Dec 082015
 

When “the last witnesses” are gone, the last survivors and child survivors are gone….  who will bear witness in the museums, who will speak to the visitors and to the students, who will go into the schools, who will do the personal interviews for school projects… who will remind the world what occurred so long ago, yet for survivors a few minutes ago, yesterday…

These are some of the questions being asked, sometimes just in silent thoughts, or  now more often in speeches or in writing, as below…

http://www.washingtonian.com/articles/people/what-happens-to-the-holocaust-museum-when-the-last-survivors-are-gone/

Mar 262015
 

Jewish Child Survivors, Lost Childhood

A new website from the Claims Conference, German Office.

www.JewishChildSurvivors.org <http://www.JewishChildSurvivors.org>

You can contact them to share your story. There is an exhibition to be shown in Frankfurt at the ZWST conference and in London at the conference of the Kindertransport children.

Claims Conference, Office for Germany
Sophienstraße 26  –  D -60487 Frankfurt am Main
Tel.: +49-69-970708-32  Fax: +49-69-970708-99
e-mail: Cornelia.Levi@claimscon.org <mailto:press@claims-frankfurt.de>

web: www.claimscon.de <http://www.claimscon.de/>

Feb 242013
 

We are pleased to be able to share R. Gabriele Silten’s book, Our Memories 2012.  Our Memories is a book of poems, memoirs, and other documents submitted by child survivors and their families for the 2012 Cleveland Conference.  Gabriele has announced that this will be the last memory book.

You can access Our Memories 2012 in several ways.  If you want to download a copy of the PDF file, you can click here.

stilten book cover

Note that it is rather large, at 100MB, so you may need to wait while it downloads.

You can read the book online on Scribd, an online reader, here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/126507899/Our-Memories-2012

 

 

 

 

Dec 142000
 

MORE FROM A WANDERER

I was born in Vienna, Austria on January 8, 1932. I was thus six years old at the time of the Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Germany).
We left Vienna on an overnight train to Venice from S?dbahnhof (South Station) at 10 P.M. on September 8, 1938. We continued on to Milan. Once my father had arranged passage, we went on to Genoa, whence we traveled on the “Conte Bianca Mano” (see James R. Ross, “Escape to Shanghai. A Jewish Community in China”, The Free Press, New York, 1994, facing page 142) to Bombay, where we arrived on October 3, 1938. We left India on the “S.S. President Grant” on April 27, 1941, reaching New York on June 3. Our wandereings came to and end, I would say, when my mother, brother, and I joined my father in Springfield, MA in May 1943.
Two incidents stick in my mind from Vienna from after the Anschluss:

I was with my mother, my aunt, and my cousin, who was about eight years old. We were standing on the sidewalk not far from the apartment house where we lived, but on the other side of a fairly major street. My cousin’s family lived about two blocks away from us. My mother and aunt were talking long and seriously. My cousin and I became impatient at the length of time that they were talking, paying no attention to us. Finally the two of us ran across the street. This was a contravention of very strict standing instructions, even if we did dutifully look for traffic first to the right and then to the left. What seriously upset me about the incident at the time was that our mothers did not even scold us. Looking back on the incident from more than 60 years later, it is evident that they had more serious worries.

The other was when my father once came home (I cannot place it in time relative to the incident above, but it must have been relatively early, since my father was still driving. The Germans confiscated his car eventually.) and told my mother, within my hearing, that a policeman had shot at him. I understood the words, but was unable to fit a plausible mental picture to the statement because it did not occur to me that my father meant the words literally. One of my mother’s most difficult tasks was to make me understand that a policeman was no longer someone to turn to if I got lost or was otherwise in trouble. In everything that she said to me, she was very much conscious of the fact that a six?year?old is likely to repeat anything said to him, and that had suddenly become dangerous.

What affected my mother the most — and she commented on it repeatedly — was the scattering of our extended family all over the globe. From our family people emigrated to India (we), Palestine, Dominican Republic, Switzerland, England, Dutch East Indies, China, and Colombia. Several managed to make their way, like us, to the United States, and after the war there were further moves: from China to Colombia, U. S., and Canada; from the Dutch East Indies to Brazil and, via the Netherlands, back to Austria. In Austria we had been a very close family, with a great deal of visiting and telephoning back and forth.

My immediate family (parents and brother) all survived. My maternal grandparents, my parents’ siblings and their families, and most of their cousins survived. They managed to get out while the getting out was possible. If I remember correctly, a brother and two sisters?in?law of my maternal grandmother and two siblings of my paternal grandfather and their spouses were murdered by the Germans. My wife’s family fared much worse. Thirty-odd relatives of my mother-in-law were murdered.

Dec 142000
 

My parents were originally from a small town near the larger city of Lodz, in Poland. They came to live in Paris right after their marriage in 1930, and I was born there in August of 1931. Ours was a large family. My mother and father were cousins and each had six brothers and sisters. The two families were very close. They helped one another. My mother, for example, worked for her brother. Life was difficult, as far back as I can remember. The 30’s were, after all, depressions days. Work was hard to find. But, we had a life rich with companionship and caring for one another.

The war broke out in 1939; but the fighting was soon over. In the meantime, there was such fear of the impending German invasion in Paris that it started an exodus from the city. I remember the reasoning my mother had for my father’s leaving: The Germans would have no use for women and children, so we–my mother, and my twin sisters and I–would be safe enough in Paris, but she worried about my father and thought he should run away . And he did, along with many others. He and a friend took the road South together on foot. They were strafed on the way, and my father’s friend was killed as they walked side by side. My father made it all the way to Bordeaux; but, as soon as he got there, he had second thoughts. He began to wonder what he was doing there alone while we remained in Paris. So he hopped a freight train, and he came back.

I remember the Germans marching into Paris in 1940. I remember the air raids, the foul smell of the gas masks, the run on sugar, flour and other staples, the rationing, the rumors… Fear and worry began to hang in the air like a fog. First the Jews were ordered to register at the police station. Not long after that, we were told to turn in our radios. Then we were issued Stars of David to wear on our clothes. My mother was a finisher (tailor/seamstress)–she sewed linings into garments for a living. In my mind’s eye, I can still see her sewing that vivid yellow Jewish Star of David onto the left breast of our clothes. It was outlined in black, with the word “JUIF” written in the center in bold black letters – JEW, in French.

My mother refused to be intimidated. She wore that Star of David with pride. I’ll never forget the day she wore it on a tailored black suit one of her brothers had made for her–the way she stared down the German officer who was facing us in the first class metro car. By then, Jews were forbidden to ride in first class. And I was wearing the star that day on my best green plaid dress… I remember how I mimed my mother’s stand-tall posture, despite the fear, despite the danger.

The first raids took place in 1941–several of my uncles were arrested at that time. They were sent to so-called work camps. The last letter we received from one of them warned of some impending, but unnamed, danger. He had dropped it from the train that was taking him to Auschwitz–but, of course, he didn’t know that at the time. It was now 1942.

