Archive for nazi invasion

Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard – Death of a “hidden” child

Posted in holocaust with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2010 by indyretreats

When you think of the “hidden children of the Holocaust,” the images those words conjure are probably Jewish kids on a freedom-bound train or hidden in a small space in someone’s attic. Rachel Sarai was a very German-looking Jewish child hidden in plain sight of the “stupid Krauts,” as she calls them. But while this 7-year-old girl was certainly a heroine, she was not a child, for Rachel lost her childhood at a very early age.

Author Deborah Rey takes an autobiographical look back at the war years in Holland, but does so through the eyes of a fictional heroine and the book’s namesake. And if Deborah’s early childhood was fractionally as horrific as young Rachel’s, then I have deep sorrow and sympathy for her.

Rachel was subjected to grisly adult images—some of them inhuman—at such an early age you may wonder how she survived to adulthood with any fragment of normalcy. And a fragment it surely must be.

The harrowing story is told in flashbacks from casket-side at the funeral of Rachel’s awful mother figure. She recalls in graphic detail the abuse she endured at the evil step mother’s hands while her father, aunt and her real mother looked helplessly on. When I say graphic detail, I mean the vulgar, mind-numbing, atrocious, grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it sort. During one of the late chapters, I actually threw the book to the floor in disgust. There are parts that are THAT revolting. But a book about the horrors of World War II would be less than honest if it were any less so. A short break and a talk with my spouse later, I was able to resume and finish the novel. It took me more than two weeks.

It was the hardest book I’ve ever read.

Do I recommend it? If you can stomach details of abortion, graphic sex, rape and abuse, then by all means. This book details all of those horrors. But it is by all counts a realistic picture of one survivor’s hell…and a survivor’s tale it is. The war ends when Rachel is just seven, but long after she’s lost her childhood for obvious reasons. She tells of the arduous journey towards forgiveness and moving past the deep emotional wounds that only family can inflict. She finds peace in the arms of a beloved aunt and her second husband Jonathan. She also learns the truth about her birth mother, but not from any of the people who should have told her. 

I herald Rachel a heroine, but not just because she survives it all. She was actively involved in the Dutch Resistance movement, helping keep her father and many other Jews safe from the Nazis. Leading fugitives at night through the woods and moors to a Swedish safehouse, young Rachel saves countless Jewish lives. Much of her success is due to the fact that she remains hidden in plain sight under long golden hair and behind brilliant green eyes. No one ever suspects her as a Jew and she refuses to wear a yellow star. She avoids danger every time she encounters a German soldier by flashing an innocent smile and skipping past as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Little did the Nazis know that in her wooden clogs or hidden beneath layers of clothing, she was transporting secrets or weapons to various checkpoints and hideouts within the Dutch Resistance. 

Rachel Sarai’s Vineyard is not for the faint of heart. The language is vulgar and some of the scenes depicted are even worse. It is brutally honest, though, intriguing and moving. By the end, I had given up on fighting back tears. It is sure to move you, too, if it doesn’t sicken you first.

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

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


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, “…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

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.



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

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)

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.


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].

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. shares a unique perspective on this perplexing issue.

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

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

[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

“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).


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)