Aaron lives in Chicago, Illinois, USA
Good Afternoon, Honorable Mayor, (Mrs. Daley,) Distinguished guests, Fellow Survivors (by whose presence I am truly humbled), Students, Ladies and Gentleman
The questions ladies and gentlemen is why do we speak about the holocaust? Why do I speak?
I speak because I can still be heard. Our voices are being extinguished by time! And very soon, when we are no longer here, who will speak for us? The revisionists and deniers are out there. and multiplying
When we think about the holocaust, we perceive the killers to be crazed and deranged people. Not so my friends… they were ordinary people. Husbands, wives, sisters and brothers. Some had loving families and were loved by those families. Went to church prayed to God
and were convinced that they were doing Gods (and Hilter’s) work by exterminating these sub humans (Untermenschen). The Jew. Six million of them, including one and one half million children. No different from your brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren. Why? Because they were Jewish. Why is this relevant now? It is relevant because we are still killing each other because of our differences.
4.IF WE are ever going to change and stop this insanity, It has to start with the young people. I ask that you not be by-standers Stand up speak up when you hear another student being picked on or isolated because they they are different than you, Remember and believe this. You are very strong you can accomplish wonderful things with
your lives. I say and believe this with all my heart. I did things as a young boy that I couldn’t imagine a young child of 10 could have done, but he did it because he wanted to live. You should believe in yourselves. Nothing is impossible if you want it bad enough.
Please allow me to share with you part of my childhood during the Holocaust
Good Afternoon, Honorable Mayor, (Mrs. Daley,) Distinguished guests, Fellow Survivors (by whose presence I am truly humbled), Students, Ladies and Gentleman. This afternoon I will be sharing with you what my life, my thinking, my fears and hopes of survival were during the Holocaust. I put some notes together as to how I felt when I was 9 and 10 years. of age. I would like to speak to you through my child’s memory. Where and how did we as children get, the strength, the will, the cunning to think as adults to live through those amazingly scary days, where each day was a challenge to survive. And you live for tomorrow. Please share with me part of my childhood during the Holocaust!
My name is Aaron.
It is 1940, and I am 8 years old. The German soldiers have taken over the town that I live in, Sokolow, Podlaski, in Poland. I have two sisters. Irene who is older and A baby sister named Sarah. My parents own a meat market. Most of our business is done with the gentile population in and around the town. They are our friends and neighbors.
Every Thursday the farmers from the surrounding area come to the town square near the place where my parents have their shop. These farmers arrive in horse-drawn wagons, which are filled with vegetables, fruit and livestock – and the marketplace becomes filled with stands that are loaded with cloth, tools and all the sorts of supplies and products that farmers can always use.
My memory is still filled with those sights: the bright hot sun, the Sounds of voices, the laughter, the smells of fresh food – even the smell of horse manure – all of these separate impressions mingled together to create an exciting atmosphere that I thought was just wonderful
I thought it would last forever. But then life began to change. And everything is different now.
The Germans say I can’t go to school because I am Jewish. Kids call me names, like, “Dirty Jew” and “Christ Killer.” I don’t understand. I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m not sure I even understand what names like that mean.
I go to Religious School, which is taught by one of my uncles. He’s a big man with a long red beard. He is very strict and tells us about Heaven and Hell and about being pious and respectful to everyone. We Learn about the Ten Commandments and about being righteous.
We go to the teacher’s apartment for classes, and we sit at a long wooden table and repeat over and over what the Rabbi reads to us
We are told that if we don’t follow the teachings of the Bible, we will never get to Heaven. Sometimes I have bad dreams at night. The things the teacher tells us scare me. I’m afraid of not being able to go to Heaven if I don’t follow all the Commandments. This is the first time I begin to think about death and dying. It frightens me.
In my dreams, I never quite make it up to Heaven on this long ladder.
Every time I commit an infraction of my Rabbi’s teachings a rung is
taken out of the ladder. I fear my soul will wander forever and never
The German soldiers really scare me with their uniforms, their high black boots, and steel helmets. I see them grab old men of the streets and shear their beards off while their comrades take pictures of these humiliated Jews. Jews can’t walk on the sidewalk when a German is present. All Jews are forced to wear a yellow Star
The gendarmes and the police are everywhere. They are mean and beat
people in my town, for no reason that I can understand, except for the fact that these people are Jewish.
