La Grande Rafle (The Great Roundup) of 1942

Posted in holocaust, Maps and images with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2009 by indyretreats
GrandeRaffleMemorial

La Grande Rafle Memorial on site of old stadium

In July 1942, arrests of foreign Jews in France began simultaneously in the Occupied and Unoccupied Zones (see map below). After railcars were freed up by the Wermacht in the East, convoys began departing France every other day. “The initial plan called for the deportation of a hundred thousand Jews from the occupied zone and fifty thousand from the ‘free’ zone, but such a large-scale operation could be undertaken only with the active cooperation of the French police.” At the direction of Vichy Prime Minister Pierre Laval, only foreign Jews could be deported. “[H]e approved the active participation of French police forces in the planned operation; moreover, he suggested that the Germans deport children, too.”[1]

The Great Roundup (aka Black Thursday) began 16 July 1942 in Paris. “Armed with index cards with names of immigrant Jews, forty-five hundred French policemen fanned out in the early morning darkness to arrest men aged sixteen to sixty and women aged sixteen to fifty-five.” The roundup continued the following day, with childless adults taken to Drancy and those with children to Velodrome d’hiver (Winter Cycle Stadium), located near the Eiffel Tower. “More than 8,000 people, about half of them children, were confined for five days in the Vel d’Hiv, which lacked the sanitary facilities for such numbers. The stench was overpowering.” A few days later, the first convoys traveled East across the line of demarcation. “Since permission had not yet arrived from Germany to deport young children to the east, those younger than fourteen were forcibly separated from their parents and older siblings and left alone in the camps, under the care of a few Red Cross volunteers.”[2]

After the deportation of adults, “[r]elief organizations in the Unoccupied Zone learned later what had become of the children left behind in Paris. Many were hidden. But French police gathered up thousands of others who were found in apartments, wandering the streets, or crying at locked doors of houses. Nearly 4,000 of them, aged two to fourteen, were sent to ‘unknown destinations,’ packed into windowless boxcars without adult escort, without food, water, or hygienic provisions, without so much as straw to lie on. They were even without identification. The Nazis had destroyed their papers.”[3] Another source places the number of children at “more than 4,000” and cites their final destination as Auschwitz. Thirty-five of them survived.[2]

1940France

Map of France, 1940 (Courtesy USHMM)

For a good overview of the French connection to the Holocaust see:
BBC’s “Vichy Policy on Jewish Deportation”
USHMM’s Holocaust Encyclopedia, “France” 

Sources:
[1]When Memory Comes [George L. Mosse Series in Modern European Cultural and Intellectual History] by Saul Friedländer and Helen R. Lane, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2003, ISBN 0299190447, p. 70

[2]The Jews of modern France by Paula Hyman, University of California Press, 1998, ISBN 0520209257, p. 173

[3]The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 by David S. Wyman, Pantheon Books, New York, 1984, ISBN 0394428137, p. 31

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.

Survivor Profile: Alter Wiener

Posted in concentration camps, holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2009 by indyretreats

AlterWiener

Alter Wiener was born 1926 in Chrzanów, Poland, to a vibrant and very religious family. He lost his mother when he just four years old. “I do not remember her face,” he says remorsefully. His father remarried and Alter recalls, “My stepmother treated me and my older brother very well. She was as devoted to us as she was to her own child.” Alter’s father had a successful business, which he inherited from his parents. “We had a relatively good life; not lacking anything that was available in those times,” he adds.
Since it was mandatory to attend public school, Alter and his brother got their religious instruction during the afternoon. The Wiener family was Jewish and devout. His father’s motto was always, “Hate hatred and shun violence.” Alter recalls:
 
In retrospect, it seems to me, that life in those days was very meaningful.  There was an abundance of love, and care for each other.  The values, such as faith, honesty, righteousness, respect for the elderly, personal responsibilities, to be industrious and eager to learn, that I cherish today, were instilled at home; we were practically sheltered from the outside world’s negative influence. 
 
The normalcy of daily life came to an end in September 1939.
“Since my hometown was close to the German border, we were urged to flee to the interior of Poland.  By horse and wagon, we managed to trek about 50 miles till the German invading army caught up with us.”  Alter’s father hired the horse and wagon to transport his family, but he did not join in the attempted escape because the Polish retreating army ordered him to stay behind and supply it with provisions stored at his business.

