A vivdd picture of Holocaust survivors, their triumphs, tribulations, and how it can be applied to today's issues.
“My mother, an ashen faced skeleton of her former self, constantly repeated the words which became my life’s mission: ‘you must live, you must remember, you must tell the world‘.” This is a quote from Holocaust Survivor, Leah Kaufman, which is alive and well today. She and her mother are not the only ones who think it is necessary to tell the horrific events that occurred during the reign of Adolf Hitler. The Holocaust Survivors’ stories express many positive triumphs, too. Some stories contain messages of hope and respect. All survivor stories show how hate knew no name, except Jew. The Holocaust was a terrible tragedy that hindered survivors but did not break their spirit because of what they teach others through their survival stories.
Prior to the extermination of the Jews, the first step in motion was to dehumanize them. This was done by forming a ghetto. A ghetto was a place where Jews were held captive. Friends turned their backs, atrocities occurred, and the German soldiers used Jews for slave labor.
Many Jews remember feeling hurt because their friends turned their back. Neighbors who once came over for tea acted as if the Jews had a disease. Some non-Jews would pass a Jew in the street and spit in their face. Jewish children would chant, “Good ridden Jews.” Eva Galler, a Holocaust survivor recalls envying a dog. She states, “Even your friends could turn against you. It was if anyone could pick on the underdog. I felt degraded. We were outside the law. Anyone could do with us as they wanted.” Many of the Jews had talked to their non-Jewish friends about feelings. The next day those same neighbors were pointing at them and laughing. Sometimes Jews were hit just for walking on the same sidewalk as them.
Many atrocities occurred in the Ghettos. The day-to-day living in the Ghetto was one of labeling, violation of human beings, and their bodies. All Jewish families were to wear an arm band with the Star of David sewn on. This allowed everyone to see who was a Jew. German soldiers search Jews body cavities for gems. Space and privacy were words the Jewish community would soon forget. With very little room for the Jews to live in separate apartments, many families slept together like sardines. The Jews had to use the bathroom in front of someone. Usually a bucket was the toilet. Some Jewish families had to sleep on streets in the freezing cold.. With barely any food to eat, children were seen digging in the trash. Solomon Radasky recalls his father dying for smuggling food into the Ghetto. Many died from starvation. Others worked to death by shoveling snow and digging ditches. Jenny Rozenstain remembers a SS being cruel. The SS took her four month old sister and split her with an axe. Then the SS continued killing the rest of her family. People were not the only ones under attack. The Synagogues, prayer books, and Torah s burned throughout the Ghettos. Eva Galler witnessed one of these times. She said that during the burning, young Jewish girls were made to dance with older Jewish men. After this, all Jews had to walk through town to for more humiliation.
Slave laboring was the only time a Jew could leave the Ghetto. The factories made artillery, tile, and clothes for the German Army. The most prominent factory known amongst the Jews was Oskar Shlindlers. Jews believed salvation rested with this man. Schlindler was a man who made a profit from the slave labor, but refused to treat the Jewish community as dogs. The Jews who worked in other factories could not say the same. The working conditions were extreme. Many Jews worked in excessive weather, with little to no protection from the elements. The workers received bread and soup, but the rations were not enough for the many mouths to feed. Many died from starvation. Other Jews were shot because production was not to the soldier’s liking.
The families who survived the Ghettos went by train to unknown destinations. Depending on the season, those train rides did kill off many Jews. Once the train came to a stop, the doors opened and more torment began.
Regardless of sex, clothes were taken off the Jews and their hair shaved. Instead of an armband, Jews received a tattoo of numbers branded into their skin. Barns were where the Jewish community slept, segregated according to sex, adult, and children. Many went without food for days at a time. To use the bathroom, Jews sat over a ditch. Sometimes the soldiers would shoot at a Jew in hopes one would fall in. Since there was no toilet paper, the Jews would use a leaf. Living conditions in the camps made way for diseases because the Jews could not shower. Joseph Sher remembers a time during winter when he and friends washed their bodies and rags in cold water. They did this in hopes to freeze off the lice. Many Jewish survivors remember one hole for a toilet and the other hole for lifeless bodies. Jews worked at these camps with no protection for their feet. Many Jews had to urinated on their torn feet to prevent infections.
