|"Never shall I forget that
night, that first night in camp . . . . Never shall I forget the little
faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky . . . . Never shall I forget these things,
even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never" (Wiesel
32). Never shall we forget the horrors of the Holocaust. The testimonies
of the survivors and the photographs of the emaciated prisoners and the
many corpses have been forever etched into our memories, as well as our
history books. Every year millions of people study the Holocaust.
Everyone knows of the atrocities committed by the Nazis and how the
prisoners, a great many of them Jewish, suffered in death camps.
However, fewer people know about what happened to the survivors after
the war. Fewer people have ever paid attention to how they struggled to
rebuild their lives and locate missing relatives. This is a part of
history that we must also work to preserve. After being liberated, many
of the Holocaust survivors continued to suffer from various maladies
that most people are unaware of.
Immediately after liberation, the prisoners of the death camps experienced a variety of emotions. Some were unwilling to believe that they were free. They had been lied to so many times before; they were distrustful of their liberators. Some prisoners did not want to return home. They became "displaced persons." They stayed in temporary camps that the Allies set up on Germany and Central Europe. Some of these camps had formerly been notorious concentration camps. These were placed where they had been beaten, starved, and forced to work. Earl G. Harrison wrote in his report to President Truman about the condition of the camps that they were crowded, unsanitary, and heavily guarded, now by the Allied soldiers instead of SS Troops. The Jews were not being treated much differently than before the Nazis left. In his report, Harrison also wrote, "We appear to be treating Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them" (Dinnerstein 43). Being kept in those camps, as if they were still prisoners, is one of the cruelest things that could have been done to the survivors. They had already been through so much pain and this just added to it.
The first thoughts of the starved prisoners of Buchenwald after being deserted by the German troops were about their immediate needs. "Our first act as free men was to throw ourselves onto the provisions. We thought only of that. Not of revenge, not of our families. Nothing but bread," wrote Elie Wiesel in Night (109). The food provided by the liberators often caused problems for the survivors. They had been deprived of food for so long that they were unused to digesting simple foods. The survivors would often suffer from stomach cramps and diarrhea after eating (Ayer 21).
Physical illnesses and disease were not the only things that these survivors suffered from. Many of them had become mentally unstable and depressed (Ayer 37). They will be plagued by the memories of the death camps for years afterwards. Even the simplest things, such as barley soup, could bring back memories of camps like Auschwitz. Some of the survivors are so haunted by their memories that the sound of spoken German makes them ill. Many have developed a fear of dogs, especially the breeds favored by the Nazis and some still go to bed every night, securely lock in by numerous deadbolts, believing that the Nazis will come for them (Ayer 29). Itís difficult for most of us to imagine living in constant fear like these survivors do.
Helena Sternlicht Rosenweig is a Schinderlerjude, one of the many Jews that were saved by Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party. She came to America after the war to restart her life. She was one of the maids that worked in Amon Goethís home. Ever since Schindlerís List was released, she has been asked by many organizations to tell her story, but she doesnít want to dwell on the past. "To enjoy life to some extent and not be constantly depressed, you canít keep on celebrating horrors. What Iím trying to do is not live it," she says in an interview (Brecher 54). She has constant reminders of Goethís cruelty Ė a bad back and as well as vivid memories. When testifying at his trial, she blacked out while describing how Goeth ordered his dogs to tear prisoners apart. Itís no surprise that she does not want to think of the past, but she does know how important it is for future generations to have first-hand accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust. Several years ago, she recorded her story for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. She did it for her children.
There are so many stories about how people survived in those concentration camps. Helena Sternlicht Rosenweigís was just one of many. All of these stories have one thing in common: they all had horror stories about the treatment of Jews by the Nazis. Itís no surprise that many survivors suffered from depression or became mentally unstable. Most of them were practically living corpses when the Allies liberated them. Students learn about all this in their history classes and through books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Night, but they never really learn about the psychological effects World War II had on the survivors. Many of them donít know that the displaced persons were placed in temporary camps made from old concentration camps where their parents, their siblings, and their friends had been turned to ashes and blown away. They donít learn that the displaced persons also had to face anti-Semitism from the military personnel who ran the camps. The survivors were treated like prisoners in most of these post-liberation camps and were not allowed to run the camps themselves. So many people died during World War II in concentration camps over fifty years ago. Many of the survivors who are still alive are probably around seventy or eighty years old now. Their stories need to be recorded, because in fifty years there will be no one left to tell what happened in those camps. The future generations need to know about this horrible part of history. They need to know how the survivors felt and how they suffered. They need to know so that they can prevent the atrocities of the Holocaust from ever being repeated.
Ayer, Eleanor H. The Survivors. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1998.
Brecher, Elinor J. Schindlerís Legacy. New York: Dutton, 1994.
Dinnerstein, Leonard. America and the Survivors of the Holocaust. New York:
Columbia UP, 1982.
Leitner, Isabella. The Big Lie: A True Story. New York: Scholastic, 1992.
Wiesel, Elie. Night. Trans. By Stella Rodway. 25th edition. New York: Bantam, 1986.
The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by
the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.