One of my uncles escaped from one of those work camps and actually made it back to Paris. He went into hiding for the next three years in his own apartment, never leaving it, day or night, never even looking out the curtained windows for fear he’d be denounced by a neighbor. His wife–who was French-born–had not registered herself or their two children.

The most devastating blow came on July 16 and 17 of that year, 1942, when thousands of Parisian Jews were arrested–among them more than 4,000 children. Rumors of a raid (or roundup) had been circulating for a while. Supposedly, it was to take place on July 14–Bastille Day, the most important French holiday, when France overthrew the Monarchy and became a Republic.

My mother was afraid that my father might be arrested and decided it would be best if he slept at my aunt’s apartment–she lived in the same building. My uncle had already been arrested the year before, so they would not be looking for him. But nothing happened on the 14th, and my father stayed on at my aunt’s apartment for a few days more, “just to play it safe.”

I didn’t hear the early morning knock on our door on the 16th–I always was a heavy sleeper. I just woke up to the sound of strange voices. Half asleep, I got up to find my mother at our dining room table. My twin sisters were up, but unusually quiet–they were two years younger than me.

Two policemen and a man in plain clothes were standing over my mother, questioning her as to my father’s whereabouts. She was lying to them. He’d left her, she said. She didn’t know where he’d gone to. He was just gone. She would tell them nothing. They finally gave up and said we were to dress, pack enough clothes and food for two days, and follow them.

They rushed us along without giving us time to even think. My mother grabbed this and that, and suddenly we were on the street, walking…. and as we walked, my mind was racing. There was such an eerie, unreal feeling about the familiar street. The sun was shining. It was a beautiful day, but the streets were deserted except for the other families I could see who were also being marched off. I looked up at neighbors’ windows, but they were all tightly shuttered. It was as though the city was empty and there was no one to see us, or hear us. Years later, I learned my father had watched us being marched off from my Aunt’s apartment window, helpless. They had come to my Aunt’s apartment also, but when they began to bang on the door, my Aunt slapped her hand across my little cousin’s mouth to muffle his cries, and she did not answer. After a while, they left.

When my mother, my sisters and I arrived at a sort of garage a couple of blocks from our apartment, we were made to wait on line until we reached a table where we were questioned again. Then we were loaded onto buses and transported to the Velodrome d’Hiver–a stadium where they would have bicycle races and boxing events. I still find it very hard to talk about the days I spent at the Vel d’Hiv, as it was called. We found my Aunt Sourcha and Uncle Itchik there with my cousin Rachel, who was just one year older than me–by then, I was almost 11. The 6 of us huddled together.

The air was green and thick with dust. There were people everywhere. I had never seen so many people in one place before. That afternoon, it began to rain through the leaky glass roof of the stadium, and my mother said G-d was crying for us. At one point, the women started to call out for milk for their babies, and the stadium was filled with their voices for a long time. The place was a mad house. I remember waiting to go to the bathroom on a very long line that never moved, and people saying the toilets were not working. I don’t remember ever reaching the bathroom.

In a book written about those terrible days at the Vel d’Hiv, I later read that there were about 7,000 people crammed into the stadium–out of some 13,000 who were arrested those two days in July–and that there were not enough toilet facilities. People were urinating and defecating wherever they could, and the smell was insufferable, but I remember none of that, thank G-d.

On the third day, my mother fainted–probably because she had not been eating–and she was taken to the center of the stadium, which they had designated for the sick. My Aunt Sourcha said they wouldn’t let me in to see her, but she couldn’t dissuade me. I found my way down to the lower level, and I snuck in through the crowd.

I saw a woman there dressed in black, rocking back and forth–she looked dazed. I stared at her, trying to understand. Someone said that she had killed her little boy by hitting him over the head with a bottle, and now she was crazy. There was also talk about a woman who had killed herself by jumping from the bleachers.

When I finally found my mother, she was begging someone to let her go because she was sick, and he was answering that she would first have to spit blood, and they might not let her go even then. I took her hand and I gently pulled her away from him and, as we made our way back stepping over the bodies of all those sick people who were sprawled across the floor, we spotted someone we knew. She was the social service nurse who had arranged for my convalescence after an operation on my arm in 1939.

My mother fell to her knees, begging her to get me out. I was transferred to Rothschild Hospital the next day, under guard. My mother cried as she said goodbye to me, but I couldn’t cry–and I couldn’t say goodbye.

As best I can remember, I was at the hospital for a couple of weeks. There were a number of people there (30 according to the book I mentioned before) who had been transferred from the Vel d’Hiv. Simon was one of them. Simon and I met a few times on the hospital grounds while out on a pass. We would go to a spot that we found near a greenhouse, where there was a small meadow alongside the wall that surrounded the hospital grounds. We would lie on the warm green grass and gaze at the sky. We fell in love, as only kids do. He was 13 years old.

The last time I saw Simon, he asked me to escape with him. He had it all planned. He knew the exact interval of time between the guards’ rounds. We could go over the wall together and escape. But I said no. I was sure I would never be able to make it over the wall with my bad arm, that I would fall and break a leg, and then we’d be caught.

So we separated, as usual–Simon went back to his ward first. I waited a few minutes before going back to mine, so that no one would suspect we had been together. But when I got close enough to the building that I could see clearly, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a truck at the entrance, and it was surrounded by soldiers carrying guns, and hospital personnel were loading people into it quickly, one after another. I saw them load a little old lady in a wheelchair–she was all wrapped up as if it were winter instead of summer. It was then I realized they were taking all of them back. My eyes went dark as though a curtain had been drawn across that scene. I can recall nothing more. I don’t know what happened after that. I don’t even know how I got out.

The next thing I recall, I was walking down the street with my father. We spent one night sleeping on the bedroom floor of the apartment that had been our home. The furniture was gone now–confiscated by the Germans or the French Police–there was only a mattress on the floor. The door had been sealed, but my father had broken the seal. He had not yet found a better place to hide. Hiding, and hiding places were the main preoccupation from then on.

My father found a little room on the fifth floor of an apartment building in our neighborhood. It was impossible for him to keep me with him, so he got one of my aunts to find a place for me. I can’t remember its name, but it was in a tiny little village about 50 kilometers from Paris, on the edge of a large estate owned by the Rothschilds–the estate had been taken over by the Gestapo. The village had a church facing the town’s square–they held a weekly farmers’ market there. Also there was a tavern, and a one-room school house.

I lived with a childless couple. She was a housewife, and he was a railroad worker. They lived in a row of houses around a small courtyard with a well, an out-house (a place where you went to the bathroom), and rabbit hutches. We also had a rain barrel right outside our front door, and a cat. To my great amazement, that cat would land on its feet whenever the man of the house would throw him out the second floor window–which he would do whenever he got angry after drinking too much. I had to use an assumed name, a non-Jewish name (by that time the penalty for hiding Jews was death).

