boy has just come home from work. He is tired and sits down to eat dinner with
his mother and uncle with whom he lives. There is a pounding at the door and
loud shouts are heard to order them to open the door. This night will forever
change the nineteen year old's life. The night is November, 1938 Kristallnacht.
The night German males were taken into custody by the German government, all
synagogues were set on fire, and windows of Jewish shops were smashed because of
their religion. The Nazis, guided by Adolph Hitler, wanted a Germany that was
racially pure. The group that most affronted Adolph Hitler was the Jews.
Therefore the Nazi policy of racial purity had a profound effect of the young of
Germany (and the rest of Europe) because they lost their education and way of
fife, endured horrific conditions and most died in the concentration camps, and
among those who survived, were forced to form a new life without family support
Jews were always
persecuted in Europe. However, during the nineteenth century, Jews were given
equality of status with many non-Jews. Jews were at times vilified and harassed
by anti-Semitic groups. Some anti-Semites believed that Jewry was an alien race
When the Nazi regime
came to power in Germany in January 1933, it immediately began to take
systematic measures against the Jews. One early decree was a definition of the
term Jew. Crucial in that determination was the religion of one's grandparents.
Anyone with three or four Jewish grandparents was automatically a Jew,
regardless of whether that individual was a member of the Jewish community.
Furthermore, those considered half-Jews, by having one or two grandparents were
considered to be "half-breeds" and thereby were "non-Aryan."
Once race was established as law, then the ability to formalize discrimination
against all those considered "non-Aryan" was possible (Dimont 378).
Students who were in
school were forced to leave. A student at the university was immediately
expelled. To find work was impossible and support for your family was difficult.
Most Jewish families without means barely were able to survive ( R. Rose).
Businesses were virtually expropriated for little to nothing. People sold their
belongings for practically nothing (L. Rose).
In November of 1938
following the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a young Jew, all
synagogues in Germany were set on fire, windows of Jewish shops were smashed,
and thousands of Jewish males were arrested. This event known as "the night
of broken glass" or Kristallnacht was a final signal to Jews in Germany and
Austria to leave as soon as possible. Several thousand people were able to find
refuge in other countries, but a similar number, including many who were old or
poor, stayed to face an uncertain fate. Some Jewish Germans were able to pay a
"ransom" in order to leave the country until 1939. However, they
needed a country willing to take them and official documents from countries with
permission to emigrate (Dimont 379).
When World War Two
began in September, 1939, the German army occupied the western half of Poland
and within a year most of western Europe as well. The Polish Jews were forced to
move into ghettos in order for the Germans to control such a large population.
Too many Jews were in the ghettos and a "final solution to the Jewish
question" was needed in all of German dominated Europe. This "final
solution" would be the systematic method of the total extermination of the
Jewish population. Concentration camps equipped with facilities for gassing
people were being erected in German occupied territories. Most were erected in
Poland. The Jews were to be deported from the ghettos to these killing centers.
The first transports were usually filled with women, children, or older men
The Jewish children
in Europe were in grave danger. The ones to survive would be those the Germans
deemed useful to do labor. When no longer useful, these children would
immediately be put to death. More than 1.5 million Jewish children were murdered
during the Holocaust. Some parents in countries allied to Germany, such as
France and Belgium, would give up their children to adoption to Christian
families in an effort to save them (Paldiel 4). Noach Szejniuk was a Polish Jew
living with his parents in Paris, France. In 1942, 13,000 Jews living in Paris
were arrested and sent to the nearby Drancy concentration camp. Noach's parents
found a sympathetic Christian family willing to risk their lives in order to
take him in. Noach's mother was able to survive the war; his father was shot by
the Nazis on March 21, 1943. (Szejniuk).
Other Christians in
Europe were willing to step forward to protect the Jewish children. These
Christians have come to be known as "righteous gentiles." Some Jewish
children were able to be saved by Catholic priests and nuns in their orphanages
and schools. The Queen Elisabeth Home, located in Chateau du Faing owned by the
Sisters of Charity of Besancon was transformed into a center for children. It
subsequently housed seventy-five children who were to survive the war (Paldiel
115). Oscar Schindler has become a symbol of a Christian who risked everything
to save Jews for no other reason than to do what was morally right. Among the
Jews Schindler directly saved were many children (Keneally 28).
adolescent or older were able to survive initial selection to go to the gas
chambers. However, once saved from the chambers, their lives in the
concentration camps were horrific. These children were put to work at such jobs
as digging ditches, digging graves for mass burials, shoveling the ashes from
the gas chambers, and young girls to be taken advantage of by the German
soldiers. Margot Heuman was a young girl who was arrested with her family at the
age of fourteen. They were sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia.
