Holocaust Remembrance Project
The Holocaust is a horrifying chapter in our history, an event some people can't even believe happened, many more would just like to forget it. But there are survivors of this Holocaust who can attest to the horrors that they went through, who will not let us forget it. Survivors who can not forget and will not forgive the Nazis and the atrocities they subjected them to. They are all innocent individuals, who share only the suffering they went through and the injustice of being persecuted for who they were, rather than something they did. The armies who liberated them from the concentration camps found a diverse group of prisoners, people with completely different backgrounds, all with their own stories to tell.
The Allied forces liberated the few remaining prisoners from the death camps in late 1944 and early 1945. They marched in expecting nothing but a large prison, completely unprepared for the Hell that they found. The soldiers had difficulty comprehending what they saw, the death, torture, disease, and starvation, all of innocent people, all at the hands of other men. Soldiers cried and were sick to their stomachs as they swore their revenge, and they told reporters, "We have seen Dachau. Now we know what we are fighting for." Other soldiers, like some people today, tried, for a little while, not to believe the horrors of what they saw, but the ovens were still hot and the truth could not be denied; there were also the survivors themselves who were there to confirm what the soldiers saw. They rushed to the soldiers as they entered the camp, begging for food and medicine. Sergeant Henry DeJarnette said of the survivor's welcome that it was like "Being hugged and kissed by walking skeletons. " Some senior intelligence agents took interviews of some of the survivors; many more have told their stories to others since. (Milk, pp.48-50)
Esther Cohen remembers the liberation and remembers not really believing it was over. She was very young and she could not understand that the brutality and the madness she had been living with for years was finally over, but she saw smiles on people's faces for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, and she knew there was hope. Although her brothers and sisters were killed, her parents survived and together they moved to New York City and gradually she began to feel safe and secure, like she had before the war. Today she works as a member of The Board of Trustees for the Simon Wisenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, a trustee for Yeshiva University, and a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. She still thanks God and all the men and women who "fought so valiantly to free me and to restore justice and freedom. "(Cohen, p. 142)
Isaac Goodfriend was saved a couple times by different people during the Holocaust. He lived in a small town in Poland until 1942 when he was sent away from his family to a slave labor camp. While he was working there, he caused a small accident and was to be sent to the Gestapo to be killed, but when they came for him, the engineer Goodfriend was working for told them that he could not finish the job without him, so he was spared. In 1944, he received a note from a contact on the outside saying that if he could escape, there was a house he could hide in. So he escaped early one morning and was hidden in a house with eight other Jews. He never saw any of his family again; he and the other eight people he hid with were the only survivors of any of their families. He was liberated January 17, 1945; at the time he did not know if the cannons he heard coming were German or Russian. Today he lives in Atlanta, and he is the Cantor of Ahavath Achim Congregation there. He is also a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. (Goodfriend, pp. 144-46)
Today, Anthony Van Velsen is a lawyer in The Netherlands and is a survivor of several death camps; he was in Birkenau when he was actually liberated. He does not feel the same gratitude that many of the other survivors have expressed. He is angry. He felt "utterly desolate and lonesome" when he was liberated. He felt deserted by the rest of the world, and beside hate for the Nazis, he felt reproach for the rest of the world for letting the death camps happen, for letting six million Jews die. He realizes there were people who helped some Jews, but he says that the point is that six million Jews were failed. He says that we not only need to remember the Holocaust, but to do anything and everything in our power to stop it from ever happening again. (Van Velsen, pp. 149,150)
The fifty year anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps serves as a reminder that in much less than another fifty years, there will be no survivors left of the Holocaust, no witnesses left to speak out against the inhumanities they lived through; they will not be here to remind us not to let it happen again. Because the Holocaust was allowed to go on for so long and went on unnoticed or ignored by so many people, the eventual absence of the survivors may be one of the scariest aspects of the Holocaust. So we must remember it ourselves; we must tell the horrible stories of what happened over and over again; in the words of Elie Wiesel, "For the dead and the living we must bear witness. " The Holocaust really happened and we must know in our hearts that we can never allow anything like it to ever happen again.
Cohen, Esther. "The Survivors". Chamberlain, Brewster; Feldman, Marcia, eds. The Liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camps. The United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Washington D.C., 1987. p. 142.
Freiwald, Aaron; Mendlesonh, Martin. The Last Nazi. W.W. Norton and Company,New York, 1994.
Goodfriend, Isaac. "The Survivors." Chamberlain, Brewster; Feldman, Marsia, eds. ibid. pp. 144-146
Milk, Leslie; Milk, Jeremy. "Witnesses to the Holocaust." The American Leigon, Aug., 1994. pp.29-30,48-50.
Van Velsen, Anthony. "The Survivors." Chamberlain, Brewster; Feldman, Marcia, eds. ibid. pp. 149,150.
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