Every day I went to school in the one-room school house. Every Sunday I went to church. I got to know the Mass in Latin by heart. I don’t remember it anymore, but I will never forget kneeling in that church and repeating to myself over and over again that I was a Jew. The woman I lived with wanted me to be Catholic.

I lived there for about a year, until I became ill. The doctor said I had chronic appendicitis, and he advised me to go to Paris–which had the nearest hospital–and have it removed before it burst. So, I took the train back to Paris alone and went to see my father, but he refused to hear of an operation. He was afraid. It was too dangerous, he said. He begged me to go back, and I didn’t argue.

I left my father, but I didn’t go back. Instead, I took the subway to the hospital clinic I knew so well, and there I sat and waited my turn. My doctor–who, no doubt, had helped to get me out of the Vel d’Hiv–was a prominent surgeon, and he had his usual entourage of young interns. He was surprised to see me, and he asked me in a whisper what I was doing there. When I told him, he winked and said not to worry. I was admitted the same day.

The surgery was uneventful and, ten days later, I was back to see my father. It goes without saying, he wasn’t expecting to see me, but, he didn’t argue when I told him I would not return to my hiding place. I was afraid I wouldn’t be safe there much longer–the man’s heavy drinking at the tavern seemed to me to be a great danger and I was afraid he would betray me to the Germans or French police one day.

My Aunt found another place for me to hide–this time close enough to Paris that I would be able to visit my father. The woman was a widow whose father lived with her. I lived with them until the end of the war. I went to a private school there because, by then, Jewish children were being rounded up from public school classrooms.

Mme Godin was the school’s director and only teacher, and I had only about a dozen classmates. Mme Godin became a very important part of my life the next three years, until the war was over. She kept my secret safe, my Jewish identity. I didn’t know it until the war was over, but she was also the head of the local French Underground, and she ran a printing press and kept arms in her basement.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The town where I lived was called Bondi and once each month or so, I’d take the bus to a metro station to go to see my father. We would spend an hour or two together, and then I’d go back to Bondi. The trip was also risky, because one had to have the proper identity cards.

When we got word the allies had landed in Normandy, on June 6, 1944, I was ecstatic. I took the bus to Paris my very next day off from school– which was Thursday, June 8th. The war was nearly over. I couldn’t wait to celebrate with my father. I was walking on air.

The concierge stopped me just as I was about to start climbing the stairs to the fifth floor. She invited me in. She said my father had been denounced and arrested on the 1st of June. He’d been taken to Drancy–by then a well-known and dreaded transit camp just outside of Paris. The words reverberated in my head.

I remember staring at the towers of Drancy as I rode past them on the bus going back. I kept thinking that my father was there, so close, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. I was now three months shy of my 13th birthday, and I was alone.

Earlier that same fateful year, one of my uncles–one of the two who had escaped from a work camp–tried to get his wife to jump out the window of their second story apartment while the police pounded on their door. Their three children (about 2, 3 and 4 years old) were not home (my uncle had long since had them baptized and placed in a convent for their own protection). My aunt was too frightened to jump. He jumped alone as they were breaking down the door and got away–he survived, but she never returned.

And then one day there were flags flying everywhere. The war was finally over, but not one of them came back. Not a single one survived, but I remember all of them. By some miracle I will never understand I was one of a mere handful to come out of the Vel d’Hiv alive.

That first year after the war, I was full of hope that what had happened would change the world forever. I thought selfishness and cruelty would go out of style, that the big lie would no longer work and anti- Semitism would never again rear its ugly head. I was wrong, of course. Neither did I realize, during those early years after the war, to what extent every event of my life would be colored by what I had experienced. I cannot even begin to imagine the person I might have been without the Holocaust. In many ways the war was not over for me but had just entered a new phase.

After I came to the US in 1946, I had many very difficult years fighting depression and trying hard to just hold on to my will to live and somehow cope with yet another difficult situation. I married. I raised two children. I worked. I did all these things, but through it all, I always felt somehow alone–a small piece torn from a greater whole. Some of that remains to this day, but I no longer look to change that. I know this will always be with me to some degree. I have made my peace with it. I can share it now with all the other child survivors who have now become my extended family, and for that I am grateful.

Dec 142000
 

My parents were born in Germany and fled after Hitler’s rise. Many of the members of their extended family managed to reach safe havens between 1933 and 1939 when the war actually started. This was the pattern of a great part of German Jewry. Thus I have cousins in South Africa, in Australia, in England, North- and South America.
They individually fled to Holland, a country known for its tolerance, which had been neutral in World War I unlike most of the rest of Europe and met there, both stateless refugees. My father’s mother followed and lived with them when my younger sister and I were born (in 1938 and 1939). Six of my uncles and aunts also found their way to Holland. Their circle of friends consisted mainly of similar German expatriates and they had trouble integrating into the Dutch society where they were considered outsiders. Among their friends were the Frank family, the parents of Anne Frank. They lost contact with Otto (her father) after the war when he moved to Switzerland after having lost his close family.

After the Germans invaded Holland in May 1940 all former German Jews were evacuated from the coastal zone and we had to move to a small town where there were only three other refugee families. My father was unable to work and he managed to rent a shop where we lived (my sister and I slept and played in the front of the store in the display window).

Slowly, but very surely, frighteningly, the restrictions against Jews became more severe and all were instructed to wear ‘yellow stars’, not allowed to use public transportation, enter parks, etc. etc. Then they had to register and were summoned to report to be moved to Westerbork, a concentration camp in the North of Holland from where later transports to the East would take place. My father who had witnessed the Nazi cruelty in Germany took no chances and contacted the Dutch resistance. He got in touch with an evangelical grouping called the ‘Assembly of Believers’ who considered it their duty to rescue the ‘Chosen People’ even though it would jeopardize their own safety and might cost them their lives.

These people were real heroes, since against strict orders of the occupying forces they hid Jews and could be killed on the spot if discovered. My sister and I (aged three and four at that time) were taken to a farmer with twelve children. My father took us there (I assume my mother was unable to witness the separation) and told us that as a treat we were allowed to spend a couple of days on the farm provided were ‘good and behaved’. We slept in the (meticulously clean) cowshed, since it was summer and all the cows were outside in the meadow. Behind a curtain there were more people, a family, whom I do not remember. When the war lasted and the summer had passed we were moved to a different place. I do not remember at how many different places we stayed and for how long.