The living conditions were the stage for which some doctors performed experiments. Each doctor had a focus, but the test varied in elements. The subject could be males, females, twins or children, but the religion seemed to be the common factor. Blue dye was put into the eyes of Jews to see if the pupil changed color. Twins went through different genetic experiments. Lethal injections shot into veins of Jews to observe their reaction. Some Jews underwent Electric Shock Therapy only to be gassed afterwards. Human beings were frozen to observe stages in hypothermia. An x ray was used to perform sterilization in Jews. One doctor was known for skinning the inmates to make lampshades and book covers. The experiments were physically, mentally, and emotionally torturous. Very little Jews survived and many died.
Torture took place in many forms at the Camps. One such form was the gas chambers. Many Jews had heard rumors about gas chambers disguised as showers and soaps made of toxins. No one ever survived the gas chambers, but some did escape from entering. Women and children contained inside sealed tight doors, hoping for a shower; only to come out in wheelbarrows. Other Jewish women passing by or in their barracks remember screaming.
The ending torture for a Jew, showed itself as an oven. The oven called crematoria. Bodies went through one side and ashes came out on the other side. The Jewish inmates hauled the deceased in wheelbarrows across the camps. Sometimes the German soldiers would throw living Jewish children into the oven. This horrifying site bestowed on many, but Solomon Radasky can recall living through this firsthand. For one year, Solomon hauled his fellow Jews’ ashes and covered them with sand.
Liberation of the Jews finally came, but a war inside the Holocaust survivors was just beginning. The affects on those who survived the Holocaust differed for each person. Some Jews could not mourn their losses away. Others felt withdrawn from society and places. Many Jewish children believed their childhood was stripped away during Hitler’s reign.
“If you lose your parents at any age, it hurts. To lose your parents in that way, at that age, and to be alone in the world. If you cannot grieve right away, it stays with you for your whole life.” A quote from Eva Gallar, Holocaust survivor, speaks volumes for not able to mourn their loss. This type of depression has many chronic patterns that can follow. Some patterns are but not limited to: helplessness, disillusionment, and narcissism. Feelings of helplessness and narcissism did not seem to take pace in survivors, but disillusionment was very prominent. Jeannine Burk speaks out on this account. “For years I really had the fantasy that he (father) would find us, but in Philadelphia I saw his name. This was the first time it sank in. He wasn’t coming back.” Jeannine finally had closure after a marriage, two children, and a divorce.
Another affect on Holocaust survivors was withdrawing from society and places. From the time the Jewish inmates left the camps, many did not know where to go or who to trust. A rumor spread that a little boy was killed by a Jew. This rumor caused more Jews to be killed. Many countries were only taking a selection of Jewish survivors. Torn apart from family and friends looking for a place to call home, many survivors turned only inward for comfort. Some tried looking for other Holocaust survivors, but still lived in fear of being a Jew.
The affects trickled down to the Holocaust children survivors as well. In 1938 - 1939, many Jewish children boarded a train headed to Britain. Parents bought their children’s freedom but could not accompany them. For some children, boarding the train meant growing up quickly because they may never see their parents again. Some Jewish children could not hitch a ride on the Kindertransports. Jeanine Burk was one of those children. “I lost a great part of my childhood simply because I was a Jew.” This was her statement when recalling her childhood. Jeannine did not board the Kindertransports, but was hidden for two years. A non-Jewish family kept Jeanine inside their house and out in a shed at times. Jeannine did not receive love, toys or even a hug within those four years. Jeannine lived in solitude and fear. Plenty of Jewish children grew up like Jeanine. Many learned to sneak, hide, and amuse themselves. Some Jewish children went to the Ghettos and camps. Here, they witnessed murders of family and friends. Children in the camps learned to be adults as early as two years. Worked and starved just as the adults were.
Depression was not the only harm bestowed on Holocaust survivors. Many health issues arose from being a survivor. The most prominent illnesses were Typhus and malnutrition.