On 9 November 1939, my father was shot, left to bleed, and eventually to expire, and thrown into a pit, together with 36 other victims, by German soldiers.  In November, when public transportation was partially restored, my stepmother, two brothers and I trekked back to our home in Chrzanów.  The apartment was looted, and the worst of all, we could not find out the whereabouts of our father. In December, that pit was opened, the bodies exhumed, and my father’s partially decomposed body was identified…

“The Wieners showed up to sort through the bodies of the dead, who were so far beyond recognition Wiener’s stepmother was only able to identify her husband by his clothes” (“He decided to be ‘better, not bitter’” by Callie White, The Daily World, 12 Oct 2009). This traumatic experience has haunted Alter, some seventy years later, ever since. “It was such a formative experience, I have nightmares to this day remembering the partially decomposed face of my father,” Alter says. (continued below)

0-AltersAddr
Click above to watch 55-minute video on university’s site
-OR-
Click here to watch it in Windows Media Player

An orphan at the age of 13, Alter could no longer go to school. He was “subjected to deprivation, persecution, helplessness, and hopelessness.”

“From that day on, Wiener’s life changed. At first he couldn’t go to school. Then he couldn’t go to synagogue. Then he couldn’t associate with non-Jews, then only walk in certain parts of the city. And then, in May of 1941, his older brother was taken from the family’s apartment by the Germans. ‘We couldn’t write, call, we didn’t know if he was alive,’ Wiener said” (The Daily World, 12 Oct 2009).

In June 1942, Alter was just 16 when deported to a forced labor camp. German soldiers told him he had three minutes to pack his things and leave. His stepmother pleaded with the soldiers not to take him, but one of them hit her in the face and knocked her unconscious. Alter didn’t get to say goodbye. Eight months later, in February 1943, his stepmother and nine-year-old stepbrother were deported to Auschwitz and murdered.

“Wiener was one of 80 people crammed into a train car to Blechammer, a forced labor camp. One of the passengers died, Wiener said, but the car was so crammed with standing people that the corpse stayed erect, too. At the camp, Wiener shared a room with 23 other people. For breakfast, he waited in line for two slices of bread ‘that were mostly made of sawdust,’ he said. For dinner, he had watery soup. At Blechammer, Wiener saw some of his neighbors, and they told him his brother was there. When Wiener saw him, he was taken aback. ‘I did not recognize him,’ Wiener said, because his brother was so skinny and weak” (The Daily World, 12 Oct 2009).

Many years later at a Holocaust survivors’ reunion, Alter learned of the fate of his brother whom he never saw after leaving Blechammer labor camp. One of the survivors “told me he had put my brother in one of the ovens with his own hands” at Auschwitz, Alter says. His brother had been gassed.

While being tormented in Gross Masselwitz (one of the camps), a German woman, jeopardized her life to help him by hiding a sandwich every day for 30 days. “Her gesture I will never forget, it fortified my belief that people must be judged by their merits, and not by their ethnicity (in the same vein I aver that not all Germans were active participants in the Holocaust),” Alter asserts.

Incarcerated for nearly three years in five different camps, Alter slaved away under brutal conditions and the ever-watchful eye of the SS. Here’s where he was imprisoned June 1942 – May 1945:

  1. June – Oct 1942 Forced Labor Camp Blechhammer (Blachownia Slaska);
  2. Oct – Dec 1942 Forced Labor Camp Brande (Prądy);
  3. Dec 1942 – Feb 1944 Forced Labor Camp Gross Masselwitz (Dzielnica Maslice Wielke);
  4. Feb – Sep 1944 Forced Labor Camp Klettendorf (Klecina);
  5. Sep 1944    – May 9, 1945 Concentration Camp  Waldenburg (Wałbrzych).

It was at Waldenburg Concentration Camp, Alter’s last stop before liberation, where he was stripped of the last of his belongings, including his name. Bearing only a number and filthy prison rags for clothing, he worked in the mountains building warehouses for the Nazis.

