Archive for the Memorial Category

Koidanov Massacre and One Survivor’s Remarkable Tale

Posted in holocaust, Memorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2009 by indyretreats
0-NaziMascotVideo

On this day 68 years ago, Alex Kurzem‘s mother, sister and brother were brutally murdered by the Nazis on the outskirts of their village in Belorussia. In fact, approximately 1,600 Jews were murdered and buried in mass graves in Koidanov, outside Minsk. CBS News told the incredible story of how Alex, a six-year-old orphan, survived the Nazis’ final solution and kept how he survived a secret for more than 50 years. “The Mascot” aired on 60 Minutes in February of this year (see video link above) and is retold in “The Youngest Corporal in the Nazi Army” on their website. The Mascot is also the title of a book written by Alex’s son, Mark, who tells his father’s story of escape, survival, and remarkably, his life as a Nazi mascot. Read a review of Mark Kurzem’s book on Tracing the Tribe.

KoidanovMemorial

Memorial to the 21 Oct 1941 Koidanov massacre

The Koidanov shtetl was renamed Dzyarzhynsk (or Dzerzhinsk), Belarus. The Vanished World of Lithuanian Jews (p. 285) tells how the 12th Batallion of the Lithuanian Schutzmannschaft, an auxilliary police batallion recruited by the Nazis, committed mass murder in the Minsk region in October 1941 (see also Richard Breitman’s paper, titled “Himmler’s Police Auxiliaries in the Occupied Soviet Territories” at the Museum of Tolerance).

Of the three million Russian Jews murdered in the Holocaust, 800,000 of them were Belorussian. Ninety percent of the Jews in Belorussia were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators (Source: The Jewish Virtual Library).

I found this tragic story on the blog This Day in Jewish History and stumbled upon Alex Kurzem’s story while searching “Koidanov, Belarus” on Google. Never Again! pauses to remember Kurzem’s family and the other 1,000 – 1,900 Jews murdered this day 68 years ago.

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The Jedwabne Massacre of 1941

Posted in holocaust, Memorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2009 by indyretreats

Until picking up a book by Robert Wistrich, I knew nothing about the Jedwabne Massacre of 1941. His account was taken from an earlier work by Polish-American author/researcher Jan T. Gross. One reviewer of Gross’ book says, “This story is literally the stuff of nightmares.” Below is the horrific story as told by others, including Wistrich, whose gruesome account is retold in the book I am currently reading.

neighbors2“One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town’s Jews. [Neighbors: the destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland] tells their story. Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into a reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history. His investigation reads like a detective story, and its unfolding yields wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism. It is a story of surprises: The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne’s Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations. After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne’s surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area. The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it. Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne’s Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted, and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street. As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbors tells us why” (From the Google Book Overview of Neighbors: the destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan Tomasz Gross, Arrow Books, 2002, ISBN 0099441667).

Robert S. Wistrich gives a glimpse into the horror that was the Jewabne Massacre in his book Hitler and the Holocaust (Modern Library, 2001, ISBN 0679642226, pp. 26-27):

Murder most foul is exactly what the Polish population of Jedwabne (about one hundred kilometers from Bialystock) perpetrated against nearly all of their 1,600 Jewish neighbors on 10 July 1941, shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. While the Germans looked on and limited themselves to filming the proceedings for propaganda purposes, the Polish villagers slaughtered Jews with axes, poles, knives, and nail-studded clubs. Men had their tongues or eyes cut out, women were raped and murdered, babies were thrown to the ground and trampled to death. Jews, after being savagely beaten, were lined up in the market square and forced to sing that they “had caused the war”; other groups of Jews were forced to undress, sing, dance, and perform “insane exercises” while Polish peasant onlookers, including women and children, applauded. A group of young Jews was ordered to lift a giant statue of Lenin (from the time of the Soviet occupation) and drag it to the Jewish cemetery, where they were promptly butchered. All the remaining Jews, reeling from savage blows, were then forced into a nearby barn, which was set alight with kerosene, so that they were burned alive.

Wistrich concludes, “This was already the Holocaust in miniature…one small episode in the murderous war of Hitler against the Jews…”

Never Again! pauses to reflect on the massacre of hundreds of innocent Jews in the town of Jedwabne.

