Archive for death camps

Interview with R. Gabriele Silten

Posted in concentration camps, ghetto, holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by indyretreats
Photo courtesy of USHMM

Photo courtesy of USHMM

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Holocaust survivor Gabriele Silten through the Remember_The_Holocaust group moderated by Fred Kahn. She immediately sent me copies of her written work (see titles list below), including her autobiography Between Two Worlds. She also agreed to an online interview which we conducted by e-mail just this week. Below is the substance of that interview.

Q: Was writing your autobiography therapeutic? Is that why you decided to write it?  

A: No, it was not therapeutic. I decided to write it because a lot of people–friends– pushed me to do so and I thought it was a good idea. I had to relive that whole time, which at least meant that it all came to the surface and I could then deal with it.

Q: You talk about your family being assimilated and not practicing Judaism. Was your family not very religious?

A: Obviously not. Assimilated means just that; that they were NOT religious, did not keep the dietary laws, did not go to temple, did not keep the holidays, etc. We practiced nothing at all.

Q: Did they observe the High Holy Days? Can you summarize your views about religion, faith and God as a young child?

A: No, as stated above, they observed nothing at all. As a young child I had no views about God, religion, faith or anything like it. So there is nothing to summarize.  I came to all this much, much later.

Q: As to the “Jewish star,” you mention that it had to be firmly adhered to all clothing. Where did your family buy the printed, yellow fabric?

A: As I found out much later, after the war and when I was in my 40’s, we, in my family, bought the stars at one of the local temples. There were several places like that, depending on where you lived.  They didn’t cost much but they had to be BOUGHT and a rationing coupon for material was necessary, as well.

Q: Were the stars sewn to every piece of clothing? If so, how long did that take your mother and grandmother to complete?

A: Yes, to every piece of outer clothing – not onto underwear. But if you wore a blouse and a sweater, for example, then it had to be on both pieces of clothing. I have no idea how long it took my mother and grandmother to do that. I do remember that my mother put the stars into a solution of vinegar and water. They were not color-proof and if you didn’t do that, the yellow would bleed onto the material of your dress, shirt or something like that. So they needed to be soaked like that first and after that they were all right.

Q: When you discovered that your friend Peg and her family had been taken away, what did you think had happened to them?

A: I didn’t know for sure, of course, but thought that either they had been “taken away” as we called it, i.e. arrested, or that they had gone into hiding. I didn’t know much about hiding, but had heard of it.

Q: How old were you before you realized what the Nazis were doing to Jews in the East?

A: I had no idea whatsoever what the Germans were doing to the Jews in the East. Not even most adults knew that. All we knew, and especially we children, was that we never got card or letter and never heard from any of them again. So we figured it must be very bad indeed. Most of us heard the word “Auschwitz” after the war for the first time. I, as a person, did not find out until one day I looked for something to read in my parents’ book case (I was allowed to do that) and found a hidden book about what I now know as Auschwitz. There were many photos and I figured out in no time that this was what had happened to the Jews who were transported out of Westerbork and Theresienstadt where I had been. It was obvious that they could not possibly have survived. I was at home alone that day and I was 15 years old.

Q: Your paternal grandparents must have known what awaited them at Auschwitz. How did they know it would be better to die by their own hands than to face the horrors of Auschwitz?

A: I don’t know whether they or my maternal grandmother actually KNEW what awaited them at Auschwitz. According to my father, they figured that they were too old to go through all of that, too old to “work” (they were told about work camps, after all), too old to “relocate.” My paternal grandfather was a pharmacist and gave poison to my maternal grandmother, to his own wife and to my father’s family, i.e. my parents and me. My paternal grandmother used it when her name appeared on the list for the next transport from Westerbork; she was there with us.

Q: If it is not too painful, can you talk more about your Omi’s death in Westerbork, July 1943, and how it affected you?

