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.
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.
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
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.
"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
Tatelbaum, Itzhak. Through Our Eyes: Children Witness the Holocaust. Chicago:
I.B.T. Publishing, 1985.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.