Malnutrition can cause a number of problems. In rare studies, malnutrition can place people at risk for cancer and tuberculosis. Malnutrition found in children can cause them to be smaller than usual. The more fatal portion of malnutrition is measles, pneumonia, and diarrhea. Joseph Sher worked for the Russians after being liberated. The army had an abundance of food. Joseph had to manage his food consumption constantly. Joseph was not alone with this battle. Solomon Radasky, a Holocaust survivor, liberated by American soldiers, remembers the MP saying to him, “Don’t eat that (rice). If you do, you will die. Because your stomach has shrunk, if you eat that you will get diarrhea.” The malnutrition was so severe that; bones protruded legs as thin as pencils, faces sunken in, and color lacked in the Jews faces.
Typhus, a disease that spread like wildfire during the Holocaust, is a parasite that can cause sores and even death. The Jews contracted Typhus through lice. Thousands of Jews died from the disease. If the parasite did not kill a Jew, most likely a German soldier would. Joseph Sher escaped death from the disease and bullets. A doctor in the Ghetto administered shots to cure Joseph of the disease. After hiding in a wall for four weeks, Joseph recovered. Typhus consumed many Jews, but spared quite a few.
The Holocaust survivors triumphed over many obstacles. They looked death in the face walked past. The survivors used three cornerstones to build back what they lost. Many Holocaust survivors used their hands, found support systems, and married to create harmony within their lives.
Once liberated, Joseph Sher made underwear for Russian soldiers. His next job taught people how to sew. Solomon Radasky, another Holocaust survivor sewed for money. He worked for under the amount a beginner made. Years later, Solomon was made foreman for another company. Eva Galler and her husband worked in a factory to rebuild what they lost. Eva speaks of rebuilding in this quote, “No one gave us anything; we started from nothing. We worked our way up with our ten fingers.”
Working for money helped Holocaust survivors gain the financial freedom that lacked during Hitler’s reign. Many had to find support systems to aid in freeing their emotional or mental anguish. The mail had begun after the war, but many survivors did not know who to write or where to send a letter. Every survivor wanted to find a friend or relative. The Red Cross had a list of survivors that helped some, but it was not a full account of those who survived or died. Schlinder’s list showed the names of more than six hundred Holocaust survivors. In 1985, a list obtained from the German reporting records, finally revealed all the deaths from the camps.
Lists were not the only thing available to survivors in recovering To recover from disillusions and torment, survivors formed Jewish societies. One of those societies still stands today. This is the New American Social Club. Many found survivors from the workings of this society. In Joseph Sher’s case, the society worked its magic in another way. When Joseph Sher arrived in New Orleans, he received a threatening letter. The letter and knowledge of a Nazi march spread throughout this society. Members of this society stood together on courthouse steps to stand against this hate. Receiving the note would be the last time Joseph Sher would have to face any threat alone.
Holocaust survivors had feelings of loneliness during and after Hitler‘s Reign. Some blessed to have been married prior to the war eventually found their loved one afterwards. Others walked the streets aimlessly, hoping to find other Jewish survivors. On a few accounts, Jewish women married a soldier who liberated them. Jeannine Burk’s parents died during the Holocaust. Somehow, Jeannine still managed to find happiness. She lives today with her second husband, six children, and nine grandchildren. Eva Galler, who jumped from a train with two other siblings, was the only one in her family to live through the Holocaust. Eva found happiness with her husband, three children, and new home in New Orleans. Solomon Radasky had 78 people in his family prior to the Holocaust. He is the only one to have survived. Solomon married a woman named Frieda. Years after the Holocaust, Frieda bore a son for Solomon. The importance of family was not lost for these Holocaust survivors. The spirit of togetherness did not break, even though they remained segregated for many years.
Once the ashes of the deceased no longer covered the ground, many Holocaust survivors began to express their fears, hurt, and faith wavering from this tragedy.
Fear entered the minds of Jewish children and adults when Hitler came to power. Fear of not working fast enough or not looking healthy. Fear gripped a Jew at every sidewalk, corner, and house. For years, fear had its hold on the Jewish community even after the war. Slowly but surely, many Holocaust survivors began reaching out to others about fear controlling their lives. Edward Yashinky, Holocaust survivor speaks of the fear that held many captive. He expels the fear in an exquisite quote. “Fear not your enemies, for they can only kill you. Fear not your friends, for they can only betray you. Fear only the indifferent, who permit the killers and betrayers to walk safely on the earth.”