When they come into the area that they force us to live in, the ghetto, people try to run and hide. They grab people off the streets and beat them and take them away, and we never see them again. Rumors are every where. People talk about the work camps that they are being sent to. No one ever comes back from those camps, the concentration camps. Everyone is whispering that the people being killed, and not just killed but burnt in ovens, and sometimes people are killed and dumped in big graves. They say we are being exterminated, like when you exterminate bugs in your pantry. but I don’t understand what they mean.
Yes, everything is different now.
Old people and children walk the streets with torn and dirty clothes begging for food. Children are dying because there is not enough food for them to eat. And now there are dead children lying on the sidewalks, and people just walk around them. It’s a common sight now. Eventually a crew comes and throws them on a wagon and they are dumped in a mass grave.
We live surrounded by big brick walls and sharp wire that will cut you if you touch it. We are trapped. We can not walk out of our area, the ghetto.
Things are getting really scary. It is getting worse and worse. More
and more people are being taken away and sent to the death camp near our town. It is called Treblinka.
One night my father is dragged out of our house by the German police. They beat him with a wooden stick until his arm is broken. Then they take him and put him with other people that are to be shipped to Treblinka’s. death camp. But my dad escapes somehow and makes his way back home.
My uncle Label is not so lucky. He is only sixteen years old, but he is caught in one of the round-ups and is put with hundreds of other Jews on crowded cattle cars that goes to Treblinka. My uncle knows that when this train reaches Treblinka they will all be murdered, so he finds a way to jump off the train while it is moving. But a guard sees him and shoots at him. A bullet goes all the way through my uncle’s neck and on into his arm, but he doesn’t die. He makes his way back to the ghetto. When he returns, most of the people are afraid to help him because Gestapo and the local police may be looking for him and anyone who helps him will also be killed. He sneaks back to our house, and we hear from him what has happened. I see the terrible infected wounds in his neck and arm. Soon these wounds kill him.
Now I am so scared. What is going to happen? We know that we all will probably be taken to Treblinka. The fear of death and the pain that comes with dying are always on my mind. Pain and death are all around me. I can’t stop thinking about what has happened, what is happening, what might happen.
I always pray to God to save us. Why do we have to die? What did we do? What terrible sins did we commit? Why do the Germans hate us so much? Why are so many other people helping them? What did I ever do?
But my questions to God never get answered.
It is 1942, and I am 10 years old.
In September the German Gestapo and the Ukrainian soldiers plus the local police surround and invade the ghetto and start the final killing, and liquidation of the Jewish people that are still alive. They are searching the streets of the ghetto trying to find any Jews that are still hiding. The Jews that they find are shot on the spot or are chased over into the town marketplace. Guards are running back and forth hitting people, cursing them, We know that all these people will be killed. We also know that the same fate will await us if we are discovered. And that is why we are hiding. My family and neighbors are hiding inside a double wall in the attic. It is very scary, and everyone is afraid. It is the morning after the Day of Atonement. There must be at least forty or more people up here with us in this hiding place. People are whispering and telling each other to keep quiet so we won’t be discovered. One of the little children starts to cry, and I watch in disbelief as a pillow is placed down on that child’s face to stifle the noise. And now it is quiet. There is silence. Total silence. I dare not make a sound, but my body is shaking because I am afraid that I will die. I am afraid that all of us will die. My parents are sitting next to me. They are making sure that my little, six-year old sister, Sarah doesn’t utter a single sound. Now I hear footsteps and loud commands, and soon the wall behind which we are hiding is ripped away and then the SS start shooting into our hiding place. People are lying all around me, bleeding and dying. I know these people. They are not bad people. They have done nothing wrong. They are like me, just like me. A Bullet hits the wall next to where I’m sitting. A splinter of wood breaks off and gets embedded in my upper lip, and blood is running down into my mouth.
My parents are being forced to climb out of the hiding place. My father has my little sister, Sarah, in his arms. I crawl out behind them. My father’s back shields me from the blows of the Ukrainian guards.
As we are chased down the stairs, a guard with a club in his hand pulls my mother out of line and takes her away from us. We are afraid that she might be killed, but later I find out that the guard has taken her away to be part of a cleanup detail.to pack Jewish belongings to be shipped to Germany.
The rest of us are all lined up against the wall in front of our home.
My little sister and I are standing right next to our father. Guards are screaming at us, “Dirty Jews,” and anyone who is near a guard gets hit with a club or a whip. People are being smashed against the wall.
I watch an SS man shoots one of the women. Blood is running from
her head into the street. I know this woman. She was our neighbor.
Guards are walking back and forth barking orders. I try not to look at
them. My eyes are stuck to the ground. I am convinced that if I don’t
look at their faces they will not see me. But I cannot control my fear,
and my whole body starts to shake again. I cannot stop shaking, but I
don’t cry. I still do not make a sound.
