Shades of Grey: Through the Children's Eyes

By Robyn Blank
Tallahassee, Florida


 

A young boy wearing a woolen cap stands before a line of Nazi soldiers. He is maybe four or five years old. His hands are raised in surrender, he is alone in front of a group of prisoners. The expression of fear and hopelessness on his face is forever frozen in the black-and-white photograph(1) that has become the symbol of children of the Holocaust.
We can assume he was killed, one of the estimated one million children who perished. However, the fact that he is so well-known is a triumph for during the Nazi occupation(2). However, the fact that he is so well-known is a triumph for Holocaust victims everywhere. Their stories are preserved in photographs, lectures, and books around the world. Although it is only a minute representation of what happened to European Jews during the Third Reich, the following story of four courageous young people is one which aids the never-ending campaign of Holocaust survivors--"for both the living and the dead, we must bear witness."(3)
Bluma and Cela Tishgarten, ages 13 and 16, grew up in Pinczow, Poland, among a loving and happy family. Haskell, their father, made a good living as a leather merchant. Ruth, their mother, kept house, as was the tradition. They had two little sisters, Salah, age eight, and Yentela, age six. Kalma was their brother, a handsome boy of seventeen. The girls' older sister, Genya, was married and had a child. In 1939, the Nazis invaded Pinczow, which was too small to have a ghetto. After most of the town was burned, Genya, her husband Litman, and their baby hid in a burned-out cellar. This worked for a month or two, but Litman became ill from the smoke and died in the town's scorched hospital. Soon after, Ruth tearfully urged Cela and Bluma to leave the family and hide. She stuffed all of their money into Cela's pockets, and the two girls fled to the woods. They never saw any of their family again.
Cela and Bluma braved the woods until the beginning of winter, when they decided to look for shelter in Chemelniek. Their uncle worked as a carpenter there, and was spared by the Nazis because he was able to make tools for the army. The girls stayed in his carpentry shop for several days, but were captured when a neighbor told a German soldier that the sisters were hiding. Cela and Bluma were sent to a work camp, where they would toil at ammunition machines for twelve hours a day. Conditions were horrible. The camp was dirty and inmates died often of disease and starvation. Beds consisted of wooden boards and straw, so closely packed that there was no room to turn over(5). Knowing that they would die together was the only comfort for Cela and Bluma, who were beyond despair.
Not far away, in Warsaw, lived a young man named David Miller. He was one of half a million Jews living in Warsaw(6). Soon after the Nazi invasion of Poland, David was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. His job there was to take out the trash and smuggle in guns that would be used in the uprising. On April 19, 1943, the revolt against Hitler's forces began, and lasted for over a month. The Jews fought wildly with bottle rockets, rocks, sticks, and the few guns donated by the Polish underground(7). Eventually the ammunition ran out and David took to the sewers, which led him to the center of the city. Captured in May of 1943, he was among the last 24 Jews to leave Warsaw.
As Russian forces closed in, Cela and Bluma were transferred west to Germany in the spring of 1943. They remained in Germany, at Bergen-Belsen, for a short time, performing daily tasks such as dragging logs back and forth like robots(8). At the time, they did not know that the work they did was in vain. Bergen-Belsen was a death camp; guards just tormented the inmates until they died. The sisters were relocated to Burgau, where they helped build airplanes. Their final stop was at Kaufering, where a person's only goal was to stay alive(9). Inmates there were little more than living skeletons. There was no food, not even for the Germans. Bluma had typhus, and Cela had contracted typhoid fever. Each weighed about sixty-five pounds. Finally, they heard gunfire outside the camp. An American soldier dashed through the doorway and knelt down to speak to Bluma. As sick as they were, the sisters could hardly comprehend that the war was over and they were free again. It was not until they were taken to a hospital that Cela and Bluma were told that their entire family had been killed.
David was sent to Auschwitz. The complex included two other concentration camps--Birkenau and Monowitz. Together, these camps were responsible for an estimated two million deaths(10). Auschwitz was also notorious for its torturous experiments on children. Led by Dr. Joset Mengele, German doctors conducted experiments on Jewish twins, trying to find genetic links to multiply the Aryan race. Mengele would take liters of blood from sets of twins and transfuse it into German women, hoping that they would have multiple babies. Those who did not die from the substantial blood loss were killed when Mengele's results proved inconclusive and he tired of the experiments(11).
The Russian army invaded Germany in 1945, and David escaped from Auschwitz. During the fighting he fled to the woods at the outskirts of Warsaw. Walking the three hundred kilometers to Buchenwald, David found his friend, Felix Goldberg. Buchenwald had been liberated and the two men were reunited.
These stories, though vastly different, have a joyful connection. Cela and David and Bluma and Felix met at a displaced persons camp in Poland. A few months later, they were married in a double wedding. Jewish agencies sponsored them in their journey to America, where they have rebuilt their families. The couples now reside in Columbia, South Carolina and are very close.
It is futile to wish that all of the children and young adults of the Holocaust could have been as fortunate as these four who survived and found love. Most of them were considered too young to work in the labor camps, and were sent to "the left"-- the gas chambers. There are countless pictures of children in the ghettos, their clothes torn and dirty, huddled close to each other to stay warm. Other pictures show the death marches--women and children being sent to gas chambers or firing squads. Every now and then, one of these photographs catches a child looking straight into the lens. The most striking features of the young ones are their eyes. They speak volumes, the pain and suffering, the knowledge of impending death. Many are only six or seven years old, but their eyes are aged. They have seen the horrors of the dying and the dead.
They were denied their childhood, their freedom-- their entire lives--for their beliefs. It is beyond tragic that these one million children were murdered, for it is unknown what they could have contributed to the world if they had lived.
It is fitting that the children of the Holocaust who survived--about forty thousand are still alive(12)--have the self-imposed duty of telling their stories and the stories of their families to the children of today. Their lectures, speeches, and articles allow today's children to see the Holocaust through the eyes of those who had the misfortune of experiencing it firsthand. They tell of the pain they endured in the camps. They tell of the families they lost. They tell of the people who were not as lucky as they were and met their deaths. The children listen raptly, they seem to know it is their obligation to do so.
Monuments in Washington, D.C., Miami, and across the world stand as testimony to the struggle of the victims. Remembrance walls made up of painted tiles are found throughout the country. The tiles are crafted by Jewish children, some of whom are grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. They are most likely the last generation to live in the presence of the survivors, and they are told of the Holocaust at an early age. In Sunday School, they remember the six million on Yom Hashoah--the Day of Remembrance. Some will become the lecturers who tell the next generation of their grandparents' persecution. No matter the method, children of survivors try to comprehend what they know they never can fully understand--the inhumanities endured by their families during the Third Reich.
It is the responsibility of everyone today to remember the six million. Even those who have no connection to the Holocaust must preserve the stories of the victims. One of the best examples of this dedication to remembrance is shown in the work of sculptor Kenneth Treister. In 1985, he undertook the huge task of creating the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach. Its focal point is a giant bronze hand, reaching to the sky. Clinging to it are more than one hundred smaller sculptures symbolizing the six million. They reach to the sky as well, as if for their freedom(13). Mr. Triester has no personal link to the Holocaust, yet he spent five years of his life trying to depict its tragedy. He concluded his work at the memorial's dedication in 1990:

