trace her family in England, and she came to London, where she still resides.
Edyta Klein Smith
Edyta Klein Smith
Edyta Klein Smith was ten years old when the Germans invaded Poland. Measures against the Jews were swift and Edyta remembers the Nazis forcing her 70-year-old grandfather to stand in waist-deep snow. Ten days later he died of pneumonia.
The family pharmacy and most of their possessions were confiscated and in November 1940 the family was forced to move into the Warsaw ghetto. For twenty months Edyta and her family lived in one room with a single stove, a table and two buckets. When deportations started in earnest on 22 July 1942 Edyta’s parents avoided selection because they worked at the Többens slave labour factory. Edyta, however, had to be smuggled into this factory and hidden on the shelf underneath her mother’s worktable for twelve hours every day. Many children were hidden in this manner - a fact which became known to the authorities. Edyta narrowly escaped an 'Aktion’ in which the factory’s hidden children were removed and deported.
Towards the end of March 1943, when it became clear that the factory itself would soon be liquidated, Edyta’s mother took a chance. Miraculously some of the telephones in the ghetto were still working, and correctly judging that one of the pharmacy’s non-Jewish customers was involved in partisan activities, she telephoned him and managed to secure a safe house. It was, however, impossible to find a hiding place for Edyta’s stepfather, Stanislaw, who had to stay in the ghetto. On 3 November 1943 he was sent to Poniatowa, where it is understood that he was forced to dig his own grave and shot.
The non-Jewish helper was able to provide false papers for Edyta’s mother, but Edyta had to get her own. She therefore invented an Aryan identity and applied for a real Kennkarte, which she obtained after several terrifying interviews at the Gestapo headquarters. Mother and daughter then began living as Christians in Warsaw, moving constantly from place to place and trying against all odds to look like ordinary citizens. Blackmailed, harassed, hungry, they tried to avoid detection, sometimes forced to sleep in the courtyard toilets of Warsaw’s apartment blocks. They became involved with two underground groups, and Edyta began running errands for them.
Following the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944, Edyta and her mother were deported to a Polish transit camp named Pruszköw, from where they were due to be sent to Germany for forced labour. But they were saved from this fate by a woman named Zofia Kielbasinska, who was leading a double life – working as a Nazi doctor but also very active with the partisan Home Army. Zofia recognised them, for she had been a frequent customer of the family pharmacy and knew that they were Jewish. Hiding them on a wagon at night, she took them to Milanowek where she protected them until Christmas 1944. Edyta and her mother were liberated by the Russians on 18 January 1945.
Edyta Klein Smith died in London in February 2008.
Freddie Knoller was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna in 1921. He was an excellent cellist, playing in a chamber music trio with his two brothers Otto and Erich. He remembers suffering antisemitic abuse before 1938, and joined a Zionist group because he dreamed of a place where there was no antisemitism.
With the Nazi takeover in 1938, the circumstances of Vienna’s Jews deteriorated rapidly. Freddie saw Jews beaten and made to scrub the streets with toothbrushes. Some of his former friends became Nazi supporters. OnKristallnacht (9 November 1938), the local synagogue was burnt down and one of the Knollers’s Jewish neighbours was killed. Freddie’s parents agreed that their children should leave Austria. Freddie decided to join his cousins in Belgium, and both his brothers managed to reach America. But their parents were unable to leave Austria, and both were later murdered in Auschwitz.
After he had illegally crossed the Belgian border, 'separation, hiding, moving, hunger, exhaustion, official questioning' filled Freddie’s life for the next five years. In 1939 he stayed at several refugee camps, receiving support from Jewish Aid Committees. He was briefly reunited with his cousins and played in camp orchestras with the cello that his parents had sent him. But panic followed the German invasion of Belgium in May 1940, and Freddie joined the mass of refugees heading for France. He was forced to leave his cello behind, losing 'the part of me which had tied me to my life in Vienna, and to my parents'.
When he entered France, holding a German passport, Freddie was placed in St Cyprien internment camp as an Enemy Alien and forced to live in appalling conditions. Freddie escaped from the camp in June 1940, meeting his cousins again in Gaillac before making his way to Paris in late 1940.
There, given temporary shelter by a Parisian Jewish family, Freddie posed as a Frenchman from Alsace to become a ‘guide’ to German soldiers visiting the red-light district. In May 1942 he witnessed the round-up and deportation of the French Jews and was shocked by the collaboration and antisemitism of the French police. In July 1943 Freddie was taken in for questioning by the Gestapo and although he was released, he decided to leave Paris.
Freddie travelled to Figeac in south-west France in July 1943 to fight with the resistance, helping to blow up a German troop train before being arrested by the Vichy police in September. Rather than denounce his comrades, Freddie confessed that he was a Jew and was handed over to the Gestapo.
Freddie was taken to the Drancy transit camp and in October 1943 his name appeared on a list of those to be deported to work in the East. He was packed into a crowded cattle-wagon with little water or fresh air. ‘We were actually made into sub-humans’, constantly beaten and humiliated by the SS.
He arrived at Auschwitz, where he spent most of 1944. Freddie was selected as one of those fit to work, which meant that he was not gassed immediately on arrival. A number was tattooed on his arm: ‘157103 is your name’ the guards told him. His work consisted of carrying sacks of cement all day. On one occasion Freddie strayed into a forbidden part of the camp, and was beaten with an iron rod as punishment. He attributes his survival to the extra rations he managed to obtain, and to his eternal optimism.
In December 1944, with the Red Army approaching Auschwitz, Freddie was forced to march to the slave labour camp near Nordhausen known as Dora. He swapped his Jewish badge for that of a French political prisoner who had died, which helped him to survive. Early in 1945, Dora was abandoned to the advancing American forces and its workers transferred to Bergen-Belsen. In the chaotic final weeks of war, all systems broke down. Disease and starvation gripped the camp, with inmates dying everywhere. The Americans liberated the camp in April 1945.
Freddie was reunited with his brothers after the war. Between 1947 and 1952 he lived in the USA, where he met his British-born wife. Together, they settled in London. In 2000 his story was published under the title 'Desperate Journey: Vienna, Paris, Auschwitz'.
Janina Fischler was born in April 1930, in Kraków, Poland. Before the German invasion, Janina lived in modest circumstances in Kraków with her parents, her elder brother, Joseph, and her younger brother, Bartu?.
She was nine years old when the German army invaded Poland. Restrictions were immediately imposed on Jews: their schools were closed, they were not allowed on public transport, and all were forced to wear the Star of David armband. The Kraków ghetto was set up in March 1941, and Janina and her family had to move there in November. Living conditions had deteriorated by this stage in the overcrowded ghetto. The family had one basement room, with no sanitation and no running water. Janina knew the Polish policeman on the gates, and was allowed to slip in and out of the ghetto to get the food and money that helped her family survive.
In June 1942 there was an Aktion (round-up) by the SS. One of Janina’s aunts was taken for ‘resettlement in the East’. Janina saw endless queues of people waiting to be deported. Another Aktion was held in June – Janina’s parents and Bartu? were taken away to be 'resettled'; Janina and Joseph stayed behind, and moved in with members of their family who had not yet been deported. At this point many in the ghetto thought they would soon be getting letters from those who had been 'resettled': they did not yet suspect what the Germans were actually doing.
Janina became a little entrepreneur; she smuggled goods between the ghetto and the rest of Kraków. She could speak fluent Polish, which allowed her to carry on for several months without being caught, and in that way supported her family. In October 1942 another Aktion took place. Joseph was taken, but he escaped from his truck and returned to find Janina.
It was clear by late 1942 that the ghetto was being liquidated, and in March 1943 it was cordoned off for the final deportations. As a young, frail girl, Janina stood little chance of being selected for work by the SS. Joseph helped Janina escape through the sewers and escorted her into the countryside. Knowing that he would soon be caught if he stayed with her, Joseph went back to his labour unit in Kraków.
Janina started on ‘a two year trek, my two year odyssey’. She had no money, and her only clothes were covered in sewer filth. She trekked from village to village, offering herself as a casual labourer. In this way she would survive for two years on the run – malnourished, lice-ridden and covered in abscesses. In the nearby town of Pleszów, a farming family took her in from September 1943 until the following May. ‘It was the harshest, most barren, most emotionally deprived time’ of her life. They fed her poorly, hardly spoke to her and provided no washing facilities.
She moved on, and in June 1944 managed to find a small room, with better living conditions, in Godów, north of Kraków. She stayed there until January 1945.
She subsequently returned to Kraków to look for her family, but of her extended pre-war family, only four had survived. One of them was her brother Joseph, with whom she was re-united in August 1945. But their life was irrevocably changed; ‘we both knew that the big wound – the loss of our parents and little Bartu? – would never heal’. Janina and Joseph travelled to Italy, before emigrating to Britain in 1946.
Maria was born a Catholic in Zakopane, a mountain resort in the south of Poland. She was 14 when the war broke out. German soldiers were sent to Zakopane for rest and recuperation, and at first relations with the townspeople were good. The first trouble came in 1940, when all the town’s Jews were forced to move into the Kraków ghetto. Several of Maria’s friends were Jewish; she never saw them again. Early in 1942, after young people started to be rounded up for forced labour, Maria’s parents decided to send her to stay with her aunt in Warsaw. In 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the notorious Pawiak prison, within the walls of the ghetto.
Maria was in the prison when the ghetto Uprising broke out: she could see burning buildings all around her, and people jumping from windows to escape the flames. From the Pawiak prison, she was sent to Auschwitz and there assigned to a group who were made to do pointless work, carrying stones from one place to another for no reason, purely to break their spirits. Later, because she was young and healthy, she was assigned to do physical labour outside the camp. That meant walking for miles every day, wearing ill-fitting clogs, then working from 6 am until 5 pm each day, with only a half-hour break. Food at the camp consisted of no more than a cup of acorn coffee in the morning, a bowl of thin soup at midday and a slice of bread in the evening. However, non-Jewish prisoners were allowed to receive a package from their families once a month, and that helped to save Maria’s life. She traded some of the food she received for a decent pair of shoes: if the clogs had crippled her, she would not have survived.
In January 1945, with Auschwitz about to fall into the hands of the Red Army, Maria was evacuated westward. She had to march for three days, the road strewn with the bodies of marchers who had preceded her. Then her group was loaded onto cattle trucks and transported to the women’s camp at Ravensbrück. With the end of the war near, conditions at the camp were chaotic: there was no food, and many prisoners were being shot. Maria was fortunate to be transferred to a sub camp, and then to Buchenwald, near Weimar. Finally, she was forced to march back East, into Czech territory.
She and three friends managed to avoid the guard dogs and escape from the march, surviving for two weeks in the woods on nettles and grass, until some Polish farm-workers found them and gave them clothes. They pretended to be refugees from the bombing of Dresden, and were given jobs on the farm. In that way, they survived until the end of the war. Not wanting to go to Communist Poland, they made their way to the US occupation zone by pretending to be French, and were eventually transferred to a British camp for displaced persons.
Premysl Dobias was born in Turnov, Czechosovakia, now in the Czech Republic, near Prague. His only sister still lives there. He had a happy childhood in Turnov and then he studied abroad in France and England. Life changed drastically in Prague after the Munich agreement and subsequent dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.
Although not Jewish himself, Prem noted with concern the measures taken against the Jews. ‘It took place almost immediately, all the Jews had to register and wear yellow bands with the Star of David.’ Prem became involved with a resistance group that was trying to smuggle Jews through Slovakia and Hungary to relative safety in Italy. For this activity, he was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, then sent for further interrogation in other prisons and eventually to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. There, he worked in the infamous quarry, where prisoners weakened by hunger had to climb a flight of 186 steps carrying heavy blocks of granite, while being beaten and hurried along by the SS. Prisoners rarely survived more than two months of this ordeal. But thanks to his friendship with a Polish prisoner who worked in the camp office, Prem managed to have himself transferred to other duties – a move which undoubtedly saved his life.
Prem was used by the Nazis to test experimental vaccines, and was forced to assist as prisoners were killed with phenol injected directly into the heart. At one point, Prem found himself selected for gassing in a mobile van. Another friend who worked in the camp office approached the officer in charge, claiming to have an order from the Commandant to release Prem because he was needed as an interpreter. The bluff worked, and Prem was spared.
In the final days of the war, the SS abandoned the camp, leaving it in the hands of the police from nearby Vienna. On May 5th, 1945, Mauthausen was liberated by American forces.
Roman Halter was born in 1927 in Chodecz, Poland.
Before 1939 there were about 800 Jews living in Chodecz, a country market town in north-western Poland. They lived a traditional Jewish life. Roman attended the local school with Jews, Catholic Poles and Germans; one of his best friends was a German named Karol Eschner. Yet Roman remembers Jews being victimised by antisemites, sometimes physically, especially as Hitler’s message spread across Europe after 1933.
Immediately after the Germans occupied Chodecz in 1939, the SS executed prominent townspeople, including Jews. Roman’s father survived only because of his friendship with a local German who was a member of the selection group.
Jews had their property taken away and were evicted from their homes into hovels in the outskirts of the town. They were often beaten and humiliated. Roman was made to work for an SS officer and his family. One day, while he was on an errand, he witnessed a massacre of a number of his Chodecz Jewish friends. This massacre was perpetrated by local German volunteers and led by the SS officer for whom Roman worked. Amongst the volunteers was his pre-war friend Karol Eschner.
In autumn 1940 the remainder of the Jews from Chodecz – now numbering only 340 or so - were deported to the ?ód? ghetto. ?ód? ghetto was very overcrowded and those in charge would accept only 120 of the 340 Chodecz Jews. The rest were taken away and shot.
Both Roman’s grandfather and his father died of starvation in the ?ód? ghetto. In the spring of 1942, Roman, his mother, his half-sister and her two children were selected for deportation. Roman managed to run away and hide in the ghetto, but the others were all taken away and killed in the Chelmno death camp. Roman survived by working in a metal factory, which gained him extra rations and temporary protection from deportation.
In July 1944, however, the ?ód? ghetto was liquidated, and the remaining Jews were sent to Auschwitz. On arrival at Auschwitz, Roman was among a group of 500 skilled metal workers chosen for transfer to the Stutthof concentration camp, while the remaining 2,300 Jews in his transport were led off to the gas chambers. He could not be certain of his fate: ‘and so you lived…for the hour, for the day’.
Stutthof was 'even worse than Auschwitz': Roman’s clothes were infested with lice, he received just one piece of bread a day and saw members of his group beaten to death. But with Soviet forces approaching he was moved on, eventually to a munitions factory in Dresden, where the conditions were better. He was there on 13 February 1945 when Dresden was bombed.
After the bombing Roman was taken on a death march, during which German civilians repeatedly physically abused the marchers. Roman escaped from the march, and along with two other Jews from his group was given shelter by a German couple, the Fuchses.
After the war Roman returned to Chodecz, to find that only four of the town’s 800 Jews had survived. His whole family had been murdered: 'the pain of losing everyone like that…is still with me.' Faced with hostility from the local population, and having nothing to keep him in Poland, he went back to Dresden to thank the Fuchses for saving his life – only to learn that, just days after the war had ended, SS men dressed as civilians had murdered Herr Fuchs and one of the two other Jews. These SS men also told Herr Fuchs’ wife that they ought to have shot her for sheltering Jews too.
Roman then settled in England.
Rudi was born in on 26 August 1920 in Nuremberg. His parents identified with German life and culture, particularly with German music, and his father had been honoured for bravery in the First World War.
Rudi’s early years were overshadowed by the hatred and propaganda against the Jews and the overwhelming power of the Nazi rallies in the city where he was born. This culminated in his humiliating public expulsion from the German school he was attending.
On the night of Kristallnacht the family home was ransacked and his father was savagely beaten and died in front of his family. The women, including his paralysed grandmother, were dragged through the house by their hair. Rudi was beaten, and put against a wall to be shot, but was spared by a diversion from a neighbour’s house.
Rudi’s mother realised the gravity of their situation. Rudi’s sister came to England with the Kindertransport and was fostered with a family. Rudi arrived later with an agricultural scheme under which he was put to work on a farm. At the outbreak of the Second World War he was interned in Australia as an 'Enemy Alien'.
Rudi was able to communicate with his mother until March 1942 when his letters were sent back stamped ‘gone away’. He later learned that she had been deported to the Majdanek extermination camp in Lublin where she perished.
Rudi says: 'as my parents have no grave.... and there's nobody to mourn them, I feel that talking about these events, and the way they perished, is my only way to perpetuate their memory'.
Rudy Kennedy was born in 1927 in a village near Breslau, Germany (today Wroc?aw in Poland).
When Hitler took power, Rudy was six years old and soon started school. As the only Jew in his class, he was ostracised from his first day; he experienced bullying and physical attacks. When he finally fought back, his father was fined and had to send Rudy to a special all-Jewish school in Breslau itself. The rest of his family – his father, mother and little sister – moved to Breslau in 1939.
The situation of the Jews of Breslau deteriorated once the war began. From 1941 they had to wear the Star of David, and the first deportations began for 'resettlement to the East'. During this time, Rudy worked as an electrician with his father.
In 1943 the remaining Jews of Breslau were deported to Auschwitz, including Rudy and his family. Rudy vividly remembers people’s looks of fear and horror at the filthy cattle train that was to take them to the camp. On arrival at Auschwitz, 15-year-old Rudy followed his father’s advice and lied about his age – he claimed he was 18 and fit for work. Rudy and his father were both selected for work, but his sister and mother were sent to the gas chambers the same day. When Rudy was taken to a shower room and ordered to clean it, he and those with him feared that they too would be killed.
The SS now 'owned' Rudy and his father. Rudy was sent to work for the I G Farben company in the Buna (synthetic rubber) factory that was part of the Auschwitz complex. Eight weeks later Rudy’s father collapsed from exhaustion. The SS decided he was unfit for work and killed him. During his time in the camp Rudy survived brutal beatings and saw fellow inmates commit suicide. Rudy’s job ensured his survival; knowing that if his work wasn’t good enough he would be killed: 'I survived, don’t ask me how. I wasn’t a hero, it was just luck'.
With the Soviet forces approaching, the Auschwitz camps were evacuated in January 1945. On the long march to the transportation point, the inmates spent a night in an unheated barn and many died from the cold. Rudy survived by sleeping under the bodies of those who had died, an experience so traumatic that he completely blocked it out of his memory for almost 50 years. He eventually arrived in Dora, where he was put to work in the production of the V1 and V2 flying bombs. Even though the SS publicly executed saboteurs, Rudy did what he could to sabotage his area of production.
In April 1945 Rudy was sent to Bergen-Belsen. Already emaciated, he was given no food for two and a half weeks, eating grass to survive. Rudy was almost left for dead by the British liberators: it was only because he reacted when a soldier kicked his body that his liberators realised that he was still alive.
In 1946 Rudy emigrated to Britain, where he settled. Today he is a founding member of the 'Association of Claims for Jewish Slave Labour Compensation', which seeks to expose the involvement of many major German businesses in the Nazi camp system and to gain compensation for former slave-labourers.
Ruth Foster (née Heilbronn) was born in 1923 in Lingen an der Ems, Germany, near the Dutch border. She was an only child. Her father was a cattle-dealer and fairly comfortably-off, and had been decorated during the First World War. Until 1933, Ruth had a happy childhood. She had lots of friends and her family were integrated with the community.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, her life suddenly changed. Her father’s business was damaged by boycotts. Antisemitic slogans appeared everywhere. At school, children were taught that the Jews were 'vermin' who had to be destroyed. Ruth had to transfer to a special Jewish school in distant Berlin. One day, her father was beaten so badly that he could never walk properly again. He was arrested onKristallnacht, and released only because he was a war veteran. But Ruth’s father felt that there was no need to leave Germany, as things couldn’t get any worse.
In December 1941, on learning that her parents were about to be deported to Riga, Ruth immediately returned to Lingen to join them. On the three-day journey to Riga, the conditions were so horrific that people became seriously ill and even committed suicide. On arrival, they were marched in temperatures of minus 20 degrees to a ghetto formerly occupied by Latvian Jews who had all been killed. The elderly, disabled people and children were offered transportation; those who accepted were taken away and shot.
In the ghetto, her father worked sawing wood, her mother repaired German uniforms, and Ruth worked as a Red Cross nurse. Brutality and death were part of everyday life. The Kommandant of the ghetto would often pick Jews randomly off the street and shoot them. Ruth’s father was shot in front of her after being caught with a piece of unrationed bread. Most of the ghetto’s Jews were shot in the Rumbula forest near Riga. By late 1943, of the original 20,000 only 2,000 remained.
In November, the Riga ghetto was liquidated. Those still fit for work, including Ruth and her mother, were transferred to the nearby Kaiserwald concentration camp. The rest were either sent to Auschwitz or shot on the spot. Ruth’s mother was killed in 1944, when all Jews over 30 and under 18 were eliminated. In July 1944, with the Russian forces approaching, the remaining prisoners were crowded into a ship’s cargo hold and transported through stormy weather to Danzig. From there, they were marched to the Stutthof concentration camp where, on arrival, Ruth was sent to a gas chamber to be killed. Fortunately the SS had run out of gas –'one of the miracles by which I survived'.
At Stutthof, Ruth narrowly avoiding being chosen as a guinea pig for medical experiments, but was assigned to heavy construction work in Milke, Pomerania. She was allowed to wash only in a freezing lake in the middle of winter. Anyone too sick to work was sent back to Stutthof to be killed.
In 1945, the 3,000 prisoners, including Ruth, were forced to march westwards. Only 300 of them survived these 'death marches'. Ruth’s weight dropped to under 4 stone and she began to feel that 'life wasn’t worth living'. On the verge of giving up, Ruth was liberated in March 1945 by the Soviets, who nursed her back to health.
In 1946 Ruth married a Polish Jewish survivor who also had lost his whole family. The following year they settled in England.
Alice Kern: Holocaust Survivor, Author, Lecturer
May her soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life
Alice Kern 1923-2010Born in 1923 in the small town of Sighet, Romania, Alice, (known then as Koppel Lucy), was twenty-one when she was taken in 1944 via cattle car to Auschwitz...
In her book, "Tapestry of Hope", she tells her dramatic story of courage and perseverance, plainly told, and strangely free of bitterness...
In 1995, fifty years after her liberation, Alice returned with her four daughters and a videographer for the first time to the place of her birth and retraced her steps to the concentration camps where she was interned. The video-documentary, Journey to Remember", captures her story as outlined in her book, telling all from the very sites where it occurred...
"With only the clothes on our back we were driven into cattle cars. Upon our arrival in Auschwitz we were "selected" under the bright spotlight beaming down on us;.... All the experiences thereafter were impossible to forget...." Alice Kern
Today, at age 75, Alice lectures to countless schools, churches, and other organizations to adults and children of all ages. She is eager to share her message of strength and hope, and to always "remember never to forget"...
Gerda Weissmann Klein
In the bitter winter months of 1945, the Nazis forced 2000 women slave laborers on a 350-mile death march. On May 7, 1945, a young American Army lieutenant named Kurt KleinPhoto courtesy of Jewish Virtual Library liberated the 120 skeletal survivors remaining from that march, including one 21-year-old who would change his life.
Barely alive and weighing only 68 pounds, Gerda Weissmann demonstrated an indomitable spirit and faith in the goodness of man that stunned the young GI. From that first encounter between a survivor and a soldier whose own parents had perished in Auschwitz, they developed a love that would lead to a marriage of 56 years, three children and eight grandchildren - and a partnership to fight for human rights.
Some of her many other honors include six honorary doctorates, the Lion of Judah Award, and the Human Rights Award given by the National Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights,Gerda Klein has been featured on 60 Minutes and appeared with husband, Kurt, onNightline following their inspiring meeting with parents, teachers, and students at Columbine High School after the tragedy there in 1999. She has authored several books including All But My Life upon which the Emmy and Academy Award-winning documentary One Survivor Remembers is based.
Excerpt from a fall 2000 lecture held at Chapman University's Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education."It's a holy cause to feed a hungry child."
HERO'S HERO: GERDA KLEIN
Photo courtesy of
Carl Cox Photography Ilse, a childhood friend of mine, once found a raspberry in the concentration camp and carried it in her pocket all day to present to me that night on a leaf. Imagine a world in which your entire possession is one raspberry and you give it to your friend.
Photo courtesy of The Klein Foundation Gerda Klein has told this story and many others about her life to millions of people throughout the world. Klein was living a happy childhood in southern Poland when German soldiers invaded in September, 1939. In time she would lose her entire family except for one uncle. She was in the Czech town of Volary when a Jewish lieutenant named Kurt Klein helped liberate a group of survivors, including Gerda. The two would marry and begin a life together.
Gerda and her husband established the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation to combat hunger and intolerance. The Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation partners with Dr. J. Larry Brown's Center on Hunger and Poverty, and with other national organizations to carry out their mutual mission to end hunger and promote tolerance and human rights.
Photo courtesy of Carl Cox Photography Gerda Klein was a featured guest speaker at a dinner held in Los Angeles in January, 2002 to raise awareness about ending Childhood Hunger in America. Gerda has received numerous honors including an Academy Award for her documentary about the Holocaust. The following excerpts were taken from the powerful message she shared at an event for Children Uniting Nations and Hunger Free America:
It has been my mission and my incredible joy to be speaking to kids all over the country and I’ve been asked this question in almost every community: 'How did it feel for you, a Holocaust survivor, to be standing on stage (at the Academy of Arts and Sciences) holding an (Academy Award winning) Oscar in your hand?'
Photo courtesy of
The Holocaust History Project I should tell you what I thought. I remember the long days on the death march, the bitter cold, the hunger, the loneliness, and the fear. I stood with a rusty bowl in my hands praying that when I got to the end of the line there should be enough food left in the kettle, and if by some miracle the ladle went deeper and brought forth a potato, I was a winner. I don’t want our children and grandchildren to live in a world where a potato is more valuable than an Oscar, but I don’t want them to be in a world where an Oscar is so important, forgive me, that one forgets that so many still don’t have a potato. This, my friends, is what it’s all about.
How blessed we are to be able to reach out to stamp out intolerance and hatred and feed the children, our future.Photo courtesy of Karen L. Simonetti
And I have been asked 'Why did you go on?' in those bitter days when I lost everyone I loved. My dream, I kept in my heart and pulled it out when the going was rough, was a picture: I could see my childhood home, my father smoking his pipe and reading the evening paper, my mother working at her needlepoint, my brother and I doing our homework, and I stood struck by the enormity of the thought that those were the evenings I took totally for granted. I called them boring evenings at home. To be a part of one such evening became the driving force for my own survival.
Photo courtesy of Aish International When you return to your homes, approach them slowly. Approach them as a hungry, nameless stranger would, and through the eyes of the stranger do not see what is missing but what is there.
Ask yourself, 'Why am I so lucky? Why am I so blessed?' Ask yourself, 'What can I do for those people in our country for whom an evening at home is still Utopia?'
The Klein Foundation has established educational programs for middle and high school students. One of the programs teaches tolerance, acceptance, and hope. The other, entitled "KNOW Hunger," focuses on developing local community service programs to combat hunger.
Following the tragic shooting at Columbine High School May 7, 1999, the Kleins travelled to Littleton, Colorado to speak to students and teachers about tolerating difference and ending bigotry.
Photo courtesy of The Klein Foundation
Kurt Klein died April 19, 2002 at the age of 81. He was on a lecture tour in Guatemala City, Guatemala, delivering his and Gerda's message of hope. Click here to read his obituary.
Magdalena Klein (1920-1946)
The youngest child of a middle-class Jewish family in Oradea, Northwest Romania, was an eyewitness to the rise of fascism in Europe and the horrors of World War II. She saw and felt the vicious attitudes of the ruling Horthy Hungarian government (that annexed Northwestern Romania) at that time as her family was first forcibly removed to the Jewish ghetto in the city of Oradea (Hungarian, Nagyvárad), then deported to the concentration camp at Birkenau-Auschwitz. Magda survived, but lost many of her family members, a loss she could not bear. She became increasingly reclusive, and in June 1946 she died of an overdose of medication.
The poetic journal Magda kept during those years was translated from Hungarian into English by her nice Susan Simpson Geroe under the title "Pearls and Lace."
Dori Laub was a five-year-old boy in June 1942 when he and his parents were deported from their home in Czernowitz, Romania. For two years they lived in concentration camps and ghettos in the Romanian-occupied Ukraine. Dori's father was taken away by German soldiers and never seen again. When the German army retreated in 1944 from the eastern front, Dori and his mother were free to return home. Amazingly, they found his grandparents still alive in Czernowitz. Things were not the same as they had been before, however--the anti-Semitism unleashed by the deprivations and hostilities of the war was pervasive--and so Dori emigrated to Israel with his mother and grandparents in 1950. As a teenager, he developed an interest in psychiatry and psychoanalysis, but an interest in his own dramatic childhood experiences lay dormant until much later, when recollection was impelled by crucial events in Israeli history.
