Grandfather's Secret

By Nicole Richardson
Jesup, Georgia


 

 

Life rushes on. We are distracted. We forget things, especially those aspects of the past that pain us deeply or shame us greatly. The memory is complicated. Never remember? Or never forget? Or simply never again? The survivors of the Holocaust are now in the seventies or eighties and are dying. The generationís memory needs to be salvaged or else it will be lost.

An effective way to remember and to halt the spread of prejudice is through reaching the young childrenÖ

"Hannieís invited and so is John. Wait, we canít forget Judith or Anna," said Sarah to David as she carefully added a name to the guest list for her seventh birthday party.

"May I see your list?" asked Sarahís grandfather.

"Sure, Grandfather. I have invited everyone in my class except for Roney, but thatís because he is different," Sarah explained.

Grandfather looked amused. "Different, how so?"

Both Sarah and David glanced at one another. Sarahís eyes grew wide. "Different, you know REALLY different."

Grandfather shook his head in confusion. "Really different, how?"

"Oh, Grandfather, heís not like us. He isnít Jewish," David explained. "Heís not even a Christian."

"Heís Buddhist," Sarah interrupted.

"So, let me see if I understand," said Grandfather. "You arenít inviting him because heís Buddhist and not like you?" Sarah and David nodded.

Grandfather motioned to his lap. "Come here children and sit on my knee. I want to tell you both a story before you finish your guest list. What I am going to tell you might be scary and a little graphic, but I think you should hear it." David and Sarah settled down in the comfort of their Grandfatherís lap and he began by giving them a little background.

"In the early 1920ís and 30ís, life was very different than it is now. People were not as educated and times were rough, especially for Germany after World War One was over. Germany had lost the war and had to pay a large sum of money, $33 million to be exact, to pay for the damages. Germany also had to give up its monarchy and develop a republic called the Weimar Republic. The government became unstable and political parties began to develop."

"However, in 1933, politics was the last thing on Adamís mind. Adam was a Jewish boy approaching his teenage years. Adam lived with his parents in a neighborhood where many of their friends were Jewish. Adam spent many carefree days playing soccer with his friends. He had also started taking classes from the rabbi at the synagogue they regularly attended."

"Riot broke out in Germany and there was widespread discomfort. There were meetings held where the Jewish people were blamed for Germanyís problems. The German people wanted someone to save them. Then on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany."

"As times goes on, this person Hitler is increasing in power. Soon, he is referred to as the fuehrer. His government developed a group of laws called the Nuremberg Laws which took away peopleís freedom of speech, press and freedom from invasion of privacy."

"Adam was unaware of what was happening, but his parents were worried. They owned a small store and Hitler had made it so that no one was allowed to buy from Jewish people. Storm troopers had been placed on the doors and windows."

Sarahís eyes were wide. "Grandfather, why did Hitler not like the Jewish people?"

"I wish I knew, Sarah," Grandfather said sadly. "He was obsessed with having a master race, a race that didnít include slaves, gypsies, blacks, handicaps, Jews or any person who was different. Hitler wanted all Jewish people eliminated from society. Jewish people couldnít hold civil service jobs or work at newspaper offices. Adamís older brother was even sent home from the University because he was Jewish. As time went by, Adam began to understand what was going on. In 1935, his right to be a citizen was taken away. Mixed marriages between Jews and Germans were also prohibited. Adamís older sister, who was married to a German, had to move to England out of fear for being caught."

One November night, an event happened that changed Adamís life. His familyís store was broken into. All of their products were destroyed and burned in an event later known as "The Night of Broken Glassí. After that night, Adamís parents closed their business. Eventually, their business was taken away."

"Taken away? Why? By whom, Grandfather?" David asked.

"The Nazis, which was a group Hitler had developed, took it. No long after that, Adam was at school where he was told that he could not attend school any more. Adamís brother, Joseph, who really enjoyed school was upset and confused by this news. He thought only students who misbehaved were denied the right to go to school and he had not done anything wrong. Adam tried to tell his brother everything would be all right, but with Hitler, he could not be sure. Every day was getting worse for the Jews. Strict curfews for all Jewish people were put into effect and Nazis were everywhere. All Jewish people had to have a Star of David sewed on their clothing. Signs were posted to restrict Jews from entering buildings or even sitting on benches."

"Grandfather, why didnít the people try to stop Hitler?" asked David.

Grandfather signed, "Everyone thought Hitler would soon stop. No one believed he would continue his quest for racial purity. Most people thought that if they ignored Hitler, he would go away. However, in later times, Hitlerís actions were kept secret from the public. Eventually, Adamís non-Jewish friends quit associating with him."

"Adamís friends wouldnít talk to him just because he was Jewish?" Sarah asked in amazement.

"Thatís right, Sarah. You see, they couldnít see past the Star of David to be friends with Adam," Grandfather gently explained.

"Thatís not very nice," Sarah exclaimed.