"The totality of the Holocaust cannot be portrayed in stone and bronze . . . but I had to try. The richness of the European Jewish culture, now lost, cannot be expressed . . . but I had to try. The sense of sorrow, pain, and loss at the murder of over one million children cannot be sculpted . . . but I had to try. Six million monuments of premature death cannot be understood . . . but we all must try."
--Kenneth Triester, 1990(14).

In this respect, all of us--Jewish or not--are children of the Holocaust, for we must always remember. One million children in Heaven smile down on us each time we tell their stories.

FOOTNOTES

1 The Staff of the Washington Post: Holocaust: The Obligation To Remember (Washington: 1983), cover photograph.

2 Treister, Kenneth. A Sculpture of Love and Anguish (New York: S.P.I. Books, 199-31), pg. 11.

3 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum [United States]: n.p., n.d.

4 Goldberg, Bluma. Address to the Jewish Community of Columbia. Columbia, South Carolina. Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) April, 1996.

5 Blurna Goldberg, Address.

6 Holocaust: The Obligation To Remember. pg. 26.

7 Holocaust: The Obligation To Remember. pg. 26.

8 Miller, Cela. Address to the Jewish Community of Columbia. Columbia, South Carolina. Yom Hashoah, April, 1996.

9 Syndor, Charles J. Auschwitz Vol, 1. World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book Inc., 1991

11 Posner, Gerald L.. Josef Mengele. Vol. 13. World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book Inc., 1991.

12 Holocaust: The Obligation To Remember, pg. 16.

13 Treister, Kenneth. A Sculpture of Love and Anguish (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1993), pg. 40.

14 Triester, pg. 18.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Emanuel, Jerry. "Columbia Survivors Talk About the Holocaust." Jewish News 27 May 1987: pp. 2-4.

Goldberg, Bluma. Address to the Congregations of Tree of Life and Beth Shalom Synagogues Columbia, South Carolina. Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) April, 1996.

Lore, Diane. "Newest Jewish Holiday Observed at Synagogue." The Columbia Record 27 April 1987: I-2C.

Miller, Cela. Address to the Congregations of Tree of Life and Beth Shalom Synagogues. Columbia, South Carolina. Yom Hashoah, April, 1996.

Miller, Cela. Personal Interview. 17 January 1997.

Posner, Gerald L.. Josef Mengele. Vol. 13. World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book Inc., 1991

The Staff of The Washington Post. Holocaust: The Obligation To Remember. Washington: The Washington Post, 1983.

Syndor, Charles J. Auschwitz. Vol. 1. World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book Inc., 1991.

Treister, Kenneth. A Sculpture of Love and Anguish. New York: S.P.I. Books, 1993.

United States Holocaust Museum (Pamphlet). [United States]: n.p., n.d.


 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

MENU