“I was liberated on May 9, 1945, a day after the official German capitulation, by the Russian Army; a Russian tank approached our gate and the officer said, in halting Yiddish ‘Jews you are liberated, go out to the city of Waldenburg, kill Germans, rape and rob, take vengeance. We know how you feel; we lost 22 millions of our people, tens of thousand of our villages were wiped out.’ I could not take his advice; it would be alien to my character.” Plus, after years of malnutrition and forced labor, Alter was too weak to act even if he had wanted to. He was 19 years old and weighed only 80 pounds.

Instead of exacting revenge in Waldenburg, he traveled back to Poland to see if any other relatives had survived. Alter found only five of his cousins alive and learned that 123 close and distant relatives had died.

“Wiener said he spent his first few nights back in Chrzanow sleeping on his father’s grave. It was there, while seething with anger at his lost youth and family, that he decided to be ‘better, not bitter’” (The Daily World, 12 Oct 2009).

Eventually, Alter married and had two sons, who have since provided six grandchildren. “I came to this country in 1960, did menial work to support a family, and attended evening classes at Brooklyn College to learn accounting and catch up some knowledge that I was deprived of in my teens.  I am grateful to the US for giving me a chance of revival,” he says.

AltersBookHe moved to Oregon in 2000 and began working on his memoirs between public appearances and speaking engagements, many in local schools. Alter Wiener’s autobiography From a Name to a Number was published in April 2007. One hundred fifty-eight people have already posted their reviews on Amazon.com.  

Never Again! wishes to thank Alter Wiener for permission to share his story, as well as Gabriele Silten who linked us by e-mail just last week. We’d also like to pause in remembrance of the 123 Shoah victims who were Mr. Wiener’s relatives.

 

 

To read more about Alter, follow any of these links:

Echoes From Auschwitz – A Review

Posted in concentration camps, holocaust, Maps and images with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2009 by indyretreats

A beautiful little girl rose up from the ashes of the Holocaust, but she was far removed from the elderly survivor who told her story in the first person. Eva says that through more than 100 speeches and interviews she always felt like she was “looking down at this little girl and telling her story.” That all changed in late 1985, when at the age of 51, she was lecturing at Indiana State University. “I was describing my separation from my mother, and I began to sob and sob. I was very confused, troubled and embarrassed because I did not have a handkerchief. I had never needed one before. I cried because I could feel all the pain, fear and horror that I had felt at Auschwitz. I never again ended my lecture by saying that I was telling the story of that little girl. That little girl and I became one. I had suddenly found the child that had been lost at Auschwitz.”

Miriam and Eva Mozes

Miriam and Eva Mozes

Though Eva says she found the lost little girl who survived Auschwitz, the horror she suffered there left her without a childhood. In her autobiography Echoes From Auschwitz: Dr. Mengele’s Twins, The Story of Eva and Miriam Mozes, she blames the death camp for stealing her childhood. “Children who are faced with life and death so abruptly are no longer children.” This became abundantly clear to 11-year-old Eva who found herself after World War II in a Polish monastery with other liberated children. “The nuns had put beautiful toys in our rooms, but I didn’t want to play with them. I wasn’t in any way impressed or thrilled to find toys to play with…I had lost my childhood.”

Eva Mozes Kor was one of about 200 child survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. She and twin sister Miriam were spared the gas chambers by an SS guard who asked Mrs. Mozes, “Zwilling?!”(Twins?!), only to end up in the hands of “the Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele who performed sadistic experiments on them. The experiments nearly took Eva’s life while in the camp, and ultimately did take Miriam’s life in 1993. Eva dedicated the book, in part, to her sister Miriam who suffered kidney problems her entire life and died in Israel from “cancer related to the experiments.”

The first seven chapters of Echoes cover Eva’s memories of Portz, a rural farming village in the Transylvania region of Rumania. The Mozes’ were prominent landowners and had “the only Jewish house in the village.” Eva and Miriam were the youngest of four children born to a religious, hard-working father and a benevolent, educated mother. Out-of-town guests always had a room at the Mozes home and “any villager who ever had a problem or needed advice always came to [Eva’s] mother.” As she puts it, “Life was very simple for us in this rural area of Transylvania.” But that would all soon change in 1940.