"Youíre right. Just like itís not very nice to exclude someone just because they are different," Grandfather said. "Soon after Adam was told he could not attend school, his family was sent deportation notices."

"Deportation? Whatís that?" asked David.

"Deportation was death," Grandfather said with no further explanation. Sarah and David inched closer to hear what Grandfather would say next. "After receiving their notice of deportation, Adam and his family had only a few days to prepare to leave. When they arrived at the train station, they were put on cattle cars and sent to Auschwitz."

"Grandfather, whatís a cattle car?" Sarah asked.

"Yeah, and what is AusÖch..witz?" David asked trying to pronounce Auschwitz.

"You mean Auschwitz. I will explain that but first let me tell you about Adamís experience on cattle cars. Cattle cars were small rail cars where cattle were stored. There was usually only one or two small windows that had bars on them. The Nazi soldiers would fill a single car so full that there wasnít even room to sit down, usually 80 to 150 people were put in each car. Adam and his family were on the train for five days, five very long days. They were allowed off the train only once. No one had more than one dayís supply of food. Adamís Mom made the whole family eat snow since it was their only source of water. After they left the train station, the Nazis forced them to surrender all their money and jewelry. Adamís Mom cried as she gave a soldier her wedding ring. Then Adam and his family had to march at a steady pace to a camp surrounded by barbed wire. At the entrance, Adam saw the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" which meant "work makes one free." This statement, however, was not true. Labor was another way of death that the Nazis called "extermination through work." The Nazis constructed an industry of death never before or since seen. The industry was complete with railways, death camps, gas chambers, and crematoria. This industryís raw material was Jews, and its product was corpses."

"Soon after entering Auschwitz, Adam and his family were separated. Adamís parents were sent to one line which Adam later found out meant they had been gassed to death. Adamís little brother Joseph was also taken away. Only Adam and his older brother remained. Their hair was shaved and Adamís gold tooth was taken out. Prison garb replaced the cloths they had brought. Their garb was thin and didnít protect them from the winterís cold. Every day Adam became accustomed to standing in rows for hours in the cold, snow and rain for roll call. Then he would be sent to do useless work such as pushing a large boulder up a hill and then rolling it down again. One day Adamís brother became very weak and couldnít work. Adam had to stand by as he watched Nazi soldiers shoot him. Masses of people were killed every day and a stench of dead bodies lingered in the camp. The people who were not gassed to death or shot usually died from malnutrition, exhaustion, or disease. Only a few survived," Grandfather said with tears in his eyes.

"Did Adam survive?" asked Sarah.

"Remarkably, he did. He was very strong. After World War Two, the camps were liberated and Adam was set free. He was in his early twenties. Most of his family had died so he went to England to live with his sister and her husband. However, he would never forget what he saw. Of course, the tattoo on his arm reminded him daily. At first it was hard for others to believe what had happened. No one could imagine the mass killings, the walking skeletons. However, it had happened. This event became known as the Holocaust."

"Sarah, David, do you remember visiting the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, D.C.?" Grandfather asked.

"Sure, that was for Vietnam soldiers though," David said.

"Youíre right. But did you know it would take that many memorials to list the names of those murdered during the Holocaust and there would still be 200,000 left un-commemorated?" Grandfather explained.

Sarah and David shook their heads. "Children," Grandfather said, pulling up his sleeve, "I want to show you something. This is my tattoo from Auschwitz. I was the Adam in thte story and I was at Auschwitz. I experienced the terrible events of the Holocaust."

Sarah and David looked at their Grandfather. For a while no one spoke. "You were Adam?" David asked. "You went through all of that at Auschwitz?"

"I did. It is always hard for me to talk about it, to even think about it. But it is important for you to know about it. This happened to me and to your relatives because of a personís prejudice and not accepting people who were different."

"Grandfather," Sarah said quietly, "I think I understand now why you told us your story."

"You do?" Grandfather asked.

"Yeah, I wasnít going to invited Roney because he was Buddhist," Sarah said.

"Youíre right Sarah. The Germans thought Jewish people were different and that led to the death of six million people," Grandfather said.

"Grandfather, may I go now?" Sarah asked. "I want to add Roneyís name to my birthday list."

Grandfather smiled. "Iím sure Roney will like that."

 

ÖIt is my hope that through this small effort in remembering those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, a life will be touched and that it will help ensure that we will never again allow ourselves to experience a Holocaust.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Bachrach, Susan D. Tell Them We RememberóThe Story of the Holocaust. London: Little, Brown, and Company, 1994.

"Death in Poland." Time 27 May 1991:69.

Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995 ed., "Auschwitz."

Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995 ed., "Ghetto."

Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995 ed., "Hitler."

Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc., 1995 ed., "Holocaust."

Frequently Asked Questions. Washington, D.C., United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995.

Fifty Years AgoóFrom Terror to Systematic Murderó1991 of Rememberance. Washington, D.C., The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1995.

Morrow, Lance. "Never Forget." Time 26 April 1993:56+

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Visitorís Guide. Washington, D.C., 1995.


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of 
Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.


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