I look up, and everywhere I look people are screaming and being shot.
People are being dragged out of their houses, beaten, clubbed and chased to a field in back of our house where they are shot and thrown into a mass grave. The rest like us are chased up to the main marketplace in the middle of town. but one of the older man in our building can’t keep up with the rest, and he falls. A guard kicks him until he no longer moves, and then he just walks away.
While we are waiting, they make us sit in a square in the middle of the
market. a guard sits in the middle of the square with a machine gun
and keeps turning and pointing it at everyone. I don’t know if I will
be shot. Other Gestapo guards are walking around us and beating people
if they are not lined up in exactly the right way.
Sarah and I are sitting next to my dad. My sister
is too young to understand what is going on. She thinks we are all
going on a trip and has brought some dried (farfell)food that is wrapped up in paper.(A Handkerchief)
I am terrified of the pain I imagine that comes with death.
I shake with fear. I don’t want to die! I keep praying to God to spare me, but then I wonder! why he would save me? There are other children that are better behaved than I am. There are other children that are much more pious than I. These are the ones who will be saved. Not me.!
We are sitting there and I start to cry. Why is God allowing this to happen? I don’t want to die. I am afraid of the pain that I fear comes with death
My father tells me I should run and try to escape. Maybe I could make my way to where my sister Irene has been hidden. You see, before the liquidation, my parents had placed my older sister, Irene, with a friendly Polish couple, Mr. and Mrs. Gurski, for safety. My sister was chosen because a girl was easier to disguise as a non-Jew. My parents paid them money. But I do know where my sister is hiding. So, I crawl behind the people sitting next to me, and inch my way slowly on my stomach, away from there and into the sewer that runs along the edge of the street. It seems like it takes forever. Will they see me? Will they shoot me? Perhaps I wont feel the pain,if I am shot in the back. Finally I stand and run. No one notices me. nobody is screaming. No one is shooting at me. Why? I don’t understand.
I run into the cellar of one of the empty houses and I hide there that
day and night. The next morning I sneak out of the house and run
over to where the walls with barbed wire fence surround the ghetto and crawl through those barbed wires, and now I am free! I have escaped! I run and keep on running until at last I come to a farm near our town. There are some survivors there that tell me that my mother is still alive. She is part of a labor group. I walk back to the Ghetto and find my mother. She helps hide me while she is working and at night we are together. One evening we run away together to some other farms farther away from our town. During the day we hide in the forests and barns, and at night we sneak out and ask farmers for food. Sometimes we are lucky and they give us a place to hide and some food. Other times they chase us away and tell us they are going to turn us over to the Germans. This goes on for many weeks.
My mother tells me that I must go back to the town and see if Mrs. Gurski will take me in. My mother gives me some jewelry that she has and tells me to give this jewelry to the Gurskis or anyone else that will help me. I am deeply hurt because I don’t understand her motives. I feel abandoned. I cry and yet I later realize that had we not separated, I would surely not have survived.
I try to live on my own. I hide in the woods and barns. I dig up potatoes and sugar beats that the farmers have buried to keep them from freezing and those raw potatoes become my diet.
One night in desperation, I knock on a farmer’s door and plead with him to help me. I give him the jewelry that my mother gave me. At first he agrees and I’m taken down into the cellar of the farmhouse. One of the members of his family brings me hot soup and fresh bread. This is the first hot food I’ve eaten in a very long time. I am overjoyed with the hope that they will hide me. Soon I am asked to come up from the cellar and am told that they are in fear of their lives because the Germans might discover that they are helping a Jew. So, they return my mother’s jewelry to me and tell me to give myself up to the authorities because there is no longer any future for people like me.
So I walk back to the ghetto, but everything is different now. There is nobody left. The streets are empty and eerie! The ghetto is completely dark and silent. It scares me. I walk into one of the empty houses and go to sleep on the floor
The next morning, early so no one would see me, I start walking to the Gurskis. No one is in the streets, but even so, I am still worried that someone will see me.
When Mrs. Gurski sees me, she is angry and yells at me for coming there. She tells me that I am dangerous because if the Germans find out they are helping Jews, they will kill everyone. She tells me that my sister isn’t here anymore, and she wants me to leave right now. I beg and cry for her to help me to let me hide in her attic, even if only for a little while. I guess because I look really sick and because I am begging for help, she finally agrees to let me stay in the attic, but only for a few days, and then after that, I must leave and find my mother again.