The first of these events touched Dori Laub's life on a brisk morning in 1961. Now a fifth-year student in medical school, he was walking through a courtyard in downtown Jerusalem on his way to the Hadassah Hospital. There he saw a group of people waiting in line outside the courtroom where Adolf Eichmann was being tried for his part in the deportation and murder of six million Jews. They were waiting to be allowed in to watch the proceedings.
All of Israel had been galvanized by reports from the trial, and Dori had been listening almost daily to radio reports. There was no television in Israel in those days, so the man in the glassed-in dock could not be seen. Dori could only imagine him sitting there, attentively following the arguments through his earphones.
Dori Laub was most impressed by the eloquence of the prosecutor, Gideon Hausner, whose voice had a depth and a resonance that seemed to reach far back into history. He was the authoritative interpreter of events. Dori also listened to the witnesses but heard them less well and understood them much less. The acuteness of their pain was driving him away. He could hear only disembodied fragments, and he could not imagine the people who were talking. With a shudder, he listened to Eichmann's convoluted reasoning and to the pleas of his attorney. There was something both impenetrable and shrill in the banality of the explanations Eichmann gave.
Dori never attended the trial himself, although he was living in Jerusalem and had a keen interest in it. Somehow, it did not even occur to him to go. Flashes of his own memories from the days he spent as a child in the deportation camps came to him, but he did not connect them with the trial. In fact, he turned his attention away from them. Most of all, he felt the victorious thrill of the abduction of Eichmann from Argentina by Israeli agents. It was a stunning feat, similar to a victory in war. The fatal enemy had been subdued and would pose no further danger. Israel's intelligence and might provided the safety that he felt was needed. For him, that was enough.
Events in 1967 pushed him a little closer to an engagement with the past. In June, heavy clouds of war gathered over the Middle East as Arab armies assembled in full force on the borders of the State of Israel. The Israeli army lay in trenches waiting. While international bodies made feeble efforts to prevent the outbreak of war, the threat to Israel's very existence seemed overwhelming. Dr. Laub was now a resident in psychiatry at Boston City Hospital, listening to the hourly radio news with a sense of incredulity and regret that he was so far away.
Then one morning the newscaster reported that 80 percent of the Arab planes had been destroyed on the ground by a surprise Israeli attack. The war had begun, and Israel was already in complete control of the skies. An atmosphere of relief, freedom, and rejoicing prevailed in Israel. Together with a friend who was an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Laub bought a sleeping bag and high-top boots and presented himself at the Israeli consulate in Boston. Throngs of people were there, all trying to get passage to Israel. The friend was chosen to go because of his specialty; Dr. Laub was sent home. The war was over in six days; Israel had expanded borders and a future that held all the potential and promises one could imagine. The nightmare of abandonment, helplessness, and destruction was only brief, banished by the might of the Israeli air force.
Dr. Laub continued his psychoanalytic training in 1969 at a small hospital in a village in Massachusetts. During the first week of his own analysis, he talked of beautiful childhood summers spent at camp, meadows, blue skies, a river, and a little girl sitting by him on the bank of the river, trying to convince him that you could eat handfuls of grass and not be hungry. What could have been more pastoral than that? But the camp was Cariera de Piatra, "the stone quarry," to which Jews from the northeastern provinces of Romania had been deported by the tens of thousands in June 1942, and from which they would be ferried across the Bug River to the German-occupied Ukraine, there to be executed by soldiers of the notorious Einsatzgruppen. This hardly existed in Dr. Laub's memory. The analyst interrupted at this point and said that he himself had a story to tell. He had been a member of the Swedish Red Cross team that entered the concentration camp of Theresienstadt after liberation in 1945 and interviewed many of the survivors. Some women, he said, declared under oath that conditions in the camp were so good that they were brought breakfast in bed every morning by SS officers.
There could not have been a more potent interpretation of Dr. Laub's denial and what had happened to him. He had not wanted to remember. Now he dropped the stories of summer camp. He abandoned his forgetfulness. Yes, the river was mysterious. And he knew even then that death must take place on the other side. Although he had remembered it as being about a kilometer from the camp, in reality it was only a hundred yards away. People were sleeping on the floor, thirty to forty to a room, whole families--men, women, and children--together. The sick, the crazed, and the bewildered were shuffling around in rags, begging for food. He could remember seeing them scavenging in the garbage and wolfing potato peels. One man was being flogged. Afterward, his back streaked with blood, the man was sitting and smoking a cigarette. Dr. Laub remembered walking up to him but remaining silent. He had wanted to ask the man what it was like.
The figure of his mother was at the core of Dr. Laub's memories as someone whose relentless battle for life made his surroundings seem safe. His father was an adored and revered figure, but a dreamer who believed in justice and a god who existed at the end of the universe of stars he and Dori would look at during their nightly walks outside the camp barracks. Besides, Churchill, Roosevelt, and other world leaders would not let them come to harm. His father also believed that if the Jews held together, followed orders, worked hard, and proved themselves, they would be rewarded and the Germans' promises of decent housing and a better life would be kept.
The Language of a Different World
Dr. Laub's mother, on the other hand, believed only what was within her power. As the train pulled away from Czernowitz, people in the cattle car were crying. Dori didn't know what they were crying about, but he knew it was something terribly sad, so he began crying too. When his mother asked him why he was crying, he answered that it was for his little brass bed, where he would say his nightly prayers. His mother told him that she had two coats, one of which she would sell on their arrival at the camp to buy him a new brass bed. Dori stopped crying.
Later, when SS officers asked for volunteers to cross the Bug, promising good working conditions, food, and housing, his mother refused to join them. She did not believe one word of what the Germans said, having a clear vision of what was really taking place. Dr. Laub remembered grim fights between his parents when his father wanted to present himself with other men for transfer. Once his mother threw a boot at his father, who retreated to their room to hide. Those who did present themselves were taken away and never returned.
It all culminated one October morning when the inmates of the camp were assembled in a central square and arranged in groups for the German trucks to transport them across the Bug. There was something feverish going on, with an expectation of the unknown. Dori had hardly slept the night before, disturbed by the sound of trucks. Suddenly a lawyer, who had been making a list of people that had a certain amount of money--Dori's family was not among them--picked up his suitcase and began running. When Dori's mother asked him where he was going, he replied, "To a place where you do not belong." Dori's mother grabbed Dori's hand, picked up her suitcase, and said, "Where you go, I'll go." Dori's father was reluctant to go along. He was the leader of a group of thirty people. He could not leave them behind. Only after Dori's mother threatened to leave him did he join her and Dori. The three ran about half a mile to the outskirts of the camp, to a house that was completely boarded up. Dori's mother knocked at the door. There was no response. Then she yelled, "If you don't let us in, I'll turn you over to the Germans." The door opened, and Dori and his parents found the house crowded with people. These were the "specialists," who had bribed the Romanian commander of the camp to say that he needed them to maintain the grounds and therefore they should not be taken across the river. As the day progressed, shooting and screams could be heard. At one point, a German patrol stopped outside the house and shouted, "Juden heraus!" Husbands and wives said good-bye to each other and exchanged possessions. Dori's father gave his mother his wristwatch. Luckily, the Romanian commander was reached and managed to convince the Germans that they should leave this group alone. When Dori's family and the others left the house that evening, they found the whole camp deserted.
Dr. Laub's mother had an uncanny ability to see the stark untainted truth and act accordingly, to know the language of what was really a different world, a world of sardonic deception and killing, and to avoid the comforting illusion of the continuance of the world they had known and loved. Learning the other language was crucial for physical and psychological survival. It was through familiarity with the verbal and nonverbal vocabulary of the concentration camps that one could detect the signs of danger. Being able to understand, speak, and act in that other language meant staying in touch with the truth in spite of overwhelming inner temptations and external deceptions that enticed one to succumb to the illusion of the sameness of the two worlds. In spite of its disintegrating effect, separating the two worlds was the only way to maintain sanity. Only through separation could either remain true.
Thus Dori Laub repossessed his hidden childhood. But it was not until he encountered Holocaust survivors' children in the Israeli army during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 that Dr. Laub began to explore systematically the psychological aftereffects of the Holocaust in others and in himself. By now affiliated with Yale University, he followed the outbreak of hostilities over the radio. News was scant in the first couple of days, and at his synagogue there did not seem to be a lot of interest in it. The detachment and silence were worrisome. Then the disturbing news became clearer: Arab armies had overrun the Barlev line on the Suez Canal and were pouring in through the Golan Heights. Dr. Laub eagerly waited to hear of an Israeli counterattack, but those that were mentioned had failed. Moreover, the Israeli air force had lost 20 percent of its planes. This time the Soviet missiles were effective. All the safety he had experienced or imagined through the invincibility of the air force seemed to have vanished. This was not a war like other wars Israel had faced. Dr. Laub had to be there for whatever fate would bring, and so he left his young family behind.
All through the flight to Israel, there was a restlessness. A number of religious Jews prayed, and children and whole families milled around in the aisles. As the plane flew over the eastern Mediterranean, everyone became silent and apprehensive. What if Arab fighter planes intercepted them and shot them down? Would there be an Israeli escort to bring them in safely? There was none in sight, but the landing was without incident. In fact, the arrival took place in a sort of vacuum. The airport looked deserted. A few elderly men in military uniforms walked apathetically around. Nobody was in a rush. The action was somewhere else, and the arrival of a plane from abroad was not of much consequence or interest. Police and customs officials seemed preoccupied and uninvolved in their work. It seemed to Dr. Laub as though everyone had already given up and submitted to the inevitable without so much as a protest.
On October 10, Dr. Laub was one of the psychiatrists at a military installation receiving casualties from the Syrian front, the lightly wounded and those who had fallen apart psychologically on the battlefield. There were only a few in the beginning, but within days there were hundreds--bewildered, dazed, walking around aimlessly or lying in a stupor. Their eyes spoke of something indescribable. Many were crying for friends whom they had seen killed. Dr. Laub listened to their accounts, felt some of their terror and grief, and saw most of them pull themselves together to return to the front line. But some of the soldiers who had become psychological casualties on the battlefield did not improve. Their abysmal terror and bleak grief continued unabated. Life around them did not matter; they were captivated by something else with a life of its own taking place inside them.
Dr. Laub gradually came to realize that these were mostly children of Holocaust survivors. One young man in his mid-twenties, a married man whose wife was expecting a baby, lay there with wide-open eyes, unresponsive, running for cover under a bed and screaming when there was a loud noise. He had been a radio operator at a refueling station where tanks stopped for ammunition and gasoline on the way to the front. He saw the crews and their commanders and then followed their voices on the radio. He heard descriptions of the battles, orders given, and frequently the last words spoken, followed by silence. He knew of something terrible that was happening at another place without being able to intervene or stop it from happening. He had heard of his parents' experiences in the Holocaust in a similar way; with them too he was a passionately involved yet completely helpless listener who could do nothing to stop events from happening.
This was the story that Dr. Laub pieced together after days of listening to the soldier's mumbling, and when he finally knew enough to retell it to him, the soldier came out of his stupor, but without an identity, without a name, and without a memory of his wife's name. He had lived in a condensed way and with utter immediacy what his life with his family had been all about, but this time he had had to listen to the radio and be a helpless witness to the end, something he could avoid with his parents by closing off his imagination when their story became too threatening. What he experienced now could not be relegated to another place or time, nor was there any question about the reality of the event. When he returned to the living and haltingly began to know again who he was, he named his newborn son after one of the tank commanders whose last orders he had listened to before the radio transmission went dead.
Another man, about twenty years old, became disorganized and violent, had hallucinations, and played the clown, trying to entertain the whole camp. As a military policeman, he had watched mangled bodies being returned from the battlefield, including the occupants of a civilian car that he had tried without success to stop from driving toward the front. The young policeman had subsequently hit a Syrian prisoner of war in the face with his boot. Between fits of deranged behavior, he told Dr. Laub his story. His father was a survivor of Auschwitz, who would talk of seeing the SS men smash his baby against a wall. The young man's parents had divorced, and his stepmother tried to get rid of him by locking him out of the house. The psychological wounds of his childhood had never healed. When he was faced with the brutality of war and especially when he had compelling evidence of such brutality within himself, it was all too real for him and uncontainable. Nothing Dr. Laub did was of any help to him, and he was eventually transferred to a regular hospital for extended treatment.
By now Dori Laub had come face to face with atrocity--its persistence in memory and its unrelenting impact. This seminal observation of the way in which the Holocaust lives on even in the lives of children of its victims led him to draft a proposal for a research grant. The results were disappointing: in answer to nearly a hundred submissions, he received only one response expressing interest, from a German research institution. This later gave him the opportunity to work extensively with survivors living in Germany, but his hope to pursue the study waned. He was forced to conclude that there was not much interest in the Holocaust. Not until his fortuitous meeting with Laurel Vlock in 1979 did he find a way to test his ideas and develop new ones. It was the collaborative efforts of these two very different people that brought the video archive into being.
Laurel Vlock---Growing up Jewish in America during the Holocaust
Unlike Dori Laub, Laurel Vlock has been an American from birth, growing up in New Haven in a predominantly non-Jewish middle-class neighborhood. From an early age, she was aware of being "other," experiencing discrimination on several levels at the public elementary school: initially and repeatedly singled out by a kindergarten teacher for having a "fancy" given name and then by playmates for being Jewish and nearsighted. Catholic peers boasted that the imposing Catholic church that dominated the neighborhood was out of bounds for her, and the nuns who lived in a separate building only two doors from her home pointedly ignored her when greeting other children. Ms. Vlock and her younger sister both vividly remember being called "Christ killers." Patient explanations at home that Jesus was Jewish too and was crucified by the Romans, not the Jews, did little to relieve Laurel's anxieties.
The sense of being an outsider pursued her in the fall of 1936. National elections pitted Governor Alf Landon of Kansas against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The sidewalks leading to the elementary school were covered with slogans, some simply supporting Landon with the sunflower symbol, others quite vicious anti-FDR scrawling--even suggesting that FDR was really Jewish. All the political activity had only one message for Laurel: her parents, and by extension she, were on the other side from her playmates and their families. Her house had National Recovery Administration stickers on the window, along with other evidence that her parents were Democratic party supporters, out of step in a largely Republican neighborhood.
Ms. Vlock remembers this period of her life with mixed emotions about relations with neighbors and friends. Her parents, always alert to signs of anti-Semitism, indicated a deep ambivalence. While they showed respect and friendliness toward gentile acquaintances, they also expressed, in the privacy of their home, suspicion about how much one could count on non-Jews.
The Fox household was the scene of several family get-togethers to hear about the experiences of two bachelor uncles who had traveled widely and gave exciting descriptions of their adventures, always remembering their young nieces with special gifts. One particular report in the mid-1930s had disturbing elements that left an indelible impression on the family. It involved both the sinister atmosphere of anti-Semitism in Germany and the plight of cousins living in the Soviet Union. One of the uncles had spent the summer of 1936 touring Europe, concluding his trip with a visit to a small shtetl on the outskirts of Odessa called Otchakoff, from which Laurel's grandparents had emigrated in the early 1880s. Finding family members living there in desperate poverty, he gave them everything he had, returning to America with only the clothes he was wearing: a shirt, trousers, and a pair of shoes--no socks or even, so the family story went, underwear. To his impressionable young niece, this story was haunting.
The uncle's summer excursion precipitated a major event in Laurel's early years. He insisted that his sister accept his offer to pay for a transatlantic voyage for the family the following summer so that the girls could see Europe as they might never see it again. It would also, he pointed out, be an opportunity for Rose Fox to visit their much older sister, Anna Phillip, and her family, who lived outside London. Thus Rose and her daughters sailed for England aboard the Queen Mary in late June. The itinerary included a long stay in England and travel in France, Belgium, and Holland.
In England, Laurel and her mother and sister were disturbed to see evidence of anti-Semitism. Oswald Mosley, a fascist and Nazi sympathizer, was conducting a virulent anti-Semitic campaign on billboards and posters in the London underground. Caricatures of Jews were everywhere on the walls of the transit system. Often the ugly drawings depicted Jews with glasses, suggesting inferiority, which was particularly distressful to an already self-conscious young girl. The graffiti and Mosely's demagogic harangues in Hyde Park were the subject of considerable disagreement between Laurel's mother and her English relatives, who dismissed the "aggravations" as representing only a minority point of view.
Several experiences on the continent proved even more intimidating. In Brussels, Rose had become friendly with two English women, who invited seven-year-old Marian to accompany them to a sweetshop while Rose attended to other matters with Laurel. As Marian reported when she returned, the two ladies stopped by a store displaying a picture of Adolf Hitler in a fancy silver frame. Marian became alarmed when the women commented that Hitler was a "wonderful man." She felt trapped; she knew she could not find her way back to the hotel by herself, and she was now afraid of these new "friends." When one of them later asked her what her religion was, she immediately responded, "Catholic," which, she was relieved to see, pleased the two ladies. After hearing about Marian's scary experience, Laurel felt anger, admiration, and guilt: anger at the supposedly nice ladies who admired Hitler; admiration that her little sister had the presence of mind to protect herself; and guilt about her sister's untruthfulness.
Another experience developed into something more threatening, indeed terrifying. In planning their tour on the continent, it was arranged that they would join their aunt and uncle at the Spa in Mondorf, Luxembourg. Aunt Anna's husband, born and raised in Germany, had brothers who had been decorated for heroism in the German army in the Great War. Both Anna and Morris Phillip were comfortable with German people and felt that reports of German anti-Semitism were grossly exaggerated. After a few days at the Spa, Aunt Anna suggested the two women and the girls take a day's sight-seeing trip to Remich, where they would see the historic bridge that the German army had used to invade Luxembourg and Belgium some twenty years earlier. It was to be an educational experience.
As they approached the bridge, however, Aunt Anna pressed Rose to let her take the family across into Germany so her young nieces could glimpse the beauty of the German countryside. It would be a shame, she said, to come all the way to Europe and not even set foot in Germany. Laurel's mother was hesitant; they had no visas for Germany. But Anna insisted that hers would cover all of them. Besides, the names Fox and Phillip did not sound at all Jewish, so that was not a worry.
The German border guards had a very threatening appearance, quite unlike that of any other policemen she had seen, dressed in black uniforms, high black boots, and stiff peaked caps with what appeared to be a skull and crossbones above the visor. Two guards sat on shiny black motorcycles, and two others held growling German shepherds on leashes. Aunt Anna showed the guards her German visa and all their passports and, in fluent German, persuaded them to let her take her visaless American relatives for an hour's walk in Germany.
Ms. Vlock's memories of that short excursion are very graphic. It was close to lunch time and the sun was very hot, and she wondered how those mean-looking German border guards could wear their dark, heavy uniforms on such a warm day, especially since the little guard house was not shaded by a single tree. She and Marian were wearing their usual travel clothes, camp shorts and white blouses, and their mother and aunt were also in light summer clothes. After walking a short distance on the dusty rural road, they began to be thirsty. In a field alongside the road, three children were playing. When they saw the four pedestrians, they stopped and gave the Nazi salute, arms raised straight out in front, and yelled, "Heil Hitler." Laurel and Marian exchanged looks at this unpleasant reminder of where they were.
Aunt Anna spotted a wayside inn, where they stopped for a drink. It was very dark and pleasantly cool inside, and it took a while to see the room clearly after coming from the bright sunlight. Ms. Vlock remembers a long bar of dark wood and several men sitting on stools. Laurel and her mother, sister, and aunt were seated in a booth across from the bar. A waiter came over, and Aunt Anna asked for four Coca Colas. When the drinks came, to Rose and Anna's astonishment the waiter asked for four American dollars. Rose was upset at this exorbitant charge, and Anna admitted that the inn was taking advantage of Americans but said they shouldn't make a fuss. They hadn't taken more than a few sips when Marian pointed to two larger-than-life portraits of Hitler and Goering hanging above the bar and stuck out her tongue. Rose and Anna whispered that they hoped no one had noticed and, without allowing the girls to either finish their expensive drinks or take them along, hustled them out of the inn and began walking rapidly back toward the border. They were walking so fast and so deliberately that this time the children playing by the road just stood and stared at them. Laurel later conceived other more terrifying images from listening to her mother's angry speculations about what might have happened had they been detained and identified as Jews. (The experience was so affecting that forty-one years later in 1978, during a European vacation with her husband and daughter, Ms. Vlock insisted on showing them the Spa in Mondorf and the bridge in Remich, retracing the route right up to the door of the inn, which was still in business.)
Back home in the United States in the late 1930s, there was also ample evidence of anti-Semitism. Laurel's parents were alarmed by the radio demagogue Father Coughlin and his companion in anti-Semitic fervor, Gerald K. Smith. By the spring of 1939, there was even more awareness in the Fox household of the plight of European Jewry, as the refrain "No one wants the Jews" was dramatically demonstrated by the voyage of a ship called the St. Louis. That boat, with its cargo of Jews trapped on it, took on enormous proportions for Rose and John Fox, who were in a frenzy of activity, sending telegrams, writing letters, and talking on the telephone constantly, to whom, Laurel did not know. What she did know was that all the efforts to find a country in the Americas that would accept the Jews on the St. Louis were of no use, and her parents were extremely upset.
The tense atmosphere in the Fox household and the preoccupation with the fate of the Jews just before and during the war years had a considerable effect on Laurel's relations with peers in high school. Breakfast-time radio reports, followed by anguished discussion and speculation, set the tone for the day. Joining friends on the walk to school, it was difficult for Laurel to participate in the usual teenage banter when her head was full of images of war-torn Europe and what was happening to the Jews.
The atmosphere became more charged when Laurel's mother, distraught over a story on the news about a tragedy that had befallen a group of Jewish girls in Poland in the early spring of 1943, prevailed on Laurel to have her invited to a meeting of Laurel's high school sorority, Pi Epsilon Pi. The agenda for the meeting included plans for using the group's treasury for a dance. Sororities and fraternities being strictly segregated, all the Pi Ep girls were Jewish. At the meeting, Rose Fox dramatically told how ninety Jewish girls at a boarding school in Poland had been ordered to "prepare" themselves for a "visit" by German officers. Knowing what this meant, all of the ninety took lethal doses of poison rather than submit. When the German officers arrived, they found their reception marred and immediately shot and killed the school administrators and teachers.
This tragedy, which was revealed as reports of Hitler's Final Solution were starting to appear in the war news, so impressed and horrified the sorority members that they unanimously voted to forgo the dance and send all the money in the treasury to organizations trying to save Jewish children in Nazi-dominated Europe. Laurel was proud of her mother and of the reaction of her peers, but she was also made painfully aware of her otherness by the response of some parents, who protested that their daughters' innocent pleasures were being denied by the introduction into their young lives of an unhealthy preoccupation with distant, nightmarish events. Heated discussions followed in which these parents declared that Laurel and her mother had no right to push their ideas on others.
When she became a student at Cornell University in the fall of 1944, Laurel found her own inner motivation for activism, which was triggered by the housing situation at the university. It was the first of several indications that prejudice toward Jews was to be found even at an institution like Cornell, in those days the only fully coeducational Ivy League school. No religious or ethnic identification had been asked for on the application forms, yet when Laurel arrived on campus, she found herself assigned to a six-person dormitory suite with five other Jewish women--the only Jews in the entire dormitory complex, which housed a hundred women. This obvious segregation perplexed and annoyed all six women. Only three had names that sounded Jewish: Altman, Marks, and Reinhardt. The other three were Daniels, Fox, and Topkins. On what basis did the university make the residence assignments? And how was it that Catholic women were also assigned to all-Catholic suites? This demeaning segregation was obviously imposed by design.
Laurel subsequently joined a college sorority, where her preoccupation with the plight of the Jews after the Allied victory and the opening of the concentration camps set her apart once again. This concern became a determination to understand the history of the Jewish people and help realize their destiny. She spent the summer of 1946 at the Brandeis Camp Institute, a Zionist-oriented youth retreat attended by two representatives from each U.S. state. The war was now over, and emanating from Palestine was a movement to gather the remnants of European Jewry and reestablish the Jewish nation, Israel. It was an intense experience of training in Jewish history and culture in a kibbutz-like environment, and Laurel loved it. The age-old persecution of Jews in the diaspora was presented as a rationale for the philosophy of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, who maintained that wherever Jews were a minority, they were bound to suffer intolerance. The remedy for this ineluctable discrimination, which culminated in the Nazi atrocities, was a home for the Jews in the land from which they had been expelled some two thousand years before, but had never forgotten. The program at the Brandeis Camp Institute fostered a utopian Zionism, a dream of creating an exemplary society in Palestine, in which Jews would experience a cultural, spiritual, national, and physical rebirth, fulfilling their biblical destiny of being "a light unto the nations." It would also be a place where, in the post-Holocaust era, persecuted Jews would find a haven, protected by their own government and army, living like normal people in their own nation.
The experience strengthened Laurel's determination to raise the social and political consciousness of her fellow students, and once again, this time deliberately, she set herself apart from campus social life by becoming an activist for the Zionist cause. For a time after the partition of Palestine in 1947, she seriously considered helping build the Jewish homeland by joining a kibbutz. Her idea never materialized, however, and after graduating in 1948, Laurel married and began raising a family in the New Haven area.
The early 1960s were full of optimism about social change, and with all her children now at school for the better part of the day, Laurel Vlock became involved in community activities, a course that made her aware of the power of the broadcast media to focus on issues and shape attitudes. She began a new career by persuading the Yale Broadcasting Company to let her produce educational and public service radio programs for the greater New Haven community. This led to producing television shows and films and soon to hosting a television series that explored significant social issues.
One daunting assignment in 1978 was to produce a program on the commemoration of Yom Hashoah (Day of Holocaust Remembrance) in New Haven. To give the documentary a narrative thread, she videotaped an extended interview with one of the commemoration's featured speakers, the author and Holocaust survivor Jerzy Kosinski. For Ms. Vlock, the power of personal testimony of survival, captured visually during the interview, was a revelation.
At a luncheon in February 1979 celebrating awards that the documentary had won, the managers of the television station encouraged Ms. Vlock to do something more--"something different"--on the Holocaust. This was indeed a welcome opportunity, but the timing was a problem. It was some six months after the documentary had aired, and during that time NBC had presented the dramatic miniseries Holocaust. Although there was much controversy in the press about the appropriateness of fictionalizing the subject, the impact of the series on public consciousness around the world was profound. In addition, a French documentary film, The Sorrow and the Pity, which had been showing in movie theaters around the country, had provided a different perspective on the victims and the social environment in which they were victimized. What more could be done?
Ms. Vlock discussed her predicament with a colleague and an independent producer. The idea surfaced that if she could tape survivor testimonies in a less intimidating setting than a television studio, she might accumulate enough material to prepare another documentary. This seemed a reasonable possibility, since television recording equipment had recently become more portable.
Making further inquiries on the subject, she was told about a Holocaust survivor in the community who was a practicing psychiatrist: Dr. Dori Laub. Perhaps she could begin by interviewing him on camera. She made an appointment to see him. Thus Dori Laub and Laurel Vlock met for the first time. Both had had childhood experiences of the Holocaust--in one case direct, in the other indirect--that were recovered after years of successful work in psychiatry and broadcast journalism, and both had begun to examine the effects of the Holocaust on its victims, but the project they were to undertake together could have been done by neither alone.
As they talked and Ms. Vlock explained the new, more flexible conditions for videotaping, Dr. Laub stated his opinion that interviewing just one person or a few people would be a token act and that what was needed was a film built on many interviews that could begin telling the story. He revealed to her that there were scores of survivors in New Haven who had preserved a public and perhaps even a private silence but who might be ready to talk about their previous lives if they were approached in the right way. Because this would be an independent, experimental effort, the two of them would have to fund it themselves.
Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock made no specific plans at this first meeting, but they had several telephone conversations over the next few months. Then, at the end of April, Ms. Vlock "suddenly," as Dr. Laub remembers it, called to tell him that she had a film crew available for an evening that week, May 2, and if he could find survivors who would participate, they could begin. Dr. Laub called two survivor friends and another survivor who was active in the Jewish community and was able to secure the commitment of four people to come and be interviewed.
The taping session took place in Dr. Laub's office at the end of a regular working day. Food and drink were prepared for those who might arrive before the previous interview was finished, as neither Dr. Laub nor Ms. Vlock was able to anticipate how long each person might want to talk. The camera crew arrived and began setting up its equipment. The office furniture was rearranged, and the first survivor witness was positioned facing the camera with Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock flanking it so that the survivor would be talking both into the lens and to the two interviewers.