My parents were (usually not together) hidden elsewhere, but apparently most of the time knew that we were safe and occasionally were able to glimpse at us. We had forgotten what they looked like. We had to assume another identity and mainly keep mum about the past. We had to ‘forget’ that we spoke the German language and what our names had been. Sometimes we were allowed to play outside and were told that we were the nieces of our hosts and often we had to change religion, since we moved between Catholic and Dutch Reformed families. This proved not difficult for us. We were used to adapt easily and had learned to be ‘good’ and not make ourselves seen or heard. Or else…………

It is a miracle that thus for three years, until the war ended, our existence remained a secret. It is thanks to many incredibly unselfish and fearless wonderful people that we owe our lives. The resistance took care of food ration-cards for us and thus we did not have to starve. Like the rest of the Dutch population during the last ‘hunger-winter’ of the war our menu consisted of tulip bulbs and sugar beets. But since we were usually in farms there was an occasional illegal slaughter or sometimes some milk not confiscated by the Germans. We did not experience the horrors of the camps and were even reunited with our parents. With some of our rescuers we have remained in contact until this very day. In Jerusalem there is Holocaust Memorial Center which honors non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews, their fellow human beings. A couple of years after the end of the war we invited them to a trip to Israel. Here they received a medal from the Israeli Government in an especially moving ceremony. Then they planted a tree in the alley of the ‘Righteous among the Nations’, the few who dared oppose the cruel occupiers. At least once a year I return to inspect those trees.

After the war

We were probably shocked that the strangers who came to look for us were our parents. I was seven years old at the time and do not remember the reunification. I must have repressed it since it was too frightening. They had German accents and different customs, so we were ashamed to bring home friends from school. Since we were one of the very few family units who survived (my uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc. had been sent to the camps and perished) my parents took upon themselves to absorb those who returned from the camps. Human wrecks who had lost all that was dear to them. The experience proved too much for my mother. She had had no time for her own bereavement and to get used to her children again. She became ill and spent most of the time in and out of mental hospitals. I do not remember much of that period. It must have been painful, but I had been trained to ‘be good’ and ‘keep mum’. After I completed High School I left Holland to start a new life in Israel. I studied, married, we have four children and are now proud grandparents.

Since I had not been a camp, I never considered myself a ‘survivor’. Until I met a neighbor a couple of years ago who told me that she had been to a Conference of Hidden Children. She explained that non-Jews had hid her during World War II. I blurted out: ‘”Me too, but I am still in the closet.” Then I heard about a group that had formed in our city of people with similar experiences. I found out that some of my best friends, whose children had grown up with ours, had also been hidden and had never talked about it. We shared a common past, but also common experiences of fear of abandonment and fear of the big unknown (the Nazis, the camps, extermination) which had sometimes turned us into ‘people-pleasers’, you see we had to ‘behave’ or else………..

I went to an International Conference of Child Survivors last year and was able to identify with many of the stories I heard. Then I registered by E-mail together with those among us who are willing to tell their story to interested strangers. This is my first attempt.

Dec 142000
 
I am a child survivor of the Holocaust. Even though I am no longer a child at this time, I was a child when I lived through the Holocaust.

Before the war, I lived in Brussels, Belgium with my family. I enjoyed a culturally rich orthodox Jewish family life. We were poor but never hungry and we were close. I was happy. Our family lived in a Jewish neighborhood. You could call that a self imposed ghetto. Something that we wanted. Of course since no one was forced to live anywhere they did not want to live some Jews lived in mixed neighborhoods. Not too different from here.

When the war came to Belgium, those Jews who were captured were taken away. Some to Nazi established ghettos and others to prison nazi camps in various parts of Europe. I was never caught. I am a successful version of Ann Frank.

I was a hidden child in basements and attics. I was never in a concentration camp. Once, I was in a refugee camp which is different from the Nazi camps. I survived the Holocaust via the good will and underground work of righteous Christians.

I came out of hiding and rejoined my family in Brussels, Belgium when the war was declared over by the Allies. It took about a month to find my hiding place and send me home to Belgium.

Being a child, I followed the lead and example of the elders in my family who lived an orthodox Jewish life and continued to do so after the war. Personally, I identify strongly as a Jew. I am spiritual in a Humanistic sense. I am a Humanistic Jew.

I was born in Antwerp, Belgium. In Belgium, three languages are spoken; French, Flemish, and German. When I was age one, my family moved to Brussels to join the rest of my family. There, I started school. I only attended for a short time because we had to go into hiding. My family was aided in finding hiding places by a righteous Christian named Father Bruno and his assistants.

My first hiding place was a basement. It was cold and dark. I was scared and lonely for my family. My second hiding place was a convent attic. I was lonely and hungry. Then, with my identity hidden, my name was changed. I was taken to Switzerland and placed in a refugee camp. There, I was lonely, hungry, and became ill. I was then placed with a poor but kind Swiss farm family where my body and spirit began to heal from the illness.

We were helped by a Belgian Priest called, Pere Bruno. He helped to place me into hiding. He helped 400 Jewish children go into hiding. I was hidden in many places alone or with strangers. I was lonely for my family. I was always hungry. I was often cold and miserable. I also became very ill at one point. By then, my spirit was lost and I had given up. But somehow I recovered.

The gentiles who helped to hide me varied in personality and warmth. Some were cold and only did what was necessary to keep me alive. Some were cruel and abused me. Some were warm and caring.

The war finally ended and I was sent back to Brussels, Belgium. Many years had passed and everyone looked different. Buildings were bombed out. Some people who were neighbors never came back. Later, I came on a very large ship along with other refugees to the United States to be reunited with my parents, sister, and brother. I was nine years old by then.

I was sickly, full of lice, and malnutrition. From pictures taken of me at the age of nine, I was skinny, my legs were bowed and I had a big belly. Here in the United States, I was constantly fed healthy foods and vitamins. My belly disappeared. Now, if it is big, it is because I eat too much. I love food…maybe a little too much.

To eliminate the lice, I was shaved, soaked with special medication, and wore a bandana. My legs straightened out with food and vitamins and the help of special shoes. I hated the shoes because they were clonkers and not pretty like my new friends on the block.

Before I could go to school with my new friends, I had to learn English. I had learned some street English but not enough. I attended a special class called “English for the Foreign Born” and being a child, I picked it up very quickly.

The life of a jewish child in the Holocaust was not a life for a child. Imagine that in order to save your own life, you must go against the nature of a child. You may not make noise. That means, you may not laugh, sing, or even cry for fear of being heard. You may not play outside with other children. For me my only friend was my mind, my imagination. I could pretend that some day I would be able to run wild screaming at the top of my voice with delight. I could sing to the clouds and dance like the rain without fear of being caught and taken away.

My opinions of those who persecuted our people has not changed. They disgust me as human beings. They are greedy and hateful. They are primitive thinkers with belief systems that make them unthinking automatons. They existed all over Europe…the whole earth….and still do.

In order for me to answer the question of how the Holocaust changed my life, I would have to live another life without the Holocaust in my experiences. That question cannot be answered.

However, with a few exceptions, the Holocaust was a reminder that humans are primitive creatures with sophisticated and mechanical toys. They slaughter for more than hunger. They slaughter for acquisition and power. They’ve been doing it since the beginning. However, the more sophisticated humans became politically and religiously, the more they slaughtered other humans. They slaughtered in the name of religion, race, nationality, land, envy, greed, resources, differences…etc…and still do.

