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