For more on the Jedwabne Massacre:

30 Days of Shoah Remembrance

Posted in holocaust, Memorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2009 by indyretreats

Never Again! wishes to thank the people all over the world, from Lithuania to Louisiana, who have visited the blog, commented and/or e-mailed. In just one month, we’ve welcomed more than 1,260 visits to the site. That lets us know that we are meeting a need and providing value to the Internet. If you’re a returning visitor, thank you for your support. If this is your first visit to our blog, make yourself at home. There are seventeen posts, to date, and a plethora of links. In fact, you might find something to add to your reading list on our Sources page.

Or for your reading pleasure, here are the most popular blog posts to date:

  Title Views
1.  Jews Murdered Between 1 Sept 1939 and 8 May 1945 42
2. American Students Gripped by Holocaust Horror  29
3.  The Auschwitz Album 26
4.  “World War II Erupts!” Looking back 70 years 25
5.  Holocaust Encroaches Kovno, Lithuania 21
6.  Hitler’s War Against International Jewry 19
7.  Destination Lodz, the Lizmannstadt Ghetto 17

Our goal is to provide engaging content with a personal interest angle, not just facts and figures. We look for eyewitness accounts and survivor testimonies when available to augment the horrible truths of the Holocaust. If you know of such accounts, survivors or trustworthy sources, please bring them to our attention.

Some things we are currently developing are…

  • a Nazi Death Camps page
  • our defense of the intentionalist stance (i.e. “the straight path to genocide”)
  • an interview with a survivor living here in Indiana
  • relationships with some institutions of higher learning

…and much more. So if you don’t find what piques your particular interest in the Holocaust today, please check back every week for new content.

For now, we just wanted to say thanks and shalom!

Holocaust Encroaches Kovno, Lithuania

Posted in holocaust, Memorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by indyretreats

In his book The Origins of the Final Solution, Christopher Browning says “plans for the Vernichtungskrieg [that is War of Destruction] entailed the death of millions of people in the Soviet Union. In such an environment of mass death, clearly Soviet Jewry was in grave peril. Indeed, in the light of past Nazi actions in Poland, Nazi plans for the war of destruction implied nothing less than the genocide of Soviet Jewry” (p. 213). Testimony was corroborated at the Nuremberg Trials that “the Einsatzgruppen officers were given an order for the killing of all Soviet Jews” by either Bruno Streckenbach or Reinhard Heydrich (p. 227). And they carried out the order with SS-style precision, often times instigating pogroms carried out by the locals. This was the story in the Baltic States in 1941, namely Lithuania[1].

“When forward units of the German Army occupied Kaunas [or Kovno] in central Lithuania on 23 June 1941, a small advance detachment of Einsatzgruppe A entered the city with them and set to work immediately organizing ‘spontaneous’ attacks against Jews”[3]. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes, in his book Masters of Death, details the scene in Kovno’s square that day in June ’41. Several groups of Jews were beaten to death by Lithuanian thugs wielding crowbars.

KovnoPogrom

The scene in Kovno's square 23 June 1941

“The SS had released violent criminals from prison…and put them to work murdering Jewish victims to make the ‘pogrom’ look spontaneous” [4]. This pogrom was followed by others like it under the watchful eye of SS-Brigadeführer Walter Stahlecker.

Just two days after the city was seized, “Einsatzgruppe A organized six hundred of the most reliable irregulars into an auxiliary police force.” The Lithuanian mob unleashed terror on the city, burning down synagogues and Jewish homes, plundering their treasures and murdering their inhabitants. “Einsatzkommando 1B reported to Berlin on 30 June 1941, ‘Lithuanian partisan groups have already killed several thousand Jews’” [5]. Following these organized raids, Jewish residents of Kovno were rounded up and taken to the notorious Seventh Fort, one of the Russian Tsarists’ fortifications utilized by the SS for imprisonment and execution of Jews. According to Rhodes, about 1,500 people died at the fort in the first week of July, alone. In October, another 10,000 of Kovno’s Jews were killed ostensibly to make room for more Jewish deportees from the west (Browning, p. 305)[6].  Those deportees arrived on five transports from Greater Germany and German-occupied Austria and Belgium in late November. All of them, some 4,934 men, women and children were murdered by Einsatzkommando 3 “the most prolific killers on the entire eastern front” who were waiting for the transports at Kovno’s Ninth Fort[7].  According to Sir Martin Gilbert, “The Ninth Fort became synonymous with mass murder.” By December 1941, an estimated 19,000 Jews had been killed [8].