Future generations, learn from the behavior of past generations. What they choose to learn and their future is in their own hands. It is up to them if they want to change and become civilized. I suspect that it will take many, many generations before humans understand and practice the concept of Humanity.

Helen F.K.B.

Dec 142000
 

In July 1942, I was eight years old and living in occupied Belgium. The Germans had just begun to round up Jews and deport them so it became imperative for my family to go into hiding.

Suddenly I found myself in a strange place away from home, away from Mum and Dad. I say “suddenly” because I don’t remember having expected it, nor having understood the reason for it. I was a quiet, inward-looking child. I had learned early to observe adults and their facial expressions as one scans signs for a change in the weather. I did not make demands, rather I waited to see what the adults had in store for me. Though I did not understand their priorities, I always hoped for good things from them.

This first move was to a children’s holiday home, together with my little sister Danielle. It was summer. There were about sixty children, far too many to count and mostly younger than me. The outdoor playground had swings and a sandpit. I watched, wide-eyed, stunned by the strangeness of being away from my home and parents. The other children ran around the playground, happy and shrieking with excitement. This was to be the first of many moves.

Though the unknown is always scary, I remember feeling excited about going to each new place. There had not been any preparation. I simply “found” myself in a new place. My parents never did discuss major decisions with me.

For two and a half years I led a truly nomadic life. We were at the children’s holiday home for less than a month. On one Sunday visit, Mum found out that there were many more Jewish children staying there. She felt that this was dangerous, and took us away. In fact, the place was raided by the Germans soon after.

We were then sent to a family in the country. They fostered children for a living, and were looking after eight Jewish children. The Derbecques were keen to make money. We had nothing to do all day, and were hungry most of the time. Nobody paid any attention to us. But the master of the house used to frighten us, saying with a sneer of satisfaction that if we were discovered by the Germans, we would suffer a terrible and instantaneous end.

The Derbecques’ only son of nine wet his bed regularly, and the smell permeated the house. My mother was offered a servant’s job with them and she came unexpectedly to see what the place was like. When she saw the piles of wet sheets waiting to be washed by hand, she decided it was not for her. And we had plenty of stories to tell her. Soon afterwards, my parents sent a young Belgian woman to fetch us home. That particular homecoming I shall never forget. We arrived in the evening, and Mum had cooked tomato soup. Mum was a good cook, but nothing has ever tasted as good as that tomato soup.

Of all the places that I stayed at, the next one was the only one that I regretted having to leave. That was the home of the Van den Borrens, their daughter Marianne, her American husband Safford Cape, and their three children Anne, Philippe and Miquette. It was my third move in about four months, and I went there towards the end of 1942.

I lay in bed on my first morning there, anxiously wondering whether I should get up or wait for someone to come and get me. Nobody came, so I got up, dressed and sat on the side of my bed, full of indecision. I needn’t have worried. They were very easy going people. They made me feel welcome, and soon I stopped worrying whether I was doing the right thing. In the two months that I was there, I do not remember one harsh word or look. Mrs. Van den Borren, Nana as she was called by everyone including me, had a broad smile that made her whole face crinkle up. She had taken charge of the children of the house, and I became one of them.

I didn’t go to school. It was considered too dangerous. I was nearly nine and, while I was there, I discovered that I could read whole books. This was incredibly exciting and – just as important, it kept me occupied all day. The house had three floors, each with a large landing and floor to ceiling shelves full of books. On the second floor were children’s books, and when I finished one I could go and get another. One day I read three books! I sat on a chair – always the same one – by the wall of the dining room. I was in a world of my own. Nobody questioned what I was doing or interrupted me. They let me be – myself. It was magical. The reason I was moved on, was that the Germans came to arrest the American son-in-law, and it was no longer considered safe for me there.

I had to go back to my parents. This was not the happy arrangement that it should have been. The fear of being discovered by the Germans dominated everyday life. A total of six adults were hiding in this house. The most important day-to-day activity was practising how fast everyone could get into the hiding place, a space under a staircase camouflaged by a cupboard. I did have one diversion. The landlord had an English grammar book, and was teaching himself from it. He asked me to come and learn English with him. He was a good-humoured man and I used to relish those sessions.

It was a relief when a new place was found for me. The tension and continuous fear were just too much to bear. I had already met my new protector, Mademoiselle Madeleine, as I was to call her. She was a good friend of our likable landlady Mme Claesen, who had arranged this new hiding-place. I was eager to go there because my first impression of her had been favourable. Each beginning was exciting , with the anticipation that in this place, I would be welcome. And I would have an opportunity to get both attention and approval which I craved.

My new carer, a spinster, lived on her own. She wore her long fair hair in a bun, and led a very well-regulated life. I was totally dependent on her for things to do. She was a great knitter and, as wool was scarce, she would unravel old garments and make skeins to wash the wool. My first job was to hold the skeins on my hands so she could wind them into balls, or even wind a skein on a special gadget with four vertical sticks. I was happy to be of help, happy that she involved me in her activity.

Mademoiselle Madeleine was a devout Catholic. We went to church several times a week, both in the early morning and in the evening. It was late spring and I loved walking through the park on our way there. I felt safe in the church and loved the ritual. I was anxious about dipping my fingers in the holy water at the entrance, and crossing myself the right way. But once in there, I was a child and nothing more was expected of me.

By nature Mademoiselle Madeleine was very strict and unbending. Of course I had to do what I was told, and she had no sympathy for my difficulties. I found it hard to eat the very dry bread and jam that she put in front of me for breakfast. One dark, snowy winter’s day, she told me to walk to a baker’s shop across the large park. She might as well have told me to break through a brick wall. I got into a panic and refused to go. I was terrified of walking across the snow-covered park by myself. I had never refused anything she had asked until then. This was unforgivable in her eyes. The strange thing is that I cannot remember now whether I eventually did it or not.

Mademoiselle Madeleine taught me catechism and fractions. The catechism was easy to learn by heart, and I memorised it with great enthusiasm. The fractions, however, did not go so smoothly.

She had no experience of children. She was aloof, neither warm nor demonstrative, certainly not forgiving. Each conflict increased the bad feeling between us. In despair I gave vent to my anger and said that she was “only doing it for money”.

At the age of nearly ten, I once wet the bed and could not bear the shame of it. When she asked me, I told her I hadn’t. That made me a liar. I lay on my bed and cried for a whole afternoon. At that point my mother came and took me away. Years later she told me that Madeleine had been willing to keep me. They had discussed it and decided that it was no good because I was obviously so miserable.

Again I went back to my parents for a spell. At Mademoiselle Madeleine’s I used to listen with her to the radio each day. The Allies had reconquered Sicily, and landed in Italy. The Russian front was steadily moving West. We used to mark on a map, with pins, all the locations that had been taken back from the Germans. This illegal activity was exciting. We saw that the Allies were winning the war. But back with my parents I felt that time was standing still again. They were now hiding in one much smaller room behind a courtyard. Life was more oppressive. I remember Mum brewing tea out of apple peels, and Dad endlessly fixing the element of our one-ring little electric cooker.