Hurt was a common word spoken amongst Holocaust survivors. Pain arose from losing family and friends. Pain seemed to appear at every Jewish doorstep either by physical force, or emotional and mental torture. Many survivors expelled the hurt through talking within the societies. Some found pains subside from seeing a friend or family member’s name on a list. One thing that the majority of survivors found to help overcome hurt was time. Time did not heal all the wounds, but for some the pain weakened.
“Nothing belongs to us any more. They’ve taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair. We are more than bare. We are as naked as worms. If we speak, they will not listen, and if they listen, they will not understand.” This is a quote by Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi. This is the feeling many survivors had. The question of whom or what to turn to posed in many survivors’ minds. Some survivors held their faith in God. Although faith wavered from time to time, many kept their belief alive. Joseph Sher’s account of his faith wavering during the Holocaust is heard in the quote, “In the beginning we trusted God. A miracle was going to happen. But no miracle came. My wife was afraid every minute that I was going to die. I was afraid she was going to die. We asked God, Eli, Eli, why us? We still believe in God.” Eva Galler questioned her God many times. She wonders where God was because her family did not survive. Her answer is within the quote, “I don’t try to search any deeper because I think without religion it would be harder for me to live.” The Jewish community, prosecuted for their belief, still managed to keep hope of staying alive through their faith. After the Holocaust, some survivors searched their faith for the answer regarding why they were spared. A Holocaust survivor named Sonia Golad, stated very cleary, “I survived in order to fight hatred and prejudice.” Rabbi Emeritus Laslo Berkowits, a death camp survivor, never questioned where God was. Instead of questioning his faith, Rabbi Berkowits wondered, “Where was man?”
Once liberated, the Holocaust Survivors did not jump at the chance to tell their story. Trying to survive was on the forefront of their mind. Years later, for some that would change. Ruth Glasberg Gold, Holocaust Survivor (United Nations speech, 2009) “By telling our stories, by teaching about the Holocaust and writing our memoirs, we force ourselves to recall the painful past in order to assure future generations of children an innocent and happy childhood free of menacing violence. We want to live out our lives secure in the knowledge that these inhumanities will never happen again - not because there are laws which say they are wrong, but because people say so. It is people who should admonish one another with the biblical command, Zacho, Remember!”
Ruth Gold was not the only one to speak out in hopes people will learn. Some Holocaust survivors decided to speak in schools. Henry Golde and Alice Kern are two such survivors.
Alice Kern survives today with her four daughters. She explains about camp life and what she did to survive. Not only does Alice want others to remember, she tries to inspire people to keep hope alive.
Henry Golde, a child Holocaust survivor, was retained in nine different Camps. He survived the death march, too. Henry has written books and hosts speeches about growing up quickly. He also educates in hate and the evil it bears. In 2008, the Human Relations Association gave Henry an Outstanding Educator of the Year award.
Holocaust survivors did not just express their tragedy and triumphs through lectures and speeches. Many survivors wrote books, poems, and painted pictures.
Tamara Dueuel, Holocaust Survivor portrays her Holocaust time through paintings and a poem. Her hopes are the generations to come will remember the atrocity of the Holocaust. Tamara’s message to others is for them not to forget.
Alexander Kimel spreads his message of understanding and prevention through poems. ‘I Cannot Forget’ and ‘A Creed of a Holocaust Survivor’ are two poems that convey wonderful messages. Elegant words grace the page of the world through his eyes in ‘A Creed of a Holocaust Survivor’. “When man will stop killing man, in the name of God. And nations will not lift weapons against nations. When it will be, I don’t know, but despite all the signs to the contrary. In the dawn of a better world, I do believe.”
“Don’t forget to tell the world.” is the phrase heard from many Holocaust survivors. They cannot forget because many still have guilt from surviving. Some survivors relive the experience each time the story is told.
Fritz Hirshberger stated, “A lot of survivors, we feel guilty we survived, and our families perished.” Jeannine Burk did not speak of her experiences because of denial and guilt. Jeannine finally began her quest of telling the story in 1985, almost 44 years after the Holocaust. Eva Galler remembers her little brother screaming, “I want to live, I want to live.” as he died just a few feet from her. Being spared led many Holocaust survivors to question themselves. Although the answers differ, the census seems to be remembering those who died by sharing the tale.