Dori Laub and Laurel Vlock had never worked together before, and their styles were different to begin with, hers being that of a journalist and his that of a psychoanalyst. In spite of that, when the first testimony began, everything fell into place, because the power of the testimony silenced their differences. Everyone in the room was transported to another time and place, a setting that had been waiting untouched and unchanged for many years behind locked doors. No one, including the witnesses themselves, knew beforehand what the testimonies would contain; experiences and reflections came out from recesses of memory that the witnesses did not even know they had. Individuals that Ms. Vlock had thought of as ordinary members of the community were now revealing large areas of themselves and of their pasts that had been buried for many years. These were people who, as happened in the cases of many survivors, had engaged in almost overly full lives in response to an intense desire to recreate shattered families and careers.
One man, now a successful baker in New Haven, spoke with shame about being so hungry that he stole a slice of bread from his sister's ration. A woman spoke of the utter humiliation of having to run naked through a line of German soldiers at Auschwitz. A third survivor spoke of feeling like an animal in a cage. She tried to imagine what passengers might be thinking as they looked out the windows of trains passing the labor camp. As if she were sitting on a fence, she felt that she no longer knew where she belonged. The fourth, after telling about her impossible and terrifying duty to warn her deaf parents and younger sister to hide during Gestapo roundups, asserted that she could not, nor did she want to, reconcile her two lives, that they needed to be kept apart to retain their integrity.
The interviews lasted until the early hours of the morning, producing more than four hours of taped material, but no one objected or complained. By that time, Dori Laub and Laurel Vlock knew that they had found something unexpected, something the like of which they had not seen before, and they knew they needed to continue. They were determined to videotape as many survivors as possible in order to create an unvarnished record from individual, unique perspectives of this most horrific of tragedies.
Before this project could be undertaken, however, several formidable obstacles--technical as well as nontechnical--had to be overcome. The technical difficulties were attributable to the fact that portable videotaping was a relatively new technology in the late 1970s. Portable recorders, used primarily for so-called electronic news gathering, accommodated only twenty-minute cassettes, and changing the tape every twenty minutes compromised the flow of thought and expression. (Film, by contrast, with its ten-minute magazines that had to be changed in a dark room or light-impervious black bag, would have been unmanageable altogether for this experimental project.) However, rapid developments in the industry were allowing greater flexibility, and cameras were becoming smaller and quieter and thus could be unobtrusive recorders of a survivor's testimony. Their portability meant that taping could be carried on in any familiar or comfortable setting; no intimidating studio situation was necessary. Thanks to the reduced costs of the new medium, the project had the potential to include thousands of Holocaust victims and witnesses, although finding financial support beyond their own resources was at first a troublesome problem for Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock.
Most formidable of the nontechnical problems was the general reluctance of survivors to talk at length about their ordeals. As a psychoanalyst and a survivor himself, Dori Laub understood their deep ambivalence. On the one hand, survivors felt a need to bear witness, to be heard by empathetic listeners and to exorcise the ghosts of the past. But at the same time, there was an even stronger feeling that the past could not be mended and that one's experiences were too terrible to reveal even to willing listeners. This past was a present reality for many, like the woman who saw the faces of camp inmates in the strands of her shag carpet.
A fear that fate would strike again was central to the memory of their trauma and their inability to talk about it. The trauma was an event outside normal reality, with no beginning and no end, and thus ever present and unmasterable. And so the imperative to tell was inhibited by the impossibility of telling. Even if it were possible to tell, those willing to hear might be simply curious or, worse still, might take a certain grotesque pleasure in the revelations of human degradation and suffering. Far from providing a catharsis or healing their deep psychological wounds, relating their experiences might, they feared, simply revive the horror--as for some it did.
A lesser, but nonetheless discouraging, obstacle was the early reluctance of leaders of the Jewish community to accept the project. They were hesitant to turn from current concerns to what they felt was an unproductive dwelling on the past. Projects to build Israel were at the top of their agendas, and this new retrospective project would only distract people, perhaps siphoning off scarce funding and, even worse, undermining the self-confidence of Jews in the United States and Israel by reflecting on the Jew as victim.
An important psychological and financial breakthrough came on June 3, 1979, when Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock spoke to a group of survivors in New Haven, members of a labor Zionist organization, the Farband. Moved by the presentation, the Farband members pledged a contribution of two thousand dollars as well as their participation as witnesses. The president of the Farband, William Rosenberg, became a director of the Holocaust Survivors Film Project in August, when it was formally established as an organization. Mr. Rosenberg's comments reflected a new survivor sentiment: "Now we recognize our duty to tell the full story, however painful, and this project provides the help and encouragement the survivors need to come forward . . . after thirty years of silence." The silence that had been both a trap and a sanctuary for many survivors was about to be broken.
Reinvigorated by the backing of the Farband members, Ms. Vlock and Dr. Laub decided to seek wider recognition for what they hoped would become a large and ambitious effort. The first step was to use the pledged money to edit the four hours of tape into a half-hour tape that could be shown to others as an example of the project. They could then call a press conference and enlist the support of a broad cross section of community leaders for a public launching of the project.
The press conference was held at Mr. Rosenberg's home on June 28. The project's stated goal was to record the testimony of the more than two hundred survivors in the New Haven area. Pledging support to the effort were New Haven city officials and community leaders as well as a representative of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, Michael Berenbaum. The commission had been established by President Jimmy Carter to "harness the outrage of our memories to banish oppression from the world." A statement from the commission's director, Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg, said in part, "We hail the beginning of the pioneering project in New Haven to videotape and record the testimony of survivors. It offers a unique vehicle to communicate the reality of the Holocaust and the dignity and life of the victims--a vehicle which can become a national model." It was announced at the press conference that twelve thousand dollars had been raised after showings of the edited version of the four interviews.
Coverage of the press conference in the New York Times precipitated a dialogue between Ms. Vlock and President A. Bartlett Giamatti of Yale University, who expressed enthusiasm for the initiative and an interest in Yale's involvement that would bear fruit within a year and a half.
National media attention contributed to the project's early growth. On September 3, 1979, another lengthy article in the Times coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the German invasion of Poland and the start of World War II was accompanied by photographs of a taping session. One benefit of such coverage was that it attracted the involvement of individuals and organizations across the United States and abroad. A faculty member from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a member of the Israeli Knesset joined the project's advisory board.
Concerns about the long-term financial viability of the project were allayed by a major grant from the New Haven Foundation, a local philanthropic institution. Three members of the New Haven Jewish community were instrumental in securing the grant: Geoffrey Hartman, a professor of English and comparative literature at Yale, whose wife was one of the first four interviewees and who himself had become a member of the project's board of directors; Albert Solnit, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Yale; and Malcolm Webber, the director of the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League.
Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock turned their attention to refining the process of drawing witnesses out, enabling them to tell their stories. Although taping was always done in a safe place, a setting in which people would feel free to let memories emerge, there also had to be a sympathetic listener who knew how to be unobtrusive, nonjudgmental, and encouraging, all at the same time. This trusted listener would intrude with questions as little as possible, using just a few words and gestures to elicit each survivor's story. Moreover, as in the first taping session, the listener would never appear on camera, so there would be no distractions for the viewer, no reactions on the face of the interviewer to suggest any sort of attitude toward or evaluation of the survivor's story. Then and only then could the past be revealed and dealt with, and witnessing could itself become a historical event, filling the gap in the historical record.
At its best, the process of giving testimony was the creation of a narrative in which the inconceivable trauma of the survivor was finally externalized and known by both speaker and listener. The listener was an indispensable participant in the process, respecting both speech and silence, serving as the empathetic other that many survivors had despaired of ever finding.
Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock thought they would hear stories of horror and atrocity. They did, but that was only a part of the truth. Events and images were often presented in fragmentary, undigested form, with the survivor barely a part of the narrative. It was as though these imprints had been preserved unchanged and secluded from the stream of daily conscious life, like nightmares, and the survivor wanted literally to force them onto the listeners in order to rid himself of them. But beyond the anguish and dread, and invariably superseding them, was the intense yearning to make contact, to be connected with the truth of one's life.
Testimony: Between Total Engagement and Historical Evidence
As witnesses to the testimonies, Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock were asked not only to be totally engaged during the interviews, but also to be a future presence in the lives of the survivors as guardians of their truth, to be people they could think of or come back to and feel known. The trusted listeners became part of the survivors' relentless efforts to rebuild lives in which past and present are connected and continuous while at the same time their differentness and uniqueness are preserved. The passion for authentic contact was also reflected in the relations between Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock and their relations with others who came to participate in the project, often reaching a level of intensity that was hard to bear or to integrate into the flow of everyday life.
Ms. Vlock received personal phone calls for more than a year after a two-day recording session in Palm Beach, Florida, in which she had interviewed more than fifteen survivors and had developed close ties with the social workers, the volunteer hostesses, and the local camera crew. Many of them obviously felt that a special relationship had been established. Dr. Laub recalled days in which he participated in as many as five interviews and experienced a need to do something different, to escape the bonds created by sharing atrocities and the anguish and injury they caused. He would jump into a cold swimming pool to regain his composure, and he wondered whether this was akin to the ancient Jewish ritual of cleansing oneself of contamination.
So radical was the project's departure from established procedures of historical research that, even as it began to bear fruit, it encountered skepticism and sometimes resistance from members of the scholarly community, particularly historians. Scholars were not prepared to deal with a medium that went beyond the printed word, transmitting not only what the survivors had to say but also their faces and gestures, pauses and outbursts, hesitancies and determination to tell their stories. This demeanor evidence introduced a whole new element demanding interpretation, challenging both the scholarly and the casual viewer. It also added a new dimension of credibility to Holocaust testimonies: not surprisingly, a recent study has shown that the believability and persuasiveness of a speaker's message are based in large part on visual and vocal factors such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice.
Some historians objected to obvious inaccuracies in survivors' accounts of long-past events. One such inaccuracy arose when a survivor spoke excitedly of seeing four chimneys explode during a failed uprising at Auschwitz. At a subsequent meeting of scholars, it was pointed out that only one chimney exploded; Dr. Laub replied, in defense of the survivor, that her testimony was psychologically true, affirming a deep but long-buried and unexpressed sense of the possibility of resistance to extermination. Ms. Vlock encountered another type of insensitive skepticism, the complaint that the testimonies were repetitive: transport in a cattle car, separation at the concentration camp gates, slave labor, death marches, and so forth. Insisting that each survivor had a singular story to tell, one that could not be duplicated, she herself became repetitive on this point.
Nonetheless, the first group of four taped interviews had such an impact when shown to various groups and the press that it gave the project a momentum which has never been lost. Between the initial taping sessions in 1979 and the establishment in 1981 of a permanent home for the ever-expanding collection at Yale University occurred a period of rapid growth of participation by survivors and support by individuals and philanthropic institutions.
Taping sessions were held outside New Haven in other Connecticut communities during the summer and fall of 1979. An attempt to secure the participation of the leadership of the Hartford Jewish community succeeded, primarily because survivors saw the various newspaper articles and were receptive to the ideas and aims of the project. A series of meetings with the Hartford Jewish Federation Endowment Committee resulted in taping of testimony by the survivors, with technical support from Connecticut Public Television. Ms. Vlock subsequently produced a documentary that was shown on the Hartford public television station as part of a Federation fund-raiser. Contributions poured in immediately after the telecast, and the expressions of appreciation by Federation leaders established a pattern that was to be repeated in other cities: federation or private donor support, contact with local social workers and psychologists, collaboration with television stations, and press coverage, all leading to participation by a cross section of survivors in the community.
In November, Ms. Vlock began videotaping in Israel with the endorsement of Dr. Yitzak Arad of Yad Vashem, the official institution for the commemoration of the Holocaust. She also traveled to Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary to get a sense of the places that had been home to the survivors with whom she was now closely involved. Visits to the sites of concentration camps at Dachau and Mauthausen were part of this trip. A Yale student journal subsequently published an article about Ms. Vlock's journey and her activities in the Holocaust Survivors Film Project, and the article led to a meeting with the author and humanitarian Elie Wiesel, who was giving a series of lectures at Yale that semester. Conversations with Mr. Wiesel were a profoundly inspiring experience for Ms. Vlock.
In 1980, the videotaping effort in New Haven intensified, and recording was carried on in various cities along the east coast, including Bridgeport, Connecticut; Boston; Palm Beach; and Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Virginia. In addition to conducting interviews, Ms. Vlock and Dr. Laub found themselves being called on to help others begin similar projects. They also recruited and trained a corps of volunteers to assist in their efforts, many of whom became deeply and permanently involved in the gathering of testimonies.
The same year saw Laurel Vlock serve as co-executive producer and host of a one-hour television documentary about survivors. "Forever Yesterday," a collaborative effort with WNEW-TV in New York City, received an EMMY Award in 1981.
Taping of survivors' testimony continued in 1981: a notable expansion of the effort were the sessions held in New York City in July and August. At the same time, events of great importance to the future of the growing video collection were occurring in New Haven. Contacts over the preceding year and a half with various members of the Yale administration and faculty led from advice on grant proposals to the establishment of a formal relationship between the university and the Holocaust Survivors Film Project. It was announced on February 13 that the tapes would be housed in the Sterling Memorial Library, where they would be catalogued and made available to researchers. As part of a development fund drive for Yale's nascent Judaic Studies program, a million-dollar endowment would be sought for the video tape collection. Co-chairman of the fund drive was Geoffrey Hartman. The formal transfer of the more than two hundred tapes of the Holocaust Survivors Film Project to the Yale University Library took place on December 17; the collection was renamed the Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale at its inauguration on October 1, 1982.Later, as the result of a major contribution, it became the Fortunoff Archive.
Even as the institutional life of the collection was beginning, the work of Dori Laub and Laurel Vlock was continuing to expand. Meetings were held in May and June 1981 with representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress to help them begin their own government-sponsored video project. In June, Ms. Vlock co-anchored with the veteran CBS correspondent David Schoenbrun broadcasts on public television from the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, a historic event taking place in Jerusalem when she interviewed, among others, famed survivor, Prof. Elie Wiesel. She also produced About the Holocaust, an educational documentary commissioned by the New Haven school system and later accepted for national distribution by the Anti-Defamation League. Most important, Dr. Laub and Ms. Vlock continued to participate in the process of recording testimonies as it expanded throughout the United States and Canada and into Israel and Europe.
The original meeting of Dori Laub and Laurel Vlock was fortuitous, but it resulted almost immediately in a unique collaboration that has borne fruit of inestimable value. Nineteen years after the Holocaust Survivors Film Project was established, its historical and moral resources are only beginning to be tapped. As the years pass, the details of individual stories may get lost in the minds of those who listen to them, but the message of each testifier and act of testimony, the connection established between past and present, dead and living, evolves with more and more clarity, a clarity that no one could foresee during the experience of testifying.
With the thawing of the Cold War, there is a chance for the reconciliation of nations and peoples over large parts of the globe. Such reconciliation cannot be achieved, however, without a clear and open understanding of the past, especially the period before the Cold War. Faithful records of that past are contained in survivors' testimony. Just as thousands of survivors have taken advantage of the opportunity to repossess their long-hidden childhoods, so nations can find here important materials for reconstructing their own former selves and building a better future.
She "would just crawl in here and entertain people," said Jim Stockton, a co-owner. "She had her stories and her way about her."
The Nabolom Bakery is erecting a shrine to honor the elderly Holocaust survivor, who died April 26 in Berkeley. She was 89.
One of nine children, Leah Russ was born in the farming village of Warta, near Lodz, Poland. She was one of the older children in a very Orthodox family. Her family was close, and she helped take care of her younger siblings. Her father was a shoemaker, and taught her how to sew.
Her mother's family owned a brewery in Lodz, and therefore had a good income. Her grandparents were very generous with the children, and gave all the girls their own diamond earrings.
In 1942, after the Nazis invaded Poland, Russ was forced into the Lodz ghetto. In 1944, when the Lodz ghetto was liquidated, she was transported to the Stutthof labor camp and then a few months later to Auschwitz.
When Auschwitz was liberated, she was sent on a death march. In her weakened state, she could not keep up, and the Germans left her for dead, kicking her and leaving her in the snow. She woke up in a Russian hospital.
Two of her siblings almost survived the war; one brother, in his excitement at being liberated, stuck his head outside the gate and was immediately shot; and one sister tried to escape as they were liberated, but she slipped into a pond and drowned. Russ was the only one in her entire family to survive.
After she was liberated, she returned to her hometown. There, she met Michael Laskowski, whom she had known before the war. They married and immediately left Poland for Germany, where a cousin lived.
In Munich, they had a daughter, Miriam, and Michael opened a convenience store -- which probably served as a front for his dealings on the black market, his daughter now believes. But the couple did not feel safe there, and decided to immigrate to the United States in 1950.
Although a cousin supposedly had agreed to sponsor them, when they arrived "we sat on a train waiting for relatives to claim us and nobody came," said the daughter, Miriam Wilson. Since Michael had employment status as a farmer, the family was sent to settle in Sheboygan, Wis., a predominantly Catholic town with a few Jewish immigrant families.
Michael died in 1962. Meanwhile, Leah had scarring on her lungs, perhaps from a case of tuberculosis acquired during the war. Doctors were afraid she was contagious and sent her to a sanitarium.
Around this time, Wilson was a teenager and decided she would like to attend U.C. Berkeley. While Laskowski was in the sanitarium, she met a woman who belonged to the Mormon church, and had never before met a Jew. She was incredibly moved by Laskowski's story.
When Laskowski confided that her daughter wanted to go to Berkeley, the woman said, "you're not alone, you're part of our family." The woman had twin sisters in Berkeley, and mother and daughter moved there in 1963.
They immediately joined Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel, where Laskowski became a fixture, always helping families who had upcoming bar mitzvahs or weddings.
"She was everyone's mother or grandmother and everyone was her favorite," said Wilson, adding that she never had any animosity towards the Germans. She felt the Poles were more culpable, though, for collaborating so easily.
She worked in food preparation at the faculty club of U.C. Berkeley, and became well-known to many faculty members.
She also was recognized around Berkeley, because she didn't drive and would often walk miles to get to a destination. When she needed to go to the bank, she endeared herself so much to one teller that the teller would often drive her home, or even call her husband to come pick her up.
"She was a survivor, period, and forged forward," said Wilson. "But if she couldn't do it all on her own, she knew how to get help."
It was at the bakery, though, where she truly made her mark.
Stockton recalled how she would take the bakery's lemon bars, send them off to her grandsons in college passing them off as her own. "She scammed off those lemon bars," he said.
For a time, Laskowski would load up on goods at the bakery and deliver them to people who were homebound. But she also stocked her own freezer.
When Elsie Lee joined the collective, she remembers Laskowski coming in and always leaving with a big bag of food. Another co-owner told Lee that she was a Holocaust survivor, and should get special treatment.
When the Russell Street collective began losing money and the co-owners decided they, too, would have to pay for their baked goods, rather than taking them home for free, no one could break the news to Laskowski. Finally someone did, and while giving her a ride home, he didn't hear the end of it.
Lee remembers that a meeting was called to discuss, "What do we do about Leah?"
"We decided that she's our P.R. person, she brings in a lot of customers, and that she does not have to pay, and the meeting notes say that she doesn't have to pay." After all, she added, Laskowski could always be counted on to say whether the honey cake was just right, or whether there were too many blue sprinkles on the Chanukah cookies.
Said co-owner Stockton, "We always felt totally beholden to her for consulting with us, so we'd never charge her."
Laskowski was a good judge of character, as well. When a new worker came on board, Laskowski would tell Lee her impression of that person -- good or bad -- and she always turned out to be right.
"She was this very strong spiritual presence," said Stockton. "She really had this amazing spirit, and she showed it off here."
In addition to her daughter, Miriam Wilson, Laskowski is survived by two grandsons.
Primo Levi, born in Turin, Italy, in 1919, and trained as a chemist, was arrested during the Second World War as a member of the anti-Fascist resistance and deported to Auschwitz in 1944. His experience in the death camp and his subsequent travels through Eastern Europe were the subject of powerful memoirs, fiction and poetry. Levi died in Turin in April 1987.
Some of Levi's words are more powerful then anything ever expressed about the man-made Nazi atrocities. His memoirs of and refelections on those are light years above careerist, pornographic exploitations by many renowned, award-winning speakers or politicians.
40 years after his imprisonment, in the spring of 1982, Primo Levi returned to Auschwitz ("in the role", as he put it, "of a tourist"). He accompanied a group of students and professors from Florence, as well as some other concentration camp survivors. A troupe from Sorgenti di Vita went along to document the visit. "Springs of Life" was a cultural television program of the Unione Comunita Israelitiche Italiane, offered bi-weekly by Radiotelevisione Italiana [RAI] on Sunday afternoons.
The Italian interviewer was not identified in the rare transcript that follows. An Italian school teacher, Mrs. Bianca Maria Pace, has recently informed me that it was Daniel Toaff, the son of E.Toaff, the Rabbi of Rome. The original airdate of this program was April 25, 1983. This English translation is by Mirto Stone. It is here designed over 22 web pages, amongst book covers and portraits as well as some of the many photographs I had taken during a visit to Torino in 1989.
(Courtesy United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Erika Eckstut (Neuman) Ruth Elisabeth Greifer (Dahl) Inge Katzenstein (Berg) Werner Katzenstein Helen Luksenburg (Hinda Chilewicz) Welek Luksenburg
.Jill Pauly (Gisella Renate Berg) Kurt Pauly Pete Philipps George (György) Pick Regina Spiegel (Gutman) Sam Spiegel
.Morris Rosen (Moniek Rozen) Susi Warsinger (Hilsenrath) Michel Margosis Helen Lebowitz Goldkind Irving Horn (Isachar Herszenhorn) Norbert Yasharoff
.Nesse Godin (Galperin) Flora Singer (Mendelowicz) Charlene Schiff (Shulamit Perlmutter) Martin Weiss Henry Greenbaum (Chuna Grynbaum) Susan Taube (Strauss)
.Elzbieta Strassburger (Lusthaus) Manya Friedman (Moszkowicz) David Bayer Gerd Jacob Wiener (Zwienicki) Tania Rozmaryn (Marcus) Frank Ephraim
.Goldie Gendelman Fritz Gluckstein William Hess Catherine Liner (Kato Fried) Leon Merrick (Lajb Kusmirek) Nina Merrick (Szuster)
.Kristine Belfoure Gerald Liebenau Halina Peabody (Litman) Bella (Berger) Mischkinsky Susan Berlin Gerald Schwab
.Charles Stein Esther Starobin (Rosenfeld) Herman Taube Johanna Gerechter Neumann Haim Solomon Sam Schalkowsky (Shmuel Shalkovsky)
Esther Starobin (Rosenfeld)
Esther Starobin (Rosenfeld)
Born April 3, 1937, Adelsheim, Germany
Esther was born in Adelsheim, Germany in April 3, 1937. Her parents, Katie and Adolf Rosenfeld, had four other children — Bertl, Edith, Ruth and Herman. Esther’s father sold feed and other products for cattle, as well as occasionally arranging for the sale of cattle in the area. Her mother often helped him, as he had lost a leg in World War I. After they were no longer allowed to attend the local school, Esther’s three older sisters went to live with relatives, first in Heilbronn and then in Aachen. In March 1939, her three sisters went to England on theKindertransport. Esther herself was sent to England on the Kindertransport in June 1939.
In Thorpe, Norwich, England, Esther lived with Dorothy and Harry Harrison and their son Alan from 1939 until November 1947. She was very much a part of this family. She went to school and had a happy childhood with the Harrisons, despite the effects of the war. Her sisters lived in different areas of England but came to visit whenever possible. Esther’s parents and brother had been deported in October 1940 to the Gurs camp in France. Her brother was rescued in 1941 and came to the United States to live with an aunt and uncle. Esther’s parents were sent to Auschwitz and murdered in August 1942.
In 1947, Esther’s sister Bertl followed the directions of their mother and arranged for Bertl, Ruth, and Esther to come to the United States. Edith was at that point still in the British army. When they first arrived in the U.S., they lived with an aunt and uncle. Edith eventually joined them. She and Bertl moved to an apartment with Esther and took care of her through the junior and senior high school years. Later, Esther lived with Ruth and her husband while in college at the University of Illinois where she studied to become a teacher.
Interview — Esther Starobin recounts her journey on the Kindertransport from Adelsheim, Germany to Norwich, England [2002 interview].
Erika Eckstut (Neuman)
Erika Eckstut (Neuman)
Born June 12, 1928, Znojmo, Czechoslovakia
Erika Eckstut was born in Znojmo, Czechoslovakia on June 12, 1928. Her family included an older sister, Beatrice, and her parents, Ephraim and Dolly (Geller) Neuman. Erika’s father was a respected attorney and an ardent Zionist who hoped to immigrate with his family to Palestine. Erika’s mother held a degree in business and worked in a bank before the birth of her children. In 1930, The Neumans moved to Stanesti, a town in the province of Bukovina, Romania where Erika's paternal grandparents lived. Erika attended public school as well as the Hebrew school that her father had helped to found. Erika loved to play with her sister Beatrice and especially enjoyed being with her grandfather.
In 1937, the fascist Iron Guard tried to remove Erika’s father from his position as the chief civil official in Stanesti. Eventually, a court cleared him of the fabricated charges and he was restored to his post. In 1941, when Romania joined Nazi Germany in the war against the Soviet Union, the Soviets were driven from Stanesti. As a result, mobs carried out bloody attacks on the town’s Jews. In the fall of 1941, the Neumans were forced to settle in the Czernowitz ghettowhere living conditions were poor and where they faced constant fear of deportation toTransnistria, a killing area in Romanian-occupied Ukraine. In 1943, Erika and Beatrice escaped from the ghetto on false papers that their father had obtained through the help of a local priest.
Erika and Beatrice fled to Kiev where Erika obtained work in a clinic. Towards the end of the war, a nurse at the clinic mistook Beatrice for a German and reported on her to the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police that cooperated with the Gestapo. After this event, Erika and Beatrice decided to go back to Czechoslovakia. On their way back, Beatrice was again mistaken for a German by a group of Russian soldiers and narrowly escaped arrest. Erika and Beatrice reached Prague and were eventually reunited with their parents who had been in Bucharest, Romania. Erika’s father died from natural causes shortly after the war ended.
On August 28, 1945, Erika married Robert Kauder. Robert was a Czech Jew who had fled the country for the Soviet Union and had been deported to a labor camp in Serbia by the Soviets. Upon his release in 1942, Robert joined the Svobodova Armada, a Czech battalion formed by the Czech government-in-exile. Robert and Erika met while she and Beatrice were on there way to Prague. They were married in Jesenic, where Robert’s unit was stationed and lived there until 1948 when they moved back to Prague. They had two children together. After Robert’s death in 1957, Erika began trying to immigrate to the United States and was permitted to do so in 1960. After settling in the United States, Erika became a supervisor of a pathology lab. She is currently a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
First Person series — Conversation with a Holocaust survivor [2005 season].
Ruth Elisabeth Greifer (Dahl)
Ruth Elisabeth Greifer (Dahl)
Born May 30, 1922, Geilenkirchen, Germany
Ruth was born into an orthodox Jewish family in Geilenkirchen, a rural German town near the Dutch border. Her father, Isidor, was a respected cattle dealer in the area and her mother, Sophia, took care of the home. Ruth had two older siblings, Edith and Carl.
1933–39: When the Nazis came to power in Germany, life changed in Geilenkirchen. The townspeople supported the new regime and nobody helped their Jewish neighbors. Excluded from public institutions, Ruth attended a private Catholic school. In 1938, her father was forced to close his business and sell their home at a considerable financial loss. Later that year, the Dahls left for the Netherlands, where Sophia had been born. They settled in Valkenburg and soon Isidor returned to cattle dealing. Carl went to live with his maternal aunts in nearby Maastricht.
1940–44: On May 10, 1940, German troops invaded western Europe. Ruth watched as enemy aircraft filled the sky. A few days later, the country was occupied. In summer 1942, the Nazis began rounding up Jews for deportation. Ruth’s maternal aunts were taken to the Auschwitz killing center, where they perished. Carl volunteered to go with them and was selected for forced labor. After the police took their Jewish neighbors away, Ruth and her parents went into hiding with the help of the Dutch resistance. Separated from her father and mother, she spent the next two years moving from one refuge to another.
In September 1944, Allied troops entered the Netherlands and Ruth came out of hiding. She returned to Valkenburg, where she was reunited with her parents. After the war ended in 1945, Ruth learned that her brother Carl had perished on a death march just three days before liberation. In 1948 she immigrated to the United States, joining her sister Edith who had left Europe some eight years earlier. Ruth married and has three daughters and four grandchildren.
