Over Europe: 1933-1945
dictators and other military leaders have tried to eradicate different
ethnic groups from the planet. Saddam Hussien has attempted several
times to remove the Kurds from existence. Pol Pot killed roughly two
million Cambodians. However, the enormity of the Holocaust towers
supreme in human memory. It stands testament to the evils of humankind
and the determination of the victims. For this reason, ordinary victims'
tales, such as the excerpts taken from several identification cards from
the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, must never be forgotten.
Bernard was one of seven children born to a German-speaking, Jewish family in the small Moravian town of Mikulov in the central part of Czechoslovakia. The family later moved to the town of Hodonin where Bernard opened a dry-goods and clothing store. In 1899 he married Berta Koselova, and the couple had six children. During World War I Bernard served in the Austro-Hungarian army. (Identification Card-Bernard Krakauer).
Before the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, the Jewish people lived a traditional lifestyle in Europe. Sometimes they experienced prejudice and hatred. However, this oppression tended to remain sporadic ("Lest We Forget").
After World War I, the lifestyle for a German Jew changed drastically. After the First World War ended, the Allies forced Germany sign the treaty of Versailles. The treaty included the War Guilt Clause, which placed the fault of the Great War squarely on the Germans' shoulders. The reparations and depression that followed left many looking for someone to blame. The Jews, often accused by Germany of hoarding money, made a convenient scapegoat, with Adolf Hitler as the lead accuser (Dawidowitz). The Jews' past loyalties to Germany no longer mattered to the people.
1933-39: When I was growing up, the Nazi party was in power. Many Jews left Germany–Grandmother Lang and one of my uncles sailed for America. But father didn't want to leave his business. He opened a new store in Mannheim, where we moved. On November 10, 1938, the Nazis rampaged, wrecking Jewish stores and arresting Jews. They padlocked my father's store and took him to the Dachau concentration camp. He was released in 1939 (Identification Card–Freya Karoline Lanel.
Hitler was appointed to the Chancellorship of Germany on January 30th, 1933. After the death of President Hindenberg, Hitler's immediate act was to replace Germany's Cabinet with other Nazi members. A formation of the Brownshirts sealed his power over Germany and brought terror to the Jews.
After a series of anti-Jewish laws, the Third Reich decreed that all Jews were to wear the yellow Star of David. The Nazi party members enjoyed beating Jewish men and women as they walked down the street. Hitler Youth left school early in order to attack Jewish children (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Movies made by the Reich also encouraged the mistreatment of Jews. Radios, another medium Hitler used to deliver his speeches, were often given out for free by Nazi officials. In addition, the Nazis fed Hitler's speeches into loud speakers all across Berlin. Thus, Hitler's message of hate became unavoidable ("Lest We Forget").
The Jews' plight became painfully obvious in 1938, when a Jewish man named Grynszpan walked into the Paris embassy and shot a Nazi. When the official died, Hitler made the man into a martyr–thus, Kristallnacht began. The Nazi party rode throughout Germany, terrorizing Jews and burning synagogues. Thousands were sent to concentrations camps in a single night, such as Freya's father; hundreds more lost their lives. Not only did the Jewish people no longer have a home in Germany, but support for anti-Semitism grew in fierce numbers ("Lest We Forget").
1940-1945: The Germans occupied Stanislav in July 1941. Before years' end, they had killed David's wife and youngest daughter, leaving David and his middle daughter, Amalie. In 1942 he was deported on a train headed to the Belzec death camp. He pried boards from the car floor and escaped by lowering himself from the moving train onto the tracks. He ran to a farmhouse where a Ukrainian peasant agreed to keep him if he worked on her farm. Though safe, he felt he had to look for Amalie. He boarded a train for Stanislav (Identification Card–David Medel Petranker).
With the beginning of World War II, Hitler expanded his Jewish death machine across Europe by using several methods. In the ghetto system, the Nazis placed Jews into train cars and taken to walled-off cities, especially in Poland. Here, they were subject to sub-standard living conditions, diseases, and inadequate amounts of food. The Nazis patrolled the streets to ensure that the Jews finished their work, either as laborers or limited shop keepers. Other Jews had the unpleasant tasks of cleaning the dead from the streets. Over time, however, the ghetto system did not exterminate as many Jews as the Nazis planned. In the late 1930's, trucks and trains like the ones that had come for David began to sprint the Jews to concentration camps ("Lest We Forget").
The Nazis also used mass shootings to murder the Jews. In this method, Nazis trucked Jews into the countryside, where they forced them to dig massive trenches, only to shoot them with machine guns. For participating in such grisly tasks, the Nazis were given incentives such a vacation time and free liquor. However, as the shooters began to develop deep psychological problems, Hitler decided that a new alternative had to be found. The result became known as the Final Solution (Dawidowitz).
The Final Solution, which was decided upon in 1941, opened the first death camps. Concentration camps had already been in service since the mid-1930s; however, those were forced labor camps. Death camps, such as Belzec in which David suffered, specialized in the destruction of the Jewish people and others the Third Reich had deemed unfit to live, usually by means of gas chambers. Some death camps, such as Sobibor and Auschwitz, combined gas chambers and concentration camps ("Auschwitz"). Still, in a speech Hitler made in 1941, he announced the he was being "too humane for the killers of God" (Toland).
Upon arrival at a death camp, guards stripped the Jews of their luggage and clothing. Under the promise of reunification with their families and a warm shower, the Jews filed into massive gas chambers to be slaughtered. After every prisoner in the chamber was exterminated, their bodies were taken away for cremation (Spiegelman).
In several death camps and most work camps such as Belzec, those deemed worthy to live made their way to another section of the facility. Here, they were given a real shower in freezing water, clothes which did not fit, and a bowl and spoon. Every day, the prisoners lined up for roll call and stood for hours, no matter the elements. After roll call, the prisoners left for long, filthy work, such as stacking the bodies of their dead compatriots (Spiegelman). This killing would continue until the end of World War II.
1940-44: Eva married in 1940, the year the USSR annexed Bessarabia. Her husband was drafted into the Red army a year later when Germany attacked the USSR. Eva, pregnant, remained in Vysoka and was deported with the town's Jews by the Romanian army, allies of the Germans. The Jews were marched for days without food or water. One dory in a forest, the soldiers raped some of the girls. In the Vertujem transit camp, Eva gave birth on the floor, without a doctor. A week later, her baby died (Identification Card–Eva Gredinger.)
As the Allied forces advanced in 1944 and 1945, many of the concentration camps were liberated. However, thousands of Jews perished in the German's attempts to evacuate the camps. The Nazis often loaded the Jews onto train cars, only to abandon them, leave the prisoners inside to perish. The Nazis also forced Jews, like Eva and her nameless infant, onto death marches. Often, the guards simply shot the prisoners and left them in the road to bleed to death (Spiegelman). Many women, such as Eva's companions, were raped and left for dead (Identification Card-Eva Gredinger).
After the war finally ended, the Holocaust shocked the entire world. Millions, like David, had died in gas chambers. But the emotional repercussions continued to torment the survivors. Eva and Bernard faced coming to terms with losing their families. Others, like the child Freya, lost their identity and religion. The Nazis took their victims' families, possessions, and even dignity (Spiegelman). Many only received compensations for the camps forty or even fifty years after their liberation.
Memorials such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum keep the stories of ordinary people alive. For every story of the Holocaust that is lost, the person behind the story dies again. When victim's tales are gone, so are their memories and their testimonies to the human populace. It is for the living and the dead that the world must never forget.
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