In Chapter 8, Eva describes the changing environment of her village under Hungarian occupation. “Rumanians and Hungarians hated each other,” Eva says and that’s why she was particularly alarmed by the sudden change. As both Rumanian and Jewish, her family had twice the reason to be worried. “After the Hungarian Army took charge,” she writes, “[t]he beginning of the end was upon us.”

Eva and Miriam were brought face-to-face with the vitriolic Nazi propaganda at school. “The first time I ever saw what we called ‘jumping pictures on the wall,’ it dealt only with one topic: how to harass, intimidate and kill a Jew.” Eva ran home crying, hoping her mother could “explain the horrible things” she had seen. Her parents had heard the terrible rumors about what was happening in Eastern Europe. They listened intently to reports coming in over the radio, but attempted to shield the children by speaking about it only in Yiddish. Eva resented their secrecy and later blamed them for not taking the rumors and news reports more seriously.

Chapter 10 begins in 1943 with the Mozes family under house arrest and forced to wear the Star of David. “Yellow to indicate what cowards the Jews were,” Eva explains.

Next came deportation to the Szilagysomlyo ghetto near Simleul Silvanei. Eva couldn’t believe that only two Hungarian gendarmes were able to arrest her family of six while the entire village watched, as if helpless to defend them. She writes, “…it would have been so easy to overpower them…Nobody even tried. No one said even a word that they were sorry.” The silent onlookers had been their friends, their neighbors, “the people who had helped us farm and had benefited from our harvest…the boys and girls with whom we had gone to school.”

The Mozes family lived in tents along with 7,000 – 8,500 ghettoized Jews for five weeks before final deportation. They were among the 437,000 Hungarian Jews deported to death camps in mid-1944, a fact supported by Randolph L. Braham in his book The politics of genocide: the Holocaust in Hungaria (Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 2000, ISBN 0814326919, p. 137). Braham confirms that May – June 1944 almost 300,000 Jews had been deported, beginning with those in Northern Transylvania. After being herded onto cattle cars with 70-100 other people marked for death, the Mozes family made the 70-hour journey to Auschwitz II with no food and very little water.

Before the door to the cramped, foul-smelling cattle car was opened, Eva remembers her father saying his morning prayers. She also recalls her anger. “As I watched my father and the other people in our car praying to God, a strange feeling of anger swept over me. It was an anger that I had experienced…when we had been called ‘Dirty Jews’…[and] that day when the Hungarian gendarmes were taking us away to the ghetto and no one spoke up or tried to help us, not even my friend Luci.” The feeling of anger was soon replaced by anxiety and despair as Eva and her twin sister were separated from their family, never to see them again. “I remember crying when we were grabbed away from our mother, but I do not remember crying any more after that.”

Dr. Josef Mengele

Dr. Josef Mengele

The twins were soon “processed,” each bearing blue tattoos with the labels “A 7063” for Eva and “A 7064” for Miriam. As far as the Nazis were concerned, they no longer had names. Their only purpose was to serve as Dr. Mengele’s “precious guinea pigs.” Under tight SS surveillance, they were then marched to their barracks. Eva opens Chapter 14 with a gruesome story of an anguished mother who reached out for the children and was subdued and brutally murdered by German shepherd guard dogs. She witnessed this and many other horrors on a daily basis while interred at the death camp. “I tried to take it in,” she says, “and I tried to make some sense of it all. But, one cannot make sense out of senselessness.”

The children’s barracks provided the education that caused Eva to “mature very quickly.” She would soon discover the fate of those who were separated on the train platforms, unfit to work for the Nazis and whisked away quickly. Once again, her anger got the better of her and she cried out belligerently to the other twins, “That is ridiculous. We are children. We cannot work, but we are alive…We are not being burned.” She looked up and examined the fiery glow of the furnaces above the chimneys where smoke poured out in continuous, billowed columns and she was at once convinced.

Chapters 14-16 describe camp conditions at Auschwitz-Birkenau, of how the children survived through inhumane experiments and of the pervasive death that hovered over the camp like the ash-gray smoke. Early on, Eva stumbled upon three corpses of children on the latrine floor and the shocking sight steeled her resolve. She determined to survive and keep her sister alive, too. “Death meant ending up on that dirty bathroom floor like a piece of meat…but death was not something I would encounter. This will was so strong in me that even later, when I became ill, I was able…to survive”(emphasis mine).