I also badly missed the wonderful program of classical music Madeleine had allowed me to listen to on some evenings after the news. It always soothed me into a trance. For a short while I would escape the daily realities altogether.

Before long I was off again. This time I went to an outlying suburb of Brussels, to stay with a woman who kept a “café’’ (the French version of a pub or coffeehouse). I cannot remember her name. She had no children, and her husband had been taken away to work in Germany. My mother seemed to think that, if there were no other children, I would be looked after better. In fact, I was often lonely and under strain from being always watched by my new carer.

I had to share a bed with Mme X. I would crouch near the edge to avoid touching her. I learnt to house-clean, and I did it very enthusiastically, except when I had to wash down the wooden café furniture with water mixed with ammonia. Cleaning took up two full days a week. On Sundays, I was sent to church in the care of a girl I didn’t like. I swallowed my dislike, and I tried very hard to be agreeable. Soon I met some other girls I liked better, but Mme. X did not approve of them. Worse still, I did not get on with her beloved little dog. Once I put a packet of butter on the floor in the cellar. The dog got to it, and I was in great trouble.

I cleaned and brought beer up from the cellar at the week-end when the café was busy, and I learnt to iron handkerchiefs with enthusiasm and skill. But one day when Madame had three kilos of peas for me to shell, I rebelled. The peas were all right on the inside, but the pods were thoroughly rotten and slimy. I was not allowed to go and play till I had done them. My small rebellion came to an end but not without permanent damage to our relationship. I did have one wonderful treat: a young trainee teacher who lived next door taught me Flemish, which was the language of the locality. She was blonde and I found her angelic. I worshipped her, and spent many happy moments ruling up pages for her as a return favour.

We sometimes visited Mme Xs family – her sister and her parents, who were very warm kind people. As I gradually fell from favour, she no longer took me with her to visit them. Mme X had also evicted me from her bed. I now slept in the next room on a canvas deck chair. I was ten and a half, and tall for my age. Curling up in the deck chair was very uncomfortable, so I lay it flat on the floor. Of course, most of the time, I ended up sleeping on the floor. She stored some flour in that room, and I discovered that it was quite good to eat when I was hungry And one day, in my misery, I said to her the terrible thing I had said to Madeleine – “You’re only doing it for money!” I was too young to understand the risk she was taking by hiding me, too young to consider an adult’s feelings.

My mother came regularly to bring money for my upkeep. She would only stay a few minutes. Only once did I break down and cry, and she cuddled me. Then one day, as if in a fairy tale, she came and told me to pack my things. There wasn’t much to pack. This time she took me on a tram straight to my new place.

My parents had gone to hide with a kind and generous family called Preud’homme and Madame’s sister Laure had offered to take me. Here I found people who were good to me. I was treated with respect, and given freedom to do as I pleased while Tante Laure attended to her optometrist business. Her elderly father and I were company for each other. He enjoyed telling me lots of fascinating things about geography and history. Best of all, he took me to his vegetable plot and taught me how to weed. As nobody seemed to worry about cleaning the three-story house I put my previous experience to work to do some of the cleaning. This was greatly appreciated, as was my weeding. I couldn’t believe my luck. Instead of being taken for granted and expected to do whatever I was told, my help was actually valued.

I went to Tante Laure and her father in early June 1944. Brussels was liberated on Sunday, 3rd September 1944. Now there was to be one more move – going home to live with my parents and my little sister. After more than two years away from them, that proved , incredibly, to be as difficult a move as the others. Was I expecting a grand welcome? We didn’t stop to draw breath or talk about what had happened. We didn’t celebrate our survival or reunion. We got on with life as if nothing had happened.

So many places, so many strange people! Later, as an adult, I added them up: six places in all. Two of them I remember very fondly: the Van den Borren family, and Tante Laure. I fitted in easily. They gave me genuine affection, and I loved them in return. For the others, I have never even thought of feeling the gratitude that was surely due to them. Looking back, I have found a sure way of rating the places where I lived during the war: as I remember each one, I sense how freely I can breathe. In fact, this is the way I expressed it at a ceremony for Tante Laure and her family. They were honoured with the award of “Righteous Among the Nations”. I said that when I had arrived there, I could suddenly breathe and be myself. I basked in their kindliness, and their way of including me in their lives. Although I could not have put it into words, I felt it instinctively, like a plant that grows towards the sun.

I thought for many years that nothing important had happened to me during the war. I was in my late fifties and a grandmother when I began to look back on those years. Now I could feel the sadness and fear which I had had to freeze out then. Oh the dreadful loneliness of it! But I could also see my remarkable strength and perseverance. In spite of everything, I had kept on trying to “fit in” and to please, hoping to be loved. I found solace in my reading, the snatches of classical music, my visits to church.

I never lost hope that the next place would be a good one. What else could be the reason for all those moves?

Floris K. – Belgium

Dec 142000
 

A TALE OF TEREZIN (also known as Theresienstadt)

Interview with My Mother, Miryam L., Child Survivor of Concentration Camp

As Told To Esther V. L., 1999

SOME BACKGROUND NOTES:

The place of my mother’s Birth, CHUST, is a small town in the province of galicia, in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. The Romanian border was about 20 kilometers distant and the hungarian border not much further. The area was not in austria-hungary before the second world war. The austro-hungarian empire was long gone. The area was annexed by russia in 1945 and became part of the ukraine when it became a separate country. the name was changed to khust. there is no more czechoslovakia, but the separate countries, the czech republic and the slovak republic.

Tell me a little about your background in Czechoslovakia, before the war.

O.K. I was born on August 2, 1931 in a small town called Chust, which was previously in Austria/Hungary before World War II, in the Carpathian Mountains. It was not good enough for my mother, she wanted to go to the big city. So when I was about four years old we moved to Prague, which is the capital of Czechoslovakia. I loved it there, I went to school then, first grade. I enjoyed walking around in the streets and passages, which were like malls underneath buildings. I enjoyed going into a shooting gallery where there was an old man who was telling me stories and showing me all kinds of magic tricks, especially a trick which I still remember, with a little bullet which you put between two fingers and you feel two of them, so that made an impression on me.

So I was a little wanderer, I was a very happy child, very independent and I just enjoyed life. I had compassion for this old woman who was selling pickles in the street, and I usually bought a pickle. Sometimes when she had to go someplace I took her place. I must have been about five already, or six, at that point, and so she trusted me with her business. I enjoyed and I was saying the Czech expression, “Po korune a za korunu”—(-she sold it for a crown)– “ A Pickle For a Crown.” And I just loved that. I also liked to go to department stores and look around for all kinds of beautiful things, which I couldn’t afford, because we were not very rich. But later on, my father became well known for his orthopedic shoe repair work, so we became a little more prosperous.