SURVIVOR ACCOUNTS
Joseph Kagan, a survivor of the Kovno ghetto, recalls, “It was about four o’clock in the morning when the sounds of wailing and shrieking awoke most people in the Big Ghetto. Heavy lorries had begun to leave the Little Ghetto. The women who had left their houses to run into the streets of the Big Ghetto were wailing and pointing towards the lights of the lorries as they moved away. It was an eerie sight. The lights of the lorries were moving slowly up that hilly road leading from the ghetto valley to the Ninth Fort. The lights picked out the lofty trees on the ghetto side of the road. Thousands of people trudging up the hill. They were being hurried and forced along by armed soldiers and militiamen. It was a convoy of death” [2]. Jack Brauns, who was then seventeen years old, recalls the burning of a hospital in Kovno 4 October 1941. “I could see the hospital on fire with the windows and doors nailed shut and the patients and doctor and nurses were trying to get out. I remember how their screams got weaker and then it was quiet…The scene of the burning building with people inside trying to get out and the Lithuanian guards who made sure that no one would escape this horrible death played through my mind…”[2]
Dr. Dawidowicz, two nurses and 59 patients were asphyxiated and burned to death.

&
&

 

Sadly, the Holocaust is not a focal point of remembrance or discussion in Lithuania today… and understandably so, considering the complicity of so many non-Jewish Lithuanians. Still, it is sad that many won’t even aknowledge this tragic part of the Baltic region’s history. The plight of the Jews is often overshadowed by that of Gentile Lithuanians who suffered brutality at the hands of the Russians. RamblingBrooke.com shares a unique perspective on this perplexing issue.

Never Again! pauses to remember the 135,000 Lithuanian Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.

Links:
Shoah in the Shtetls (great pictoral history)
We are 900 Frenchmen (The Story of Convoy 73)

Sources:
[1] Browning says that in Lithuania, Latvia and western Ukraine “locals were from the beginning of German rule until its end deeply involved in the murder of Jews” (The Origins of The Final Solution: the evolution of Nazi Jewish policy, September 1939-March 1942 by Christopher R. Browning, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, and Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 2004, p. 268). Further, “since the occupation of Lithuania…executions were being carried out on a regular basis with the help of collaborators” (p. 285).

[2]Never Again: A History of the Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, Universe, New York, 2000, pp. 96-97 (see insets)

[3] Masters of Death: the SS Eisantzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust by Richard Rhodes, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2002, pp. 38-39

[4] Ibid, p. 41

[5] Ibid, pp. 42-43

[6] Rauca’s ‘Great Action:’
Gilbert says they were taken to the Ninth Fort on 28 Oct 1941 as part of Helmut Rauca’s “Great Action” (p. 97).  Because of his war crimes as an SS official, Rauca was extradited in the mid-80’s from Canada by West Germany and charged with the murder of 11,500 Jews. He died while awaiting trial in Frankfurt (Gilbert, p. 161). Watch this outstanding news clip from Canadian Broadcasting Co.

[7] Browning, p. 395

[8] Gilbert, pp. 96-97

One Austrian Jew Escapes Certain Death at Sachsenhausen

Posted in holocaust, Memorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2009 by indyretreats

Walter A. Singer’s story is told at the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies (Keene State College, New Hampshire). Here is an excerpt:

Walter Singers Reich Passport

Walter Singer's Reich Passport

According to Singer, Austrian Jews were aware of their danger long before German Jews. They sailed on a small, crowded fishing boat that carried 72 refugees.  Latvia, however, refused to admit so many Jews at one time, so although the boat was anchored in the port of Riga for three days while the Jews of the city pleaded with officials, they ended up having to sail back to Szczecin. With hindsight, Singer now feels they were fortunate, because Latvian Jews were to fare very badly later.