With her Omi Marta in 1935

A: It is not painful, since I have long ago accepted it and think, in fact, that she and my other grandparents were heroes for doing this. I don’t know that I would have had the courage, or would have the courage today, in fact. I know that my father told me at the time that Omi was ill and had to go to the “hospital”–yes, there was one in Westerbork. Then, the next day, he told me that she had died. He did not then tell me that she had committed suicide. That came out many years after the war, when I must have been about 16 or 17 years old. Affected: I missed her a lot, especially at first. She was the one, when she lived with us, to help me with multiplication tables, sewed clothes for my doll, taught me how to braid hair. I missed all of that. But the, Westerbork was such a bad place that children grew up overnight and I became more independent and played less if at all.

Q: In your book, you said that it took approximately eight days to make the 80-mile trip by train to Westerbork and only two days from there to Theresienstadt. Why do you think the train to Westerbork took so long? Were you given any water or food inside the cattle car?

A: No, I didn’t say that at all. I said that we were “picked up” (arrested) early in the morning – about 9:00 am and that we had to wait around in various places till about noon. We arrived in Westerbork at about 11:00 pm which is 12 (twelve) hours. Today, by train, car or bus, it takes 2 hours, traffic permitting. We were not given any water or food in the cattle car to Westerbork, nor immediately after arrival. It did take two (2) days to Theresienstadt; we left on January 18, 1943 and arrived on January 20, 1943. I don’t remember whether we were given either food or water on that trip. I doubt it, though. As for the 12 hours to Westerbork, the train was probably shunted onto side rails when another train or troop train had to pass. That was the Germans’ usual procedure.

(Editor’s note: I missed a typo in the question, above, when I e-mailed it to Ms. Silten. Page 78 of Gabriele’s book Between Two Worlds says “it was a journey of at least eight hours,” not eight days. My apologies.)

Q: At the two camps, many of your friends were deported further East. Did you have any idea what that meant?

A: No, I didn’t. Even though I was a child, we children overheard the conversations between adults, if only because it was so overcrowded that you had no distance from one another. The adults didn’t know either; none of us had heard the name Auschwitz, not till much later. We didn’t know about extermination camps, gas chambers or anything of the kind. All I knew was that my friends were gone; had disappeared and that we never heard from them again, no cards, no letters. Just emptiness.

Q: Do you think that your father’s occupation as a pharmacist had any bearing on how you were treated at the camps?

Gabriele at age 5

A: Yes, I do, but didn’t learn that until a year or so ago. It appears that a friend and business friend of my grandfather’s convinced the Germans that my father was an inventor who was in the process of inventing a spray or something like that which would help wounded soldiers in the field. Then this same guy sent my father various instruments, etc. (like Bunsen burners) to Theresienstadt and my father was able to convince the Germans that he was really working very hard on this. It was all a fairy tale, my father was no inventor and had no plans for such a spray or whatever. But we stayed in Theresienstadt instead of being transported to Auschwitz which we certainly would not have survived.

Q: After the war, did you suffer at all from “survivor’s guilt” once you knew how many had perished (more than 80 percent of Holland’s Jewish population, according to Robert S. Wistrich)?

A: No, I didn’t and don’t now. Directly after the war, every adult, incl. my parents told me – and the other surviving children – to forget about all of that, not to think about it, we needed to go back to school; our job was to do well there and to think of the future. They also told us that, since we were “only” children, we couldn’t possibly have suffered, we couldn’t possibly remember anything and especially not correctly, that we, basically, had not know anything out of the ordinary had happened. We all know better now, but then that was the idea.  I had no idea how many children or Jews in general had been murdered (I NEVER use the word “perish”. One “perishes” from a disease; one “dies” of disease or old age, etc. and if one is “lost”, then one can be found. One loses one’s keys, etc. but not people, not in those circumstances. In the camps and other places, Jews were murdered. So that is the word I use. Words are important to me and I like to use the correct one when possible. In this case that is the word “murdered”). I did not know any numbers until I was in my twenties or thirties and started doing some research for myself.

Q: Before the war, it seems that you were a very inquisitive little girl, but by war’s end, you had learned not to ask too many questions. What questions did you have for your parents after your safe return to Holland?