Inge Katzenstein (Berg)
Inge Katzenstein (Berg)
Born March 27, 1929, Cologne, Germany
Inge Berg was born on March 27, 1929 in Lechenich, Germany to Klara and Josef Berg. The Bergs, a close-knit observant Jewish family, lived with Josef’s parents, and their family was active in the local Jewish community; Inge’s paternal grandfather was president of the local synagogue association, and her father’s brother, George, was the synagogue’s cantor. Josef was a cattle dealer and Klara managed the household and raised her daughters Inge and Gisella (Jill), born in 1933.
After the Nazis came to power in 1933, the Bergs felt the immediate effect of increasedantisemitic legislation. Inge was no longer allowed to attend public school and traveled 18 miles by train every day to attend the Jewish school in Cologne, Germany. Josef was forced to give up his business, although a non-Jewish family friend managed it in his stead. In November 1938, the Bergs fled to Cologne to escape Kristallnacht. Unfortunately, their home and numerous possessions were damaged or destroyed. Josef hoped to avoid imprisonment and forced labor in the aftermath of Kristallnacht by fleeing to Holland, but was unsuccessful. He, his brother George, and their cousin Ernst were arrested for illegal entry and detained for six months in an internment camp in Roemond, Holland. Following their release in the spring of 1939, Josef, George, and Ernst left Germany for Kenya, British East Africa. Through a cousin’s law firm in Nairobi, arrangements were made for the entire Berg family’s immigration. In May 1939, Inge, Jill and their mother sailed for Mombasa on the SS Usambara.
When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, the Bergs were labeled “enemy aliens.” As a result, Inge found it difficult to make friends and spent the majority of her time with her paternal grandparents. For the next eight years, the Bergs raised cattle and pyrethrum, a flowering plant used to make insecticide, on their 375-acre farm in Limuru, a small town approximately 17 miles northwest of Nairobi. The house offered spectacular views of Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro; however, conditions were quite rustic. The house boasted a tin roof and cement floors with rain as their only water source. Inge continued her formal education in Nairobi and, despite being 10 years old, was placed in the first grade because she could not speak, read, or write English. She quickly mastered the language, however, and was able to advance to the fourth grade. Meanwhile, Klara ran a guesthouse that became a popular destination for British-Jewish soldiers on furlough.
In 1947, the Bergs immigrated to the United States where Klara and Josef purchased a chicken farm and dairy business in Vineland, New Jersey, and Inge took a position with an attorney’s office in New York City. In 1951, she met and married Werner Katzenstein, a fellow refugee from Nazi Germany. They have three children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Inge retired from Coldwell-Banker Real Estate after thirty-five years. She and Werner, along with Jill and her husband, Kurt Pauly, a fellow Holocaust survivor, volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Werner KatzensteinBorn: Wallensen, Germany
April 29, 1922
Werner was raised in the rural German town of Herleshausen, where his family owned a farming supply business. His father sold seeds to local farmers and purchased their grain, while his mother ran the office. After several years of public schooling in Herleshausen, Werner began attending a high school in Eisenach, some 12 miles from their home. The Katzensteins were one of about two dozen Jewish families living in the area.
1933–39: When the Nazis came to power in January 1933, the Katzensteins' lives were abruptly changed. Werner's father was arrested, held in “protective custody” for several weeks and then released. The local Nazis also pressured farmers and others to boycott Jewish enterprises. In 1935, Werner's father was forced to close down his business, and two years later, the family left for the Netherlands, where they operated a farm. After seeking admission to England, South America, and Palestine, the Katzensteins obtained U.S. visas. They arrived in the United States in June 1939.
1940–45: The Katzensteins bought a farm near Camden, New Jersey, where they raised chickens. Werner worked on the farm, plowing the fields with a team of horses and carrying out other duties. In 1944, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served on the frontlines in southern France, where he was wounded. After his release from the hospital, he rejoined his unit as it fought its way into the interior of Germany.
When the war ended in May 1945, Werner was transferred to the U.S. military government of occupation in Germany. He returned to Herleshausen, but there were no Jewish families left in his hometown. In 1946, Werner returned to the United States, where he took up farming once again.
Welek LuksenburgBorn: Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland
February 1, 1923
Welek grew up in Dabrowa Gornicza, an industrial town in western Poland. His father, Simcha, was a wholesale meat merchant and his mother, Rozalia, served as president of the local chapter of the Women's International Zionist Organization. Welek's older brother, Szlomo, was a dentist. The Luksenburgs were among the several thousand Jews who lived in Dabrowa Gornicza.
1933–39: Like many other children in the town, Welek attended public school. Because his family was very religious, he did not attend class on Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath. At school, Welek was beaten by his classmates and called a “Christ-Killer.” Local antisemites also mounted a boycott against Jewish stores in Dabrowa. When Welek was 16, German troops invaded Poland. On September 3, 1939, Dabrowa was occupied and Jews there were subjected to discriminatory laws. Furs and other valuable items were confiscated and Jewish businesses were identified, then seized.
1940–45: In 1941 German officials forced the town's Jews into a ghetto. The following year, Welek's parents were deported along with other Jews from Dabrowa to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center, where they perished. Szlomo was injured in forced labor and sent to the death camp. In March 1943, just a few months before the ghetto was liquidated, Welek was transported to the Blechhammer camp. Later, he was transferred to Gleiwitz, a labor camp that became part of the vast Auschwitz concentration camp network. There, he befriended Hinda Chilewicz, a fellow inmate. In January 1945, the prisoners were sent on a death march.
Welek and the other male prisoners were taken to theSachsenhausen concentration camp and from there evacuated to the Flossenbürg and Regensburg camps. In May 1945, as U.S. troops approached, the SS abandoned the prisoners on adeath march to Austria. A German farmer found Welek on the side of the road and turned him over to the Americans. In October 1945, he reunited with Hinda in a displaced persons camp. They were married on March 2, 1947.
Jill Pauly (Gisella Renate Berg)
Jill Pauly (Gisella Renate Berg)
Born May 1, 1933, Cologne, Germany
Jill Pauly was born Gisella Berg on May 1, 1933 in Cologne, Germany. She lived in a small ancient town outside Cologne called Lechenich, where her family had been living since the 17th century. Her father, Joseph, was a respected cattle dealer who had many connections within the community, and her mother, Klara, tended to the home and took care of Jill and her older sister,Inge. The Bergs were a very close knit, observant Jewish family. Jill’s grandfather was the president of the local synagogue association and her uncle was the cantor.
The Nazis came to power shortly before Jill was born and as a child she was not allowed to play outside with the other children. In 1938, having been warned of the impending pogroms, the Bergs fled to Cologne. During Kristallnacht their home in Lechenich was ransacked and many of their possessions destroyed. The following week, Jill’s father fled to Holland with his brother, George, and a cousin, hoping to avoid imprisonment in Germany. However, upon their arrival in Holland they were arrested for illegal entry and detained for six months in an internment camp.
Desperate to get out of Germany, Jill’s family sought help from a relative of a cousin who had connections to a law firm in Kenya. He was able to secure visas for the Bergs and as soon as they were released, Joseph, George, and their cousin, Ernest, left for Kenya to make arrangements for the rest of the family’s emigration. In May 1939, Klara, Jill, Inge, and several other family members left for Kenya via Genoa, Italy, aboard the SS Usambara. They arrived in June and settled in a large house that Joseph had rented in Nairobi.
Kenya was then part of British East Africa and when the war broke out in September 1939 the British government arrested all adult male foreign nationals, including Jill’s father and uncles. They were classified as enemy aliens and after being held for one week they were released on the condition that they work on the farms of British citizens who were called away for war service. Shortly thereafter the family purchased a 375-acre farm in Limuru and an additional 125 acres about eight miles to the south in Muguga; from their farm they could see the distant peaks of Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The Berg family lived in two large houses on the farm in Limuru, where they raised cattle and grew pyrethrum—a flowering plant used to make insecticide. Jill’s father rode a bike to Muguga daily, stopping halfway to fulfill his mandatory service on the farm of a British family before continuing on to manage his other property. Despite the many restrictions placed upon them, Jill and her sister were able to continue their education, attending British schools in Nairobi where they eventually learned English.
In 1947, the Bergs came to the United States, and eventually purchased a chicken farm and dairy business in Vineland, New Jersey. Jill completed her high school education and graduated from business college. In 1957, she married Kurt Pauly, a fellow survivor from Nazi Germany. The Paulys have two children, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Kurt PaulyBorn: Aachen, Germany
March 26, 1930
Kurt was born to Jewish parents in the city of Aachen, where his mother's family had resided since the 18th century. His father, though trained as a chef, worked as a butcher and also managed several stores for his father-in-law. The Paulys lived over one of those shops in the nearby suburb of Eilendorf. Kurt enjoyed large family gatherings, where he would play with his cousins, Anne and Margot Frank.
1933–39: When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the situation drastically changed for the Paulys. Brown-shirted storm troopers stood in front of the family's stores urging customers to boycott Jewish businesses. Worsening conditions forced the family to close its shops. In 1936 the Paulys immigrated to Palestine, where Kurt's father had a trucking business. Two years later, the family came to the United States, after receiving affidavits of financial support from friends. They settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, a city with a large German population.
1940–45: In Cincinnati, Kurt attended school and his father found work in a cafeteria peeling potatoes and onions. Later, Kurt's father became a chef at a local restaurant. As the war in Europe escalated, Kurt's parents grew ever more concerned about the family that they had to leave behind in Germany. His father had hoped to bring more of his relatives to the United States. In fall 1941, the Nazis prohibited Jews from leaving Germany and soon began deporting them to ghettos and killing centers in occupied eastern Europe.
After the war, Kurt learned that some of his closest relatives in Germany had perished in the Holocaust. In 1948 the Paulys moved to Vineland, New Jersey, where they bought a chicken farm. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Kurt went on to graduate with honors from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.
Peter PhilippsBorn: Essen, Germany
December 5, 1931
Pete grew up in Essen, a major industrial city on Germany's Ruhr River. His father worked as a cattle hide dealer for an international trading company in nearby Muehlheim. His mother was a designer for a fashionable women's dress shop. Pete, his younger twin brothers, and parents lived together in an apartment.
1933–39: Pete had barely passed his first birthday when the Nazis came to power. His father realized the danger that now faced Jews in Germany, and the family left for Prague,Czechoslovakia, in 1936. Pete attended Jewish school there, but the times were unsettling. In fall 1938, the Sudetenland, a region of Czechoslovakia, was incorporated into the Nazi Reich, and the following March, German troops marched into Prague. Shortly thereafter, Pete's family left for Italy, where they settled in the Genoa suburbs. There, they were attacked by local antisemitic fascists. Soon after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the Philippses immigrated to Ecuador.
1940–45: In Quito, the Philippses joined the growing colony of refugees from Germany. Pete attended a private boys' school. His father set up business making margarine, while his mother did clothing alterations and knitting. In May 1941, just six months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Philippses arrived in the United States. Pete's father returned to his former company.
After the war, Pete learned that his paternal grandmother, who had fled earlier to the Netherlands, had been deported toAuschwitz, where she perished. He completed his education and, after a tour of military duty in Germany, became a journalist for the New York Times.
GYORGY (GEORGE) PICK
Gyorgy (George) PickBorn: Budapest, Hungary
March 28, 1934
Gyorgy was the only child of middle class Jewish parents living in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. His father, Istvan, was an engineer responsible for producing hydraulic grape presses for wineries. His mother, Margit, worked as a legal secretary. The Picks lived in a new district on the Pest side of the Danube River, and they had many close relatives in the city.
1933–39: In the 1930s, as Hungary drew closer to Nazi Germany, the situation for Jews there worsened. Gyorgy listened to the radio and was disturbed by the sound of Hitler's voice. In 1938 and 1939, the first major anti-Jewish laws were introduced. The legislation severely restricted the participation of Jews in the economy and defined them in racial terms, much like the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany. As a result, Gyorgy's parents lost their jobs. His father soon set up a tool and machine parts business, which was registered in the name of a non-Jew.
1940–44: In 1940 Gyorgy's father was conscripted into the Hungarian labor battalions and sent to the newly annexed territory of Ruthenia, where he worked on building roads for the military. He was released after three months, but then conscripted again in 1943 and 1944. Gyorgy attended school until March 1944, when German troops occupied Hungary. In June, the Picks along with other Jews in the capital [Budapest] had to move into special buildings marked with a yellow star. As the Allied bombing raids increased, destroying some of the neighboring buildings, Gyorgy hoped the war would be over soon. In November 1944, just weeks after the Hungarian Nazis (the Arrow Cross Party) took power, Gyorgy and his family went into hiding. A month later, they were discovered. Gyorgy was placed in a home with 500 other children, but he soon escaped. Those who remained were killed.
In January 1945, the Picks were liberated from the city's ghetto by Soviet troops. After the war, Gyorgy learned that 130 of his relatives had been deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center, where they perished. In 1956 he came to the United States.
Regina Spiegel (Gutman)
Regina Spiegel (Gutman)
Born May 12, 1926, Radom, Poland
Regina was born May 12, 1926 in Radom, Poland, a city with a vibrant Jewish community. Her father, Kadysh, worked as a leather cutter for a large shoe company and her mother, Brandla, took care of Regina and her five older siblings. The Gutmans were a very religious family and the children attended Hebrew school in the afternoons.
However, when the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 everything changed. The Jews in Radom were ordered to give up everything of value and forced to wear a white armband with the Star of David to identify them as Jews. The Jewish children were not allowed to go to school so they were secretly taught to read and write in the cellars. In 1941 the Jews in Radom were forced into a ghetto. Regina’s mother took only the comforters from their beds and her silver candlesticks and the family relocated into a small, single room in the ghetto. Food was scarce and disease was rampant so Regina’s parents decided to smuggle her out of the ghetto to go live with her sister, Rozia, in Pionki, a town about 30km away. Regina and Rozia lived in the restricted Jewish area in Pionki until the ghetto was established in 1942. With false papers stating that she was sixteen, Regina began work in the labor camp, cleaning windows in the munitions factory. It was in the camp that Regina first befriended a young man named Sam Spiegel.
In 1944 Regina and Sam were deported to Auschwitz together. Although they were separated when the train arrived at the camp, they promised to meet in Sam’s hometown of Kozienice if they both survived. In Auschwitz Regina met Esther Dymont, a girl from Sam’s hometown and they quickly became close friends, looking out for each other in the camps. About six weeks after arriving at Auschwitz the girls were sent to Baumlitz, an underground munitions factory near Bremen where they were forced to clean Panzerfäuste, volatile anti-tank weapons that the German soldiers carried on their rifles. They remained there for a short time before being deported to Bergen-Belsen, where they often went without food or water for days at a time. Regina and Esther were both sent to Elsnig about two weeks after arriving in Belsen, and were again selected for work in the munitions factory.
In spring 1945 Regina was placed on an evacuation train bound for Dachau, but while the train was stopped for repairs a bomb exploded nearby, turning over the railcars. Regina and the other women on the train escaped into the woods and were later liberated by the Soviet Army; it was April 20, 1945. After liberation Regina made her way to Katowice in Poland and was boarding a train for Radom when someone recognized her and told her that Sam was alive and working at the mill in Kozienice. Regina continued on to Radom in search of her family, but when she arrived she learned that her parents and her brothers and sisters had been taken to the Treblinkakilling center when the ghetto was liquidated (Regina’s sister, Rozia, had been shot when she tried to flee with her baby during the deportation in Pionki in 1944).
Sam soon found out that Regina was in Radom and sent a horse and buggy for her. They were reunited in Kozienice shortly thereafter and were married in the Foehrenwald displaced persons camp in 1946. They immigrated to the United States in 1947 and settled in the Washington, D.C. area. Regina and Sam have three children and nine grandchildren
Sam SpiegelBorn: Kozienice, Poland
August 23, 1922
Sam was the eldest of five children born to Jewish parents in Kozienice, a town in east central Poland. His father owned a shoe factory and his mother cared for the children and the home. Kozienice had a thriving Jewish community that made up about half of the town's population.
1933–39: On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland. That morning the Spiegels heard an air raid siren blaring and quickly left their house. Fifteen minutes later a bomb struck the building. Sam was just 17 years old. After German forces occupied the town, they began to quickly implement anti-Jewish policies. Jewish schools were closed, intellectuals were arrested, and gold, furs, and other valuables were confiscated. Individuals disobeying such orders were severely punished.
1940–45: In 1940 Sam's family was forced to move into the Kozienice ghetto, a six-block area of town enclosed by barbed wire. Poor living conditions and overcrowding there—it housed some 5,000 people—led to disease and death. Sam was assigned to forced labor. In September 1942, he was transported to Pionki, a forced-labor camp that produced munitions. Three days later, Sam learned that the Kozienice ghetto had been liquidated and its inhabitants, including his family, deported to the Treblinka killing center. In 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz and transferred to its subcamp of Gleiwitz.
In January 1945, as the Soviet army approached, the SS began evacuating prisoners from Gleiwitz. After four days on the death march in the freezing cold, Sam arrived at Blechhammer, a subcamp of Auschwitz, where the prisoners temporarily rested. That night he and some other inmates escaped. After hiding in the woods for about ten days, Sam was liberated by Soviet troops.
Morris Rosen (Moniek Rozen)
Morris Rosen (Moniek Rozen)
Born November 10, 1922, Czestochowa, Poland
One of 10 children, Moniek grew up in Dabrowa Gornicza, an industrial town in western Poland. His father, Jacob, owned a general store, which he was forced to close in 1938 as the result of a boycott by local antisemites. Moniek attended both public and Jewish schools, and his father hoped that one day he would become a rabbi.
1933–39: On September 1, 1939, Moniek was awakened by the sounds of airplanes flying overhead as German forces invaded Poland. As the war drew closer, Moniek fled eastward, but was caught near the Vistula River by advancing German troops. Returning to Dabrowa, he learned that the Nazis had killed some of the town’s Jews, and had begun imposing severe restrictions on the community. Jews had to turn over radios, money, and furs, and were subject to forced labor. Moniek worked for the German construction office as a carpenter and bricklayer.
1940–45: On August 12, 1942, German officials ordered Dabrowa’s Jews to assemble in the town. Several thousand Jews, including Moniek’s parents, were selected for deportation. A few days later, they were transported to the Auschwitz killing center. Moniek was later deported to a series of concentration camps. In February 1945, as the Soviet army approached, the SS evacuated the Kittlitztreben camp. The prisoners, including Moniek, were sent on a death marchto the Buchenwald concentration camp, walking more than eight hours a day in the bitter cold. Moniek survived another death march and was liberated from the Theresienstadt ghetto by Soviet troops. He reunited with members of his family. His parents and five of his siblings perished in the Holocaust.
In 1949, after spending several years in displaced persons camps in Austria and Germany, Moniek immigrated to the United States.
Why I volunteer
I owe it to my fellow inmates from all the concentration camps where I was kept. They did not make it, but I did, and want the world to remember them. The Museum needs me in their archives where I do translations, the most difficult of which are Polish written in Hebrew letters.
Flora Singer (Mendelowicz)
Flora Singer (Mendelowicz)
Born August 16, 1930, Berchem, Belgium
Died February 25, 2009
We note with sadness the death of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Survivor Volunteer Flora Singer, who passed away February 25, 2009. Flora was an active member of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau, a dedicated weekly volunteer at the Donor/Membership Desk in the Museum’s Hall of Witness, and a published author in four volumes of the Museum’s “Echoes of Memory” publication.
Flora’s Romanian-born parents emigrated to Antwerp, Belgium, in the late 1920s to escape antisemitism. Flora’s father owned a furniture workshop. Antwerp had an active Jewish community. There were butcher shops, bakeries, and stores that sold foods which were prepared according to Jewish dietary laws. Flora was the oldest of three girls, and the family spoke Yiddish at home.
1933–39: When I arrived for my first day of kindergarten at public school, I was shocked to learn that there were other languages besides Yiddish! Every day after school I went to a Yiddish school where I learned about Jewish culture. In 1937 my father lost his shop. He found work as a ship’s carpenter and began to travel the world. In November 1938 we learned that Papa had stayed in America, hoping that we could join him there.
1940–44: After the Germans invaded Belgium in May 1940, we had to wear a yellow star. When I started fourth grade in September, kids pushed and insulted me because I was Jewish. One day that winter we were forbidden to go to school. I took my sister and said, “It’s o.k. if we can’t study, we’ll go to the park.” A sign at the park said “No Jews or dogs allowed.” Then we went to the movies, but the same sign was posted. I said, “Don’t worry, we’ll get ice cream,” but at the shop a sign said Jews could not be served. We returned home in shame. In 1942 we had to wear a yellow star.
On the advice of a friend who was in the German army, the Mendelovicz family fled to Brussels. Flora was hidden in convents in Belgium and was spared deportation because of the efforts of resistance fighter Georges Ranson, Father Bruno Reynders (a Benedictine monk), and others. In 1946 Flora and her family immigrated to the United States, where she first worked as a dressmaker, then completed her schooling, and became a teacher.
Born February 18, 1930, Sofia, Bulgaria
Norbert was born to a Jewish family in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. His father, a prominent lawyer, was also active in the Jewish community, heading relief efforts for the city’s Jewish orphans. Sofia was home to approximately half of Bulgaria’s estimated 50,000 Jews during the mid-1930s.
1933–39: On September 1, 1939, while on a family vacation we heard over the radio that war [World War II] had begun. My parents exchanged worried glances; what would happen to us now? Bulgaria had close ties with the Germans and we were frightened. At the newsstand I saw antisemitic headlines [Antisemitism] appear for the first time in the papers speaking of the Jews’ “international conspiracy.” I asked my father to help me understand what was happening.
1940–44: In May 1943 my family was deported to Pleven in northern Bulgaria. It wasn’t like the deportations we’d heard about; we lived with relatives and I even attended a public school. The Soviet army arrived on September 9, 1944. The Bulgarian partisans descended from the mountains and started rounding up town officials. I happened to be in the street so I helped. While the chief of police was held at gunpoint, I searched his pockets. I was shaking worse than the police chief.
Norbert finished high school in Sofia after the war. In 1948 he emigrated to Israel and later moved to the United States.
Martin WeissBorn: Polana, Czechoslovakia
January 28, 1929
Martin was one of nine children born to orthodox Jewish parents in Polana, a rural village in the Carpathian Mountains. His father owned a farm and a meat business, and his mother attended to the children and the home. Everyone in the family helped take care of the horses and cows.
1933–39: Martin attended the village's Czech schools, which were quite progressive. Like many of the other children, he looked forward to leaving the provincial life in Polana. In March 1939, his life was changed dramatically when Nazi Germany and its allies dismembered Czechoslovakia. Hungarian troops occupied Polana, and Jews were subjected to discriminatory legislation. Czech schools were closed, and the students had to learn Hungarian. The villagers all resented the new rulers, and the democratic freedoms that they had enjoyed under Czechoslovakian rule disappeared.
1940–44: After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, conditions in Polana worsened. Two of Martin's brothers were conscripted into forced-labor battalions. The family soon learned that some Jews from the area had been deported to the occupied Ukraine where they were killed by SS units. In April 1944, Hungarian gendarmes transported the village's Jews, including Martin's family, to the Munkacs ghetto. In May, they were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center. Martin, his father, brother, and two uncles were selected for forced labor; the other family members were sent to the gas chambers. Martin and his father were sent to the Mauthausenconcentration camp in Austria, and then to the subcamp of Melk, where they were forced to build tunnels into the side of the mountains. His father perished there.
Susan Taube (Strauss)
Susan Taube (Strauss)
Born January 9, 1926, Vacha, Germany
Susan was born 9 January 1926 in Vacha, Germany, a small Thuringian town where her family had lived for more than 400 years. Her father, Hermann, owned a general store and her mother, Bertha, managed the home and took care of Susan and her younger sister, Brunhilde (b. 1928). The Strauss family was one of about twenty Jewish families living in Vacha in the years leading up to the war.
Soon after the Nazis took power, many of Susan's friends stopped playing with her. In 1938 she was forced to leave the public school and she and Brunhilde moved to Frankfurt am Main to study at the Jewish school. That November, the Nazis unleashed a wave of pogroms throughout Germany known as Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass”. In Vacha, local party members damaged the family store and imprisoned her father in Buchenwald. He was released four weeks later on the condition that he would emigrate quickly; he fled to Belgium in 1939. Nearly a year later, in February 1940, her father reached the United States, but he was unable to get his family out of Germany.
After Susan’s father emigrated, the family moved to Berlin with Hermann’s mother, Jettchen. Susan, her mother, and sister were conscripted into forced labor and were put to work producing radio equipment for the German U-boats. On January 25, 1942, Susan and her family were deported to the Riga ghetto in occupied Latvia. Shortly after arriving, her grandmother, Jettchen, was taken to the nearby forest and killed. The ghetto was liquidated in October 1943 and Susan and her family were deported to the nearby Kaiserwald concentration camp. After arriving, Susan was separated from her mother and sister and sent to the Meteor factory where she repaired and painted pontoon boats. In August 1944 she was transported by boat to Stutthof, only to be transferred to Sophienwalde two weeks later. At Sophienwalde she was forced to uproot trees to clear the way for a new road and later worked as a bricklayer. In January 1945 the camp was evacuated and Susan and the other prisoners were forced to march 150km over ten days until they reached the camp at Lauenberg in eastern Germany.
Susan’s mother perished in the Thorn (Torun) labor camp and her sister, Brunhilde, died in Stutthof. Susan was liberated by Soviet troops on March 10, 1945, but with nowhere to go she was transported to the east and forced to work on a Soviet farm. Eventually she was sent to work in the town of Koszalin where she met a Polish Jew from Lodz named Herman Taube.
Susan and Herman married in July 1945 and lived briefly in Poland until the July, 1946 pogrom inKielce made it apparent that they were no longer safe there. They made their way back to Germany, living for a time in the Ziegenhain displaced persons camp before settling in the town of Alsfeld. In April 1947 Susan and Herman immigrated to the United States where they were reunited with her father and settled in Baltimore. The Taubes have four children, eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
Why I volunteer
I like to volunteer to meet nice kids and work with nice people. Sitting at the donor desk I try and help the museum and I am able to speak about my experiences.
Elzbieta Strassburger (Lusthaus)
Elzbieta Strassburger (Lusthaus)
Elzbieta grew up in Iwonicz, a resort town in southwestern Poland noted for its mineral water. Her father, Edmund, was a respected physician and Helena, her mother, had studied pharmacology. At home, they spoke Polish and were among the few Jewish families who lived in Iwonicz.
1933–39: When German troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Elzbieta’s father was drafted into the Polish army. Seventeen days later, the Soviet army drove in from the east and Edmund was captured. He was transported to a camp for Polish prisoners of war in Novosibirsk (Siberia), where he served as a physician. In November 1939, Elzbieta and her mother went toTarnow, where her maternal grandmother lived. There they were subjected to a growing number of Nazi anti-Jewish measures, such as forced labor. Helena worked as an assistant pharmacist for the Germans.
1940–45: In June 1942, some 3,500 Jews, including Elzbieta’s grandmother, were deported to the Belzec killing center. Realizing the danger, Helena purchased “Aryan” papers for Elzbieta and herself and escaped to Milanowek, a town near Warsaw. There they lived with a Polish family. Four-year-old Elzbieta was given the name Barbara Stachura and raised as a Catholic. After the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, German authorities intensified their efforts to find Jews in hiding. Helena worried that they would be discovered and sometimes kept her daughter from school or hid her in the basement.
In January 1945, Soviet troops occupied Milanowek. In May, Elzbieta’s mother bribed a Russian soldier to smuggle them in shipping crates across the border to Czechoslovakia. From there, the two went to Austria and then Germany, where they learned that Edmund had survived and was in Italy with the Polish army. In 1951 Elzbieta and her family came to the United States.
Manya Friedman (Moszkowicz)
Manya Friedman (Moszkowicz)
Born December 30, 1925, Chmielnik, Poland
Manya was born December 30, 1925, in Chmielnik, a small town in central Poland whose Jewish community that to the 16th century. Her father owned a furniture shop and her mother took care of the home and children. Manya had two younger brothers, David and Mordechai, who was called “Motele.” Manya’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins also lived in the area. She attended public school in the morning and Hebrew school in the afternoon.
In 1938 Manya’s family moved to Sosnowiec, a city located near the German border. There, she had her first experience with antisemitism, when signs appeared urging Polish citizens to boycott Jewish businesses. German troops invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and three days later, Sosnowiec was occupied. Jewish men, including Manya’s father, were rounded up and the next morning marched to a factory. The prisoners were held overnight without food or water and then selected for local jobs, forced labor, incarcerated in Germany, or executed. Manya’s father was detained to build latrines for the German military and then released. Orders were issued by the Germans in charge that: Jews had to turn in all valuables, Jewish merchants must relinquish their businesses, and Jewish children were no longer allowed to attend school. The town’s synagogue was burned down and the neighbors were not allowed to extinguish the fire. Sosnowiec and the surrounding area were then annexed to Germany. New passports were required for all the Jews and the ghetto was formed. Ration cards were distributed, though they did not provide enough food to survive. All Jews were made to wear identifying armbands and later, the yellow Star of David badge.