And at that point, when things were just about going very well, the war broke out, and we were taken over by the Germans, the Nazis. They were like taking us, like, under their wings, which was called “Protectorate,” like a protection, that’s how it first started. Finally they started to deport people, the ones which were not desirable, such as Jews and political people who didn’t agree with their regime. So we were one of the first to be deported, because of our religion. My father went first.

What year was that?

It was in 1941. I don’t remember exactly what month, but it was end of ‘41. And we were sent in December, the rest of the family. But he really opened the camp, and fortunately they needed his trade, because he was a wonderful professional worker in his field, and the Germans picked a few for their work.

Didn’t he go to build the railroad, first, before?

Well, it was a military barrack, the men came first, there was a railroad there, but they set up the barracks—it was Terezin, it was a military outpost which they used for that, for concentrating all the people, the undesirables which were meant to be sent away from there later to the annihilation camps—which we didn’t know existed at the time—

Tell me a little bit more about your parents and your sister.

My sister Zora (“Dawn” in English, we called her Zorinka) was two and a half years older than I, she was 12 ½, I was 10. We were very close, but we couldn’t stay in the same barrack. I was in Brandenborg Barrack.

Before the war, she was your protector, wasn’t she? You were always getting into trouble.

Before the war I was a tomboy. She was a very good, quiet, feminine girl and I used to beat up the kids who would pull on her braids, pick on her and make her cry. She was beautiful, but I told people I was smart. I was her protector, I kicked the boys in the shins, at 7, 8, and 9, just before the war. We had a wonderful relationship, except for one thing, she had a friend who was not very healthy, she had troubles mentally, she had some problem, maybe ADD or something. The girl didn’t have any friends except for my sister, and I was so attached to my sister that I always wanted to go along with her on her visits to this friend, and it wasn’t always possible. There was a little conflict in that, but that was the only thing.

She protected me many ways. When I’d be overeating, I ate half a watermelon once and I was very sick, and my mother would be very upset with me. So Zorinka didn’t tell on me, she just covered up for me and took care of me till I felt better. So she was my protector. We protected each other. My mother doted on her but my father was amused by and doted on me, as if I were a boy. Before the war I was very outgoing and very spunky, I was not scared of anything. She was a quiet, very cultured little girl already at that time, she was very studious. She excelled in school. I didn’t do my homework properly, I didn’t care.

Zorinka was ordered in camp to star in Nazi propaganda films, because of her beauty and charm. I had to stay in the barrack where my mother was. Zorinka was in a separate group with older teenagers.

As a 10-year-old child I was given the job of dental assistant in the infirmary mixing the amalgams. I was wiping the blood from the instruments and boiling them and assisting with the operations, which the Czech government was still supervising along with the Nazis.

I contracted scarlet fever; I was hospitalized for several months and almost didn’t make it. When I was convalescing I had a heart complication and I had to stay in the hospital a long time, and my sister was bringing me spinach leaves which she stole while she was working in the fields. She was putting one leaf to the other and she put them in her slacks, in her pants, which had a rubber band, which were like work pants. She didn’t eat it herself, she saved it for me. Also, my mother saved her own bread ration, which was like a roll,( it was given us every three days), to give to my sister. She only ate the soup and whatever else we had, some vegetables, some “tureen.”

What was that, exactly?

It was turnip and potato soup, the mainstay of our diet, with the bread. The vegetables were cut up or mashed up. We had no meat or milk, nothing nutritious for four years, we were not really functioning very well, but we were surviving. But my sister took that bread my mother had given her and she gave it to an old woman who wasn’t feeling well, she was very compassionate, and my mother cried because she really wanted the child to have it. But she understood my sister’s heart, because she was really very, very good. She was an angel. She was very beautiful. She had flawless skin, her cheeks were pink and glowing even without the nutrition, and she had a halo of dark golden hair. She was blossoming into a beautiful teenager. She was a beauty with pale gray, almost translucent eyes, the pupils very big and black, with long eyelashes. She was in danger of being used by the Nazis for her beauty, but luckily it never came to that.

What about the propaganda films she had to star in?

They took some films about the camp to show when the Red Cross inspection was supposed to come. They prepared all kinds of goodies for the children, chocolate and cans of sardines. We did not eat it, it was just laying there to show how we were treated. And the beautiful children, especially my sister, were called, and they were taking pictures of them for how beautiful, how well-fed they looked. She did not look undernourished. I was like skin and bones. My glands were sticking out and I was something horrible to look at. I was a poor eater even before the war. Anyway, they took a picture of her and they wanted her to get undressed for the picture, to show the body, but she was very modest and she started to cry bitterly, and somehow they took pity on her, even the elite SS (the highest in command of all the Nazis), because of her beauty, and she didn’t have to undress.

The propaganda went on for a few days, and there was a coffee shop built especially for that propaganda. We had money printed, ghetto money, which I still have, all kinds and colors of bills, and the coffee shop people went in there and made believe they were served coffee. It was made to look like a paradise.

Is this why it was called “The Showplace Camp”?

It was called “The Paradise Camp,” actually. And there was a square where usually we saw wagons full of people with blood on them being dragged to like a jail there, there was a jail. The name of it was “Pernost” (in KleineFestung—Small Fort). If they didn’t like somebody’s face or somebody walked wrong, or something like that—I could have been put into jail because I was stealing potatoes from a cellar— I was walking around there and I was hungry, so I put my hand down in the cellar, there were houses, barracks, and I just took a chance. I took a few raw potatoes and I ate them. That was a real treat when you were hungry. Anyway, that square was the most horrible place, usually, because of the wagons bringing people back and forth to jail. All of a sudden they built a podium there and they started to play music, a concert. There was beautiful music, they planted flowers.

The main SS was called Ram, that was the Commandante’s name, he was the one who managed this whole propaganda deal. And my father was in another barrack, where the men were separated from the women and children. He had a little shoe repair and shoe-making shop; he made riding boots for the SS, he had to measure and deliver them to their quarters, and they showed him with their gestures of their hands to their throats, that if the boots didn’t fit he will hang. He had a very stressful job. He was kicked several times, and before he got established as a worker he was lying on the ground when he first arrived, sleeping on the bare stone ground, before the barracks were set up, and he developed arthritis and a bad knee which still bothers him to this day.

He was a young man then, yes? How old?

He was born in 1905. It was 1941 then. So he was 36. And my mother was a beautiful blonde, with her hair in natural big curls. My father is Ludvik Sapsovic, my mother, six years his junior, was Fanny—she died in 1993. She went to concentration camp a beautiful 30-year-old woman. We showered with cold water, we had no soap, and she had the most beautiful voice. Some people had a few sugar cubes, they were saving them because it was very hard to get food. After my mother would sing a song, the people in the barrack enjoyed it so much and would be so appreciative they’d give her a sugar cube, whoever could afford to give it away.

Let’s return to the girls and women of Terezin.

Something was put in the soup (“tureen,” a sort of gruel) diet to prevent menstruation. There was, rarely, a special treat of a sticky dumpling with jam, particularly when the Red Cross was visiting our “paradise” camp.