Chapter 18 describes her illness after being injected with unknown germs by Dr. Mengele and his “medical” staff. Eva tried desperately to hide the extent of her illness in order to spare her life and that of her sister. After two weeks of knocking on death’s door, her will to live triumphed and she slowly recovered. As other sick children were being taken to the gas chamber, she convinced the nurse that she was recovering quicker than she actually was, a feat accomplished by manipulating the thermometer. Soon she was reunited with her sister. “I know today that would I have died, Miriam would have been taken immediately to the lab and killed…Then comparative autopsies comparing my diseased organs to Miriam’s healthy organs would have been done.” She would later learn just how damaged Miriam’s organs actually were.

The final chapters tell of the hope brought by Allied bombing runs where prisoners could see the planes overhead; the liquidation of the Gypsy camp into which the children were moved, presumably for gassing; the termination of gassing operations in October 1944; and finally of liberation by the Russian Army. Eva and Miriam are the twins at the head of the line in the now famous liberation footage of 27 January 1945.

Following liberation, the Mozes twins now orphaned were transferred to a monastery in Katowice, Poland. The Csenghery twins who had survived with their mother and were friends of Eva and Miriam were in a nearby displaced persons (DP) camp. The girls convinced Mrs. Csenghery to pose as their aunt and care for them, to which she agreed. Together they traveled to the Czernowitz DP Camp and then to a camp near Minsk. By September 1945, they had returned to the familiar surroundings of Simleul Silvanei. Eva recalls their return to the village of Portz when she “suddenly realized that [she and Miriam] were all that was left of the Mozes family.”

Reunited with their Aunt Iren who had also survived a camp, the girls stayed with her in Communist Rumania until 1950 when they were able to get visas and travel to Israel. Once in Haifa, they reunited with other beloved family members who had escaped Nazi-occupied Europe. The book ends with Eva’s enlistment in the Israeli Army in 1952.

Eight years later, she married an American, also a survivor, moved with him to the States and mothered two children. They settled in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Eva founded the CANDLES Organization and a Holocaust memorial museum. That is where I met her in January of this year.

Eva Mozes Kor and Chris Doyle, Jan 2009

Eva Mozes Kor and Chris Doyle, Jan 2009

Bibliographical Record (from the Library of Congress):

LCCN Permalink:

http://lccn.loc.gov/95068133

Type of Material:

Book

Personal Name:

Kor, Eva Mozes.

Main Title:

Echoes from Auschwitz : Dr. Mengele’s twins : the story of Eva and Miriam Mozes / by Eva Mozes Kor as told to Mary Wright.

Published/Created:

Terre Haute, IN : CANDLES, Inc., [1995]

Description:

xiii, 189 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.

ISBN:

0964380757

EXTERNAL LINKS– 

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:

Survivor Profile: Fred Kahn

Posted in holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 10, 2009 by indyretreats
Picture of Fred at age 4 1/2 with his Aunt Rosa and Uncle Siegfried taken in 1937.

Picture of Fred Kahn at age 4 1/2 with his Aunt Rosa and Uncle Siegfried taken in 1937.

Fred began life in December 1932, in Wiesbaden, shortly before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. “My parents left Germany to escape the Nazis shortly after my birth to seek refuge in Belgium, thinking they would return soon.” But because traveling with a newborn would have put them all at risk, Fred’s parents left him with his childless Aunt Rosa and Uncle Siegfried.  

In his own words…
“I was born Jewish in [Wehen near] Wiesbaden in December 1932 at 80-82 Adelheidstrasse, houses then owned by my grandparents Gruenebaum,” says Kahn. “My parents left in September 1933…” for Verviers, Belgium, expecting to return since they presumed (erroneously) that Hitler and the Nazis would not stay in power long. “A synagogue was next to my foster parents’ house in Wehen, a town near his birthplace of Wiesbaden.  It had been built in the 1800’s.  My uncle was responsible for it. The night before I left, my uncle and his cousin transported in a horse-drawn carriage pine boxes that contained, I was told, the shul’s religious relics. I watched as they buried the pine boxes in a nearby landfill. The synagogue was burnt down six weeks later during  what is historically known as  Kristallnacht. By premonition it seems the religious relics had been safely buried, escaping the sacrilegious desecration by fire.”