In 1941, Manya was forced to work for a German company that produced military uniforms. The following year, the Nazis began deporting Jews from Sosnowiec to the Auschwitz-Birkenaukilling center. Manya and her family were temporarily saved from deportation because of their sonderkarts (work permits). In March 1943, she was taken from the uniform factory to the Gogolin transit camp, and later to the Gleiwitz labor camp where she was tattooed with the number 79357, which became her name. At the end of 1943, Manya’s family was deported to Auschwitz when the ghetto was liquidated; she never saw them again.
In January 1945, as the Soviet army approached, the Germans evacuated Gleiwitz. Manya and the other prisoners were sent in open freight cars to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. The trip through the bitter cold lasted ten days, during which time the prisoners had no food and only melted snow for drink. Throughout the journey, Manya shielded a sick friend from being crushed in the overcrowded car. Later, Manya was taken to the Rechlin camp, a sub-camp of Ravensbruck. She was liberated there by the Swedish Red Cross in late April 1945 and taken to Copenhagen and then on to Malmö. In 1950, she emigrated from Sweden to the United States. Today, Manya is an active volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
David BayerBorn: Kozienice, Poland
September 27, 1922
David was the second of four children born to religious Jewish parents in Kozienice, a town in southeastern Poland. His father, Manes, owned a shoe factory that supplied stores throughout the country. His mother, Sarah, took care of the home and children, and helped in the factory. Kozienice had a thriving Jewish community that constituted over half of the town's population.
1933–39: For most of the 1930s, David spent his days going to school, playing sports, and working in his father's shoe factory. His life, however, changed dramatically in September 1939, when German troops invaded Poland. During the bombing of Kozienice, the Bayers escaped to the forest. They returned to find that German soldiers had looted their home. The Nazis quickly began to implement their antisemitic policies. Jewish homes were marked with the Star of David, a curfew was established, and businesses, like the Bayers', were confiscated.
1940–45: In 1940, the Bayers were forced to move into the Kozienice ghetto, where they were assigned one room. Like other Jews there, David was conscripted to digging irrigation canals. In September 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and its inhabitants, including members of his family, were deported to the Treblinka killing center. David was transported to Pionki, an industrial complex that produced munitions. In 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz, where he was selected for forced labor and transferred to the subcamp of Jaworzno to work in the coal mines. As the Soviet army neared, David and the other prisoners were sent on a death march. SS guards shot prisoners who were too weak to go on or who fell. After stopping at the Blechhammer camp, David escaped into the forests, where he was found five or six days later by Soviet troops. He weighed 70 pounds. He spent two years in theFoehrenwald displaced persons camp in Germany before immigrating to Panama.
In 1948 he left Panama to fight in the Israeli War of Independence. He later immigrated to America and now works as a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Henry Greenbaum (Chuna Grynbaum)
Henry Greenbaum (Chuna Grynbaum)
Born April 1, 1928, Starachowice, Poland
Henry Greenbaum was born Chuna Grynbaum, in Starachowice, Poland, on April 1, 1928. His father, Nuchem, ran a tailor shop out of their home while his mother, Gittel, raised the family’s nine children.
Before 1939, Henry enjoyed a typical childhood, attending public and religious school and playing soccer with the other children. However, in the summer of 1939, rumors of an impending invasion were rife. Having heard that factory jobs might offer some protection, his father arranged for Henry and three of his sisters to work in the munitions factory. Shortly thereafter, Henry’s father passed away unexpectedly. Two months later the Germans invaded Poland and Henry and his family escaped to a nearby farm to avoid the bombings that preceded the ground invasion of their town. While Henry and his brother, David, were out picking tomatoes on the farm they came across a Polish soldier who was fleeing from the Germans. David decided to escape with the soldier but made Henry go back home to their mother.
When the family was forced to move into the Starachowice ghetto in 1940, Henry and his sisters continued to work at the factory. The family remained together in the ghetto until October of 1942 when his mother and two of his sisters, along with their children, were deported toTreblinka and killed. Henry and his sisters were selected to work in a nearby labor camp; Henry worked in a factory producing springs while his sisters sewed uniforms in an SS tailor shop. Henry’s sisters, Chaja and Yita, perished in the camp. In 1943, Henry and his sister, Faige, tried to escape from the camp, but during the attempt Henry was shot in the head. When he came to and went to look for Faige he discovered a cousin who tended to his wound. It was not until the next morning’s roll call that he learned Faige had been killed in the escape attempt.
In 1944, Henry was deported to Auschwitz and placed in the satellite camp of Buna-Monowitz, a factory-camp complex owned by the I.G. Farben Company that dealt in munitions, synthetic rubber, and fuel. As the Soviet army approached he was evacuated to Flossenbürg, a concentration camp near the Czechoslovakian border. As American forces neared Flossenbürg a few months later, the prisoners were sent toward Dachau on a death march. Henry was liberated at Neunburg vorm Wald on April 25, 1945 by U.S. soldiers from the 11th Armored Division.
After liberation, Henry began to search for his family and in Bergen-Belsen he found the cousin who had cared for him after he was shot. The cousin returned to Poland where she found Henry’s brother, Zachary, who had been imprisoned in the Vilna ghetto, and told him where he could find Henry. Once they were reunited, the brothers sent a telegram to their sister, Dina, who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1937, letting her know they had survived. They settled at the Zeilsheim displaced persons camp near Frankfurt until she was able to arrange for their immigration and in the summer of 1946 Henry and Zachary arrived in New York where they were met by their brother, David. Of his immediate family, only Henry, his two brothers and one sister survived the Holocaust.
Henry and his late wife Shirley settled in Bethesda, Maryland. They have four children, twelve grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.
Tania Rozmaryn (Marcus)
Tania Rozmaryn (Marcus)
Tania grew up in Smorgonie, a Polish town where Jews constituted more than half of the population. Her father was a successful businessman who sold farming equipment and purchased flax for export. Her grandfather, an affluent merchant, traveled frequently and brought the first truck to Smorgonie. The Marcuses took part in the town’s vibrant Jewish culture, attended the theater, and hosted discussions about art in their home.
1933–39: On September 1, 1939, German troops invaded Poland, triggering World War II. Sixteen days later, Soviet armies drove in from the east and occupied Smorgonie. Tania was just entering the fifth grade. Soviet authorities quickly began to implement communist policies, seizing the businesses, assets, and valuables of those individuals deemed “capitalists.” The Marcus family lost their businesses and much of their property. Tania’s Jewish school was converted into a Soviet school, where classes were taught in Russian.
1940–44: On Sunday, June 22, 1941, the German army invaded the Soviet Union and occupied Smorgonie that same day. The Marcuses fled eastward to Lebedev, but were soon captured. Tania returned home with her mother and older sister. She soon learned that an SS mobile killing squad had shot her father. Her younger brother, Nathan, was retrieved from Lebedev, and, a few weeks later, the family was forced to move into the Smorgonie ghetto. Two years later, the Marcuses were transported to the Kovno ghetto. In March 1944, the SS shot more than 1,000 young children there, including nine-year-old Nathan.
Evacuated to the Stutthof concentration camp, Tania, her mother, and older sister were sent on a death march in January 1945. Tania contracted typhus and lost consciousness. When she awoke from the coma, she realized that they had been liberated by Soviet troops. Tania became a Hebrew teacher in several Jewish displaced persons camps in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1950.
Born February 19, 1931, Berlin, Germany
Died August 27, 2006
“We have to eat the sardines,” my mother said. She always bought those canned in tomato sauce. I did not like the combination, I preferred oil.
“Why can’t you get the ones in olive oil?” I asked.
“No, oil is not good for you. Tomatoes are much better -- they are a vegetable,” she answered with a stern look at me. It was no use to argue. I knew she would never buy the sardines I liked.
We had sardines every few weeks from the stock of a dozen cans stacked in the linen closet. The idea was simple. The canned sardines served as the “escape” provisions for the family.
My father had put it this way: “In case we have to run, small cans of sardines are easy to slip into one’s pockets, or pack in a bag. They do not spoil and provide a meal that is nourishing.”
To keep them edible, even though they were canned, this emergency food was opened and eaten periodically, and then replenished with “fresh” cans of sardines.
This was 1960. World War II was long over. Our wartime experiences were a memory, but to my parents they were a lesson never forgotten.
REMEMBRANCE Survivor Affairs Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center Speakers Bureau International Tracing Service Oral History Department Collections First Person Memory Project Survivor Volunteers Support the Museum Resources ? Goldie was born to an Orthodox Jewish family in Lachowicze, Poland. Her family ran a successful two-room shoe factory from the home. In September 1937, she and her family sailed to Cuba, where they remained safe during the war. Goldie received her visa for the U.S. in November 1947. On January 28, 1948, she and her family traveled to Miami, Florida, hoping for a better life. Her father could not get a job in Miami, so he and other family members left for New York. Goldie stayed with her uncle in Florida and finished middle school. Goldie then joined her family in New York and attended high school in Brooklyn. She worked for a trucking company while attending night school; she wanted to be an accountant.
Born January 24, 1927, Berlin, Germany
Fritz Gluckstein was born on January 24, 1927 in Berlin, Germany to a Jewish father and a Christian mother. His father, a liberal Jew, was a judge and a decorated veteran of World War I. When Hitler came to power in 1933, his father was dismissed from office, and the family lived in drastically reduced circumstances. Raised as a Jew, Fritz was a Geltungsjude, a “counted Jew”, and was subject to all the restrictions imposed on the Jews of Germany, including the wearing of the Yellow Star.
In 1942, his Jewish school was closed and he was sent to work cleaning up a Jewish cemetery. On his 16th birthday, he was interrogated by the Gestapo. Following that, he was assigned to work in a factory which made armaments for the German Air Force. He and his father were picked up with the rest of Berlin’s remaining Jews during the infamous Fabrikaktion on February 27, 1943.
Released from the Clou nightclub, one of the holding centers where Jews were taken, he was rearrested the following week, when he went to pick up the family’s ration cards. He was then interned with other husbands and children of non-Jewish women in a building on theRosenstrasse. That building, which had previously been an administrative office of Berlin’s Jewish Community, was the scene of a demonstration by the non-Jewish wives and mothers demanding the release of their loved ones. The only public demonstration against the Nazi regime ever to take place in Germany, it resulted in the release of all those being detained.
Following the demonstration, Fritz and his father were assigned to forced labor gangs, which were sent to demolish damaged buildings after air raids. When the war ended, Fritz returned to a special course to finish his high school diploma. In January 1948, he immigrated to America and became a veterinarian.
Born August 8, 1921, Stuttgart, Germany
William was born to a large liberal Jewish family in Stuttgart, Germany. His father, a World War I veteran, worked as a textile wholesale businessman and owned his own small store where he sold cotton and linen goods. Stuttgart was a seemingly safe city and became the home for many Jews. However, opportunity appeared bleak for William’s family in Germany. He arrived in New York several days before his sixteenth birthday. His uncle sent him to Danville, Illinois, where he was to improve his English and to work in a department store. In November 1938, William’s father was arrested and sent to Dachau. He was later released. The rest of the family left Germany before the outbreak of World War II.
Catherine Liner (Kato Fried)
Catherine Liner (Kato Fried)
Born March 3, 1925, Smolnik, Czechoslovakia
Catherine was born to Jewish parents in Smolnik, a small village in eastern Czechoslovakia. While still a young child, she moved with her parents and brother to Sighet, Romania. There, in the Carpathian mountains, her father ran a lumber business that exported wood to Germany and Czechoslovakia. At school, Catherine and her brother encountered antisemitism among their classmates and teachers. In 1944, Catherine’s father was arrested and taken to a concentration camp. He died there from starvation and hard work. After the German occupation of Hungary, Catherine and her mother were deported to Auschwitz, where they were selected for forced labor. In December, they were sent on a death march to Germany. In spring 1945, they were liberated by Allied troops. They traveled through Dresden, Prague, Hungary, and finally made it home to Romania where they lived with their father’s sister until 1946. Two years later, after working as a secretary at a displaced persons camp, Catherine immigrated to the United States with her mother and brother.
Leon Merrick (Lajb Kusmirek)
Leon Merrick (Lajb Kusmirek)
Born January 8, 1926, Zgierz, Poland
Leon was the oldest of two boys born to a Jewish family in Zgierz, Poland, a city well known for its textiles. In 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, Leon’s family left Zgierz for Lodz, Poland. They were forced into a ghetto in 1940. The ghetto was in the city of Lodz. Four years later the ghetto was closed and Leon was taken to a forced labor camp in Kielce, Poland. He worked in an ammunition factory for 3 months. In 1944, as Soviet forces began an offensive, Leon was taken to a forced labor camp in Czestochowa, Poland. At the end of December 1944, the Germans evacuated the camp and took its prisoners to Buchenwald, a concentration camp near the city of Weimar, Germany. Three months after entering Buchenwald, Leon was taken toFlossenburg, another concentration camp. He was there for three weeks until, as the war came to a close, the Germans herded the camp’s survivors on a death march. The death march lasted three to four days. On April 23, 1945, U.S. forces liberated the survivors near Chan, Germany. Leon immigrated to the United States in 1949 and was drafted into the American army in March 1952. He reached the rank of sergeant. Leon met his wife Nina in Washington, D.C.; she is also a Holocaust survivor.
- Leon Merrick (Lajb Kusmirek)
Nina Merrick (Szuster)
Nina Merrick (Szuster)
Born May 18, 1929, Rokiteno, Poland
Nina was born to a Jewish family in the Polish town of Rokiteno. She was the youngest of three siblings. Her father worked as a builder, and was a jack-of-all-trades. Nina attended Beth Sefer Tarbut, one of the city’s finest private Hebrew schools. In 1939 the Russians occupied Rokiteno, closed the Hebrew school, and reopened it as a Yiddish school. She began to attend a Russian-Ukrainian public school instead. In 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, and Rokiteno came under German occupation. Harsh anti-Jewish measures were immediately implemented.
Before a ghetto was established, Nina and her family moved to the small village of Glinoe, where most of her father’s family lived. Nina did not stay long there, because the Germans gathered the Jews from the surrounding area and established a ghetto in the village of Berezov. Everybody was forced to work for the Germans occupation authorities without pay. In September 1942, the German SS with Ukrainian helpers surrounded the Berezov ghetto with the intention of killing all the inhabitants.
Nina escaped to the woods and hid there for several days. There, she met her uncle and his two daughters. Nina and other escapees from the ghetto joined the Ukrainian partisans. Befriended by her commander, Sydor Artemovych Kovak, she was sent to Moscow to study until the end of the war. Nina was sent on vacation to Poland to find her relatives; instead of returning she joined a kibbutz. Nina emigrated to the United States on February 18, 1947. She lived with her mother’s sister and her family in Washington, D.C., where she was schooled. She met her husband-to-be, Leon, at a party in her house and they were soon married. Leon is also a Holocaust survivor.
Born November 30, 1925, Berlin, Germany
Gerald was born to a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany. His father worked in the textile business. Gerald was the eldest of two children; he had a younger sister. He attended public school until 1936, when he and other Jewish children were forced to leave public schools. In December 1938, Gerald’s family moved to London, England. They lived in London for approximately one month, as they waited for their visa numbers to be announced. In February 1939, Gerald and his family emigrated to the United States. Gerald was only fourteen. They moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and several years later moved once again to New London, Connecticut. Gerald’s mother spoke English well and taught piano lessons. After finishing high school Gerald joined the U.S. Army. He spent one year in the infantry and one year in the Office of Strategic Services. After serving in the Army, Gerald went back to school and in 1950 graduated from Yale University.Photo Album
Halina Yasharoff Peabody (Litman)
Halina Yasharoff Peabody (Litman)
Born December 12, 1932, Krakow, Poland
Halina was born to a liberal Jewish family in Krakow, Poland. Her father, Izak Litman, was a dentist; and her mother, Olga Schreiber, was a champion swimmer. Halina also had a younger sister, Ewa. When the Soviet Union invaded Poland in the autumn of 1939 Halina was living in Zaleszczyki which came under Russian occupation. Fearing conscription into the Russian army Izak crossed the open border into Romania. When he tried to return to his family, the border had been sealed and he was caught by the Soviets and accused of being a spy. Izak was sentenced to twenty years hard labor and deported to Siberia. In 1941, Germany discarded the German-Soviet Pact by taking over the part of Poland previously occupied by the Soviets.
Halina was nine years old when the Germans carried out their first aktion, or violent operation against Jewish civilians in her town. The Germans requested a group of volunteers consisting of young Polish Jews to bind trees with burlap for the winter. One girl managed to escape and reported back to the community that the group was forced to dig a ditch, line up alongside it, and then were shot. Following subsequent similar events the remaining Jewish community in and around Zaleszczyki was moved to Tluste which eventually became a ghetto. Halina’s mother realized the dangers she and her daughters were facing and bought documents from a Catholic priest which allowed them to assume non-Jewish identities. With the new documents they boarded a train to Jaroslaw, Poland. A man on the train pressured Olga into admitting they were Jewish and he stated that he would have to take them to the Gestapo when they reached Jaroslaw. On the way to the Gestapo Olga persuaded the man to let them go.
Olga, Halina, and Ewa lived as Catholics in Jaroslaw with a woman who took in boarders, but were in constant fear of being caught. Olga found a job in a German military camp kitchen in order to obtain a German identification card which offered greater protection. Shortly before the Soviets liberated Jaroslaw, a bomb fell on the house where they were staying. Their landlady was killed and Halina’s hand was permanently injured.
Jaroslaw was liberated by the Soviet forces in July, 1944. Having learned in a letter from the Red Cross that Izak had escaped Russia, and was with his sister in Palestine, Olga placed radio announcements in hopes of finding him. A friend of Izak’s heard the announcement and the family was reunited and settled in London, England. In the 1953 and 1957 Maccabiah Games in Israel, Halina represented England in table tennis. She immigrated to the United States in 1968 and currently volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Bella (Berger) Mischkinsky
Bella (Berger) Mischkinsky
Born September 9, 1922, Lodz, Poland
Bella was born on September 9, 1922 in Lodz, Poland. Her father was an insurance salesman. Bella had one younger sister, Irene. She attended a public gymnasium until Germany occupiedLodz in 1939. At that time, Bella and her father went to the Soviet-occupied part of Poland, planning to bring her mother and sister from Lodz but Germany sealed the border. She was separated from her father and has not seen nor heard from him since. In 1941, Nazi Germany occupied all of Poland and Bella ended up in the Oszmiany ghetto where she worked for the ghetto’s Nazi commandant. Meanwhile, her mother and sister were interned in the Lodz ghetto.
Bella escaped from the Oszmiany ghetto during its liquidation and made her way to the ghetto in Vilna. The Vilna ghetto was liquidated in 1943 and Bella was sent with about 300 women to the Kaiserwald concentration camp near Riga, Latvia. In Kaiserwald, Bella worked in the military clothing warehouse operated by the Germans. There, she met Bubi (Isaac) Mischkinsky, a former Riga architect in charge of construction work in the camp. They were married in the camp in a simple, informal ceremony officiated by a Jewish inmate working in the camp office.
In 1944, as the Russian army advanced toward Riga, the Kaiserwald concentration camp was liquidated and its surviving inmates, including Bella and Bubi, were shipped by boat and barges to the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig. Shortly afterwards, both were sent to a slave labor camp in Magdeburg, Germany to work in a munitions factory making artillery shells.
After liberation in April 1945, Bella went to Zeilsheim and later worked for the HIAS office in Frankfurt. Bella’s mother and her sister Irene survived the Lodz ghetto. They located Bella in Germany and she managed to bring her mother to Germany from Lodz. Bella and her remaining family members immigrated to the United States in 1946.
Born June 22, 1926, Roznava, Slovakia
Died September 5, 2008
We note with sadness the death of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Survivor Volunteer Susan Berlin, who passed away September 5, 2008. Susan was a dedicated volunteer with the Museum’s Archives and Education departments, and served as a Museum tour guide.
Susan was born an only child to a conservative Jewish family in Roznava, Slovakia. Her mother and father owned a dry-goods store. Susan was thirteen years old when the war began. News of the evils of the concentration camps reached Roznava and Susan’s father decided to take his family out of Slovakia as fast as possible. Her father had a brother in the United States that would assist her family in receiving Visas. They sailed into New York City on the S.S. Washington on August 3, 1939.
Susan was placed into an all female public school. Her English was very poor and her peers ridiculed her because she was an immigrant. She was an outstanding student and furthered her education at Brooklyn College. She moved to Washington, DC in 1948 when a close college friend found her a job in the US Army Map Service; she read documents in Hungarian and summarized them into English. She met her husband in the Service and was later married in 1950. Susan is a retired elementary school art teacher.
As a museum volunteer, she gives tours of the Permanent Exhibition to groups from the programBrining the Lessons Home: Holocaust Education in the Community.
Born February 19, 1925, Freiburg, Germany
Gerald was born to a conservative Jewish family in Freiburg, Germany. His father was a businessman. His company was based in Germany and the warehouse was located in Switzerland. His mother helped his father with the business.
Gerald attended a German school until April 1933. The government issued a boycott on Jewish business. They traveled to Switzerland but were unable to stay. Instead they moved to St. Louis, France, where the family lived for a few years. His father ventured back and forth from France into Switzerland to sell supplies to retailers. In 1935, the French allowed refugees to live in France only if they moved 100 km from the border. This made it extremely difficult for his father to conduct business since he needed to travel from France. The family moved to Loerrach, Germany because of this situation.
The Schwab family wanted to leave Germany in 1938. Gerald attended a German school until two days after the Night of broken glass on November 9, 1938. By now the Germans began to add the letter J in red to passports of Jews. His father could no longer travel for business.
March 1939, Gerald joined the Kindertransport. He lived with a farmer near Zurich, Switzerland from April till December and then stayed with a Christian family until May 1940. On May 10, 1940, his parent’s received the family’s Visas (the same day the Germans invaded Belgium and Holland). One week later they left for Italy and sailed to the United States on the S.S. Washington.
Gerald was 15 years old when he arrived in New York. His family first lived in Long Branch, New Jersey. After a year in the United States, the family acquired a poultry farm in central New Jersey and Gerald was schooled. In 1944, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of Corporal by the time he was discharged.
Born November 28, 1919, Vienna, Austria
Charles was born to a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. His father was a printer. In 1937, Charles was admitted to the Medical School of the University of Vienna. When the Germans marched onto Austria and arrived in Vienna on March 13, 1938, Jews were no longer permitted to study at the University, and Charles began to search for a way to get out of Austria, now a part of Germany. By August 1938, he had found a way to leave, and on August 12 he said his last goodbye to his parents and fled to Luxembourg.
After his arrival in Luxembourg, he received temporary asylum with the help of a Jewish aid organization, ESRA. He contacted some distant relatives in the USA, and asked for help. Soon he received the required Affidavit of Support which he immediately presented to the nearest American Consulate which was in Antwerp, Belgium. He was told that all was in order and he would hear soon when to come and get his visa. What he did not know was that the US State Department had issued orders to stall all Jewish applicants. Soon he received a letter from Antwerp, asking that his sponsors submit “one more document.” This went on about 4 or 5 times, until war broke out in Europe in September 1939. Charles was then invited to get his visa on October 7, 1939. He arrived in New York on December 18, 1939.
Charles found work in the shipping department of a textile firm, worked as a waiter in a Jewish summer camp, and was drafted into the US Army on October 7, 1941, exactly two year after receiving his visa. In June 1943, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery, and shortly thereafter was transferred to Military Intelligence. He served in World War II in combat from Normandy to the Czech border and again during the Korean War in Korea. He then worked as an Intelligence Analyst at the Department of Defense, and in 1966 transferred to the Department of the State Foreign Service until his retirement in December 1978.
In early 1946, Charles found out that his parents had been deported to the Lodz ghetto in 1941. In 1995, he finally learned that they were gassed at Chelmno on February 28, 1942.
Born February 2, 1918, Lodz, Poland
Herman Taube was born in Lodz, Poland in 1918. Orphaned at an early age, he was brought up by Mirle and Gershon Mandel, his grandparents. Gershon ran a small shop that produced soap and candles. Herman attended a yeshiva (school for study of the Torah) prior to WWII. Gershon hoped his grandson would become a rabbi, but Herman instead began nursing in 1937.
Herman was called for duty as a medic in the Polish Army in August 1939. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, thus marking the start of WWII. The Polish army was defeated within weeks of the blitzkrieg, (lightning war). The Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland according to the German-Soviet Pact on September 17, 1939. Herman, along with the retreating Polish Army, was captured by the Soviet forces after crossing the Bug River. While officers and those of higher rank were sent to Katyn and later executed, lower ranking soldiers were sent to Siberia, a harsh area of the Soviet Union where gulags (Soviet work camps) were located.
German forces invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Based on an agreement between the Soviet government and the Polish government in exile, all Polish citizens held in Soviet camps were to be released (in part, to create a Second Polish Army in exile). Upon his release, Herman went to Uzbekistan to join the Second Polish Army. He worked as a medic in Uzbekistan for two years until his unit moved to the eastern front. In June 1944 Herman was injured when the ambulance he was riding in drove over a land mine. After recuperating Herman was sent to the headquarters of the Second Polish Army, newly stationed in Lublin, the formerLublin/Majdanek concentration camp. Herman worked in the Majdanek hospital, caring for the liberated prisoners who were left behind when the retreating Nazis liquidated the camp. Shortly thereafter Herman was sent to work in a hospital in Pomerania where he worked until the end of the war.
After the war Herman married Susan Strauss, a fellow survivor. The two immigrated to the United States in 1947. Herman is the author of more than twenty novels and books of poetry and has worked as a writer and journalist for over 60 years. Herman and Susan live in the Washington, DC area and volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Johanna Gerechter Neumann
Johanna Gerechter Neumann
Born 1930, Hamburg, Germany
Johanna Neumann was born into a family of merchants in Hamburg, Germany, on December 2, 1930. Her family tried several times to get visas to enter the United States, but because Johanna’s father was, officially, a Polish citizen, he was given a higher quota number than his wife and child. Therefore, they decided to stay in Germany as a family. In 1939, they escaped to Albania along with a few other Jewish-German families. They remained in Albania, fleeing from one town to another throughout the war until they were freed by the Allies in 1945. In 1945, Johanna and her family went to Italy where they lived in the Tricase Porto displaced persons camp. It was at this camp that Johanna first came into contact with survivors from various concentration camps. In June 1946, Johanna and her mother left Italy for the U.S. Her father went to Rome, where he waited until he received his U.S. visa. He joined his family in the U.S. in 1947.
Born November 5, 1924, Bivolari, Romania
Haim was the youngest of 5 children. His family lived in a small Jewish community in the village of Bivolari in Romania. Life was pleasant in this small, but bustling village inhabited primarily by 200 or so Jewish families.
On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact and divided up eastern Europe. The Soviets occupied Bessarabia, one kilometer from Bivolari. The Romanian authorities, suspicious of Jewish loyalties because of the close proximity of the Soviets, ordered all Jews to leave Bivolari and to move further west. Haim and his family moved to the town of Iasi, approximately 50 kilometers to the southwest.
Iasi was a very Jewish city but was also home to the virulently antisemitic Iron Guard organization. While his father and older brothers started a business in yard goods, Haim tried to continue his schooling. In 1941, the Germans in alliance with Romanian troops invaded the Soviet Union. On June 26th, Iasi was subjected to a bombing by the Soviet Air Force. Because the Romanian authorities blamed the Jews for the bombing, a brutal city-wide pogrom was initiated on the 28th and 29th of June. Up to 13,000 Jews were murdered. Haim and his family managed to escape death by hiding throughout the city. Soon after, Haim was recruited by the Romanian authorities to perform forced labor by way of bookkeeping in a military hospital.
In March 1944, Soviet troops reached the Romanian border. Haim and his family went to Bucharest to escape the street fighting. They arrived in Bucharest in June of 1944 and remained there until the arrival of the Soviet troops. In 1945, Haim resumed his schooling and prepared to make his way to Palestine. En route to Palestine in the summer of 1947, the ship on which Haim, along with thousands of other Jews, were traveling was captured by the British. All of the passengers were taken to Cyprus. Finally on December 23, 1948, Haim, now a member of the Hagana, managed to escape the British displaced persons camp on Cyprus and succeeded in reaching Israel.
