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).
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,
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.