The camp was overcrowded and unsanitary. There was little food. In May 1943,
Margot and her family were deported to Auschwitz. She never saw her parents
again. She worked as a slave laborer with her little sister. However, her sister
was murdered a few months later. At one time her job was to recycle bricks used
to patch bombed buildings. She survived the war and was liberated at the age of
Some were not so
lucky. Many children were put to immediate death as soon as they entered the
death camps. One such child was Toska Feuchtbaum. Toska was only nine years old
when she was deported with her mother, along with 998 other Viennese Jews, to
BeIzec death camp and its gas chamber. The express purpose of this camp was to
exterminate Jews. Only one person is known to have survived this camp. No
further trace of Toska has ever been found. The exact circumstances of her death
are unknown (Feuchtbaum).
Some were no longer
children but very young adults. The young adults had the best chances to survive
the concentration camps because they were the most able to work under horrendous
conditions and survive until the end of the war. Many were beaten and starved.
Many contracted typhus and died because of unclean conditions and infectious
diseases. Dr. Janina Parafjanowicz was deported to Auschwitz where she remained
for four long, horrific years. She was one of only 3,000 survivors. She was
"fortunate" in that she was in training to be a doctor at the
beginning of the war and thereby her skills were necessary in the camps.
"Many millions of Polish people died in the camps. Anyone who was not
German could be used as hands to work until they could work no longer, and then
to be burned" (Parafjanowicz).
As the war was coming
to an end, those that survived the concentration camps were deported to
Buchenwald in late 1944. Many of the last survivors were killed in the forced
marches toward Buchenwald. The children lucky enough to survive were placed in
Children's Block 66 until their liberation. Many of the surviving children once
liberated found themselves orphans and an arduous task of rebuilding their lives
was to begin (Johnson 517).
Many of the orphan
children were eventually taken to Palestine which later was to become Israel.
Many of the children old enough to be able to immigrate to the United States did
so. Here they formed "families" with other survivors. These families
were not blood related, but were like cousins, aunts, and uncles (Droller).
Our world has learned
much since the end of World War II. But we need to pass the knowledge we have
acquired to upcoming generations to insure that the world never faces a tragedy
of this sort again. We must continue to listen and teach in order to never
shortchange a generation ever again. In doing so, we must listen to the voices
of those who perished like that of poet Yitzhak Katsenelson. He perished in
Auschwitz in May 1944. He entitled his poem "Song of the Murdered Jewish
The first to perish were the children, abandoned orphans
The world's best, the bleak earth's brightest
These children might have been our comfort
From these sad, mute, bleak faces
Our new dawn might have risen.
Dimont, Max I. Jews, God, and History. New York: Signet. 1962.
Droller, Gert. Personal interview. 23 Feb. 1997.
"Holocaust." Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 3rd ed. 1991.
"Janina Parfjanowicz." Children of the Holocaust. 1.14.16 (1996) 1 pp.
Hotbot.Intenet. 19 Feb. 1997.
Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers,
"Katzenelson, Yitzhak. "Song of the Murdered People." Children of
the Holocaust. 1.14.18 (1996) 1 pp. Hotbot.Internet. 19 Feb. 1997.
Keneally, Thomas. Schindler's List. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
"Margot Heuman." Children of the Holocaust. 1.14.34 (1996) 1 pp.
Hotbot.Internet. 19 Feb. 1997.
"Noach Szejniuk." Children of the Holocaust. 1.14.17 (1996) 1 pp.
Hotbot.Intemet. 19 Feb. 1997.
Paldiel Mordecai. The Path of the Righteous Gentile Rescuers of Jews During the
Holocaust. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1993.
Rose, Lilly. Personal interview. 23 Feb. 1997.
Rose, Rudy. Personal interview. 23 Feb. 1997.
"Toska Feuchtbaum." Children of the Holocaust. 1.14.19 (1996) 1 pp.
Hotbot.Internet. 19 Feb. 1997.