Children Lost

By Brian Rose
Miami, Florida


A nineteen-year-old 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 (Holocaust).
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 (Johnson 490).
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 (Johnson 450).
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).
Children usually 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 seventeen (Heuman).
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 People."

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.

 

Works Cited

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, 1976.

"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.

 

 

 


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Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.


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