A: None! I wasn’t supposed to ask questions so I didn’t. On the few occasions when I did dare to ask anything, I’d get a very vague answer. Like – question: where are the X family? Answer: Oh well, they, ehhh. they didn’t come back. Which was jargon, for they had been murdered. Jargon, incidentally, which survivors still use today. We still use the same phrase. Eventually, actually very soon, I stopped asking questions and started trying to find out things for myself – about when I was 16 or so.

Q: In your ID picture taken after you returned to Amsterdam in 1945 you have a decent amount of hair. Did you ever have your head shaved due to lice?

A: No, I didn’t ever have my head shaved, though I saw plenty of people – both men and women – who did. The men would just walk around with their shaven head (as they do now, and guess what THAT reminds me of????) but the women wore a headscarf over their shaven heads. One knew anyway why they did, but it just looked better that way. In fact, I never had lice in camp; my mother made sure that I stayed clean or at least as clean as one could stay. I did have lice, ironically, before deportation, in2nd grade because my friends and I exchanged caps. So we all ended up with the lice that one of us had!

Q: In the months leading up to your liberation from Theresienstadt, it seemed that you had lost hope. Is there one thing to which you can attribute your survival?

A: Not really. I had lost hope, especially after my friend Hans had been deported. I didn’t think that the war or the camp, etc. would ever end; it would just go on and on. I don’t know what made me go on; all I can tell you is that I had then and have now a very good imagination. So basically what I did all throughout those years was change things around in my mind: the real reality became fantasy – unreal. It didn’t exist. My fantasy, my imagination became reality; in my mind I could go where I wanted, I could fly from the attic of the barracks to outside Theresienstadt; I could be anywhere. Maybe that helped, I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on what really kept me alive, either at the beginning or towards the end.

Q: Did you or your family ever return to Germany?

A: My parents did a couple of times for a visit to a museum or some such thing. My father also went twice to the Frankfurt Fair which was a business fair, probably something to do with pharmaceuticals since he was a pharmacist.  I HAD to go for reparation business in (I think) 1995 and HATED it. All I could see was Nazis marching and swastika flags flying and I heard boots on cobble stones. I knew that it wasn’t real, it was in my mind but I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!  It was absolutely horrible and I swore I would never go back and indeed I haven’t gone back and won’t. My father wanted – as I learned much later – in my thirties – to return to Germany to live, but my mother put her foot down and said NO !!!!!, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES. We stayed in Holland.

Q: How did the experience of the Holocaust affect your outlook on life?

A: Probably 100 %. I do not trust people easily if at all, I am suspicious by nature, I feel at home only with other survivors. It has made me want to do better than other people (this also goes for other Child Survivors and probably adults as well). I didn’t want children if I had married (which I didn’t) because I find this not a world into which to produce a child. On the other side, as I said earlier, I was brought up in an assimilated way, but in 1984 or 1985 came to a belief system. I was looking for “something” and it never even occurred to me to look outside of Judaism. I was introduced to the local Hillel rabbi who turned out to be a son of survivors. He talked to me and I went to see him every week for an hour even though he was, of course, there for the students at the colleges and not necessarily for the community, in any case not as a counselor. But he took me on all the same, answered my questions, gave me books to read and invited me to the Hillel Friday night services. There have been several rabbis since then at Hillel and I stayed with Hillel for a long time. Meanwhile I also became member of a temple – locally – . Now there is a new rabbi at Hillel and I have outgrown Hillel, I think, after about 20 years. I go to temple regularly and love it. I love the traditions, the music and everything that goes with temple going.

Q: Aside from what you’ve already covered in the book and these interview questions, is there anything you’d like to share for my blog audience?

A: Yes, I think so. In my opinion the only way to avoid genocides and other holocausts is to accept people the way they are. People talk about “tolerance” but I don’t like that word because it makes me feel that I am saying: “I don’t like you but I won’t say anything.” What I mean is that I accept people exactly the way they are, odds and quirks and all. One can try discussion and talks, and one can try to change people’s minds, but one doesn’t always succeed. Prejudice comes from ignorance, from not knowing what the other is about. So to get rid of prejudice one needs education, one needs to be taught that “other” is not “bad” just “different.” I try to live my life that way and hope I am succeeding. I’d like to add that most of our Child Survivors are in the “helping professions,” i.e. teachers, social workers, lawyers, doctors, etc., in a MUCH higher percentage than the “regular” population. Interesting, isn’t it?

