It Has to be Carefully Taught

By Charles Benemerito
Ft. Pierce, Florida


 

One word governed the progress of a nation and determined the fate of a people. Adolf Hitler pounded this one word into the minds of almost all of Germany's citizens. Concentration camps were built because of this word. The word began as an insignificant nothing, but ballooned into a much bigger hole that consumed the lives of six million Jews, up to 1.2 million of them children ("Children of the Holocaust" 1). This word ripped apart families with the flick of a wrist. It caused lifelong friends to kill each other for bread. The horror emanating from this word kept survivors from wanting to have children. This word caused even the most generous man to look out only for himself. This word forced people to be stripped of their pride, their dignity, their humanity and to be labeled as animals. It changed the course of the lives of three children. Marion Blumenthal Lazan, Lucille Eichengreen, and Elie Wiesel quickly lost their childhood and were forced to come face to face with this evil. Their lives before, during, and after the Holocaust were tragically altered and greatly influenced by this one word: hatred.
Marion Blumenthal Lazan was one of the many young victims of Nazi hatred. She was born on December 20, 1934, into a world filled with anti-Semitism (Pearl 11). A year before, children had stoned her brother's baby carriage. Hitler was training Germany's youth to commit more of these heinous acts. A popular cadence declared, "And when Jewish blood spurts from the knife, then things will again go well" (17). In Germany, having "Jewish blood" condemned Marion and her family to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Marion's mother Ruth said, "The only way we managed to survive in those early months of 1944---cold, hungry, and completely degraded--was on hope" (63). Marion lived in fear of the showers, not knowing whether water or Zyklon B would come streaming out. In the winter, the cold weather was bitterly intense. Marion learned from the other women how to prevent frostbite: warm her fingers and toes with her own urine. Lice infested her clothing and her hair, so picking them out was a daily routine (69). Typhus killed many of the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen. Inside the barracks, Marion tripped over the dead bodies lying on the ground.
One night, her mother sneaked in some soup. As they began to cook their wonderful treasure, it started bubbling. All of a sudden, they heard German voices: the guards were doing a surprise inspection. While the prisoners were trying to cover up the mess. the soup tipped and spilled on Marion's leg. Even though she was badly burned by the scalding liquid, Marion did not scream. "I knew better than to cry out. In our fourteen months in Bergen-Belsen the Nazis had tried to break us physically spiritually, and emotionally. This [effort] forced us to learn self- discipline the hard way" (Pearl 72). On April 9, 1945, the Blumenthals were placed on a transport. On April 23, the train was liberated by the Russians.
Hatred forced Lucille Eichengreen to learn the responsibilities of a normal adult as an adolescent. Al the age of twelve, her family was required to move to a Jewish budding, and she had to attend a Jewish school (Eichengreen 13). People yelled out obscene names to the schoolchildren, all of them containing the word "Jude." By 1938, Lucille could not recall safe times before Hitler's hatred set in. "I no longer remembered a life without fear, without hateful glances on the streets, without being called 'Jude.' I no longer remembered sunny, carefree days of childish laughter, of pranks and fun. It seemed that life had always been foreboding" (16). Her classmates were frequently beaten by Hitlerjugend, boys and girls who were taught to despise Jews. As Lucille approached her sixteenth birthday, her father had been sent to a concentration camp, and German brutality worsened. "Life was a nightmare. The more successful the German military advances were, the more aggressive were their hostilities against us ... We lived constantly with fear, always looking over our shoulders" (27). Three weeks after her sixteenth birthday, two Gestapo brought the ashes of Benjamin Landau, her father, in a wooden cigar box held together by a rubber band. Soon after, the Landaus were sent to the Lodz ghetto in Poland. It was there that Lucille's mother died. Lucille was rushed into the task of caring for her younger sister, Karin. A few months later, Karin was deported. Lucille never saw her again.