He remained in Israel until 1952, when he went to live with his brother in Detroit and began his studies in microbiology at Wayne State University.
Sam Schalkowsky (Shmuel Shalkovsky)
Sam Schalkowsky (Shmuel Shalkovsky)
Born May 23, 1925, Kovno, Lithuania
Shmuel Shalkovsky (now Sam Schalkowsky) is the son of Yitzhak and Chaya Kupershmidt Shalkovsky. He was born on May 23, 1925 in Kovno (Kaunas) Lithuania where his parents owned a shoe store. Shmuel was the youngest of six siblings, two of whom died at a young age. Three of his older siblings moved to Palestine in the early 1930’s. Shmuel’s father died in 1940, and his mother was left to run the store and care for Shmuel, her only surviving child inKovno.
In June 1941, the Germans launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union and immediately occupied Lithuania. In August 1941, Chaya and Shmuel were forced to move into the Kovno ghetto. In February 1942, approximately 300 Jews were sent from the Kovno to the Riga ghetto, including Shmuel and his mother. His mother did the laundry of others in the ghetto to earn extra food and Shmuel worked in an airforce warehouse.
In the summer of 1943, the ghetto was liquidated and its surviving residents sent to the new Kaiserwald concentration camp outside of Riga. Shmuel was put in charge of work in one of the clothing warehouses, which gave him an opportunity to trade clothing for food. In September 1944, as the Soviet army was advancing toward Riga, the Germans liquidated the Kaiserwald concentration camp and sent its surviving inmates to the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig. Shmuel’s mother perished in Stutthof. About a month or two later, Shmuel was transferred to the slave labor camp in Magdeburg to work making artillery shells.
In April 1945, as American and Soviet troops advanced on Magdeburg, the Germans guards marched the prisoners out of the camp. Shmuel and two friends made their way to the rear of the column and managed to escape.
After the war, because he knew English from high school, as well as several European languages, he was taken in by the War Crimes team as an interpreter and served with them for the next eight months, wearing an American army uniform.
In January 1946, the war crimes team completed its work and Shmuel secured a position at the Labor Office of UNRRA Headquarters in Arolsen, Germany. A friend from the War Crimes team continued to stay in touch and secured an American visa for Shmuel as his sponsor.
Shmuel arrived in the United States in July 1946. A few months after his arrival, he enlisted in the United States Army. He was sent to Korea and assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps. He was discharged after ten months of service, and received full benefits under the GI Bill of Rights which he used to study at the Technion in Haifa in Palestine in October 1947. Shmuel joined the Hagannah and participated in the fighting around Haifa, in Tzfat and in Mishmar Ha-emek. Later, he was made an officer in the newly formed field artillery of the Israeli Defense Forces. Shmuel fought in Israel’s War of Independence and then returned to the United States in 1949 where he completed his engineering studies at Columbia University.
Meisel worked as a slave laborer in a boot factory in a Lithuanian ghetto, watched her mother forced into a gas chamber and posed as a Catholic to hide from the Nazis before she fled to safety in Denmark. She was 16 years old and weighed 47 pounds...
Reunited in New York in 1998 by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous
55 years latter ..
This Bilingual Section was made with the imput from Holocaust Survivor
Charlotte Guthmann Opfermann
Charlotte Opfermann, Überlebende des Holocaust
Lotte Sarah Guthmann Häftlingsnummer XII / 5-11 Theresienstadt
The transport number identified me : Die Transportnummer sagt aus:
as having come to the camp with the fifth (5) deportation from Frankfurt/Main (XII), and that I was the eleventh (11) prisoner on that day's list.
Roemische Nummer XII bedeutet: der Haeftling kam aus Frankfurt/Main (XII), mit dem fuenften (5) Transport von dort, war das elfte (11) Mitglied auf der Liste der Transportteilnehmer.
Frau Opfermann ist Überlebende des Holocaust und lebt heute in den USA in Houston /Texas.
This Section is dedicated to the memory of my childhood friends who were abused and tricked into performing this charade, in oder to confirm the Final Solution administrators' claim vis-a-vis the Free World that nothing untoward was to befall us. Just weeks after the unsuspecting International Red Cross Inspector Maurice Rossel had visited the camp -- in the company of murderous Nazi officials of the German Red Cross such as for example SS Brigadefueh-rer Dr. med. Ernst Grawitz (who, himself was personally responsible for many of the medical experiments performed on concentration camp prisoners) , almost all of the children had been killed. When a second such inspection was proposed, 18'406 prisoners were killed in order to make the camp appear less crowded .
MONTREAL -- Honour thy mother.
That's the motto Montrealer Angela Polgar has tried to live by all her life - a life that began in a death camp. The place was Auschwitz-Birkenau, in southern Poland. Her parents, Hungarian Jews, arrived there on a Nazi transport on May 25, 1944.
Polgar's mother, Vera Bein, nee Otvos, was 25 years old at the time and almost two months pregnant.
On the infamous railway platform where "selections" were made, Bein, as Polgar respectfully calls her, was not sent to the gas chambers. Instead, she was assigned to a variety of grueling work details before becoming a guinea pig for sterilization experiments by a camp doctor.
By the horrific standards of the Holocaust, it's an ordinary story, perhaps - except for one thing. The patient survived, and so did her child.
On Dec. 21 Bein felt labour pains. She climbed to the top bunk in her barrack, and there, aided by two other inmates, gave birth in secret to a baby girl.
The infant was tiny, weighing only one kilogram; she was too weak to cry but strong enough to drink the meagre offering from her mother's breast, and somehow survived the next few weeks in hiding.
Soviet Red Army troops liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. Baby and mother were among the survivors, and they were an unusual sight - indeed, almost unique.
The only other infant survivor, according to Auschwitz museum records, was a Hungarian boy, Gyorgy Faludi, born the day of liberation with the help of a Russian doctor.
This week 18,000 people, including more than 1,000 Canadians, are gathering in Poland for the annual March of the Living, a symbolic tour of the Holocaust killing grounds whose centrepiece is Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Marking Holocaust Remembrance Day (in Hebrew, Yom Hashoah) on Thursday, the Jewish-funded event will be the largest such gathering since the march was inaugurated in 1988.
Angela Polgar isn't going. Instead, she has decided now is the right time to tell Canadians her family's remarkable story.
She isn't doing it to shine light on herself; she even refuses to have her picture taken, for fear people would accuse her of self-aggrandizement.
Rather, she wants to honour her mother, a woman who never liked to talk about her experience because she thought it would be a burden to her daughter.
"She was a very, very special lady," said Polgar, a former clothing store owner who lives in the Cote des Neiges district of Montreal with her husband, Joseph.
"My mother felt so terrible for all the people who had lost their children. They lost their babies, and she brought one back," Polgar said.
"And at the same time she didn't want me to have the memories she had. So she didn't talk about it."
Telling it now is a release - and a duty. "It has nothing to do with me, this story. She did it. She's the one who went through all this."
And so Angela Polgar begins her story.
That both mother and daughter survived at all is a miracle in itself. About 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were exterminated at Auschwitz between the start of the organized killing in March 1942 and its end in November 1944. The death machine was at its busiest the summer that Polgar's parents and other Hungarian Jews arrived en masse to be liquidated - more than 132,000 a month, according to Canadian scholar Robert Jan van Pelt's exhaustive study, Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present.
"By the end of June, in just two months, half of Hungary's Jewry - 381,661 souls - had arrived at Auschwitz," van Pelt wrote in the 1996 book he co-authored with U.S. scholar Deborah Dwork. "At no other time was Auschwitz more efficient as a killing center."
They quote one survivor, Alexander Ehrmann, who arrived at Birkenau at night and was aghast at what he saw and heard - especially the piles of burning bracken and rubble he saw and smelled through the barbed wire.
From the pyres came the sounds of children. "I heard a baby crying. The baby was crying somewhere in the distance and I couldn't stop and look. We moved, and it smelled, a horrible stench. I knew that things in the fire were moving, there were babies in the fire."
At selection on the platform, most visibly pregnant women were sent to die; so were babies, children, the obviously sick and the elderly. Others were spared for use as slave labour or fodder for medical experimentation.
Some of the inmates in Camp C, Auschwitz's barrack for Hungarian Jewish women and girls, were able to bring their pregnancies to term, but their babies were almost invariably taken from them right after and killed - "mercifully" strangled to death by Jewish inmate doctors forced to work for the Nazis.
Most pregnancies never got that far; the usual clandestine practice was to abort fetuses before they could be born - a life-saving measure for the mother, who was an easy target for liquidation if her pregnancy became too obvious.
One of the Jewish physicians who routinely performed this "service" at Auschwitz, a Hungarian gynecologist named Gisella Perl, described that and worse in her 1948 memoir I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz.
Walking by one of the crematoriums one day, she witnessed what happened to one group of women who, promised better treatment, had revealed to their Nazi overlords that they were pregnant. "They were surrounded by a group of SS men and women, who amused themselves by giving these helpless creatures a taste of hell, after which death was a welcome friend," Perl recalled in her book.
"They were beaten with clubs and whips, torn by dogs, dragged around by their hair and kicked in the stomach with heavy German boots. Then, when they collapsed, they were thrown into the crematory - alive."
Vera Bein escaped that fate. For the longest while, she kept her pregnancy secret, and was lucky her delivery came within weeks of liberation by the Soviets, unannounced, and not "helped" by any camp doctor.
Her survival - and that of her daughter - is a footnote of the Holocaust, but an important one.
"This does seem to be an unusual story," said Estee Yaari, foreign media liaison for the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. "Although there are others," she said, including one survivor born in Buchenwald in 1944, "it is a rather rare occurrence."
Surviving Auschwitz was one thing. Little "Angi", as her mother called her, was also lucky to have survived the war's chaotic aftermath, overcoming a bad start from poor nutrition that made her bones weak.
She was even lucky to get official proof of her arrival in this world: a birth certificate that her adoptive father got for her before the family left Poland.
Prepared in 1945 in Oswiecim, the Polish name for Auschwitz, the certificate gave her name as "Angela Bein." The surname was that of her biological father, Tibor Bein, a lawyer, who died of maltreatment in the camp.
"Auschwitz" was listed as her place of birth - a place that has ceased to exist by the German name, except as an expression synonymous with mechanized murder. Auschwitz today exists only as a museum, and Angela Polgar has never been back.
She has a copy of her birth certificate, issued in 1989 by the Communist authorities in her hometown, Sarospatak, in eastern Hungary.
As further proof, she has her original 1966 Hungarian teacher's diploma, which also lists Auschwitz as her birthplace.
After the liberation in 1945, Polgar's mother trekked across parts of Poland, Romania and Byelorussia in a circuitous route leading back to safety in Hungary. There, Vera remarried, and it was that second husband - Sandor Polgar, also an Auschwitz survivor, owner of a textile shop and a generation older than Vera - who adopted Polgar and become her "real" father, the only one she ever knew.
Twelve years later, however, he, too, died, and mother and child were once again set adrift. Coming on the heels of the crushing of their country's revolution by the Soviets in 1956, and with a relative now in Canada to sponsor them, they started plotting their flight from Hungary. Vera left in 1966, Angela followed in 1973 with her own daughter, Katy. They settled in Toronto, where Vera worked as a kindergarten teacher and bookkeeper. Katy moved to Montreal and started a family, and in 1996 Vera moved here to be with them.
For the longest time, the family saga - especially the Auschwitz part - was kept private. The only public recounting came in the form of a short memoir, written in Angela Polgar's voice by her sister-in-law, a retired Montreal high schoolteacher named Marianne Bolgar. It was published in a small Zionist journal in New York in 2000.
Then, last January, after a barrage of coverage in the media about the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Polgar decided the time had come to let the whole story be told. Polgar also unearthed a precious resource: an old audio tape of her mother recounting her time at Auschwitz. It was an "interview" Vera gave her granddaughter, Katy, in 1984 for a high-school project. The tape - her final word on the subject - will soon be registered as part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum's archives in Poland.
As testimonies go, it's a poignant one: words spoken over the telephone more than 25 years ago, a 30-minute inter-generational dialogue in which the subject sounds like she'd rather not be telling the innocent teenager just how horrible history can be.
"It's so painful to talk about this," Vera says at one point, as Katy prods her for details. "I was so curious to hear what she had to say," Katy, now doing her doctorate in cancer research at McGill University, recalled last week.
"My mother was so protective; she wouldn't let me read any Holocaust books, so this was my one-time shot to see what my grandmother could give me. The amazing thing was that she was never bitter about what happened to her. She just went on with life."
On the tape, Vera begins by describing the confusion of her arrival at Auschwitz in May, 1944. She remembers the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele sending her to the left after inspection on the platform while others were sent to the right, to their deaths. Worried she was being separated from the others and unaware of her good fortune to be spared, she remembers telling Mengele she was pregnant, hoping he'd be compassionate and let her stay with the others.
"You stupid goose!" she recalled Mengele snapping at her, ordering her to do as she was told. Healthy and strong, Vera was good stock for the camp's labour force. Mengele wasn't going to send her to her death, not yet.
She was sent to have her left arm tattooed with a registration number: A-6075. Then she was assigned the night shift in the ample storeroom in Camp A that contained mounds of confiscated belongings of other Auschwitz victims and inmates.
Because it was so rich in stock, the depot was dubbed "Kanada," like the land of plenty. Vera's job was to sort clothing, shoes, bedding - anything the Germans wanted to keep for themselves.
Later, she was assigned kitchen duty, where she ate potato peels, a slight but vital source of nutrition for her and the child inside her. The rest of her daily diet consisted of ersatz coffee in the morning," something warm, a soup made of grass" for lunch, and for supper a slice of bread with a smear of jam or margarine on it.
Then came hard labour outside the camp, building a road and working in afield. Vera was transferred to Camp B2, then Camp C, where she got to know children, especially twins, who were used for medical experiments by Mengele and fellow doctors before being liquidated.
It was only a matter of time before she became a guinea pig herself.
In October, now seven months pregnant, she was selected by Prof. Carl Clauberg's medical team for sterilization experiments. They injected some kind of burning, caustic substance into her cervix.
Right behind, in the uterus, was the fetus.
"That was me in there," Polgar now marvels. "The needles went in, I went to the right side, then the left side. Who knows what he gave her?"
Somehow the fetus survived. After the experiment was over, the patient went back to her barracks - and then disappeared from the doctors' radar.
"Somehow Mengele forgot her," Polgar said. "I was so small, the pregnancy didn't really show. That was her luck. Otherwise, they would have finished her off, and me, too."
A month later, Vera was approached in her barracks by "a Jewish woman doctor"- possibly the gynecologist Gisella Perl.
The doctor had a warning and an offer. She told her that new mothers usually "disappeared" along with their offspring after the birth - sent to the gas chambers. She offered to give Vera an abortion.
"I promised her to think it over, because she really insisted on it," Vera recalled on the tape. "She said I was too young to be gassed, and she wanted to save me. "But that night, Vera dreamt of her mother. "She told me, 'Veruska, you are eight months pregnant, and you don't do this, because (the fetus is) alive already and ready to leave. Believe in God and Hashem will be with you. Maybe a miracle will happen. But don't do it.'
"The next day, Vera gave the doctor her answer: she was going ahead with the birth. It happened on Dec. 21, in the barracks of Camp C. "I felt the pain and told the Block altester (the barrack's inmate supervisor) that I feel cramps and pain. She asked me to climb on the top of the bunk, and she came with me and she helped me to give birth to your mummy," Vera tells her granddaughter on the tape. "She knew how to do it, because she was the daughter of a doctor, so she had an idea about cleanliness and how to help a woman in labour. She brought hot water and clean sheets. She cooked a pair of scissors in hot water to sterilize them" before cutting the umbilical cord, she said. "So everything went quite easily. "The infant weighed one kilogram, a little over two pounds "Mummy was so weak and so tiny, she didn't cry. So nobody knew she was born."
Three hours after giving birth, Vera had to leave her baby in the bunk and go outside in the cold for roll call - what the Germans called the Appell.
Her daughter is still amazed she was able to do it. "What courage, what incredible strength she had to do that," Polgar said. "Remember, it was December. It was freezing, and they didn't have any coats or proper shoes, just wooden clogs that made them slip on the ice."
Just before the liberation, a final scare. Yelling "Schnell! Schnell!"(Quick! Quick!) the German guards herded surviving inmates like Vera into a tunnel beneath the camp and told them they would be exterminated. (It didn't happen, but to her dying day Vera retained a mortal fear of tunnels; once, trapped between stations in a stalled Toronto subway car, she lost her senses, screaming to be let out.)
After the scare, there was another miracle.
On the day of liberation another child was born at Auschwitz, Gyorgy Faludi.
His mother had helped Vera with her delivery; now Vera returned the favour.
The woman didn't have enough milk to suckle her son, so Vera did it. It was the beginning of a long friendship. The two families - Faludi with her son, Bein with her daughter - stuck together for the next few months of wandering back to Hungary. Vera nursed the two children and helped Faludi find her husband and return to their hometown, Miskolc. The war was over. Now the recovery began. After the liberation, no-one except Vera held up much hope that little Angelawould live long.
In Budapest, Vera's mother's advice was to let the baby die. So, too, saidthe local doctors they consulted - until one of them did a closer examination."(He) held me up like a chicken, by the legs with my head down. He wanted to see if I'd try to pull my head up. And I did. And then he said 'We can let that baby live.' "Her biggest problem in those first few years were her bones. "They were very weak, and I wasn't allowed to walk. So they put me in a carriage, and my father took me back and forth to school that way," she said.
In the street, strangers used to stare." Everybody looked at me ... and said 'That's a doll, not a baby.' They called my mother the crazy lady, because they thought she was only pretending to have a baby." Over time, though, with better nutrition and care, the child's bones got stronger, and at six she could finally walk unaided. The legacy of Angela's early years never disappeared completely. She's still tiny of stature, under five feet tall, and walks with a shuffling gait. But that doesn't seem to faze her. These days, she bustles back and forth to a computer class she takes in Montreal and doesn't seem handicapped by her physique - or her past.
Sixty years after her birth she's been thinking a lot about her mother. She remembers her on her death bed, 13 years ago in a Toronto hospital. It was a sad, cruel end to a remarkable life. Vera's body was ridden with cancer of the spine and lung. While she lay dying, paralyzed, she had visions of Auschwitz. "She would say 'Mengele is at the door,' " Polgar said. "It was horrible. There was not enough morphine to take the nightmare away even from her dying minutes."
Vera Polgar, previously Vera Bein, born Veronika Otvos, died at age 73 on Jan. 28, 1992 - a day after the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. "She did not want to die on Jan. 27," Polgar said. "She pulled the suffering through to the next day to die."
She remembers her mother for many things: the odds she overcame, the perseverance she embodied, the pain she concealed for so many years under a mask of optimism and a survivor's dream of renewal.
"She was very charming, never depressed," Polgar said. "But deep down, it was always there."
Like the ink in the number tattooed on her arm, the mark that Auschwitz left on Vera's psyche was indelible. Now, thanks to her daughter, so is her story.by Jeff Heinrich CanWest News Service
May 3, 2005
Marian Pretzel, b. 1922, Lvov, Poland. Immigrated to Australia 1949. When I realised that more than fifty years have passed since I left Lvov, a sudden urge made me want to see it again. In a way, to say goodbye to my past. It was hard to decide whether it was wise to reopen old wounds and relive tragic moments. When finally the decision was made, a friend living in Israel agreed to join me.
Marian Pretzel with his parents and his sister in Lvov, 1934
Marian Pretzel today
What have I found there? What's left of Jewish life? The old Jewish cemetery, desecrated and completely demolished (under the Germans), was replaced with a new one. Not a single tombstone dated before 1945 could be found. At the entrance, a black granite monument was erected in memory of the victims of Shoah (the Holocaust). We were told that there are more Jews living in Lvov (now) than during the Communist era, most of them from Russia or Western Ukraine. There is a synagogue and Rabbi from Israel, who started a Hebrew school two years ago. Learning about the revival of religious activities and a Hebrew school under the Ukrainian government was most heart warming."
"Last May I visited my former home city of Lvov. The sentiments and love for the place where I spent my first twenty years were always dear to my heart. I refused to let the memory of living in the Ghetto and a short stay in the Janowska (concentration) camp obliterate 19 years of a happy life.
The centre of the city is as beautiful as ever, although the fifty years of neglect were obvious. The area where the ghetto was is partly demolished, but with some of the two and three storey houses still in existence. A most impressive monument is standing where the main entrance to the Ghetto was, and a paved walk leads to a large Menorah (Jewish candelabra). On both sides of the path, signs with the names of perished relatives are displayed. A Jewish organisation is putting them up.
The beautiful Temple, once a landmark of Lvov, was gutted by fire the first week of the German occupation. There is a patch of grass and a few trees where the Temple once stood. Not a sign or plaque to commemorate the place.
b. 1922, Lvov, Poland. Immigrated to Australia 1949.
When I realised that more than fifty years have passed since I left Lvov, a sudden urge made me want to see it again. In a way, to say goodbye to my past. It was hard to decide whether it was wise to reopen old wounds and relive tragic moments. When finally the decision was made, a friend living in Israel agreed to join me.
Marian Pretzel with his parents and his sister in Lvov, 1934 Marian Pretzel today
What have I found there?
What's left of Jewish life?
The old Jewish cemetery, desecrated and completely demolished (under the Germans), was replaced with a new one. Not a single tombstone dated before 1945 could be found. At the entrance, a black granite monument was erected in memory of the victims of Shoah (the Holocaust).
We were told that there are more Jews living in Lvov (now) than during the Communist era, most of them from Russia or Western Ukraine. There is a synagogue and Rabbi from Israel, who started a Hebrew school two years ago. Learning about the revival of religious activities and a Hebrew school under the Ukrainian government was most heart warming."
Liberation day at Dachau
"Several hundred yards inside the main gate, we encountered the concentration enclosure, itself. There before us, behind an electrically charged, barbed wire fence, stood a mass of cheering, half-mad men, women and children, waving and shouting with happiness - their liberators had come! The noise was beyond comprehension! Every individual (over 32,000) who could utter a sound, was cheering. Our hearts wept as we saw the tears of happiness fall from their cheeks." Lt. Col. Walter Fellenz, 42nd Infantry Division of the US Seventh Army
Survivors of Dachau salute the American liberators
The infamous Nazi concentration camp at Dachau was liberated on Sunday, April 29, 1945 just one week before the end of World War II in Europe. Two divisions of the US Seventh Army, the 42nd Rainbow Division and the 45th Thunderbird Division, participated in the liberation, while the 20th Armored Division provided support.
In the photo above, the man in the center in the front row is Izek Nachtigal (Irving Nightingale) who has been identified by his sons, Murray Nightingale and Rabbi Tzvi Nightingale. His story can be read in an article by Rabbi Nightingale on this web site.
Dachau consisted of a main camp just outside the town of Dachau and 123 sub-camps and factories in the vicinity of the town. The next day, on 30 April 1945, at around 9 o'clock in the morning, one of the major Dachau sub-camps at Allach was liberated by the 42nd Division.
On the day before the liberation of the main camp, the acting Commandant, Martin Gottfried Weiss, had turned everything over to a group of prisoners called the International Committee of Dachau and had then fled along with most of the regular guards that night. According to Arthur Haulot, a member of the International Committee, German and Hungarian Waffen-SS soldiers were then brought to the camp in order to surrender the prisoners to the U.S. Army.
Both the 45th Thunderbird Division and the 42nd Rainbow Division were advancing on April 29, 1945 toward Munich with the 20th Armored Division between them. Dachau was directly in their path, about 10 miles north of Munich.
The 101st Tank Battalion was attached to the 45th Thunderbird Division. According to this source the 101st arrived in the town of Dachau at 9:30 a.m. on April 29th.
According to Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, the commander of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Thunderbird Division, he received orders at 10:15 a.m. to liberate the Dachau camp, and the soldiers of I Company were the first to arrive at the camp around 11 a.m. that day.
Nerin E. Gun, a Turkish journalist who was a prisoner at Dachau, wrote that "The Americans were not simply advancing; they were running, flying, breaking all the rules of military conduct, mounting their pieces on captured trucks, using tractors, bicycles, carts, trailers, anything on wheels that they could get their hands on. The Second Battation, 222nd Reigment, 42nd Divison, was coming brazenly, impudently down the highway, its general in the lead."
On their way to Munich, the 42nd Division soldiers had met some newspaper reporters and photographers who told them about the camp and offered to show them the way. Lt. William Cowling was with Brig. Gen. Henning Linden when the first soldiers of the 42nd Division arrived at the camp and were met by 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker who was waiting near a gate on the south side, ready to surrender.
SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker surrenders Dachau camp to Brig. Gen. Henning Linden
The main Dachau camp was surrendered to Brigadier General Henning Linden of the 42nd Rainbow Division by SS 2nd Lt. Heinrich Wicker, who is the second man from the right in the photo above. Wicker was accompanied by Red Cross representative Victor Maurer who had just arrived the day before with five trucks loaded with food packages. In the photo above, the arrow points to Marguerite Higgins, one of the reporters.
The surrender of the Dachau camp took place near a gate into the SS garrison that was right next to the prison enclosure. The gate is shown in the photo below, which was taken after the liberation. Note the fence on the left which is also shown in the photo above.
Dachau camp was surrendered by 2nd Lt. Wicker near this gate
Photo Credit: Fred Ludwikowski
Courtesy of Robert Thomas Gray, 14th Ordnance Co.
No one knows for certain what happened to 2nd Lt. Wicker after he surrendered the camp, but it is presumed that he was among the German soldiers who were shot that day by the American liberators or beaten to death by some of the inmates.
Lt. Col. Howard Buechner, a doctor with the 45th Division, wrote the following in his book entitled "The Avengers":
Virtually every German officer and every German soldier who was present on that fateful day paid for his sins against his fellow man. Only their wives, children and a group of medics survived. Although a few guards may have temporarily avoided death by disguising themselves as inmates, they were eventually captured and killed.
Arthur Haulot, a prisoner in the camp, wrote the following in his Dairy:
April 29, 1945. Last night an international inmate committee secretly formed, which was instructed to enforce calm in the hours that followed and which was to take over management after liberation.
We notice in the morning that the camp-SS left. Two fighting troops take their place and take over the guard.
The fighting begins in the afternoon. [...] One guard after another waves the white flag. [...] The soldiers in the last watchtower surrender. [...] The SS-men caught on the other side are publicly ridiculed. If they would fall into our hands, we would tear them apart. The SS-officers are executed the same afternoon. At night the soldiers suffer the same fate. The Americans say: "Since we saw the first camp, we have known. We understood that we were not engaged in war against soldiers and officers, but against criminals. We treat them like criminals."
Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, an officer in the 45th Thunderbird Division, described what it was like that day, in an account which he wrote in 1989:
During the early period of our entry into the camp, a number of Company I men, all battle hardened veterans became extremely distraught. Some cried, while others raged. Some thirty minutes passed before I could restore order and discipline. During that time, the over thirty thousand camp prisoners still alive began to grasp the significance of the events taking place. They streamed from their crowded barracks by the hundreds and were soon pressing at the confining barbed wire fence. They began to shout in unison, which soon became a chilling roar. At the same time, several bodies were being tossed about and torn apart by hundreds of hands. I was told later that those being killed at that time were "informers." After about ten minutes of screaming and shouting, the prisoners quieted down.
Other accounts of the liberation of Dachau differ. According to Michael W. Perry, who wrote the Editor's Preface to the book entitled "Dachau Liberated, The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army," the 42nd Division entered the camp from the inmates' barracks on the east side and the 45th Division entered from the west side where the camp's SS guards were housed. Perry wrote that both divisions were spearheading the Seventh Army's drive toward Munich and the soldiers were acutely conscious that the German Army might make a last desperate stand before the city. "It was then that they stumbled upon a camp whose existence and purpose had been unknown to many of them."
The following quote is from the Editor's Preface, written by Michael W. Perry on July 5, 2000:
Odd as it sounds, while many camps guards either fled or willingly surrendered, others fought on to the very last, defending their long-held "right" to terrorize the camp's thirty-thousand inmates. Most disturbing of all, inmates would continue to be shot for trying to escape even as the camp was being liberated.
Coming closer, the soldiers saw the towers and high-voltage fences that kept the inmates confined to their man-made hell. From this particular tower, lettered B, several guards with machine guns fought American troops in one last, desperate attempt to maintain their reign of terror.
Tower B is shown in the photo below, taken in 1945 after the liberation of Dachau. The bodies of dead German soldiers can be seen at the base of the tower.