###

Titles by R. Gabriele S. Silten:

Between Two Worlds: Autobiography of a Child Survivor of the Holocaust, Fithian Press, Santa Barbara, 1999, ISBN 1564741265

Is The War Over?: Postwar Years of a Child Survivor of the Holocaust, Fithian Press, McKinleyville, Calif., 2004, ISBN 1564744299

The Past Is Never Far Away: Unpublished Prose and Poetry from the Years 1979 to 2006, ©2007 R. Gabriele S. Silten

High Tower Crumbling: poems by R. Gabriele S. Silten, Fithian Press, Santa Barbara, 1991, ISBN 0931832861 (out of print)

Dark Shadows, Bright Life: poems by R. Gabriele S. Silten, Fithian Press, Santa Barbara, 1998, ISBN 1564742539

Related Links:

Ruth Gabriele Silten on USHMM site

Gabriele on Children of the Holocaust site 

Her testimony on Westerbork

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

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– 

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)

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!

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)

“The stoppage of all tears”

Posted in ghetto, holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 24, 2009 by indyretreats

A Polish Jew from Bransk, interviewed by Eva Hoffman for her book Shtetl, remembers a young Jewish refugee from the Warsaw ghetto who had lost his father. “How come he don’t cry?,” asks Jack Rubin, to which Ms. Hoffman replies, “there is a certain level of terror that causes the stoppage of all tears” (Shtetl, p. 217).

Somehow, though, Jack managed to cry. An old man when he was interviewed by Ms. Hoffman, Jack tells the story of leaving his parents behind in Nazi-occupied Poland. Through tears, he recalls the events of November 1942 when the Bransk ghetto was liquidated, more than 2,000 Jews sent to their death at Treblinka and others who hid in the ghetto were subsequently found and murdered (People in Bransk long remembered Jewish corpses floating in the river with their throats slit and the water running bloody). At the time, Jack and his family had managed to escape to a nearby farm. “Once there, they had to figure out what to do next. Jack’s father asked him what was going to happen. Jack said that things looked very bad, and he would try to hide in the woods. His parents decided they were too old for that, and they would go back to the ghetto voluntarily…it was the last time he saw his parents” (pp. 225-226).

Rubin seated left during presentation on Capitol Hill

Rubin seated left during presentation on Capitol Hill

After surviving in the woods for days, Jack returned to the farm where he had parted ways with his parents. Reuniting with his brother’s family and about a dozen other refugees, Jack made his way towards the Bialystok ghetto. Jack was the only one of fourteen to make it. “This is one of the points in the story where Jack has to pause, his face contorting with suppressed tears. ‘And now I blame myself…In the woods I never cried. When others cried, I said we shouldn’t cry because our families got killed, we should cry because we’re still alive’” (p. 230).

On August 1, 1944, after Russian advances pushed back the German army, Jack deserted his hideout in the woods and walked down the open road “in broad daylight.” His Polish farmer friend who had provided refuge to he and his family came out to meet him. The farmer spread out his hands and exclaimed, “you survived!” That’s the first time during the whole ordeal that Jack cried (p. 233).

Jack Rubin did survive the Holocaust and eventually came to America, where he opened a clothing store in Baltimore. He “preside[d] over a small community of people in Baltimore who call themselves ‘Branskers.’ Some of them left Bransk before the war. A few, like Rubin, survived the Holocaust in Poland” (PBS Frontline, 1996). As of 2008, Jack lived in Florida and remained outspoken about Holocaust reparations (April ’08 Blog link; 2007 AP Story linked from this forum).

SOURCE:

Shtetl: the life and death of a small town and the world of Polish Jews by Eva Hoffman ©1997 Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, ISBN 0395822955

“Shtetl” by Marian Marzynski, director, PBS FRONTLINE Show #1320, Air Date: April 17, 1996 (©2005 WGBH Educational Foundation)