The Holocaust:
How Victims Today Survive with their Memories

By Shanon Brandt
Port Orange, 
Florida


 

"This year it's just a dull ache. Last year it hurt to breathe," (Why Does it Hurt so Much? 1). Many people today are to deal with and attempt to overcome the ghastly memories of their experience in the Holocaust. There are many ways for one to cope with these dreadful memories. Some victims continue to function or prosper in the same state in their present day life. They remain firm even with their sufferings and simply go on with life. Then there are people that dread every day to come, and cannot seem to cope with their memory at all. Survivors and victims have their own way of coping with the remembrance of their experience in the Holocaust.

The Jews were the principal targets of the Nazi hatred. This hatred started to show when the Nazis forced the Jews to close Jewish businesses and to abandon properties outright or to sell them at bargain prices. They were forced to quit their civil service jobs, university and law court positions, and other areas of public life. There were "Nuremberg Laws" that took away all Jewish citizenship, and defined them by the blood of their grandparents, not by their religion or how they wanted to identify themselves. As time went by the restrictions worsened. They were not allowed to attend public schools, go to theaters, cinemas, or vacation resorts, or reside, or even walk in certain sections of German cities. On November 9,1938, there was a centrally organized riot (pogrom), also known as Kristallnacht (the "Night of the Broken Glass"), in which more than 1,000 Synagogues were set on fire, 7,000 businesses vandalized, 25,000 men arrested, numerous homes were destroyed, and 91 people murdered (An Historical Summary 2). Following this cruel treatment was the gathering of the Jews to go to the concentration camps.

Auschwitz was one of the many extermination camps, and it was by far the worst. Anyone who went there didn't have a good chance of living. Judith Jaegermann, tells her story. "Unfortunately Papa, Mama, Ruth and I were also amongst those to be sent to Auschwitz. We were pushed into the cattle cars of the train. When they arrived in Auschwitz the men and women were kept separated. We were herded into a huge hall and we had to undress completely. I was 13 years old and I felt probably more ashamed at this age than the adult women, who couldn't care less. We were standing in rows in order to be shaved everywhere. Our clothes and personal belongings had immediately been taken away from us. Then we stood for hours naked until we were given old rags and again waited. Within a couple of weeks we all became thin, numb and listless. Our camp section was called Birkenau. Later we were lined up again and separated, not knowing which side meant death and which side meant life. We were loaded into cattle cars. We were travelling into uncertainty. Nobody knew to where; everyone said that it couldn't be anywhere worse than Birkenau. We arrived in Hamburg. Here we had more water. All of us were quite happy that after a long time we finally could somehow wash and drink. One morning we heard tanks and someone came into our barrack and said," Kids, we are free!!!" But nobody moved because nobody had any strength left over to be happy. The memory of the heaps of the degraded naked corpses waiting until they had been thrown into mass graves will always stay vivid in my memory. My terrible traumatic memories will never leave me. Everything is still very much alive in me." Telling her story, it makes it easier for Judith Jaegermann to cope and survive the awful memories of the Holocaust. She wants people to understand what she went through and how difficult this really was.

In the Holocaust Museum there was an attention getting quote. These words state a quote of an Auschwitz survivor. "Never shall 1 forget that night, the first night in camp which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke; never shall I forget that little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget these flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments, which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never!" (Wiesel 131). This quote sums up the what one should realize, when you think that a person who survived went through the unimaginable.

When the Holocaust Museum opened, Holocaust survivors saw their dream come true. Their story could now be told to the world. On the outside wail of the building one of the first things you read is; "You are my witnesses," Isaiah 43:10. Unless you were actually a part of the Holocaust, you will never know what it was like. Survivors often say that those who were not there will never understand. The most imaginative descriptions of the Holocaust cannot truly reflect the horror of those days (Weinberg and Elieli 17). Some survivors often say that in their post Holocaust life it is often difficult to find an open ear for what they wanted to tell. A new life was beginning in the world, and nobody wanted the horrors of the past to interfere.

I personally interviewed a survivor of the Holocaust. His name is Shlomo Fleischman. His story was amazing. It gave another perception of the Holocaust. He was 11 years old when Hitler took power of Germany. When the war broke out he was 17. The Germans were trying to bring racial ideology. The Nazis were now attacking the Jews. He was present, at the time in a park, when a group of German Nazis captured him. He had recently heard from the media that the Jews had to be liquidated. They attacked the Jews and blamed then for the depression. He was sent to a camp in Czechoslovakia. It wasn't an extermination camp. It was a labor camp, and at the time there were only four or five barracks, so they were to build more to the camp. He said the conditions weren't good at all. There was hardly any food; he had to work long hours in the forest and the fields. He said the punishment was awful. Once a day, every tenth person was shot; you never would know what number you were. He survived there a few months then escaped to Hungary. He was imprisoned in Hungary and they were going to send him back to Czechoslovakia. He wanted to go back there because that is where his family was. He could not because as soon as he got there he would most likely be killed. He spent six to seven weeks in a more humane camp in Hungary, then fled to Israel, where he spent the next 31 years of his life. At age 48 he moved to America. Shlomo was asked how he is coping with his memories now. He said that it was such a long way off that the places and all he went through is remembered, but he knows he is safe. He is currently teaching high school students about the Holocaust, and is very open to conversation. He wants to make sure that we do not forget. Talking with Shlomo has made me realize how easy we have it now today (Fleischman). I am the same age he was when he was put into a labor camp. He didn't get to spend his teenage years doing any of the things that I enjoy and participate.

The end of the war came down to liberation. In May 1945, Nazi Germany collapsed, the S.S. guard fled, and the camps ceased to exist as extermination, forced labor, or concentration camps. It is over, but it still wiped out a majority of the Jews. We will continue to learn and try understand and to hope that it will never happen again. Learning how some of the surviving victims cope with their memories, is an unbelievable experience, especially the personal interview. These people went through a period of time when they thought there was no hope for life. As we learn about this horror, there is one thing that I read that we should all remember, "Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully; lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children's children," Deuteronomy 4:9 (Jeshajahu Weinberg, and Rina Elieli).

 

Works Cited

Fleischman, Sholmo. Personal Interview. 9 Aug. 1999.

"An Historical Summary." The Holocaust a Historical Summary. Online. Internet.

12 Aug, 1999. Available WWW:

http://www.ushmm.org">United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.. .org/education/history.html

Weinberg, Jeshajahu, and Rina Elieli. The Holocaust Museum in Washington.

New York: Rizzolo International, 1995.

Jaegermann, Judith. "MEMORIES OF MY CHILDHOOD IN THE HOLOCAUST."

Online. Internet. Available WWW:

http://remember.orq/witness/jaqermann.html.

 

 

 


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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