Unanswered Prayers: The Story of Children Holocaust Victims

By Tina Marie Roberts
Pensacola, Florida


Think back to a time in history when madmen ran Germany and people were brainwashed to feel prejudice towards others for their religion, personal background, sexual preference, or worse yet, no reason at all. In this place and time a generation was branded, kicked out of schools, spit on, yelled at, beaten, shot, burned alive and murdered by the millions; some of which were innocent children. Tom from their homes and parents, these helpless youngsters were forced into concentration camps where they met unspeakable horrors. Many knew their fate and accepted death, while others fought hard to make it through and live to tell their own story of the holocaust.

Living and Dying at Buchenwald

Children were delivered into the concentration camp, Buchenwald, in growing numbers. The youngest, a three and a half year old polish boy, Stefan Zewig, was smuggled into camp by his father. They were poorly clothed, insufficiently nourished, and most had no blankets and no water for drinking or washing. These children had been separated from their mothers and some had seen the murders of their fathers right before their eyes. Many knew enough that their mothers, brothers and sisters had met their ends in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and that they were now homeless orphans (United States Holocaust Memorial Council 2). The ones that were old enough were sent to work detail, the others were sent to the gas chambers. "Now and then a child managed to hide between the bundles of clothing and piles of luggage. Freedom didn't last long, because the next day at the latest the children were punished by being thrown alive into the trenches between the corpses," said camp prisoner, Oscar Berger (Hackett 354).

The Children Cry Out

Children in Buchenwald met horrible deaths and severe punishments without cause - except for the pleasure it might give a camp soldier. "Seven young Polish prisoners were once suspended by chains from the bunk bed in their cell. They were fed only salt pickles and salt water, and the unbearable agony drove them to madness. All of them died in this manner. The sounds of their cries and shouts of pain for "Father" and "Mother" still ringing in my ears," observed a fellow camp prisoner, Richard Gritz (Hackett 198). One fifteen-year-old Polish comrade was hanged for tying to escape. He cried in despair, "Mother, mother, I am still so young, I don't want to die yet!" (Hacken 193).

Even after children were evacuated from Buchenwald, they suffered. Many were overcome with panic and took refuge in sewers where they were subjected to extreme deprivation for days at a time. Constant nightmares plagued most of them afterwards, "For a year I have dreamed about bad things, but if sometime my mother wakes me up and calls to me 'Good morning, my son!' then I will no longer remember the bad things," said a child observed by Dr. Jonas Silber (Hackett 244-248).

Death Doctor Murders Without Cause

Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele was well known to use cruel and unusual forms of medicine to 'treat' patients of his own selection. There have been numerous accounts of his cruelty towards children especially. Herman Langbehn, a clerk at Auschwitz, in an interview, spoke of an instance were Mengele came into the children's block at Auschwitz to measure the boys' height. Mengele became angry when he found many of them too small for their age. He made the boys stand against a door post marked with nails for each group. If the boy's head did not reach the proper nail, Mengele gave a sign with his riding crop. The child was later taken away to the gas chambers. More than a thousand children were murdered at that time (Snyder 241). "Another night,"described by seventy-one-year-old Maximilian Sternol, "women and children were on their knees before Mengele and (his co-death conspiratan) Boger, crying 'take pity on us, take pity on us!' Nothing helped. They were beaten down, brutally trampled upon, and pushed into the trucks. It was a terrible, gruesome sight" (Snyder 241). Mengele was also accused of killing a fourteen-year-old girl with a bayonet and even accused of supervising an operation by which two Gypsy children were sewn together to create Siamese twins (Snyder 242).

A Heroic Escape

In a small town a few miles away from Berlin, lived a sixteen year old Jewish girl by the name of Ruth Krumbein. In 1936 she read Adolf Hitler's book, Mien Kampf, and believed every word of it. She was scared for her safety and confronted her parents. She told them that they all had to get out of Germany immediately. Since her father was a well known business man and mayor of the town, he brushed off her warnings as nothing more then adolescent 'behavior' and 'silliness'. Ruth pushed on and would not stay; she was too scared. She knew of relatives in Pensacola and asked if they would sponsor her. They said, 'of course' and within two years she earned an American Visa. Her parents let her go, not for her safety, but as a good learning experience. "You're dreaming," they'd say. They didn't heed her countless warnings and so didn't join her into the States. Her father use to say, "even if Hitler and his gang wanted to hurt us, the foreign nations wouldn't allow it!" (Ruth Krumbein, personal interview, 17 February 1997).
Her father died before she left of natural causes, but her mother, brother, and sisters perished somewhere in a concentration camp. All of her aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members were murdered. In her last year in Germany, 1939, she noticed big changes in the way Jews were being treated. "The Germans would go up and down the streets singing. They'd sing horrible songs that translated to 'kill them, kill them all.' It was terrible!" (Ruth Krumbein, personal interview, 17 February 1997).
"I was there when Kristal1nacht took place. It was very freighting." (Ruth Krumbein, personal interview, 17 February 1997).
Today, Ruth is the last of the life she had in Germany. Her family and most friends were all murdered many years ago. She knows of a few friends that survived, but not enough to count on two hands. The most the German government would ever say about the fate her family met, was that they had been deported, somewhere (Ruth Krumbein, personal interview, 17 February 1997).
For a young girl of sixteen. the decision to get out of Germany was both bold and lifesaving. One decision saved her life, but how many young adults had that choice? "Many of my friends tried to get Visas, but they where hard to come by. (Few) got out alive." (Ruth Krumbein, personal interview, 17 February 1997).
The children of the Holocaust were left without a chance. Not only were they tortured, beaten and starved, but their innocence was taken away. "My generation never had a childhood; It was hard, very hard." (Ruth Krumbein, personal interview, 17 February 1997).
How many of the millions of victims killed in the Holocaust, children? The number may never be known, but the lasting tales of their existence will forever haunt future generations. May this serve as a lesson, never to be repeated.

Works Cited

Hackett, David A. The Buchenwald Report. New York: Westview Press Inc., 1995.

Krumbein, Ruth. Personal interview. 17 February 1997.

Snyder, Louis L. Hitler's Elite. New York: Hippocreve Books Inc.,1989.

United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Washington, DC
(Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 1993).


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