My mother was given the most terrible duty imaginable: washing and preparing dead bodies for burial. She had a tumor in her abdomen before the war but could not have it operated on; in camp it kept growing and growing until she had to have a 5-lb tumor removed from her abdomen with only ice as an anesthetic. A highly respected and expensive Czech doctor (supervised by the Czech government, as well as the Nazis) was her surgeon, fortunately. My father, having gotten a little more privileges as time went on, was able to share extra food with this doctor (as well as others.) To seal the wound after the operation, the doctor lay down with his whole body on her incision and pressed with all his might. He saved her life. It was meant for her to go on

Something was put into the water to contaminate my sister’s barracks, it was believed. I went once to visit her there. We were free to walk around. So I went to see her before she died when she was sick already from the typhoid epidemic, and she sent me away. With glassy eyes she begged me to run away, she said to me, “Please, Milushka, run, run!” She knew she was going to die. Within two weeks she died…… After our beloved Zorinka died of typhus at age 14 (her whole bunker perished), my mother became severely depressed and catatonic. “Melancholy,” they called her. She lay down, covered her head, and she did not get up. I would sometimes remind her, while reading to her from prayer books, that I was still alive. After two years, she started to respond.

My mother’s father, wounded in World War I, didn’t want to lose his leg, so he died young rather than have his leg amputated. My father had two brothers who died in camp, the older brother was Herschel who died in Auschwitz, and Avram died in labor camp as a prisoner in jail together with the Nazis. All my father’s family was gassed. My mother raised her three siblings and took care of them after the war: her older sister Paula, younger sister Helen and younger brother David. The siblings all survived the camps.

My mother’s mother, my grandmother Gisela (Giselle), was a midwife who went to medical school but never completed it because she had to take care of a sick father. She was ahead of her time, ostracized for using rubber gloves during her deliveries. My mother was brought up in a house where she had to dip her hands in disinfectants, and whenever anyone was sick my grandmother made sure everyone stayed away. My mother had typhus as a child, and survived because of my grandmother’s exceptional care of her. People were dying from this, because there were no antibiotics and not much knowledge about treatments . My mother always wanted the best for her loved ones, she had big dreams. My mother was a cultured person with a lot of natural intelligence, despite her lack of schooling; my father was less refined.

Tell me more about the liberation, in camp.

My mother had a little cooker, as I said before we had acquired some extra privileges by the later years, and I would distribute the food she prepared to people who came and left, because people were coming from all over, and then they were taken away, but of course we stayed because they needed the shoes and boots, the SS. Other people were being taken away to other camps, to Auschwitz, to Bergen-Belsen, and there was a rumor which turned out to be true, that they were already starting t o build gas chambers in Terezin, on the outskirts. The Germans were losing the war, and the Russians were getting close. The Germans were getting ready to clean out the camp and run away, and my father was starting to make shoes for them to run away in. They were called “Jewish Shoes.” Money and papers were to be built inside the shoes. My father was ordered to make the shoes, and we knew there was danger involved, but we were preparing ourselves to go underground ; he had connections with the underground. (We knew that the Nazis would kill as many people as possible before they cleaned out the camp and ran).

On May 5, 1945 the Russians came. It was the most marvelous day. It was heaven.

How many children do you imagine survived along with you?

I don’t know. I had a few people there I knew. We were walking around there. I was playing, I had a little ball (when I didn’t work), we played ball with a few boys, they were a little older than me. They were like my sister’s age group. I don’t remember anyone my age, because the younger children went to death camps. I only survived as a 10-year-old (when I first came) because of my father’s protection. A 14-year-old could work. I have a friend Regina who is a survivor, she had been in Auschwitz at age 15, she worked there, she lost her parents and her whole family. Of course she has agoraphobia and a very bad life. She survived but not too well. Somehow it did not touch me, I don’t know why, my nature maybe. I did not get depressed from all that, I just picked myself up. I was crying when my mother was lying there for two years. Then I was in a bad way because I kept telling her, “I am here too, I am here!” and she didn’t want to hear me.

Dec 142000
 
S.S. St. Louis experience

I was born on May 11, 1933. After the promulgation of the Nurnberg laws in 1935, my parents decided there was no future for them or their in children in Nazi Germany and applied for a U.S. immigration quota number. It would be four years before this number would come up. In the meantime, my father was arrested the day after “Krystallnacht”, 11/10/38, and taken to Dachau concentration camp.

Once my mother was able to show proof to the Gestapo that all our documents were in order, they released my stepfather with the understanding that we were leaving Germany permanently. The ship that we booked passage on was the S.S. St. Louis. Since we were expecting our quota number to come up sometime in Nov. of 1939, my parents decided they would rather immigrate to Cuba rather than Shanghi China since Cuba was only 90 miles from the U.S.A. My mother bought landing permits for us for Cuba for the sum of $500.00.

The ship left Hamburg for Cuba on 5/13/39, just two days after my sixth birthday. The Nazis allowed each family to take ten marks out of the country, but all valuables had to be turn over to the Nazis. Upon our arrival in Cuba it was discovered that the president Bru, invalidated the landing permits, and only the people with good Cuban visas were allowed to leave the ship. After seven days the Cubans wanted the ship out of the harbor. We sailed North to Miami in hopes that the U.S. would allow us to land there since most of the refugees on the ship held quota number for the U.S. that would be coming within the next six to nine months. Had Roosevelt gone to bat for these 912 people, all would have been saved. As it turned out of the 638 that went back to the European continent less than half survived.

After negotiations with the U.S. failed, Hitler called for the ships return. He had proved his point. Being that, Germany admits they don’t want the Jews and are willing to let them all go; i.e. the St. Louis. Hitler said we don’t want the Jews, but the Hypocritic Western Democracies wouldn’t even take the 912 Jews that were on this ship. Consequently, the ship started to return to Europe while frantic negotiations were under way by a Mr. Morris Tropler, for the Jewish agency.

At the eleventh hour, Queen Wilhilmena said that Holland would take 194 of the passengers with infants. By this time everyone was ready to grasp at any straw and here was our chance not to return to Germany and my stepfather back to Dachau because we had my stepbrother who was just a year old. We ended up in an old army officers camp called Heijplaat, which already had many Jewish refugees from Germany. Back to square one with no money or tickets to get out of Holland.

Luckily, my stepfather had a second cousin in Milwaukee, WI who would be our sponsor. When our quota number came up in November, 1939 he sent us the money for steamship tickets to America. My parents bought passage on a brand new Dutch ship called the Staatendaamn. At the last minute the Dutch decided it was too dangerous to send this ship since it might be sunk by a U?boat. Instead, they decided to let an old pre? WWI ship make the trip, called the Vehendaamn. It took that old bucket fourteen days to make the trip from Rotterdam to Hoboken N.J. We arrived 2/5/40.

Why didn’t Roosevelt do something so these people could be saved?

Rudy