I am so excited to share my personal perspective on a topic so closely held to my Jewish Heritage. Growing up as an observant Jew I was taught about so many historical events that go back thousands of years.
Amongst them, the Holocaust resonates in my mind as an event that I feel as a Jew, I need to understand. I continue to go back to 1933 when the onset of the Holocaust in Europe began, and had continued through 1945, taking roughly 8.5 million lives, including roughly 6 million Jewish Lives. The holocaust is thought of only being a tragedy of where people were murdered in concentration camps but the holocaust has more to its story than that. It seems to me to truly understand what the conditions were during the horrific time you need to experience it first hand. That being said, I had traveled back in time to 1933 when I had the privilege of personally getting to know many faces and voices of the holocaust. To set the stage let me share some insight into the state of Chaos of the Holocaust through my readings of Ms. Sally Rogow, an esteemed Professor at the University of British Columbia.
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According to Sally Rogow, author of Child Victims in Nazi Germany, In the beginning of the worst thing that many people experienced in their lifetime reality began to change before their eyes. The popular schools, hospitals and institutions were changed from a reputable place to a place of destruction and the unknown. During the first period of change children specifically were isolated for their differences whether they had disabilities, had emotional problems or were orphans and were forced into institutions. Children were given impassable tests in school and when they failed they were considered hopeless cases and were sent away like the other children. The parents who opposed the idea of their child being taken away were threatened to lose guardianship.
Ms. Rogow emphasized the absurd conditions by not leaving out detail. Rogow mentions in her writing when Jewish caregivers were dismissed there was a budget decrease and overcrowding became a large issue, one physician could be responsible for 400 to 500 patients. Also, after the professional nurses were dismissed women Nazis with no experience in child care took their place and did as they were told. Next, children were constantly being moved from institution to institution without parental knowledge or consent. In my opinion, things became most inhumane during this fiasco when children were being used for medical experiments. Special needs children who had mental and physical disabilities were used as lab rats. They had blood and spinal floods drawn and replaced with air so they could take clear x-rays of their brains then they’d inject them with different substance to see the reaction. Later their organs were sold for research after they were killed. In addition, Hitler gave the okay for physicians to kill children so it became a game since they knew they’d get a bonus. After gas chambers were created 3000 to 4000 lives were saved when the physicians gave false reports about the patients by labeling them able to work the people that were labeled fit to work were hidden the days the busses were in transit. Postwar persons involved with killings resumed their jobs like nothing happened.
The first person I met was six-year-old Thomas Buergenthal, he was forced to leave his home and adapt to his new environment Kielce, Poland widely known as a ghetto.
Me: How were you able to survive the trauma and conditions, what happened to those less fortunate?
Thomas: I had convinced the Nazi’s that I was able to work a variety of jobs. For those the less fortunate children were isolated from the rest of us for a period of time and then were taken away to a Jewish Cemetery and killed
After I left Thomas in Poland I allowed myself time to reflect on his experience and balance my emotions. I had immediately begun further research as I continued my journey.
I was very fortunate to meet with Ursula Rosenfeld, a thirteen-year-old Jewish Public School student. I had come to learn that Ursula had first hand knowledge and experiences of Kristallnacht.
Me: Ursula what had happened to create such a level of dissent for Jews in the community, and how to it spread so rapidly?
Ursula: Prior to the Holocaust various denominations of German students had attended public schools cohesively without any animosity. That was until the Nazi’s had infiltrated and influenced local politicians opinions of Jews. This had created considerable hatred, violence and separation of the classes (denominations). Shortly there after, the events have escalated to a period of absolute chaos and desperation. Simply put, those of us who were deemed intelligent and capable had managed to survive.
Me: Can you share your experiences you’ve had with your peers since the turmoil began?
Ursula: Yes, I was verbally assaulted by peers specifically based off of my religion. As fellow peers watched a local synagogue burn one made a comment saying, oh there’s a Jew, let’s throw her on fire as well
My interview with Ursula had me thinking about how did the parents plan for the safety of their children during this time period.
As the intensity of the war picked up many parents made the impulse decision to send their children away to ensure their safety. Two days before Britain entered WWII 10,000 children were moved out of Nazi invaded countries to Britain. Once the children reached their destination of London they were either placed in a sponsor home or at a vacation camp called Dovercourt Bay. Although being in an actual home seems more glamorous and reality friendly at times it could have been a toxic environment. Its been documented by survivors that sometimes relationships were never meshed together or the children were overworked.
The next person I’d like to introduce to you is a survivor who was hidden after her parents made the decision to send her away at nine months old, it’s a pleasure for me to share my interview I had with Aviva Sleslin.
Me: Aviva can you please express the feeling you possess after you’ve realized you survived?
Aviva: I believe we were lucky. Our childhoods were blessed with great rescuers who showed us in humanity there’s still good when there’s a lot of evil, and held courage for us during the unknown and great losses.
I had paused from interviewing and resumed my research. I was sickened to learn that many families were forced to abandon their religious identity and blend with the rest of the community in order to escape the outcome of concentration camps.
By 1939 many people were forced from their homes and moved to in ghettos. Ghettos were designated areas where Jewish people were forced to live. Conditions were terrible it was overcrowded, unsanitary, disease spread fast and many people faced starvation. Ghettos were controlled by most unmerciful private police force, originally formed as security for Hitler, the schutzstaffel. The identities of holocaust prisoners at Auschwitz that were capable to work were stripped away from them when their heads were shaved, they were given rubbish clothes and had a number tattooed on their arm to replace who they were entirely. In addition, they were overworked and starved to the point of where they resembled skeletons. Holocaust survivors saw the light at the end of the tunnel when American troops liberated the camps April 1945 and left by June 1945
American troops were astounded by the conditions the kids were in. The commander of the American troops sent a message to the children’s rescue group asking for help in evacuating the children As result of the trips being upset by the conditions of the children they tried to nourish them as fast and as much as possible. Although it was a nice gesture their bodies couldn’t handle the rich foods and it caused them to be sick and caused some to die. Inevitably after being in the conditions they were in and experiencing scarring events children had a hard time adjusting back to normal life. They had a hard time disassociating adults as enemies and rarely spoke to outsiders. They wanted to get away from where they were. When they wrote about their experience they wrote about the emotions and actions of other peoples over theirs, and similarly all children wrote about lost loved ones.
Once again resuming my interviews the next person I spoke to was Elizabeth Zadek who had a close relationship with children recovering from the holocaust at the Lingfield house located near London.
Me: How would you describe the children’s mentality after they left the concentration camps?
Elizabeth: The children appeared mature and from the bitter experience they lost trustfulness and faith of the child.
While I learned a lot and enjoyed all of the interviews that I was fortunate enough to complete, my last interview will leave me with everlasting memories of the struggles during the Holocaust period. I had the rare opportunity to interview 15-year-old Anne Frank.
Me: Would you mind sharing some background on your experience through the Holocaust?
Anne: During the holocaust my family felt safe at first, we were tucked away in an annex behind my fathers business, it was only accessible through the inside. We often depended on outside sources for our information on the conditions of society, and I wrote all of my experiences down in my diary until Nazis took my family.
Me: Where to you relocate to after leaving Germany? How old were you.
Anne: My family relocated to Amsterdam when I was 4 years old because we thought since it wasn’t taken over by Nazis we were safe.
In my opinion, there will always be various levels of prejudice, hatred, and discrimination, its unfortunate how some sectors and cultures are wired. As I consider what I’ve read and thought through my interviews I realized that we have to even more so prevent that catastrophic events from occurring again by never forgetting.
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