So Mrs. Gurski takes me up to the attic and gives me a pail to use as a toilet. A sack of straw is placed over in the corner where the roof and floor meet and If I stay in a place like this Mrs. Gurski thinks no one will be able to see me if anyone comes up the stairs. I crouch up with my knees against my chest like a little baby and try to keep warm. The floor of the attic is dried dirt and the roof is made of tin plates, which are freezing to the touch. It is very cold. Although there are no windows, even so, some light shines through separations of the roof, and in the morning the inside of the roof is white with ice and frost that have formed during the night because it is so cold.
The Gurskis live upstairs in their house. Two other families live on the first floor. Next to their apartment is an attic. Mrs. Gurski does not come up to the attic again until the next day She gives me some soup and bread, she tells me that I am a terrible burden and that I am placing everyone in a very dangerous situation.
A few days later my sister appears. She is allowed to come up to the attic with some hot water so that I can wash, but it is useless. I am so full of lice and other bugs that even hot water doesn’t do any good. So my sister leaves and I am left alone again.
Mrs. Gurski tells me she should never have taken me in. She is afraid if she throws me out and the Germans catch me, that I will probably tell them that she and her husband have helped me. Then, they would be killed for helping Jews.
Why did she listen to our mother? The news about the war is always bad and it seems to be getting worse. The Germans say they are winning the war. They are going to conquer the whole world. What will happen if they do?
Slowly, those few days turn into weeks and those weeks eventually turn into years
I live in that attic for nearly two years
All that time I stay in one corner of the attic and I am always cold
and always hungry. I never get to take a bath, brush my teeth or cut my hair. Hunger gives me pains in my stomach. Will the pain ever go away? When will Mrs. Gurski bring me some food? I am always trying to remember: “What it was like to be full?”
In the attic there is a place where the wooden walls meet the tin plates that form the roof, and I pry open a little spot between them so that I can look down into the yard behind the house. And there in the backyard I see a little girl, the youngest daughter of one of the families that live below the place where I am hiding. The little girl is eating strawberries. I will never forget that little girl or the strawberries. Down there, there is a child eating strawberries and life is fairly normal. Up here, I am hiding for my life!
If I were not Jewish my life would be like hers. I am beset with envy. Why was I born Jewish..Why couldn’t I be like her.
Mrs. Gurski made an arrangement with our mother to hide only one child, but now there are two of us here. She is angry with our mother for sending me to the place where my sister is hiding. Mrs. Gurski accepted my sister. She thought my sister Irene could possibly pass as a gentile, but I could not. I would be more readily recognized as a Jew because I was circumcised, and Polish boys were not in those days.
Since my mother chose my sister as the one who could be saved, by my coming here now I am jeopardizing my sister’s existence as well as their own.
So by being here I am creating an even more dangerous situation for all of them, and that is why everyone wants me to leave. I feel that everyone hates me. Nobody at all even cares if I survive. No one but me. I want to live!
My days in the attic are spent in constant fear of being discovered. I always worry about being thrown out or being caught by the Germans. What if they catch me? Will they torture me and force me to tell them who is hiding me and helping me? Will they kill me? Why do I have to die? What did I do? What sins did I do? Did I offend someone? Who? Why? How?
So I sit in silence. My days and nights are very lonely. There are no friends for me to play with except… except when it rains. Rain becomes my welcome friend, because when it rains, the rain hits the tin plates that form the roof and makes such aloud noise against the tin that I am able to scream, cry and even sing. This lets out whatever is pent-up inside of me.
I am also filled with dreams. I try to imagine that this all would soon be over, and I would see my mother and father and sisters again. Yes, I try to imagine that we will all be together again and then I am not cold or scared anymore. And I am not hungry. No more hunger. No more pain in my stomach from not enough food, and finally no more loneliness.
But everything is different now.
Out of 6000 Jewish people that lived in our town only 29 survived. Only two children survived on their own. My sister Irene and I.
My dad dies in the death camp at Treblinka.
And my mother, My mother survives in hiding and than four months before liberation she is turned over to the Germans by a local Polish farmer. She is tied to a wagon and brought into town to the German Gestapo, and is shot in the town cemetery.
And my little sister Sarah who has been breaking my heart for most of my adult life dies on the way to the gas chambers of Treblinka. Or perhaps she dies inside the gas chambers, or maybe,…maybe they have discovered some other unspeakable way to kill an innocent six-year old girl who is alone with no one that loves her at her side. Noone knows. No one will ever know.
I will never know!
Everything is different now.
My name is Aaron,
Thank you for listening