Bodies of dead German soldiers at Tower B
An investigation conducted between May 3 and May 8, 1945 by Lt. Col. Joseph M. Whitaker, known as the I.G. Report, concluded that the total number of SS men killed on April 29, 1945 at Dachau was somewhere between 50 and 60, including the SS soldiers killed after they surrendered at Tower B, shown in the photo above. Most of the bodies had been thrown into the moat and then shot repeatedly after they were already dead, according to testimony given to the investigators by American soldiers who were there.
No Americans were killed or wounded during the liberation of Dachau. The SS men had been ordered not to shoot and there was no resistance as they were massacred by the liberators.
The men of the 45th Division had been through 511 days of combat before they arrived at Dachau. The first sight that these "battle hardened" men saw at Dachau that day was worse than anything they had ever seen on a battlefield: a train of 39 cars, filled with emaciated corpses.
Regarding the train outside the camp, Michael W. Perry wrote the following in his Editor's Preface to The Official Report by the U.S. Seventh Army:
For many of the soldiers who stumbled onto the camp that day, their first glimpse into its horrors came as they walked along a rail spur outside the camp. Crammed into railroad cars and scattered along the tracks were the bodies of men who had been alive when they had begun the long journey during which their captors fully expected them to die of thirst and starvation. At the end of that journey, Dachau's crematory stood eagerly waiting.
According to the US Army, there were 2,310 dead bodies on this abandoned train, although Red Cross representative Victor Maurer estimated that there were only 500 bodies. The train had taken almost three weeks to travel 220 miles from the Buchenwald camp to Dachau because the tracks had been bombed by American planes. Prisoners riding in open gondola cars had been killed when American planes strafed the train, according to Pvt. John Lee, a soldier with the 45th Division who saw the train.
Prisoners had traveled 3 weeks through the war zone
The sight of the dead bodies on the train enraged the soldiers of I Company in the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Division and it was understood that they would take no prisoners. The first four SS soldiers who came forward carrying a white flag of surrender were ordered into an empty box car by Lt. William Walsh and shot.
- 29 April 1945
Then Lt. Walsh "segregated from surrendered prisoners of war those who were identified as SS Troops," according to a report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Seventh Army, dated June 8, 1945.
The following is a quote from the I.G. report:
"6. Such segregated prisoners of war were marched into a separate enclosure, lined up against the wall and shot down by American troops, who were acting under the orders of Lt. Walsh. A light machine gun, carbines, and either a pistol or a sub-machine gun were used. Seventeen of such prisoners of war were killed, and others were wounded."
The photo below shows the bodies of Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent from the battlefield to surrender the Dachau concentration camp. They offered no resistance to the liberators.
Waffen-SS soldiers wearing battle fatigue uniforms were killed at Dachau
The original of the famous photo above hangs in the 45th Division Museum in Okalahoma City; the photo was copied in Munich, only weeks after World War II ended, and was offered for sale to the men in the 45th Division.
Ted Hibbard, who works at the 45th Division Museum, has identified the picture of the dead SS soldier above as a photo taken by a member of the 45th Division named Edwin Gorak. According to Hibbard, the freed inmates were given 45 caliber pistols by soldiers in the 45 Division and allowed to shoot and beat the SS men who had been sent to surrender the camp.
Dan Dougherty of Roseville, CA was in the 2nd Platoon of C Company, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division. He was with the second group of 45th Division soldiers to enter Dachau. In an interview, Dougherty recalled that he was told that C Company was going into a concentration camp to relieve I Company because I Company had gone berserk.
Dougherty said that C Company entered the camp around 4 p.m. on April 29th, approaching from the southwest. He said that they were warned to be wary of lice but they were not told anything about the 2,300 corpses inside the 39 cars of an abandoned train. Typhus is spread by lice, but the American soldiers had been vaccinated before going overseas so they were not in danger from the epidemic that was out of control in the Dachau camp; around 400 prisoners were dying each day from typhus by the time the American soldiers arrived.
One of the 42nd Rainbow Infantry Division soldiers who helped to liberate Dachau was Dee Eberhart; he was a first scout in his immediate unit: I Company, 242nd Infantry Regiment.
Since the late 1990s, Eberhart has been a speaker for the Washington Holocaust Education Resource Center in Seattle, traveling throughout Eastern Washington to share his eye-witness account as a Dachau liberator.
After Dachau was liberated, the US Seventh Army took over the administration of the camp. A team of army doctors and other military personnel was formed as Displaced Persons team number 115 to take care of the prisoners and they arrived on April 30th with truck loads of food and medical supplies. On May 2nd, the 116th Evacuation Hospital arrived, followed by the 127th Evacuation Hospital, to give medical aid to the sick prisoners.
According to the official report by the US Army, there were 31,432 survivors in the main camp, including 2,539 Jews who had been brought to the camp from the sub-camps just a few weeks before the liberators arrived. The Jewish prisoners from the five sub-camps of Mühldorf had been evacuated to the main camp, accompanied by Mühldorf Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss. Prisoners from the sub-camps of Kaufering had also been brought to the main camp in the last weeks before the liberation of Dachau. Among the Jewish survivors were a few mothers with babies, including Miriam Rosenthal and her son Leslie, who had been born in one of the Kaufering sub-camps.
On April 26, 1945, three days before the liberation, the last roll call showed that there were 30,442 prisoners in the main camp and 37,223 in the sub-camps. That same day, the last Commandant of Dachau, Wilhelm Eduard Weiter, left the camp with a transport of prisoners who were evacuated to Schloss Itter, a sub camp of Dachau in Austria.
Prisoners who had been evacuated from other camps continued to arrive at the main camp in the next two days, including around 2,000 prisoners who had been death marched to Dachau from the Flossenbürg camp. Between 1100 and 2500 prisoners from the Buchenwald camp, who had been evacuated on the ill-fated "death train" almost three weeks earlier, had finally entered the camp just days before, after a detour through what is now the Czech Republic.
In the final days, the Dachau camp, which had once been a "model camp" that was proudly shown off to visiting dignitaries, including some visitors from America, had turned into a hell-hole of the worst order, as the Nazis desperately moved prisoners from other camps to Dachau to prevent them from being released by the Allies.
Ernst Kroll, a Communist prisoner who had been an inmate at Dachau since it first opened on Mar. 22, 1933, said that the Dachau camp "was beginning to look like Calcutta." He was quoted by Nerin E. Gun, a journalist who was a Dachau prisoner, in a book entitled "The Day of the Americans."
Hats off to the American liberators - after electricity to fence was cut
The young boy at the far left in the photograph above is Stephen Ross, a 14-year-old orphan from Poland, who said that he had survived 10 different concentration camps before he was liberated at Dachau. Standing next to him is Juda Kukieda, the son of Mordcha Mendel and Ruchla Sta.
Dachau prisoners wave American flags and cheer their liberators
The photograph above shows an American flag flying on top of one of the barracks buildings in the Dachau concentration camp after the camp was liberated. It was unseasonably cold that year and most of the prisoners are shown wearing warm coats or sweaters. There were snow flurries as late as May 1st.
Dachau was one of two camps in the Nazi concentration camp system which had a Straflager (punishment camp) for SS guards who had been arrested for "laying violent hands on a prisoner" or breaking one of the other strict rules governing their behavior. There were 128 SS concentration camp guards incarcerated at Dachau; after the regular guards escaped on the night of April 28th, along with acting Commandant Martin Gottfried Weiss, these men were released and ordered to guard the prisoners until the Americans arrived.
The liberated prisoners were allowed to beat approximately 40 SS guards to death, while the American liberators did not attempt to stop them. Sam Dann quotes an officer of the 42nd Division, 22-year-old Lt. George A. Jackson, Jr., who witnessed a German soldier, who had probably just come from the front because he was wearing a full field pack, being beaten to death by the prisoners after the liberation, but didn't intervene:
As I entered the camp I noticed a group of several hundred people on one side of the compound. Going closer I observed a circle of about two hundred prisoners who were watching an action in their midst. A German soldier with full field pack and rifle who had been trying to escape from Dachau was in the middle of the circle. Two emaciated prisoners were trying to catch the German soldier. There was a complete silence. It seemed as if there was a ritual taking place, and in a real sense, there was. They were trying to grab hold of him. Finally, an inmate who couldn't have weighed more than seventy pounds, managed to catch his coattails. Another inmate grabbed his rifle and began to pound the German soldier on the head. At that point, I realized that if I intervened, which could have been one of my duties, it would have become a very disturbing event, I turned around and walked away to another part of the camp for about fifteen minutes. When I came back, his head had been battered away. He was dead. They had all disappeared. And that is the graphic story of my experience at Dachau.
After the war, Jackson became a professor of psychology at Sonoma State University at Rohnert Park, California and had the good fortune to meet two other Sonoma State professors, Paul Benko and John Steiner, who were both survivors of Dachau. Benko told him that he had been singled out along with several other prisoners that day, and was on the verge of being shot, but the SS soldiers ran away when they heard the American tanks coming in the distance.
Long after the war was over, Steiner was able to meet Dan Dougherty and talk about what it was like on the day Dachau was liberated.
The following is a quote from an article by Jennifer Upshaw in the Marin Independent Journal on April 29, 2005:
On the other side of the camp, Steiner was found, semi-conscious in the infirmary. In some ways he said he feels robbed of the euphoric moment.
"The joy of the liberation passed me over in a way because I was not in a state to really experience it," he said.
In the courtyard, prisoners of war were held by the first unit in, I Company. C Company was dispatched to relieve I Company, some of whose members had "gone berserk" under the strain, Dougherty said.
"They became very emotional, crying," Dougherty said. "We went in to relieve them. They walked along that same train of boxcars. We came to the courtyard. It was a strange sight because here are about 10 reporters standing in this courtyard around corpses of SS officers."
Sam Dann quotes more of Jackson's statement in his book:
The trainful of dead bodies, the kiln of burning bodies, and the group I watched who killed the German soldier inside Dachau, were graphic evidence that the people who had been and were prisoners there were subjected to unimaginable horrors. Being in Dachau on that day was my "wake-up call." The rest of my life as a university professor of psychology has been informed and directed by that experience.
In a book entitled "Where the Birds Never Sing," Jack Sacco gives a first-hand account of the liberation of Dachau, as experienced by his father, Joe Sacco, who was a 20-year-old soldier from Alabama with the 92nd Signal Battalion of General George Patton's Third Army. Joe Sacco and several other men in the 92nd Signal Battalion were among the first 250 soldiers on the scene at the liberation of Dachau on April 29, 1945, according to his son's book. However, the U.S. Army and the United States Holocaust Memoral Museum do not recognize the 92nd Signal Battalion as liberators of any camp.
In "Where the Birds Never Sing," Jack Sacco tells the story of another captured SS soldier who was shoved into the prison compond by the American liberators, so that the prisoners could beat him to death. A photo of the dead body of this soldier is included in the book.
The following quote is from page 281 of "Where the Birds Never Sing":
Averitt wanted to go to where the Americans were holding the captured Nazi SS troops. Most of the regular German soldiers had fled before we took over the camp. The SS, though, had remained, vowing to fight to the death and kill as many of the inmates as they could in the process. Our guys had them lined up in front of a wall just opposite a shallow stream that ran along the inside edge of the compound. As we approached, we could see the SS sneering defiantly at their captors, hurling insults and arrogantly laughing.
One of the younger ones was on the run, having dodged the bullets and exploited the confusion well enough to flee. [...] We split up and captured him cowering down against the wall. He looked like he was in his early twenties. [...] We brought the Nazi back over the bridge and were heading in the direction of the infantry when we heard a commotion coming from the prisoners within the compound. They had run up to the fence and were waving their arms, screaming, calling for us to bring this Nazi to them. The SS trooper glared at them with hatred and contempt. [...] The emotion of the moment overpowered us. We pushed the Nazi toward the fence, the guards swung open the gate and we shoved him in.
The Americans had found a few more SS hiding around the place and were lining them up against a wall in another part of the compound for execution. Averitt said he heard one of the brash Germans yell out, "You are required to adhere to the Geneva Convention and give us a trial." An infantryman yelled back, "Here's your trial, you bastard! You're guilty!" And with that he shot the Nazi in the forehead.
Among the 2,539 Jewish prisoners at Dachau on Liberation Day was William Weiss, who had somehow managed to survive although the rest of his family had died in the Holocaust, including his parents, grandparents, 2 sisters, 10 aunts, 10 uncles and 40 cousins, according to an interview which he gave to Detroit newspaper reporter Marsha Low in 2001. According to his own account, Weiss had narrowly escaped being sent to the death camp at Belzec, and had then escaped from the Janowska camp, near Lvov, the first night he was there. He survived a year in a Gestapo prison in Lvov before being sent to the death camp at Auschwitz in 1943. He survived Auschwitz and then a 50 kilometer death march out of Auschwitz in the dead of winter in January 1945, finally ending up at the Dachau camp.
Another Jewish prisoner who was among the survivors was Karel Reiner, a well-known Czech composer and pianist. Along with his wife, Reiner was among several famous musicians who were sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto. From Theresienstadt, Reiner and his wife were transported to the death camp at Auschwitz. Both survived the selections for the gas chamber at Auschwitz and the evacuation from the camp. Reiner ended up as a prisoner at Dachau where he was liberated on April 29, 1945.
According to the official Seventh Army report, the largest ethnic group in the camp on liberation day was the Polish prisoners; there were 9,082 Polish Catholics among the survivors, including 96 women. Many Polish prisoners had been brought to Germany to work as slave laborers for the German war effort.
One of the Polish Catholics at Dachau on liberation day was John M. Komski who had survived Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Gross-Rosen and a death march from the Hersbruck sub-camp of Nordhausen before arriving at Dachau on April 26, 1945.
The newspaper reporters who accompanied the 42nd Division to Dachau were hoping to get a story about the 137 very important prisoners who were known to be inmates in the Dachau main camp. Included among the VIP prisoners was the Rev. Martin Niemöller, who became famous for a quotationabout not speaking up when the Nazis came to arrest others, and when they finally came for him, there was no one left to protest.
The VIP prisoners had been evacuated on April 26th and marched toward the South Tyrol. They were liberated by American soldiers on May 6, 1945.
According to Marcus J. Smith, a doctor with the DP 115 group, who wrote a book entitled "The Harrowing of Hell," there had been 54 recorded deaths at Dachau in January 1944 and in February 1944, there had been 101 reported deaths. By 1945, these numbers had increased dramatically.
In January 1945, there were 2,888 deaths at Dachau and 3,977 deaths in February 1945. By the time the American liberators reached the Dachau camp, there was no more coal left to stoke the crematory and bodies had been left lying on the ground. Their clothing had been removed and given to still living prisoners.
Hugh Carlton Greene, a journalist with the BBC, reported that there were more than 2,000 corpses lying on the ground inside the camp in various stages of decay. He said that he witnessed some of the US soldiers vomiting.
Dan Dougherty said that there were around 8,000 corpses at Dachau, including the dead bodies on the train, the bodies stacked outside the crematorium and the pile of dead German soldiers who had been shot by the liberators. Lt. William Cowling thought that there were 1,000 corpses. Other estimates ran as high as 10,000 bodies in the Dachau camp, a number that was comparable to what the British had found at Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945.
With no vaccine or DDT available, the Dachau camp administrators had been unable to stop the typhus epidemic and the prisoners were dying faster than they could be burned or buried. The photo below shows emaciated corpses piled up inside the crematorium, which was located outside the prison enclosure. The epidemic had started in December 1944 when prisoners from the camps in Poland arrived at Dachau.
There were 2,226 of the survivors who died, mainly from typhus, in the month of May after the liberation; 196 more died in the month of June.
Bodies found inside the crematorium at Dachau
The photograph below shows a huge pile of shoes that was found by the American liberators in the Dachau camp. In the background is one of the factory buildings just outside the prison compound. Prisoners worked in sorting shoes brought from the death camps in Poland; there was also a shoe repair shop at Dachau.
Huge pile of shoes found at Dachau by American liberators
Photo Credit: Donald E. Jackson
Pastor Heinrich Grüber, one of the privileged prisoners at Dachau, described how upsetting the sight of the children's shoes was to the Dachau prisoners who had to sort them:
We were shaken to the depths of our soul when the first transports of children's shoes arrived - we men who were inured to suffering and to shock had to fight back tears. [...] this was the most terrible thing for us, the most bitter thing, perhaps the worst thing that befell us.
The sight of the children's shoes also affected Bob Grigsby, a World War II veteran who spoke to an audience of 100 people at the First Lutheran Church in Longmont, CO on November 11, 2007 about what he saw when he was a 19-year-old soldier at the liberation of Dachau: "One of my memories is of a stack of baby shoes, about as big as this room," Grigsby said. "They weren't just picking on grownups."
But that wasn't the worst horror that Grigsby discovered at Dachau. The following quote, regarding the prisoners at Dachau, is from an article in the Longmont Times-Call on November 12, 2007:
"They were making soap out of their rendered bodies," he said, his voice growing thick and beginning to stumble. "These were human beings. And I guess I had never seen anything like that before. I had dreams about it for years and years."
One of the 42nd Rainbow Division soldiers who helped to liberate Dachau was Staff Sgt. John N. Petro, 232 Infantry, E Company. He brought home photos which can be seen on this web site.
Ernest "Ari" Roth
From: Andrew Roth, son of Ernö Roth
Just days before my father Ernest "Ari" Roth, passed away on July 7, 1993, he recounted some of his experiences during the Holocaust years. I have transcribed his words from a tape recording.
I was born in Olaszliszka, Hungary on January 3, 1907. In 1917 I moved to Sátoraljaújhely (aka Ujhely) when my father was called to the army. He was wounded and stationed in Ujhely. I graduated from high school there. By age 17, I had a wholesale gas and oil business and took over my father's vineyards and wines business.
I sent my younger brother, Zoltan, to Italy. First, Zoli went to Prague and became a dental technician. I always wanted to be a doctor but since both my parents were ill, I stayed home to take care of my parents and Zoli went to medical school in Italy.
My sister Teri, was born in Olaszliszka. She married, divorced, and remarried and moved to Szeged. In 1938 my mother died from heart disease.
In 1940 I was called in for forced labor at the age of 33. My father had a heart condition was considered too old for forced labor. But then anti-Jewish laws had been passed and the Hungarians took away the vineyards and the gasoline license.
in forced laborer uniform.
While stationed in Ujhely, during forced labor I helped build roads and an airport while being supervised by Hungarian soldiers. Soon, however, I became an assistant to a doctor, so I didn't have to do any physical labor. He was a friend from Baracszas.
After three months, I was released, but recalled the following year. Along with 8-10 other guys, we bribed a Hungarian colonel. We got to live in the city but didn't really have to do any work. But the Colonel and us guys got arrested and taken to Munkacs. We were put in a baron's castle and interrogated with a lot of other people in a big room. It was during the High Holidays and messages came in with food delivered by restaurants. I sent a message to Laci (my future brother-in-law) "to disappear." I was courting Laci's sister, my future wife, at the time. The interrogators were gendarmes who beat the prisoners. A sergeant from Ujhely told the gendarmes not to hurt me. Prayers for the High Holidays were being said in Yiddish. We were told to admit bribing the colonel or be beaten to death. The colonel had connections and got another committee of soldiers to investigate the charges. On Yom Kippur, we were all to disclaim what we had admitted to before under threat of beating. We were all released.
Eva Princz Roth, as a bride. Ernö Roth carried this photograph with him all the time, during his imprisonment and survival of the Holocaust.Ten days later, we were all arrested again. We were taken to Kassa to jail and were there greeted by Colonel Ferency who later, after the liberation, was hung. We were told again to admit that we gave the colonel money. Upon admission, we were all released again. The prosecutor was a Captain and friend of mine from my soccer team. I told them I didn't give the other colonel any money. Ferency closed the case and I was released. I was then transferred to the Szeged labor camp. Then I was summoned to Munkacs. By that time I had gotten married in 1942. But in Munkacs by then it was 1943. I claimed I was sick and was again released from labor camp. The other 8-10 guys were deported to Russia and were shot to death at the border.
In 1944, at the Szeged labor camp, the Hungarian government was taken over by the Nazis and I was ordered on a march to Germany. I knew if we crossed the Donal River we would never escape because the Russians were coming. I asked some convent nuns to harbor me but they refused and I was marched to Germany.
German SS youngsters with guns and whips greeted us but brought us back to Hungary to build anti-tank shelters and ditches. I had a friend who was a chef, cooking for about 18,000 men and 8,000 women. I somehow got a promotion to supervising the kitchen. I would go to the warehouse daily to pick up food, mostly beans, and my friend the chef had me supervise the kitchen.
When typhus broke out I was given a typhus-shot and a separate room because I had to go to the warehouse to pick up food and the German's didn't want to get infected. I always took a few more sacks of beans than had be requisitioned. I gave the women more food. Everyone knew me there.
Then we were marched again to Germany and many people were shot along the way. It took weeks at 40 km per day; we slept in fields and the kitchen supplies came along to feed prisoners. We went to Mauthausen which was not an "elimination" camp. 50,000 to 75,000 people were there supervised by SS. The first day there, a German sergeant asked for 5 Jew volunteers. I figured if you work for them they'll give you something to eat. The job was to unload horsemeat from trucks. The smell made me sick. The sergeant put me aside and told me to wait for him the next morning. He put me in a warehouse full of American Red Cross food; cocoa, evaporated milk, cigarettes… anything. I was told I could eat anything I wanted, but he said, "If you take anything out, I'll shoot you on the spot." Why was I treated well? Because I was the first to volunteer.
There was a friend there, Yoska Horowits, a former employee of the Lajos Princz (my father-in-law) flour mill in Vámosújfalu. Mauthausen was in the middle of the woods. Lots of Red Cross food was there, all eaten by the Germans. I saw the sergeant shoot an American parachutist in the sky. I had to go to Lindz to get water in trucks. I was taken from the warehouse and put in a kitchen where they cooked over and over with the same coffee grounds. An SS Lieutenant slapped me in the face. The sergeant came in at the same time and said "come with me… follow only my orders." I got acquainted with another SS sergeant, an Austrian. We went to pick up water from Lindz. In truck I could hear news on the radio. It told me that the Germans were losing the war and the Americans were close.
One day, on a water run, American jeeps came up onto the road and stopped our water trucks. A Jewish American boy asked in Yiddish, "Where is the lager?" They couldn't find it. They put me in a jeep, arrested the sergeant and I led them into the camp. All the SS soldiers were standing in line; guns in one hand and ammunition in the other, waiting to surrender. There was a lot of money and jewelry in the camp. It had been used to pay for food. I found the Lieutenant and slapped him, took $200 from him and brought it back to Hungary to restart my father-in-law's flour mill.
I had been in Mauthausen for 2 months in 1945. From Mauthausen, they took us to Gunskirchen, lager. I was liberated from Gunskirchen, not Mauthausen. The warehouse was in Gunskirchen. Some Jewish people had overrun the warehouse and some had eaten themselves to death. I met a Jewish American soldier and got him to give me a truck and 2 cans of gas. With a group of about 5 of us, we left towards Hungary. At the place where the American front met the Russian front, the Russians directed us to a camp to be fed and cleared at the Czech border.
There was no escort with us, so we took off away from the camp, because I was driving the truck and I was not going back to any camp again willingly. On the way toward Vienna, we were stopped several times by Russians who wanted the truck, but there was always a Jewish Russian boy among them that convinced the others to let us go.
In Vienna, the Russians took us and asked each of us " Where do you want to go?" One said Czechoslavakia. Another said Poland. I said Czechoslavakia because the Russians were more sympathetic toward Czechs than Hungarians because of the language; felt they were related Slavics. I with 5 others tried to jump a train. Finally we got on a train and it took 5 days to get to Budapest. I was wearing an SS uniform for clothes. I looked for my family, but they were not at the house where they had been. I heard from others that my father, Samuel Roth and my sister Teri and my neice, Vera, had been killed at Auschwicz. A central place for information told me about them. I found my wife and her mother in a friend's house in Budapest. Much earlier, while in forced labor, before leaving Hungary, I had been working clearing out a school and I found an ID of a gentile girl. I hired a soldier to deliver the ID card to my wife to keep to use for ID if necessary. I moved my wife and my mother-in-law back to the apartment they had been in Budapest. First, I had to threaten to throw over the balcony the mother of an SS soldier who had taken the apartment. The apartment was furnished with my in-law's belongings. They went back to Vámosújfalu.
Lajos Princz flour mill in Vámosújfalu, Hungary The flour mill was being run by a Nazi. We both got lawyers. I paid off the Nazi's lawyer and the Nazi left. I took over the flour mill and I was back in business. I bought a cow, horses, a buggy. I went from house to house to find and take back the stolen furniture which had been taken when my in-laws left for Budapest. Peasants had taken the furniture. My wife insisted we shouldn't stay in Vámos, her home village. Her father, Princz Lajos had been shot and killed in Budapest by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, just weeks before the Nazis fled the city. After a couple of months, Laci (my brother-in-law) and Duci (Laci's wife who he had met in a refugee camp after surviving Auschwicz) arrived.
I had gotten home in 1945; now it was 1947. By now I was a "capitalist." By the time Laci came home, I had a lot of money from operating the mill. I got passports for myself and my wife and mother-in-law, Laci and Duci. In 1946, they gave 1-year passports and in 1947 I wanted to renew them. I set out for Szeged to get money I had there and stopped in Budapest and there I met our relative, Zoltan Flesch. He said, "Don't go to Szeged, go to America." He explained that I should "go as a Rabbi, or as a farmer" to get out of Hungary. I wrote to my brother who was now a doctor in Pennsylvania working at a hospital, and I was accepted to Reading, Pennsylvania as a Rabbi and also documented as a farmer. By that time Zoli and Misha Flesch (other relatives) had passports good to 1948. Zoli said there was a very difficult Hungarian guy in the American Consulate who would ask for many documents, all of which I had. When I went to renew my passports, they said that all passport documentation had disappeared with all old records. I was very discouraged and I went to the Ministerium where I found a woman who recognized me from the camp where I had been giving women more food. She told me to come back at 9:00 AM the next morning and to follow her; not to talk, just follow. The next day I followed her to a dark corridor. She kissed me and gave me the 5 passports and ran back into the office. Then I went to the American Consulate and had to prove I was a farmer by examination.
I also got back my vineyards. There had been an exposition in Budapest and we had hired someone to sell our wine there.
Two guys came and arrested Laci because they said he didn't pay for the wood which was used for the fuel to run the flour mill. He explained that he had traded flour for the wood. The problem was that under the Communists, they were supposed to turn all the flour over to the government in exchange for money. At the same time, if they neglected to run the flour mill, they would have been arrested for sabotage. I went to Laci's friend who was with the police, but he said he couldn't help Laci, who was in jail and in a perilous position because they hung people for that offense. Even though we were about to leave in couple of weeks. I said, "We have to leave now."
We went to Budapest, all packed up and went to a friend's house and then by train to Bratislava in Czechoslavakia for 2 days, and then flew to London. I paid in advance in London for lodging; a terrible place. Duci, Laci and my mother-in-law stayed behind in Hungary. I had bribed a lawyer to arrange for Laci's case not to be tried in Budapest, but in Ujhely. He was luckily sentenced there to 30 days in jail and then released.
It was lucky that we left because they were looking for me too, because of the mill business. Laci got a visa to Prague and flew to New York. We went on the HMS Queen Elizabeth from Southampton to New York. My brother, your Uncle Zoli was waiting for us and brought us to Hazelton, Pennsylvania. I went to the library there everyday to learn 20 English words. I did this for 6 weeks but couldn't find any work. Finally I got a job sewing in a shoe factory in New York for 75 cents an hour, the minimum wage. Erno Flesch got us an apartment in the building he lived in. Then I got a job, in a shoe factory in Hazelton, PA, for 90 cents per hours and learned to cut leather for shoes and they made me a foreman. I built up production to 30, 40, 50 cases of shoes, but they always wanted more. I became the manager of the Hazelton plant and lived there for 2 years during the Korean War. But I got very, very sick with hepatitis. I was in the hospital for 6 months. My Uncle Zoli said I had to rest, but I went back to work and relapsed. After that, Zoli said that we had to go to a better climate. Andor Spiro (another brother-in-law) was in the grocery business in Los Angeles and said there were a lot of opportunities there, and went there and got into a small grocery store with Misha Flesch.
I had always been optimistic. I always said, "I'm going home." Even when an SS soldier asked for my wedding ring, I refused to take it off. I always managed to get myself into a good position. I always had shelter and a little food. I had been very lucky. Back in Budapest many people who survived recognized me; mostly women. Once in Vámosújfalu the train stopped and a girl asked if she could stay. She was a Gunskirchener.
While at Gunskirchen, once I stole a big wheel of cheese and the Germans found me with it. I denied stealing it. The SS soldiers beat and shot a lot of people; girls were raped and killed. "G-d was with me."