“That was the night of Sept.30-Oct.1, 1938. The following morning, my uncle took me by train to the German border city of Aachen; he turned me over to a Christian lady named Maria Goar” (“Whisked Away Before Kristallnacht” by Fred Kahn).

Fred’s parents planned to send for him once they had settled, but the situation became urgent by the night of October 1 when Kahn’s Uncle Siegfried woke him and told him to put on his best suit. The night before, when the Munich Agreement was signed, Germany gained the political momentum that would eventually lead to world war. When Kahn’s parents heard the news, they called Siegfried with one urgent message: Get the boy out of Germany. Kahn still remembers what was said that night, on the porch of the house, under the full moon: “My uncle told me I was about to go on a big trip.” 

Siegfried took him to a Christian German, Maria, who would accompany him to the German-Belgian border. But first, Siegfried took Maria aside and gave her his most valued possession — a gold pocket watch. “He gave it to her on the condition that if he didn’t survive,” Kahn says, “she would make sure I would get it.” She then took the boy by tram to the border. “They assumed that nobody would pay attention to me,” Kahn explains, “but when I arrived there they wouldn’t let me in because I had no papers — nothing.” While the officers made phone calls, Kahn could see his family calling to him from the other side. 

At that time, Germany and Belgium had a “no man’s land” between them, and Kahn’s father stood on the Belgian side imploring the guards to let the young boy cross, calling, “C’est mon fils!” (That’s my son!) Fritz, as he was called then, was finally admitted as a political refugee and permitted to cross the border to the father he had never known. It was just six weeks before the night of Nazi terror known as Kristallnacht. 

Following the occupation of Belgium by the Germans in May 1940, the Kahn family went into hiding to avoid deportation to a concentration camp. Four years later, Uncle Siegfried and Aunt Rosa were deported to concentration camps. Rosa wrote the boy a farewell postcard the night before she left, and was never heard from again. 

Kahn and his parents, using the old identity papers of a Catholic family, survived the rest of the war in Belgium, storing their valuables in friends’ basements and moving every six months to avoid being listed on the registry of Jewish families. Once Belgium was liberated by the US First Army in September 1944, the family returned to Verviers where they had lived before going into hiding. “I ran into my old friends, kids on the street,” Kahn recalls, “and they couldn’t believe I was still alive.” His aunt and uncle were not so lucky. “The only parents I knew until I was reunited with my own parents on October 1, 1938,” were killed in the Sobibor extermination camp in June 1942. 

Maria Goar sent Siegfried’s pocket watch to Kahn shortly after the war, and he still treasures it today. 

Kahn immigrated to the United States at the age of 19, in 1952, arriving in Hoboken, NJ, and eventually settling in Baltimore. “A year later, on March 17, 1953, I was inducted into the Army. I was not yet a citizen, but nevertheless I volunteered.” After 4 months of basic training at Camp Breckenridge, KY with the 101st Airborne Division he was assigned to the 525th Military Intelligence Service, then to the 82nd Airborne Division and again to the 525th Military Intelligence Group at Fort Bragg, NC. “I became a citizen on November 24, 1953, and because of my language skills (I know four), reassigned in 1954 to occupied Germany as a military intelligence analyst to do special classified assignments. I was discharged March 14, 1955 at Fort Meade, MD. ” 

After his military service, he earned a bachelors of art degree with honors from the University of Maryland. In 1956 while he was vice president of the university’s International Club, Fred floated the idea of presidential debates, enlisting the support of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and Governor Theodore McKeldin, among others. Then, the press heralded his proposal which laid the roots for the Vice President Nixon-Senator John F. Kennedy presidential debate of 1960. Until then, there had not been any presidential debates. Fred was given credit for it in the press of the day (See “The American Spirit Personified” by Kate Kelly, Huffington Post, August 25, 2009; and The Jewish War Veterans of the United States, September 2009  Newsletter ). Fred took leave from the university when he was selected by the Department of State to represent the U.S., to escort and guide VIPs visiting the U.S. Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.  Two years later, he received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to study for a masters at SAIS. He earned the masters of art degree from Johns Hopkins’ Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in 1963. Kahn leveraged his education to secure a position at Howard University in Washington, D.C. where he taught history. He  was then recruited by the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity to help launch Job Corps. Fred worked as a political economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. under six presidential administrations, until his retirement in 1992.

