Like A Frog In Winter

By Laura Kolodner
Tampa, Florida


 

Consider if this is a man

Who works in the mud

Who does not know peace

Who fights for a scrap of bread

Who dies because of a yes or no.

Consider if this a woman,

Without hair and without name

With no more strength to remember,

Her eyes empty and her womb cold

Like a frog in winter (Levi 11).

A small piece of potato peel may at first seem to be an insignificant way of resisting the Nazi machine. However, opposition can be demonstrated in many different forms. Some people face the most dire circumstances by fighting in a spiritual sense, while others use a physical means of struggling to preserve their human dignity. In the years prior to and during World War II, the Nazis conducted two wars, one against the allied forces to establish the ultimate control over Europe, and the other against the Jews of Eastern Europe in an attempt to succeed at genocide. By 1942, the news had reached the West concerning the vicious acts and the extermination of the Jews. Such evil seemed to be too unreal to take seriously (Dawidowicz 174-175). "Yes, the European Jews were abandoned-by the governments that were obliged to protect them" (Dawidowicz 175-176). For many Jews, whether being a young child or an elderly adult, the Nazi ultimatum to disappear from the face of the earth became the test of one's individual strength and the will to survive. My grandmother was a survivor of the Holocaust. She, along with her sister-in-law and her brother, would not succumb to defeat, but chose to fight for human rights. Although these three people sought to overcome overwhelming obstacles, in essence, their goal was the same. Their true stories demonstrate compassion and determination at its zenith and portray the courage which human beings mustered in order to resist the Nazis.

At the age of seventeen, my grandmother's life seemed to be ideal. She married a successful businessman following her graduation from high school, and soon became the loving mother of three children. However, both her happiness and family were destroyed when the Nazis invaded Siaulenai, Lithuania. Hitler planned to exterminate all the Jews in Eastern Europe so that the "perfect" Aryan race could be achieved. In the years that following that invasion of my grandmother's town, tragedy struck. Her husband, along with many other influential townspeople, was shot in the head by the Nazis. Left to her own devices, my grandmother, a widow with three young children, did her best to resist the nefarious plans of the Third Reich. She would not surrender to the Nazis' cruel agenda. My grandmother, her sister-in-law, and all of their children were taken to the ghetto in Siaulenai.

But once the Jews had been sealed in ghettos, they had been placed more readily out of reach of the compassion and comprehension of the surrounding Christian world. They could be hunted down at will with a minimum interference; they were free game (Syrkin 149).

Although they earned pitifully meager wages as laborers in a Nazi ammunition plant, both my grandmother and her sister-in-law tried to provide for their children. They were desperately concerned for the well-being of their families; despite the horrendous conditions in the ghetto, they reserved the right to hope and to believe in future happiness.

The trials and tribulations never seemed to end. One afternoon the Nazis went around the town posting signs stating that all families with young children would be relocated to new homes in a more favorable area. Fearing German deception, my grandmother made a decision. She hid her youngest child, a three-year old girl, under a table covered completely by a long tablecloth. In the event that the Nazis had harmful intentions, she had concealed her smallest girl from the clutches of death by arranging with her sister-in-law to care for her in case my grandmother did not return. However, when she proceeded to the train station with her two eldest daughters, she found that nothing seemed to be amiss. All the families were lined up, ready to make the journey together to the promised destination. Everyone was optimistic that living conditions would soon be better. My grandmother raced back home to get her little girl. The realization of her incredible error was obvious when the Nazis separated the children from their mothers just as the trains were scheduled to depart. She was like a trapped animal. The Nazis shoved all the mothers behind a fence that was closely guarded by dogs. My grandmother could only watch in horror as the boxcars carrying the young children of Siaulenai disappeared. After the conclusion of World War II, she learned the date on which her children arrived at Auschwitz, where they were exterminated in the gas chambers.

My grandmother's life had reached its nadir. The Nazis had destroyed everything that was meaningful to her. For the very first time since the German invasion, she felt devoid of hope. However, the rest of her family was not ready to give up. After seeing what the Nazis had done to my grandmother's children, her sister-in-law took action. Years before she had befriended a non-Jewish baker. He now agreed to hide her entire family in a hidden compartment behind an oven in his bakery. This righteous man was willing to risk his life for justice in order to resist an evil force. The baker was able to demonstrate compassion for others, and to offer hope for survival. She tried desperately to convince my grandmother to join her in hiding so together they could resist the Nazis; she was unsuccessful. My grandmother chose to stay behind with her younger brother who was committed to struggling against the Nazis. He joined the other partisans in the ghetto who were fighting for their freedom.

A more creative force impelled them also- a passion for Jewish resurgence - and their dream, still obstinately held, of a just human society....

Every act, even if it involved only a few bunkers in a doomed ghetto, would be placed within the larger strategy of a world vision (Syrkin 253).

To stop the Jewish fighters from creating chaos, the Nazis chose to fire bomb the ghetto and to destroy this band of Jews, including my grandmother's brother, who dared to rebel.

Before their final ordeal, the Jews everywhere-in ghettos, in camps, in hiding-responded even in the extremity of their suffering with a stubborn determination to outlast their oppressors, with a grim will to live, to survive (Spiritual Resistance 25).

As members of her family confronted their own destinies, my grandmother faced her own doom. She was sent to the women's section of the concentration camp, Dachau, where her true story of courage began.

I have often wondered how such a sweet, unassuming woman could be so strong. My grandmother lost everything at one point, even the will to survive. Amidst her anguish was a woman of the most noble and generous character. As one of thousands of Jews in this particular concentration camp, she appeared to have no known name or face. The Nazis viewed her as just another Jew. However, my grandmother's character proved this determination wrong. Her task in the camp was to peel and to slice potatoes. As she toiled to survive, my grandmother lifted her head and saw the cruel injustice and the needless suffering around her. Her resistance began here; her kindness saved many. When the guards turned away, even for a split second, she would take the potato peels and stealthily stick them under her knee-high stockings. Being caught meant death. Later that evening, she would feed other starving inmates who were in desperate need of sustenance. My grandmother, like the non-Jewish baker, risked her own life to help others succeed in living, not dying.

The remarkable story of my family's act of resistance against the Nazis is one of courage, compassion, and most importantly, desire to survive. My grandmother refused to succumb to the evil objectives of the Nazis. Even under the most dismal conditions, she persevered. I only wish my grandmother were alive today, so that I could express how proud I am of her and our history in the Holocaust. One of my grandmother's favorite songs that she sung in the camps and, in later years, to her family was called "Ani ma-amin"..."I Believe":

I believe, I am at peace in my faith that

the Messiah will come.

And should his coming be delayed,

Yet will I believe,

And look forward every day to his coming (Rubin 457).

From this simple but eloquent verse, my grandmother's faith was exemplified. My grandmother, along with the other members of her family, made their stand against adversity. Their words and their actions in the face of the egregious deeds of the Holocaust must be remembered now and forever. If mankind is determined not to repeat the horrors of the Third Reich, there will never be a time for silence.

Bibliography

Dawidowicz, Lucy. The War Against the Jews. New York: Bantam Books, 1976.

Levi, Primo. Survival in Auschwitz. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1960.

Rubin, Ruth. Voices of a People. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979.

Spiritual Resistance: Art from Concentration Camps. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1981.

Syrkin, Marie. Blessed is the March: The Story of Jewish Resistance. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1976.

 

 


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