Black words ease across a white page without hesitation. For some survivors, telling their survivor story came with much reluctance. Joseph Sher told the interviewer how he did not sleep prior to the interview. Many Holocaust survivors spoke about their minds going back in time and the image is still very vivid. The past blends with their future even when speaking to their children. Many survivors pushed past reliving the experience to stand strong and tell the world about the lessons learned from the Holocaust.
Along with telling the tale, many Holocaust survivors have given gifts to themselves. These words are not etched in stone somewhere, but rather within the actions of the survivors. Some survivors gave the gift of justice, while others released themselves from torment. Many Holocuast survivors made a family to share their new beginning with.
Justice for the Holocaust survivors showed itself as different blessings. Alfred Weltzler and Rudolf Urba gave testimony about the concentration/extermination camps. Their accounts helped to set the ball in motion for the Nuremberg trial. Benjamin Anolik returned to Germany to bring justice to the Nazis. Joseph Sher’s brother joined the Polish army to find hiding Nazis.
Release is the gift many of the Holocaust survivors gave to themselves once they told their tale. In 1997, Jenny finally told her story. She believed a weight lifted off her shoulders once the tale was told. Many Holocaust survivors released the horrors witnessed through painting, poems, and books. Some found a release by telling their children. Many survivors realized they comforted themselves by expressing their feelings.
Justice and release opened the doors for healing. Many Holocaust survivors opened another door by marrying to creating a new family. On a few accounts, some survivors married to have the sense of togetherness they longed for. Ruth Elias, a Holocaust survivor, expressed the gift of family through this quote, “..It was hope that enabled me to survive and then presented me with the most precious of all gifts: a family, children, grandchildren, all in a new homeland.
The Jewish community has bestowed many gifts to themselves, but have not omitted others. Some Holocaust survivors have given messages through the arts. Quite a few have shared their accounts for public viewing. There are some survivors that have given the great gift of wisdom to many if they are willing to understand.
Messages of hope and a will to live can be found in some Holocaust survivors biographies. Respect and tolerance are views portrayed from some surviving authors. Escaping from imprisonment placed upon the survivors by themselves and the Nazis can be found in poems and some paintings. Eva Olsson, Olly Ritterband, and Ero “Ari” Roth are just some of the Holocaust survivors to share these messages through the arts.
Many Holocaust survivors have placed their lives on display in hopes others will learn something from their tragedy. Sala Garncarz is one of those Holocaust Survivors. Her exhibit can be found in the New York Public Library. Sala managed to send out her story during the Holocaust. These stories would later be found, along with a protective support order for an inmate.
Wisdom is knowledge some can chose not to share. Simon Wiesenthal, Eli Zborowski, and Sam Spiegel, Holocaust survivors to gave this gift to the world. Before his death, Simon says, “For your benefit, learn from our tragedy. It is not a written law that the next victims must be Jews.” Eli speaks about stereotyping, “My father was killed by Poles, but I was saved by Poles. It really shows that you can never generalize about people.” Sam Spiegel (1908 - 2005), survived three concentration camps and spoke at schools. His wisdom reaches out to every nation as well as individuals in the quote, “I hope for the day when people can practice their religion of choice, when race and discrimination is no longer an issue. May the 21st century, which we have now embarked never experience the horrors we have just left behind.”
“I do believe, with all my heart, in the natural goodness of man. Despite the blood and destruction, brought by one man, trying to be God. In the goodness of Man I do believe.” This is the beginning to Holocaust survivor, Alexander Kimel’s poem, ‘A Creed of a Survivor’. He witnessed the tragic events of the ghettos, camps, and death march, but still finds hope in people. Joseph Sher, Eva Galler, and many other Holocaust Survivors showed how they overcame poverty. Eli Zborowski, Sam Spiegel, and Simon Wiesenthal have taught words of wisdom against prejudice and stereotyping. Many survivors have stood up to those who imprisoned them for years by placing German soldiers behind bars, testifying against the Nazi regime, and allowing their photographs presented as evidence. Some survivors have given gifts to themselves as well as others. A few survivors have placed their lives on exhibit for others to share in their past. Holocaust survivors have shared the atrocities against their lives in many different ways, but the most important morale derived from all stories is how they stood strong against the hate; only to show their spirit was not broken.
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