After 30 years of civil service, Kahn says his childhood memories finally motivated him to educate others about the Holocaust.  In 2005, then Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich appointed him to the new Maryland State Task Force to Implement Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights, and Tolerance Education.

Kahn attributes all of his success to his dramatic escape, at age 6, from Nazi Germany. Otherwise, if he had remained he would have been exterminated in Sobibor along with his late aunt and uncle who had reared him. His lifetime commitment to civil service — and his defining childhood experience — made him an ideal member of Governor Ehrlich’s new task force. Kahn says the group’s mission was to advise Maryland’s state university system on the creation of workshops to promote tolerance and sensitivity when teaching Holocaust history. He believes his story teaches life lessons that apply to everybody, regardless of religion or race. Tolerance education is crucial, he says, “so that you learn not to pick up a gun just because someone is different from you.”

Kahn also shares his story by moderating a Yahoo!Group called “Remember_ the_ Holocaust” for 240 members from around the world. “It is my major hobby now,” he says, “and an education in itself.” That is where we met Fred (aka Freddy Lejeune) and struck up an immediate friendship. Never Again! is indebted to him for letting us share his remarkable story.

 

(From various sources, including  “Member Profile,” Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, September 2009; an article by Virginia Hughes, “Alumni News” Johns Hopkins Magazine, April 2006)

Czechoslovakia’s Jews & the Munich Conference

Posted in holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2009 by indyretreats

CzechMap

By September 1938, Hitler had already been welcomed with open arms by the Austrian government. He wanted to seize control of Czechoslovakia, too, but was shrewd enough to know that Western European powers, namely France and Great Britain, would not sit idly by and watch while his armies marched southeastward. With great cunning, Hitler convened the Munich Conference, shunning both the Czech and Russian governments. He sought the approval of the Western powers to annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, which was primarily occupied by ethnic Germans (Sudetendeutsche) and held industrial resources, like Uranium. The Sudetenland included the border areas of Bohemia, Moravia and portions of Silesia which had belonged to Czechoslovakia since 1918. The Western powers gave in to Hitler’s demands, ultimately sealing the fate of Czechoslovakia and the 120,000 Jews living peacefully in that country.

Archpriest Andrew Phillips writes on OrthodoxEngland.org, “…when Czechoslovakia had been invaded [in 1938], nothing had happened. Then France and Great Britain had cowardly backed down in the face of Nazi bullying, thus sacrificing the three peoples of Czechoslovakia, Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenians, to Austrian-led oppression once more. However, it is also argued that this act of unprincipled moral cowardice occurred because the governments of Great Britain and France needed more time to arm for the war which by then they realised was inevitable. Even if that is the case, Czechoslovakia is still the country which they were selfishly willing to sacrifice.” While the Archpriest fails to mention the Jewish population, presumably because they were fully assimilated into democratic Czech society, they too were sacrificed by the Western European powers.

“On the eve of the German occupation, 118,310 Jews lived in the region, centralized mostly in Prague. Immediately after the occupation, a wave of arrests began, mostly of refugees from Germany, Czech public figures, and Jews. Fascist organizations began harassing Jews: synagogues were burnt down and Jews were rounded up and attacked in the streets.”

“As early as November 3, 1938, the immediate expulsion of Czechs and Jews from the region became a daily occurrence and groups of Czech nationals were forced from the Sudetenland towards the Czech frontier. Some of these managed to escape to Prague or Brno, but all Jews were turned back by the Czech boarder guards” (Source: The Holocaust Project).

Some Jews escaped to Poland not realizing that their fate would be the same in another year. For a more personal perspective, watch Howling With The Angels: a film by Jean Bodon or visit this NYU School of Medicine blog.