German brutality appeared again when the SS savagely beat Lucille after a false tip that she owned a radio. As a result of this beating, she lost all hearing in her left ear. In 1944, Lucille was sent to Auschwitz. The SS at the concentration camp were ruthless at best. Recalling her entry to the camp, Lucille wrote, "As she shaved my armpits and all other body hair, I concentrated on my hatred: hatred for her, hatred for the Germans who had reduced me to this sweating, naked creature, without hair, without dignity. I was no longer a human being to them, just an expendable Jew" (Eichengreen 93). Lucille soon lost all reason to survive. After she was transported to another camp, she was forced to do hard physical labor.
Finally, the third camp that Lucille was sent to was liberated by the British. Even though her dream of liberation had come true, she could never forget the past. While taking a shower for the first time in four years, Lucille recalled, "I soaped and rinsed again and then again, hoping that perhaps the clean, hot water would put distance between the dark, bloody past and the present. But it didn't work. The past could not be forgotten, not thenCperhaps not ever" (Eichengreen 128).
Elie Wiesel's life was permanently changed as a result of the hatred he experienced during the Holocaust. As a young boy, Elie started studying the Talmud under a man known as Moshe the Beadle. The old man told of how he and other prisoners were made to dig huge graves for their own bodies. He told of how the Gestapo threw babies into the air and shot them, using them as targets (Wiesel 4). He had escaped death. Most had not. In 1944, Nazi policies of hatred prouferated. First, Jews had their valuables taken away by the Hungarian police; soon after, Jews were forced to wear the yellow star on their clothing, then, Jews were required to move into one of two ghettos in Sighet, Elie's hometown. From there, the Jews were transported sectionally to Auschwitz (20).
Once in the hell on Earth known as Auschwitz, Elie's family was ripped apart by eight cold words: "Men to the left! Women to the right" (Weisel 27). As a teenager, Elie never saw his mother and sisters again. The Germans' tactics of degradation affected Elie. He noticed that he was changing. "I too had become a completely different person. The student of the Talmud, the child that I was, had been consumed in the flames. There remained only a shape that looked like me. A dark flame had entered into my soul and devoured it" (34). The Nazi hatred even weakened the bond between Jews. Elie gave his gold tooth, taken out with a rusty spoon, to a foreman in order to save his father from the foreman's punishment (53).
When Elie and the other prisoners were moved to another camp, they were forced to run for hours. They were transported again, this time by railway. When they had stopped one day, a workman saw them and threw some bread into the wagon. This generosity caused the prisoners to fight like savages among themselves for nourishment. An old man was stealing some bread tucked in his shirt, when he was confronted by his son. This Jewish son beat his Jewish father wildly for the mouthful of food. Once his father was dead, a group of men beat up the son to take the bread for themselves. The crowd of spectators no longer saw the men as humans, but rather as wild animals, fighting for survival. These desperate Jews dehumanized themselves. Elie watched this at the impressionable age of fifteen (Weisel 96). Soon after Elie and his father's January 1945 arrival at the new camp, Elie's father fell ill. One evening, he died and was taken away, before Elie woke up (106). Elie Wiesel was liberated on April 10. He was never the same. "From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me" (109), "You've got to be carefully taught," wrote Oscar Hammerstein II about how hatred and prejudice is perpetuated. In 1936, as Hitler addressed two thousand children in Nuremburg, Germany, he asked, "Do you know who the Devil is?" They shouted out: "The Jew, the Jew" (Tatelbaurn 3). Hitler had carefully taught a nation to hate. Marion, Lucille, and Elie were three young victims of that hatred. They are now spending their adult fives teaching the world about the consequences of such hate.


Works Cited

"Children of the Holocaust " Ed Baustin. Middle Tennessee State University. Online. America Online. 4 February 1997 Available: http://www.mtsu.edu/~baustin/children.html.

Eichengreen, Lucille, and Harriet H. Chamberlain. From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1994.

Pearl, Lila and Marion B. Lazan. Four Perfect Pebbles. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1996.

Tatelbaum, Itzhak. Through Our Eyes: Children Witness the Holocaust. Chicago: I.B.T. Publishing, 1985.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.



 


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