The Cohen Center website comments, “It is often asked: ‘Why didn’t Jews just leave?’ This is a simplistic question with very complicated answers… By asking the question ,we miss the fundamental point that these were citizens of a modern nation-state. Why should they leave their homes?…If they decided to leave, how would they go? Where would they go? What was required of them if they did decide to uproot themselves? The attachments [in the Singer Collection] will testify to the extreme difficulty faced by would-be Jewish emigrants from the Reich and potential immigrants to the United States. When looking at what was required, it is important to remember that 1938 was a time before Xerox machines and e-mail.”

On the question of why more Jews didn’t leave Europe, Yad Vashem has this to say:

The most straightforward answer is that they simply had nowhere to go. For the Jews of Europe, as noted in Chaim Weizmann’s famous remark, the world was divided into two: places where they could not live and places where they could not go. The restrictive immigration practices of the major overseas countries vis-à-vis Jewish refugees reflected a global climate of economic protectionism tinged with xenophobia and outright anti-Semitism.

Let’s not forget the Evian Conference of 1938, a failed attempt to find refuge for Europe’s persecuted Jews, or the tragic voyage of the St. Louis in 1939.

Walter Singer was one of the luckier ones who found freedom even after internment at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. His wife had to bribe Gestapo officials and provide proof of her travel arrangements out of Europe. She showed them two steam ship tickets to New York. Her husband was released, and upon returning to Vienna, they obtained American visas. Within a few months, they were safe in the United States. “Of his wife, Walter said: ‘First of all, I loved her. Second of all, I owed her my life … so I try to fight twice as hard'” (From an interview in The Monadnock Observer, July 21, 1984, Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies).

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Never Again! wishes to pause in remembrance of the 65,000 Austrian Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

American Students Gripped by Holocaust Horror

Posted in concentration camps, Memorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2009 by indyretreats

Never Again! would like to recognize Rita Blank and the Holocaust Education Resource Council for their efforts to educate teachers and students in Florida. It is with her blessing that we share the video below of students who travelled to Auschwitz-Birkenau to visit the gas chamber and crematorium.

HERCvideo(Video link – http://www.holocaustresources.org/images/video/neverforget.swf)

September 11 means something else to Transylvanian Jews

Posted in Memorial with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2009 by indyretreats

Four years ago today the Jewish Architectual Heritage Foundation opened the Northern Transylvania Holocaust Memorial Museum in Simleul Silvaniei, Romania. The old synagogue of Simleul Silvaniei, in this historic region of Transylvania, was built in 1876 and now houses the museum. In May/June of 1944, the area’s Jewish population was forced out of their homes into the brutal Cehei ghetto and from there packed into cattle cars and transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Over 160,000 Jews from the region perished. A public dedication of the museum, attended by Holocaust survivors Elie Wiesel and Oliver Lustig, occured on September 11, 2005.

Hear the testimony of the Tchengar twins who were deported from Simleu Silvaniei to Auschwitz:




The twins are survivors of the infamous Dr. Mengele experiments. Another Auschwitz and Mengele twin survivor, Eva Kor, tells her story on the CANDLES Holocaust Memorial Musuem’s website, which she started in 1995.

Background on the Simleul Silvaniei-Cehei Ghetto
The Jews of Sãlaj County were concentrated in the Klein Brickyard of Cehei, in a marshy and muddy area about three miles from Simleul Silvaniei. At its peak, the ghetto held about 8,500 Jews. Among these were the Jews from the communities in the districts of Crasna, Cehu Silvaniei, Jibou, Simleul Silvaniei, Supuru de Jos, Tãsnad, and Zalãu. Since the brick-drying sheds were rather limited, many of the ghetto inhabitants were compelled to live under the open sky. The ghetto was guarded by a special unit of gendarmes from Budapest and operated under the command of Krasznai, one of the most
cruel ghetto commanders in Hungary.

As a result of tortures, poor feeding, and a totally inadequate water supply in the ghetto, the Jews of Salaj county arrived at Auschwitz in very poor condition, so that an unusually large percentage were selected for gassing immediately upon arrival. The deportations from Cehei were carried out in three transports between May 31 and June 6. (Credit, “Final Report” by the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, 2004, p. 270)