Through The Eyes of A Child:
Remembering the Children of the Holocaust


By Jennifer Snyder
Jacksonville, Florida


 

The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic killing of six million Jews by the Nazis that lasted from 1933 to 1945. Over one million of these Jews were children (United States 7). These children were severely abused, forced to endure unimaginable hardships, and many were annihilated.
At the onset of the Holocaust, Germans quickly began to discriminate. Jewish families in occupied Europe and other countries collaborating with the Germans were uprooted from their homes, businesses, and occupations and isolated in sections of cities and communities called "Ghettos" (Dawldowicz 172).
The family unit of father, mother, and children was destroyed. Fathers were marched off to forced labor, often times never to return. Mothers were forced to work leaving young children to be tended by the sick and elderly. As more workers were needed, the older youth were forced to work as adults. Later, even children as young as six were made to work on road construction (Tory 321). It was not unusual for a family member never to return. If they were no longer useful or committed a forbidden act; for example, sneak out to get food, they were killed.
The aim of the Nazis was to wipe out the Jewish population and culture and to ensure continued and future extinction by annihilating the children. The very young children were usually selected for extermination immediately since they were too young to work, diminished the food supply, and needed adult attention which cut into the work force. Furthermore, children were considered a danger because they would grow up and probably engage in espionage to revenge the death of parents and families (Levin 51). They were considered just bodies that could be counted. They were brought into camps, registered, and deported (Dwork 136).
Inhumane means were used to exterminate these children. Trucks would pull up and children would be thrown into them to transport to the "killing fields." At times they were thrown out windows or into pits where they were shot and burned. Soldiers would search homes, take infants, place them on the ground in a stone-paved hospital courtyard, and leave them there facing upwards. Other soldiers would kick them to their side, but they would eventually return "belly-up" and die (Tory 41). Mothers would frequently hide children under their clothes, but when they were found they were soon killed (Levin 268-69). Sometimes infants were smashed against the wall until they were dead, and then their mangled bodies were tossed into the arms of their mothers (United States 45). During the Christmas of 1944, 200 orphans were marched in night clothes and barefeet through the snowy streets of Budapest to the banks of the Danube River. There they were shot and fell into the icy river. That night the water of the Danube ran red with Jewish blood (Levin 320).
While in transit camps awaiting their fate, children grew accustomed to hunger, waiting, and want while enduring incarceration, malnutrition, and disease (Dwork 146). Children spent much of their time trying to get water, go to the toilet, and search and destroy the lice on their bodies and in their clothes. An American liberator reported one children's cell block to be smeared with dysentery and the children to be of little flesh (United States 34). Living in these camps was demeaning and demanding in regard to vitality, energy, and health (Dwork 133). In the Vilna forest camp, young people risked their lives sneaking out to the Aryan side to beg food for themselves, the elders, and the young children (Tory 497). A six year old beggar boy lay gasping all night because he was too weak to roll over to reach a piece of bread (Dwork XXVIII). During their stay at these camps, children experienced horrible incidents. When a bomb struck, a young boy watched as his mother and sister were killed leaving him all alone with an injured foot and one eye missing (Dawldowicz 194).
Jewish children were removed from regular German schools as early as 1933. Polish schools were closed to Jewish children on the basis that they would serve as a breeding ground for infectious disease (Dwork 180). As a result of these actions, Jewish schools had to be provided for them. Gradually, as anti-Semitism grew stronger and families were deported to the Ghettos, schooling for the children became clandestine when the Nazis outlawed all schools. The teachers and students met secretly. Children studied their culture and language. When they were not in school, they invented their own games, played theater, sang in choirs, attended concerts, drew pictures, and wrote poems and stories. They were encouraged to keep diaries of their life and activities (Dwork 128-29). The Germans had daytime kindergartens for their own women who worked in factories. They suggested to do the same in the Ghettos. However the Jewish mothers were cautious about leaving their children with strangers knowing how the Germans hated Jewish children. They recalled that there had been a kindergarten in the Ghetto where 165 children attended. One day all but 10 were murdered by the Germans (Tory 262).
In May of 1942, a clandestine Hebrew kindergarten had been set up in the Ghetto. It was to benefit orphaned, abandoned children, and those whose parents had been taken for long-term forced labor (Tory 88). At about the same time, the Jewish Welfare Council determined that children up to the age of fifteen were allowed to be adopted (Tory 104). The Council felt that maybe the children could have a normal life being that the emotional well-being and the physical activities were determined by the physical situation in which they lived (Dwork 88). About the same time, an underground activity was going on to secret children out of hiding where they might be betrayed or captured. As a result, 1,250 Jewish children entered Switzerland to a safe haven. Other children were placed in hiding with foster parents who passed them off as relatives who come to stay or an evacuee or war orphan from a bombed city. If the arrangement did not work out, the child was moved to another home (Dwork 34, 54). At the end of World War II, some of the scattered children made their way back to their homeland while others remained with the foster families.
In the world today, suffering and hatred continues. The media keeps one abreast of what is going on around the world. Children are abandoned and left to fend for themselves. In many of the cities and other areas of the world, children beg for money and food and live on the streets. Too often there are instances where new born babies are left in garbage bins to die, and other children die from neglect or serious abuse from their own families and others. In India, for instance, the orphanages and children's homes established by Catholic nuns are full and running over. In the United States, organizations solicit money to feed starving children, help clothe and educate them. Children are being killed in many countries that are fighting; for example, Bosnia.
The Holocaust can teach one the dangers of discrimination, prejudice and indifference and what the results can lead to. One can learn that humans have two sides - depravity and heroism - and even though humanity might sink to low depths we might also aspire to great heights (United States 8).
The children endured unimaginable hardships and abuse during the Holocaust. Brutality, savagery, cruelty, and annihilation are not the meanings of suffer as in when Jesus said, "... suffer the little children to come unto me ..." (Mark 10-14). The Jewish children represented a "fatally impoverished future which would neither flourish nor flower, but would die of starvation, exposure, and neglect" (Dwork XXVIII). The death of over a million children left "an entire world destroyed, a culture uprooted, and mankind left with new thresholds of inhumanity" (Linenthal 228).


Works Cited

Dawldowicz, Lucy S. A Holocaust Reader. West Orange: Behrmar House, 1976.

Dwork, Deborah. Children with a Star. London: Yale University Press, 1991.

Levin, Nora. The Holocaust Years. Malabar: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1990.

Linenthal, Edward T. Preserving Memory. New York: Viking Penguin, 1995.

Tory, Avraham. Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.

United States. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Days of Rembrence. Doc Y 3. H. Washington: GPO, 1993.

 

 


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Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.


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