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.

Plight of the Polish Jew, 1939

Posted in holocaust, Maps and images with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2009 by indyretreats

Gone now are those little towns where the shoemaker was a poet,
The watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour.
 

Gone now are those little towns where the wind joined
Biblical songs with Polish tunes and Slavic rue,
Where old Jews in orchards in the shade of cherry trees
Lamented for the holy walls of Jerusalem.

Gone now are those little towns, though the poetic mists,
The moons, winds, ponds, and stars above them
Have recorded in the blood of centuries the tragic tales,
The histories of the two saddest nations on earth.

Antoni Slonimski
(Accessed today from http://www.zchor.org/verbin/heritage.htm)

Gone, too, is one of the bravest Polish Jews from Warsaw during World War II. While preparing this blog to memorialize the plight of Polish Jews during October 1939, I ran across the story of Marek Edelman’s death at age 90.

Edelman had lived in Poland during the German invasion. He lived to witness the horror perpetrated by the Nazis. By this time 70 years ago, his country was dominated, divided and controlled by two world powers, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The plight of the Jew in Poland was worsening by the day. As Sir Martin Gilbert puts it, “a new policy was put briefly and brutally into operation: expulsion.” Map34 from Gilbert’s Atlas of the Holocaust (below), provides some sample numbers of Jewish expulsions. “By the end of 1939, tens of thousands of Jews had been driven to the border rivers and forced to swim them. Hundreds had been drowned as they tried to cross. Others had been shot and killed as they swam” (Gilbert, p. 36).

Map 34 from Gilbert's Atlas of the Holocaust

Map 34 from Gilbert's Atlas of the Holocaust

I recall reading an incident where Polish Jews forced to cross a frozen river were being shot at by Nazis on the western bank and Russian troops on the opposite bank. Eventually, the terrorized Jews all froze to death in the icy river after the menacing troops had penetrated the ice with their machine guns. I don’t remember the source at this moment. I just remember being appalled at how they were murdered.

Never Again pauses to reflect on the persecution of the Polish Jews and to remember the victims, like Marek Edelman, may he rest in peace.

 

 

LINKS:
JUDEN: a collection of photographs of Polish Jews taken by Nazi soldiers during 1939-1943

Virtual Jewish History Tour of Poland

Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Virtual Shtetl

Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland

New York Students Discover Death Train from WWII Germany

Posted in holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2009 by indyretreats
MagdeburgTrain1

Jews liberated from the train near Magdeburg

“[American troops] came upon a long string of grimy, ancient boxcars standing silent on the tracks.  In the banks by the tracks, as if to get some pitiful comfort from the thin April sun, a multitude of people of all shades of misery spread themselves in a sorry, despairing tableaux [sic]. As the American uniforms were sighted, a great stir went through this strange camp. Many rushed toward [them]… This had been-and was-a horror train.  In these freight cars had been shipped 2500 people, jam-packed in like sardines, and they were people that had two things in common, one with the other:  They were prisoners of the German State and they were Jews” (Source:  Move out Verify: the Combat Story of the 743rd Tank Battalion by Wayne Robinson, Germany, no publisher, 1945, 162-63, accessed from Hudson Falls High School’s WWII Living History Project).

Sergeant George Gross of the liberating force recalls, “Battle-hardened veterans learn to contain their emotions, but it was difficult then, and I cry now to think about it. What stamina and regenerative spirit those brave people showed!” (Interview with Matt Rozell, March 2002, same link as above). Sgt. Gross and other members of the 743rd Tank Batallian, US 9th Army, were reunited September 22-26 with some of the survivors from the train they liberated.

The reunion was the third one hosted by Hudson Falls High School thanks to the Herculean efforts of history teacher Matt Rozell (see AP Article from 9/23).  It’s quite a remarkable story, really. Rozell, looking for a way to inspire his students with some hands-on history lessons, began to send questionnaires home with students whose grandparents had served in WWII. In 2001, Rozell and his students began conducting interviews and that’s when they learned about the liberation of a “train near Magdeburg,” Germany. Read more…

HUDSON FALLS HIGH SCHOOL’S WWII LIVING HISTORY PROJECT

Annotated Pictures from the liberation (PDF)

More information with links from JewishGen.org

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!

The Hidden Children: the secret survivors of the Holocaust

Posted in holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2009 by indyretreats

(by guest contributor Tracy S. Doyle)0-HiddenChildrenCover
I recently spent several days reading an incredible book entitled The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust by Jane Marks. This powerful book included the wartime stories of twenty-three survivors and how their childhoods were sacrificed to save their lives.  Their bravery, strength, and determination to survive are evident in each story. Often separated from their families for weeks or even years at a time, most of these children led secret lives…secret lives that saved their lives.

