the Eyes of A Child:
History says that
six million Jews died in the Holocaust. What is forgotten is that the children
these people were destined to have were never born which adds millions more to
the death toll and is a reminder of the immense number of children who never had
a chance to live, whether literally, because they never came into existence, or
figuratively because they spent the remainder of their short lives in death
When Hitler came to power, adults and children alike didn't think much of it. They had no idea that this man's actions, in due time, would end their now peaceful lives. The war on the Jewish Germans began mainly in 1933. Jewish trade was "paralyzed" according to Dr. Joseph Goebbles, and the boycott on them would not end until they were "annihilated". Shortly following his speech to a crowd of Nazi reporters, S.S. and S.A. troops stood outside Jewish shops prohibiting customers from entering and painting Jewish stars and the word "Jude" on the shop windows. Accompanying this action was the beginning of the end for the Jewish children; they were no longer allowed to attend school. (Adler 18,19,20)
The effects of the Holocaust first hit the children in school. They no longer looked forward to it as the oasis in the desert of the Nazi world which carried knowledge, friendship, fun, and equality. It was now part of the desert, and they felt the burn of the scorching sun. Their textbooks, which had once radiated facts to them now shone with falsehoods and racial remarks. Kids, which had before been kind, turned wicked towards the innocent children who were dubbed "different". The Jewish youngsters did not have to suffer long, however, for school was soon not even an option on November 15, 1938.
On September 1, 1939, World War II began. This made things even worse for the Jews, children especially because they were relocated to ghettos, the first of which was set up in Piotrkow, Poland. These ghettos were, in no way, able to accommodate the large number of Jews living there. An average apartment was inhabited by many families with up to seven people in a normal-sized room. As big a problem as that was, both mentally and physically, the shortage of food made life even worse. Children were seen scavenging through trash piles looking for something, anything, to eat. If they didn't die of diseases running rampant in the close quarters, then they died of hunger or in some cases murder. (Adler 57)
As hard as it was for children to survive, they didn't give up; they tried to live through it. The Nazis, sensing this, decided to put into effect the "Final Solution". This was devised at the Wannssee Conference. It was the Nazis plan for the complete and total destruction of the Jews.
"An old man was next to me on the train. I think we're all finished,' he said. Then he said the Kaddish (the Jewish prayer said in memory of the dead). 'Why are you saying that?' I asked. He told me, 'I'm saying it for myself" (Adler 71).
This was the dialogue of Lee Potasinski describing an old man's feelings on his arrival at Auschwitz. His words could be used to describe more than one Jews feelings at the same moment.
When entering Auschwitz and other concentration camps, families were separated. Young children who hardly knew what was happening were split up from a mother or a father. The "selection" was determined on how hard one could work. This is where many young children and elderly people lost their lives simply because they didn't possess the strength needed for the rigorous jobs. Erna Rubinstein, a young teenage girl during the Holocaust, was lucky. The Nazis saw that she and her sisters were fit for work, so they took them to a separate camp to move telephone poles; only two people were needed for each pole. They were some of the few who survived that camp. (Rubinstein Personal Interview)
On June 11th and June 21st of 1943 every Jew remaining in Polish and Russian ghettos was sent to the death camps. In the early stages of the war the concentration camps were used mainly for work- work which killed most of its inhabitants. But as the Nazis felt the pressure of the Ally forces they started exterminating Jews by the thousands. Gas chambers were used for this purpose. The Nazis were gassing the people, including children, so fast that they had no where to put them. They now began to use crematoriums and bonfires to burn the bodies of the dead so as not to take up space with burials.
About the crematoriums, Ester Klein said, "In Dachau day and night the crematoriums were burning, day and night they were pushing people in there" (Adler 79).
Cecelia Bernstein had a very traumatic experience concerning the crematoriums. She remembers, "Someone said to me, 'You know where your mother is? There.' And she pointed to smoke coming from the chimney" (Adler 79).
This was the mental torture children had to endure at these horrid camps. One couldn't even imagine what they had seen, heard and experienced.
Another method of extermination was medical experiments. It was also a means of entertainment for the Nazis. They would do such things as placing people into pressure chambers until they no longer were breathing, taking naked people and seeing how long they could survive before they froze in ice water, and placing people in a vacuum until their lungs burst. Even worse, there was a doctor by the name of Joseph Mengele who performed brutal experiments on sets of twins. Out of the 3,000 he experimented with only 157 survived. (Adler 81)
Another method of killing the children was by lying to their parents. This happened to Erna Rubinstein's family. Her father, unable to part with his only son (Erna's brother) hid him in his barrack. To allow little Mojshele to survive, Erna's father had to sneak him out in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. He had to feed him pieces of food from his already meager rations, and he had to dig a hole under his bed for Mojshele to sleep in.
All of this was done just so that the Nazis wouldn't know of his existence, for if they did, he would be killed. One day the Nazis announced that they knew that many people were hiding children and they were going to take them to a different camp where they could all get an education. Erna's father, though reluctant, sent his beloved son because he knew the hiding could go on no longer. Erna's mother said to the little boy, "Mojshele, my dearest one it is only going to be for a short time. We shall soon be together again. Take good care of yourself please, my dear, my angel." Mojshele and all the other children that were on that truck were neither seen nor heard of again. (Rubinstein Personal Interview)
Despite cremations, gassings, medical experiments, and shootings, the children of the Holocaust survived as best they could. But just when the allies were moving in to make things better, they got worse. The Germans sensing the pressure of their enemies, took thousands of prisoners and marched them through the bitter cold in Germany. These were called death marches, and people who could not keep up were simply shot along the way. (Bachrach 76)
Again, Erna Rubinstein had a story to tell about this. She saw one of the "corpses" that the Nazi soldiers were getting ready to bury; it was still breathing. Notifying her sisters, they removed the young girl from the cart she was on and took her with them. Together they held the girl up and kept her alive during the march. (Rubinstein Personal Interview)
For prisoners that were still in the camps, their good days were either near or already occurring. On July 24, 1944, Soviet troops were the first to liberate concentration camp prisoners. The death marches hadn't yet started but as more and more camps were being liberated they did. The Soviets' liberation of Maidanek was followed by the British's liberation of Bergen Belsen and the Americans' liberation of Dachau. (Bachrach 78)
Probably one of the happiest days in the young Jewish children's lives was May 8, 1945; this was the day that Germany surrendered to the allies- the war was over.
The hardships, obstacles and barriers that had to be overcome by the children of the Holocaust are inconcievable. One cannot even begin to envision the life that they lived. For this reason, any survivor of the Holocaust should be recognized and revered as a hero to the community.
Adler, David A. We Remember the Holocaust. New York: Henry Holt and Company,
Bachrach, Susan D. Tell Them We Remember, The Story of the Holocaust. Boston: Little,
Brown and Company, 1994
Rubinstein, Erna F. The Survivor In Us All, Four Young Sisters In The Holocaust.
Hamden: Archon Books, 1983
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