Laci was in very poor condition on release from Aushwicz; 80 pounds. He had to be built up before coming home. Some friends told Laci and I was alive. An American soldier told your Uncle Zoli that I was alive. Zoli sent packages to Vámosújfalu. So did Andor Spiro.
Eva and Ernö Roth, c. 1990
Joseph Rovan, Holocaust Survivor who, while in captivity at Dachau, converted to Roman Catholicism,died on July 27, 2004, at age 86
Rovan was an historian, a member of the French Resistance and an adviser on Franco-German relations to Presidents de Gaulle and Chirac as well as to Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He was awarded the Legion d'honneur and the Ordre National du Merite, the German Order of Merit with Star, and the Bavarian Order of Merit.
Romanian Holocaust Survivor of Transnistria
(Mogilev and Sargorod)
Born on March 20, 1930 in Dorohoi, Romania, he is the author of several books on the Holocaust in Romania under the Antonescu regime, most recent one published in 2004, both in Romanian and English, by the Association of the Romanian Jews Victims of the Holocaust under the title: "The Holocaust under the Antonescu Government."
A reason to live
By Waveney Ann Moore,
Times Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Lilly Salcman.
Lilly Salcman survived the Holocaust. She is seen here in her high school ("Gymnasium") graduation photo in 1940 at age 18.A reason to live
For days on end, Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind provided a measure of escape for 12 young women imprisoned in the largest, most efficient death camp in Nazi Europe.
Huddled on a bare wooden bunk, starved, cold and bedraggled, they listened enraptured as Lilly Salcman retold the story of a petulant but invincible Scarlett.
"I had just read Gone With the Wind just before we were taken and I knew the whole book by heart, and every day I would tell them a chapter," said Mrs. Salcman, 75, wistfully referring to her once photographic memory.
In 1944 that gift served her well.
She loathed the gritty soup rations, but her daily installments of Mitchell's novel were currency for the potatoes that settled at the kettle's bottom.
"I think I still love potatoes today," the part-time St. Petersburg resident said.
That she refuses to dwell on Birkenau, the death camp built as part of Auschwitz, reflects a special optimism.
"Even when I was in Auschwitz I was really blessed with a good nature," Salcman said recently.
"There were people who were dwelling on it, but I always say tomorrow is another day."
In 1993, Salcman returned to Auschwitz with her husband, Arthur, and daughter Julie Salamon to watch the filming of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List.
Lilly Salcman, 75, in front of the Holocaust Center's boxcar, used to transport Jews to their death. She arrived at Auschwitz on May 21, 1944.
Times photo / Fred Victorin
"I always said I never wanted to go back to my hometown and I never wanted to go back to Auschwitz," said Mrs. Salcman, who was born in an area of Czechoslovakia that is now Ukraine.
Still, she could not resist returning to the place where she had refused to be defeated.
Mrs. Salcman will always remember May 21, 1944, the day she arrived at the camp. Flames rose in the distance and in the air was an indescribable smell. Years later she learned that both had come from piles of bodies set ablaze in pits.
She remembers also the infamous Nazi surgeon Josef Mengele, who sealed the newcomers' fate.
"He was there and he was pointing to the left and the right. To the right meant you went someplace and to the left meant that you would survive, which we didn't know," recalled Mrs. Salcman.
"All of a sudden, I see my mother is not there. She was 54 years old. She was sent to the other side. I turn back to go after my mother and Mengele said, "Where are you going? I told you to go to the left.' I said I want to go with my mother and he said you will see her tomorrow. You know, tomorrow never came."
Both her parents perished.
Arthur Salcman, 86, also experienced a measure of favor amid the terrors.
An engineer by profession, he had been forced to give up his job under Nazi occupation. While working at a railroad station, he saw fellow Jews being packed into boxcars. A non-Jewish friend warned it soon would be his turn.
"He came to me one day and said tomorrow you will go," recalled Salcman.
Supplied with false identification papers and food by his friend, he began one of the most frightening periods in his life. He used the forged documents to find work, but later he became a resistance fighter.
Salcman was the only member of his family who managed to avoid concentration camp. Of his five sisters and one brother, only one sister and his brother survived internment.
Later he came to the United States. So did Mrs. Salcman, who emigrated with her first husband, the late Alexander Salamon.
Her faith helped her to survive, said Mrs. Salcman.
"Sometimes I question God. How could he let things like that happen?" she said.
"I have to remember that you cannot question God. There was a purpose for my survival. I cannot find a purpose for killing my brother or my mother and my father and my aunts and uncles and my cousins."
But pointing to a family photograph, the grandmother of six said, "This is our reason for surviving. To have children and the grandchildren. To have continuity of the family. To not have Hitler be right that he would completely wipe out the Jewish people from the earth."
Arthur Salcman, 86, Lilly's husband, avoided incarceration by the Nazis and became a resistance fighter. He stands before photos of Jewish resistance fighters at the new Holocaust Center.
Times photo / Fred Victorin
The little Jewish boy, Joseph Schleifstein, sits on a United Nations Refugee Relief Agency truck in the KZ camp Buchenwald, May, 1945. He miraculously survived the horrors of the Holocaust and was four years old when American troops liberated Buchenwald.
The total dead of Buchenwald was more than 50.000. Most were killed by the Nazis by hanging, beating, shooting. The remaining died of starvation or poisoning. Bodies were disposed of by cremation.
After World War 2 the famous photograph of the little Jewish survivor appeared in files, exhibitions, magazines, books, newspaper articles and television documentary programs on the Holocaust. He was four years old, how did he survive ?
Joseph Schleifstein was born in Sandomierz, Poland, on March 7, 1941, as the son of Israel and Esther Schleifstein. He was 2 years old when he and his parents were deported to the Buchenwald KZ camp in 1943. When they arrived at the Buchenwald railhead older people and children were immediately ordered to the left - gas chambers and death, younger people to the right - slave work but life.
In the general confusion of lining up, Joseph's father found a large sack and - with a stern warning to keep absolutely quiet - he placed his two-year-old son in it. With the help of other inmates he miraculously managed to hide his child from the Nazi officers until the U.S. army liberated the KZ camp on April 12, 1945.
Shortly afterwards the famous photograph was taken - little Joseph sitting on the running board of a United Nations truck. He later recalled those weeks, no more hiding, enough food, and especially all the rides the Americans gave him on their tanks and jeeps.
After the war Joseph's father lost no time but tried desperately to seek Esther, but he did not find her. The Jewish Joint Distribution Committee helped them go to Switzerland for a recuperative period. After a few months they returned to Germany to look for Joseph's mother again. By a miracle she had survived the Holocaust, too, and they found her in Dachau in southern Germany, where the family settled. Later, in 1948, the Schleifstein family immigrated to the United States.
Today Joseph Schleifstein is the father of two children and trades stock on the Internet after taking early retirement a few years ago following 25 years at AT&T.
"I hope for the day when people can practice their religion of choice; when race and discrimination is no longer an issue.
.May the 21st Century, which we have now embarked, never experience the horrors of the Century we have just left behind.
.May we be given the strength to build together with others a world of security, mutual respect, and peace."..
born on March 20, 1909, in Radauti, Romania.
Romanian Holocaust Survivor of Transnistria
(Vapniarka --the so-called the Ghetto of Death, and Grosolova)
David was the sole survivor of the ship "Struma" which sailed from Constanta, Romania on December 12, 1941 to Palestine. More than 700 jews were aboard. The ship was detained by the Turks, who refused to let the passengers in. The English refused them visa for Palestine. The ship was towed back to the Black Sea where it was sunk by a Russian submarine. David was hurled overboard and saved by a commercial vessel. He was arrested by the Turks but sent to Syria after a few months imprisonment. Later, David became a member of the Jewish Brigade of the English Army.
Bart Stern (b. 1926 - )Hungarian Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz
Following the German occupation of Hungary in March 1944, Bart was forced into a ghetto established in his home town. From May to July 1944, the Germans deported Jews from Hungary to the Auschwitz extermination camp in occupied Poland. Bart was deported by cattle car to Auschwitz. At Auschwitz, he was selected to perform forced labor, drilling and digging in a coal mine. As Soviet forces advanced toward the Auschwitz camp in January 1945, the Germans forced most of the prisoners on a death march out of the camp. Along with a number of ill prisoners who were in the camp infirmary, Bart was one of the few inmates who remained in the camp at the time of liberation. He survived to be liberated by hiding in the camp even after many other prisoners had been forced on a death march in January 1945. [USHMM]
Breaking the silence During the Second World War thousands of Romanian Rroma died in the now Republic of Moldova in a holocaust that is only now gaining state recognition. Anca Pol talks to its survivors
“Hitler and Antonescu took us away from our village in Teleorman county with nothing else but the clothes we wore,” Rroma Holocaust survivor Dumitru Tranca tells The Diplomat.
Tranca was 12 years old when he and his family were among tens of thousands deported by the pro-Fascist Antonescu regime between 1942 and 1944.
“When we reached the Dniester, the Romanian gendarmerie told us to take some cardboard boats to cross the river. 50 to 60 people jumped on these boats and by the time the boat was in the middle of the river, the cardboard dampened and the people fell in the water. So, from the bank of the river, we saw most of them drown.”
Two of survivor Maria Luncan's brothers also drowned in the Dniester when the gendarmerie forced them to cross the river. Another died on the cattle-train to Transnistria, from inhaling coal smoke. On the journey to the camp, she also lost her father. “He was killed by a soldier, when he hit my dad in the head with the butt of a rifle,” she says.
Once in Transnistria, the Rroma were crammed into empty barns on the Soviet collectivised farms (kolkhoz) in freezing conditions.
“We would eat nothing but corn beans, baked on the fire, and it was so cold that we had to tie straw against ourselves to keep warm,” Tranca says. “Life was so bad in the kolkhoz that, when the morning came, only two from a large family were alive. The others would die overnight. That's how my parents died.”
Luncan adds: “There was snow, bitterness, lice and the Romanian gendarmerie executed us if we tried to escape.”
According to sociologist Michelle Kelso, Antonescu's ethnic and social cleansing scheme deported around 25,000 Rroma to the territory between the rivers Dniester and Bug, killing an estimated 11,000.
Some historians and members of the civil society claim the figures are much higher. Historian Petre Petcut estimates that around two million Rroma were deported.
According to the International Commission for the Holocaust in Romania, the deportation of the Rroma “did not enjoy” the support of the Romanian population, causing heated protests. Its report states that composer George Enescu “pleaded in person with Antonescu against the deportation of Rroma musicians [the lautari] and threatened to go with them should that occur”. He did not.
When Romania joined the Allies in 1944 many Rroma survivors returned to their native villages. Some remained in Transnistria. According to Luncan, from 80 Rroma expelled from her native village, Buturugeni in Giurgiu county, only three came back.
“In Romania we put our lives back together and had families. But nobody can give us back what we lost then,” she says. “What hurts me the most is that I lost my parents and, because I had no parents, I didn't get any schooling. As a Gypsy woman, to read would have been my greatest joy.”
Few seem to acknowledge the memory of the victims, despite a 2004 report from the International Commission for the Holocaust in Romania which clearly states that Rroma were victims of a Holocaust.
The state has failed to make any efforts. National Holocaust Commemoration Day, on 9 October this year, was dedicated exclusively to the Jewish victims of Antonescu's purge. Recognition of the losses inflicted on the Rroma, the disabled, homosexuals and other “undesired” social or ethnic groups was absent.
A 2002 Official Ordinance defines the Romanian Holocaust as “the state supported persecution and the annihilation of the European Jews by the Nazi Germany and by its collaborators between the years 1933-1945”.
According to Mariea Ionescu, the president of the National Agency for the Rroma, the ignorance of the parliamentarians is due to civil society's failure in making this information known.
So, this October, representatives of civil society sent an open letter to Traian Basescu asking him to ensure the Ordinance is modified to include all victims. This is cosigned by the Jewish community of Romania, several Jewish organisations and academics.
“The group behind this letter has no financial interests and seeks only moral reparation,” says Ciprian Necula, project coordinator at the Media Monitoring Agency. “We want the Rroma victims not to be forgotten.”
Since then, President Basescu has suggested the modifications to Parliament to include the Rroma, a move which has broad backing from the senators and the deputies.
This could indicate a change of heart.
Also Virgil Nitulescu, state secretary in the Ministry of Culture, says the state and sponsors will construct a Holocaust memorial on the banks of the Dambovita River, near the Ministry of Interior, dedicated to the sacrifice of both Jews and Rroma. Depending on available funds, he adds that a Museum of the Rroma Civilization should open next year, in Sibiu or Bucharest.
(b. 1923 - ), Hungarian Holocaust Survivor saved by the deeds of Raoul Wallenbnerg
Ater the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, Tom was ordered to work in labor camps and factories. He escaped after a few months and decided to contact the Swedish legation, where he met Raoul Wallenberg in October 1944. Tom stayed in Budapest and, using his training in photography, became active in Wallenberg's efforts to rescue the Jews of Budapest. He made copies of and took photographs for protective passes (Schutzpaesse), and documented deportations.
Eva Marika Weinberger (nee Cierer)
Eva Marika Weinberger (nee Cierer),
b. 1928, Kosice, Czechoslovakia. Immigrated to Australia 1950.
It was a long time before Marika voiced her memories. Yet for her the past and present couldn't be separated, for even waving goodbye to her grandchildren on a toy train brought back nightmares of other trains. Her grandchildren dared ask the questions which unlocked the secrets she now repeats as a sacred duty, to protect their future.
l)Marika Weinberger as a young woman r)Marika Weinberger today
In the camps of Auschwitz, Riga, Stutthof and Ravensbruck, Marika learned that compassion exists even in the most abysmal circumstances. On arrival at Auschwitz, seasoned inmates protected the new prisoners with warnings on how to behave. Marika was told to cast her blue eyes down and to say she was 18 and not 15, as she passed Dr Mengele, the Nazi "Angel of Death". Her aunt's walking stick - a death sentence - was thrown away before "The Dog" saw it. A woman coaxed her to eat the stinking food and use the vile latrines. These were only tiny gestures, but they meant the difference between life and death.
Although it would have been easier to lie down and die in the snow, love for her older sister made Marika go on. They shared potato peels and scrappy blankets and her sister dragged her to work when she was ill. Later, on the death march, she and her aunt held Marika upright between their shoulders, as she sleep-walked through sights she still can't recall.
Today, as a public speaker and past President of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, Marika Weinberger says: "We survived for a purpose. Education is the only solution."
b. 1914, Ardanovce, Slovakian Republic (pre-Czechoslovakia). Immigrated to Australia 1949.
Typewriters clacked and filing cards were shuffled up to the last moment in Auschwitz. A chilling record of the living and dead was kept by “secretaries of death”. Irene Weiss was one of them. Together with her sister Janka, she outlived the Holocaust because some of her 3 ½ years of internment were spent in the camp’s Politische Abteilung (“political department”). As a secretary, she was housed separately and could keep clean, because SS personnel were afraid of rampant disease. This gave her the physical strength she needed to record the gruesome statistics. Office skills and the German language which she learned as a young girl in Slovakia, saved her life. Black humour saved her sanity. She still smiles as she recalls that she actually sent a postcard to her husband, but a tear falls as she remembers it was the last one he read.
l) Irene Weiss in Topolcany, Slovakia in 1948
r) Irene Weiss today
Days, months and years seem to merge together in the apparently disconnected narrative of Irene’s story. It jumps from fevered, typhus-induced hallucinations of drowning in a puddle to the healing powers of cabbage water. It describes the elegant young women who arrived at the camp and the hollowed shadows they became. It tells of the harsh outside labour, in stark contrast to the softness of nightdresses and eiderdowns, meant to impress the Red Cross. It is an illogical story, for how can such a story have logic?
From her home in the Slovakian Republic, Irene was first deported to Auschwitz Number One, in 1942. In July 1942 she was transferred with all the women of Auschwitz to Birkenau. In December of that year she was sent back to Auschwitz, where she continued to work as a secretary until January 1945. On January 17 1945 she set out on a Death March to Ravensbruck. After one month in Ravensbruck she was moved to another camp, called Neustadt-Gleve in Mecklenburg. On May 2 1945 British soldiers arrived and liberated Neustadt-Gleve, but Irene remembers that they only stayed a few hours; after them, Russian soldiers came. With other liberated prisoners, Irene walked as far as the northern border of Germany.
After migrating to Australia in 1949, Irene, her second husband and her sister’s family eventually built up a successful timber business. But life has been unfair, as Irene was widowed again soon after her arrival in Australia. Still, she says her story is a miracle. She is chairperson of several Australian Jewish communal bodies and is a board member of her synagogue. Despite having lost so much, Irene gives generously to worthwhile causes, because she believes this is the most rational thing to do.
Read Irene Weiss’s full story in Lore Shelley’s bookSecretaries of Death
Elaine Welbel #FOUR- SEVEN-ZERO-ONE
"MY NAME WAS FOUR- SEVEN-ZERO-ONE," said Elaine Welbel of Skokie, who survived the march to Germany of January,1945 in bitter cold that killed many along the way. "In the camps, we quit havmg names once we were tattooed. The guards called us only by our number." In 1942. Welbel was 16 and living in a small town in Czechoslovakia when the Jewish girls of the community were asked to volunteer for factory work at an unspecified destination. The invitation, which came on an ordinary postcard, seemed a good opportunity. Jews had been barred from most jobs in Czechoslovakia, one of the first countries to fall under Hitler's domination.
Welbel and her traveling companions set off from home in a railroad passenger car, but enroute, the job offer began to appear less innocent. Then they were merged with similar groups from other villages and packed into boxcars for the final leg of their journey to Auschwitz, the other side of the Polish-Czech border.
There, SS guards made the girls strip and shower, hurrying stragglers with a blow of a rifle butt. Exiting the showers, they found a long line of chairs, behind each of which stood a matroon, a pair of scissors or clippers in her hands."
"I was a young girl who'd just had her first permanent," said Welbel. "After our heads were shaved, we could scarcely recognize each other." Welbel's group was put to work clearing rubble for an expansion of the camp, which the Nazis had designated as the principal center for the extermination of Europe's Jews. At first, they couldn't fully comprehend the hell they had been caught up in. Some things, though, clearly didn't make sense. Among groups of subsequently arriving internees, they could see children and old people who obviously were not up to doing hard labor.
"Why were they being bought to Auschwitz? we wondered," Welbel recalled. "Then one day my cousin said: "I saw little baby shoes lying an along the road. I think they kill people here."
By the winter of 1942-3, death had become part of Welbel and the other girls' daily routine, as members of their group were winnowed for extermination. Auschwitz had been outfitted with unprecedented instruments of mass murder: gas chambers into which 3,000 human beings could be crammed and crematoriums for speedily reducing their corpses to ashes.
According to the Nazis' timetable, trainload after trainload of Jews shortly would be moved to Auschwitz from all over occupied Europe, and that flood of forthcoming arrivals inspired the guards to free up every bit of available barracks space. Space, though, is measured in different units in a concentration camp than in the rest of the world. "If you tell people we slept eight. even 10 to a bunk, they can't imagine it," said Fritzie Fritzshall, an Auschwitz survivor who lives in a Chicago suburb. "To hang onto even that tiny bit of living room, you had to remain just healthy enough to work."
Periodically, inmates were rousted out of their barracks for a selektion, a rough-and-ready medical inspection, presided over by Josef Mengele, the camp's notorious doctor. A simple wave of his hand routed those showing any sings of weakness from disease or the camp's near-starvation diet to the gas chambers. New arrivals went through a similarly quick inspection and the difference between living and dying might depend on the most random of happenstances or a moment of inspiration.
"I remember once thinking to pinch my cheeks to make them red so I'd look a little better for Mengele," said Welbel. "It was like I was putting on makeup for Mengele. We called him Malkh Ho-mavet, the Angel of Death."
"I only survived," said Fritzshall, "because when our transport arrived at Auschwitz, a man went up and down telling us children in Yiddish, "Remember, you're 15. Tell them you're 15." Later, I learned anyone younger went straight to the gas chambers."
Mark Weinberg had been a boxer and ski instructor in pre-war Poland, so when he went through the selektion, he opened his shirt to reveal his muscles. He told three young companions to do the same.
"I said to the guards, 'See, we can work,'" said Weinberg who lives in a tiny apartment in Albany Park. "That saved us, but not a Hugarian Jew without legs who we were wheeling in a buggy. He waved goodbye to us, as they loaded him on a truck."
Through 1943 and 1944, hundreds of thousands of Jews – 94 percent of those brought to Auschwitz - were sent to gas chambers. The crematoriums worked constantly.
"We could smell a smell that never stopped," said Sol Goldstein, who Lives in Munster. "It was there in the morning when we were marched out to coal mines, 20 miles away. It was there when we came back to our barracks at night. Sometimes, I still seem to smell that unforgettable odor of burning flesh."
Welbel recalls the SS guards taunting prisoners with the idea that the chimneys towering over the crematoriums would be their only route out of Auschwitz. But when death becomes more normal than life, it comes to be spoken of with no more emotion than a shopping list, recalled Weinberg, who worked in Auschwitz's central kitchen.
"The kitchen commander, an SS man, would say: "Prepare 6,500 less meals tomorrow."
Rivka Yosselevska, Polish Holocaust Survivor
The Yosselevska family led a happy life in the village of Zagorodski, near Pinsk, highlighted by the births of the children Chaya, Feige, Rivka and a brother named Moshe. Their father had a leather goods shop and was considered one of the notables of the village. In the summer of 1942 the Einsatzgruppen arrived. Along with her little girl, father, mother, siblings, relatives, friends, and villagers, Rivka Yosselevska was shot, naked, in a pit - miraculously she survived. During the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, on May 8, 1961, she bore witness about what happened.
Gypsies to join suit against Swiss over Nazi loot
June 9, 1997
Web posted at: 10:12 p.m. EDT (0212 GMT)
From Correspondent Gary Tuchman
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Yonas Augustus is a Romany, or Gypsy, who survived a Nazi concentration camp.
His people, like the Jews, were targeted for annihilation by Hitler. As many as 250,000 to half a million Gypsies perished in the Nazi death camps of World War II, according to scholarly estimates reported by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.
"I made up my mind -- nobody will liberate me but myself," Augustus recalled.
Over the decades, the retired diesel engineer has mourned the millions of Gypsies and Jews killed in the camps, but in recent years, he's also had something else on his mind.
"Somebody had to finance Hitler, somebody had to finance Stalin to make this juggernaut, this hell on Earth," he reflected.
Augustus is about to become part of a class-action lawsuit which claims that Swiss banks knowingly accepted looted Gypsy gold, jewelry and other personal property from the Nazi regime.
The Gypsy people are joining a suit filed on behalf of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The pending suit, filed in October 1996, accuses the Swiss banks of denying funds to the heirs of depositors who died in the Holocaust.
This week, attorneys will file an "entry of appearance" as counsel in the suit. Thus far, they represent more than a dozen named "Gypsy" plaintiffs, and they believe several thousand more plaintiffs may join the class action.
"The Swiss banks, we believe, have never, ever, properly given a full accounting of where that money is, much less seeing it being returned to its rightful owners," said plaintiffs' attorney Sebastian Rainone.
Klaus Schuler, a German-born Gypsy, is also taking part in the class-action claim. His grandfather was killed in a concentration camp, and his grandmother survived Auschwitz.
"I've been robbed of my lineage," the young law student said. He has made a video of his grandmother talking about her wartime losses, including the theft of her jewelry.
Schuler said he joined the suit so he could fulfill a promise to her. "I'm going to make sure that people, as much as I possibly can, will know what happened."
Swiss bankers previously had asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. A spokesman declined to comment on the addition of the Gypsy claims to the case.
Augustus knows the horrendous Holocaust stories of his people aren't as well documented as the stories of the Jewish people. He believes that joining their lawsuit is an important step.
"We Gypsies have to learn from them in every possible way, particularly the younger generation, learn how to help ourselves -- because nobody else will help us," Augustus said. "So help me God, nobody."
Yitzhak Zuckerman was born in Vilna in 1915. After leaving the Hebrew High School he joined the Zionist youth movement and by 1936 was working at head office in Warsaw. A socialist, Zuckerman was elected secretary general in 1938.
Zuckerman attempted to unite Marxist and Zionist forces in Poland by forming the Ha-Shomer Has-Tas'ir. On 22nd December 1942, Zuckerman, Gole Mire andAdolf Liebeskind took part in an attack on a café in Cracow that was used by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) and the Gestapo. Mire and Liebskind were both tracked down and killed but although shot in the leg he managed to escape.
Zuckerman also joined Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943 and the Polish uprising in August 1944. Zuckerman survived the war and in 1947 emigrated to Israel where he established the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz and the Ghetto Fighters' Museum.
Yitzhak Zuckerman, who appeared as a witness at the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961 died in Israel in 1981.
- Jenny Rozenstain - Born Romania, 1935; deported to Mogilov ghetto in Transnistria, 1944; in Israel since 1950; 2 children; hairdresser.
"I felt terribly guilty for the murders committed in my family by the SS. They took me by surprise when I was playing outside the Mogilov Podolsk ghetto. This sadist took my little sister, who was only four months old, out of my grandmother's arms, placed her on a stone, and split her in two with an axe. Then he killed my grandmother, my aunt, and five of my cousins. I felt so guilty because until 1997 I never dared tell my story. I was afraid that no one would believe me. Now I have broken my silence and I weep, and so I release myself from this terrible burden of suffering which has weighed on my conscience all my life.'"
- Michael Gilead - Born Poland, 1925; deported to Auschwitz, 1941; in Israel since 1947; 5 children; police officer.
Survived a forced labour camp, following which he was sent to Auschwitz, where he was one of 16 out of 4,000 prisoners to survive the death march of January 1945. Later, in Israel, he participated in the Eichmann trial as part of the Israeli police detachment, and as assistant to Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecutor.
- Yossi Offer - Born Romania, 1929; deported to Auschwitz, 1944; in Israel since 1946; 3 children; airline pilot.
"Exactly six years after my liberation from Buchenwald, on 12 April, 1951, the chief of staff pinned on my chest the Israeli Air Force pilot's emblem. On the same spot where, just a short while before, I was forced to wear the yellow star of David that symbolized disgrace and humiliation. I was so proud to wear now the blue star of David."
- Ruth Elias - Born Czechoslovakia, 1922; deported to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, 1942; in Israel since 1949; 2 children; writer.
"Our tormentors tried to dehumanize us, to kill every part of our personality. They had not reckoned with our spiritual and intellectual resistance. And the Germans could not reduce that to nothing...it was hope that enabled me to survive and then presented me with the most precious of all gifts: a family, children, grandchildren, all in a new homeland."
- Benjamin Anolik - Born Poland, 1926; deported to Vilna Ghetto, 1941; in Israel since 1949; 3 children; teacher.
Was saved twice from certain death in Estonia. Immediately after the war he worked helping surviving children and orphans, continuing his work as a member of the Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz in northern Israel. He returned to Germany several times to give evidence against Nazi criminals and is today a member of the International Commission of Justice.
Agnès (Agi) Keleti
- Agnès (Agi) Keleti, Hungarian Holocaust Survivor and the greatest Jewish female Olympic Athlete of all-time, who survived the Holocaust due to the deeds of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
(She was four times Olympic champion at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki and 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, received the Trophy of Merit from the Hungarian National Olympic Committee. Keleti won all together ten Olympic medals over three Olympiads (1948, 1952, 1956) and was also World Champion on uneven bars in Rome in 1954. See also, Ref. 1 and Ref. 2)
at the age of 83... and then ...
at Foro Italico (Rome) in 1954
for the World Championship and in 1956 when
she fled Hungary for Israel
Éva Székely (Gyarmati
- Éva Székely (Gyarmati***), Hungarian Holocaust Survivor and the greatest Jewish female Olympic Swimmer of all-time (affectionately called "Madame Butterfly") who survived the Holocaust in a Swiss-run safe house in Budapest, Hungary.
(Between 1940 and 1958, Éva set 10 World and 5 Olympic swimming records. She set an Olympic record in the 200-Meter Breaststroke en route to a gold medal at the 1952 Helsinki Games. In 1976 Éva was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame. See also this Ref. and the Personal Remarks of Dr. Peter Tarjan from the University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL, USA ,)
Swimming for the gold ...
*** Footnote: In 1952, Éva Székely married
Dezsö Gyarmati, Hungary's water polo captain in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and dubbed as the "Greatest Waterpoloist of All Time"
(Dezsö Gyarmati is considered the greatest water poloist of all-time. His feat of winning water polo medals at five successive Olympic Games (gold 1952, 1956, 1964; silver 1948; bronze 1960) has never been matched. See alsoRef. 1 and Ref. 2.)