One of the burning questions I have had about the Holocaust is why more people didn’t step up and help? Surely they saw the Jews being publicly humiliated, forced into disease-ridden, overcrowded ghettos, and shipped off to their imminent death, so why didn’t people do anything? The answer is people did. Hundreds, possibly even thousands, of “righteous Gentiles” saved Jewish children by hiding them. Through an elaborate underground network, against horrendous odds, children were saved. They were hidden in convents, attics, cellars, cupboards, forests, and barns; some were even secreted away in sewers.  These were far from ideal living quarters, but the hidden children were living when most other Jewish children were being gassed by the Nazis.

The book tells of Jewish children rescued by courageous Christian families who adopted and treated them as their own until after the war when their real parents, sometimes complete strangers, returned to claim them. Several of the survivors recall being “ripped” from the arms of the only parents they had ever known and given to strangers. Many of the youngest children were never told they were Jewish for fear that they would “slip” and identify themselves to the wrong person, which would result in certain death for the outed child and her Gentile protectors. These stories were particularly heart-wrenching when, even as adults, tears streamed down their faces as they recalled leaving their “hidden parents” whom they loved and had saved them.

Marks groups the survivor stories into four sections–the Ordeal, the Aftermath, the Legacy and the Healing. Section one, the Ordeal, tells the horrors of going into hiding and the excrutiating decisions Jewish families made to ensure their children’s survival. As a mother of two young girls I can only begin to imagine what these parents must have gone through and the difficult choices they had to make to save their children. It made me question what I would have done. Could I have given my child to a stranger, knowing their chance of surviving the war was better apart from me? Could I walk away listening to them scream for me? Could I live knowing that, chances are, I may never see them again? What a horrifying dilemna for any mother to face.In section two, the Aftermath, Marks tells how each survivor’s life was affected by their time in hiding. Their entire lives have been marked by fear and hurt, many of them still frightened little children, emotionally frozen in time at the age of four, seven or twelve. Even as adults, they’ve remained hidden emotionally. Learning at an early age to turn off anger, fear, confusion, and grief, in effect, they stopped feeling anything. This emotional disconnect resulted in insecurities, marriages failing and relationships lacking intimacy. By telling their story, many say they have finally begun the process of emotional healing.Section three, the Legacy, deals with how these children describe their lives as a puzzle with too many pieces missing. They have many questions without answers. Their ability to forget was a way to survive emotionally but it had a downside; it left them with unknowns about what they experienced as a child. One survivor put a positive spin on this by saying “I have an almost instinctive appreciation of the concept of fate and destiny, that certain things happen in life that are beyond our control. Instead of making me scared, that’s given me a clearer understanding of what I can do something about — and what I can’t” (p. 182). 
Hidden Child
Sonja Dubois

S 
onja’s only link to her lost family was an oil painting that she’s had since she was hidden away. It is a dark painting,
full of greens, browns and dark hues. The signature is in black. Sonja had never known who made the painting, only that it
had belonged to her family. Thirty-eight years after losing her parents to the killing factory at Auschwitz, Sonja was told
of the painting, ‘This is your daddy’s signature.’ He had been an amateur painter in Holland’s artist community.
Read more at…
Timothy Hankins blog,
or
Tennessee Holocaust Survivor’s Biographies.
What others have said about the book
Anti-Defamation League
Good Reads User Reviews
10 Customer Reviews @ Amazon
More on hidden children of the Holocaust…Life in Shadows Exhibit @ USHMM

Hidden Children & The Holocaust

Blog on Ancestry Magazine’s–“Researching Jewish Children”

Blog Around the Clock’s 3-part Series

BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents

 

And finally, the Healing, relates how, amazingly, the hidden children have grown-up to be very successful and contributing members of societies all around the world. They all strive to denounce anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and to promote education so that, God forbid, if ever confronted with the concept of such a horrifying proposal the next generation will stand and say “Never Again!

(The Hidden Children: the secret survivors of the Holocaust by Jane Marks, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1993, ISBN 044990685X)

September 27, 1939…

Posted in concentration camps, ghetto, holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2009 by indyretreats

…Warsaw, Poland, falls to German troops;
…Berlin issues a command to establish Jewish ghettos in Poland;
…Inmates at the Dachau, Germany, concentration camp are moved to a camp at Mauthausen, Austria, so that Dachau can be used as a training camp for the Waffen-SS.

Jewish Responses

Of the half-million Jews living in Germany when Hitler came to power, most critically underestimated the danger confronting them. Considering themselves loyal members of the German community, they hoped to persevere and ride out the Nazi storm. Most awakened only slowly to the full extent of the terror. By then it was too late.

This response was based on a not-unreasonable Jewish assumption that, although the Nazis had declared themselves enemies of the Jews, surely they would allow Jews to exist in segregated communities. Deportation and mass murder were considered by hopeful Jews as impossibilities.

(Source: The Holocaust Chronicle online)

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