Never Shall I Forget That Night:
Survivors Remember the Holocaust

By Amelia Bird
Keystone Heights, Florida


 

Riches can all be lost, but there is happiness in your heart that can be veiled, and it will bring you happiness again, as long as you live. As long as you can look fearlessly up into the heavens, as long as you know that you are pure within, and that you will still find happiness. (Frank 159)

In the Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, hangs a stained-glass window titled Salvation. The light streams through this lucent view of the deliverance of man from his earthly bondage to be reunited with the glories of his family in heaven. Colors; red as blood, yellow as royalty's gold, blue as the clear, burdenless sky shine through this window in the ancient cathedral. On the side of this window, the artist included a small, black padlock. This lock most perfectly resembles the lock to the gate of the concentration camp Auschwitz. E. Bossanyi lived through the Holocaust; he survived the Night and the deadliest concentration camp and went on to construct a breathtaking window of light, life, and heaven (Menzen 1).

Anne Frank, a girl who spent 25 months in hiding from the death and destruction the Nazis endangered, wrote in her diary of happiness (Frank 159). Similarly, E. Bossanyi suffered unthinkable horrors at Auschwitz, a death camp that claimed the lives of a million and a half human beings in Nazi-occupied Poland, and yet he uses the lightness in his heart so shape the light of the sun through a spectacular window (Wheal, Pope, and Taylor 38, Menzen 1). How ironic it is that the human spirit that prevails the most is sometimes in cause of a darkness, or a Night. The Holocaust was an attempt to suppress the human spirit based on religion, physical appearance, or rebellious actions, but it was also a time of true human spirit that personifies man’s courage to resist, to help, and often to save one another (Lawliss 5). Those who survived the Night will never let us forget the horror and death that the Holocaust brought, but they will also help us remember the prevailing of the human spirit.

An Outsider’s View

Heinrich Heine made a prediction: "Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people," (Lawliss 31). Just so, others watched the building tension in Europe during World War II with frightful feelings. Adolf Hitler took precautions to make certain that word would not get out to the public of events like what happened at Babi Yar and details of camps such as Auschwitz.

After the war, however, word got out, especially since many of the survivors were well-read scholars who chose to write their stories. Sylvia Plath, a poet and 

author, writes her outside view of the victims of the holocaust in her poem The Thin People. Plath’s father had been a Nazi.

"They are always with us, the thin people.

Meager dimensions the gray people.

On a movie-screen. They

Are unreal, we say: It was only

In a war making evil headlines when we

Were small that they famished and

Grew so lean." (Plath 64)

Plath justifies her former naivety to the Holocaust by saying how young she was when, in reality, it should have been apparent to all human kind what was going on across the sea, in Germany.

Stories of Survival

To say, "I have survived the Holocaust," is to say, "I am strong. I have seen horrors and have learned from them." This is not merely speech. A survivor of the Holocaust can prove their strong spirit through telling or writing of the event, as many have done.

One of the more famous writers of his experience in the Holocaust is Elie Wiesel, author of Night. Wiesel writes of his time in a Ghetto, the camps Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Buna. Wiesel explores, in this novel, the loss of faith that a traumatic experience can arouse. He says that in this time, God is dead. "Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on this gallows…" (Wiesel 62).

Livia Britton-Jackson writes of the loss of innocence in her novel I Have Lived a Thousand Years about growing up in the Holocaust. She survived Auschwitz also and was lucky enough to keep her mother with her. She writes of her liberation,

I am fourteen years old and I have lived a thousand years.

I am numb with cold. With hunger. With death and blood,

And the rattle of the train rolling on and on…

Freedom, at last.

Why don’t I feel it? Why don’t I feel it? (Britton-Jackson 199)

She went on to write two novels of her story.

Many others have given testimonies of the Holocaust. Some tell of the desolate ghetto, hiding or running from the horrors of the Gestapo and the SS, or their dread of the extermination camps.

A speaker for the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, FL, tells of her experience in a ghetto in Berlin, Germany and then in Shanghai, Japan. Betty Grebenschikoff regularly speaks to visitors and tells her tale of lost family members and friends, of the discrimination towards her, and of her having to run to protect her way of life. "But I was lucky," she said optimistically. "I had my family," (Grebenschikoff 1).

Ilse Loeb, from Austria, is a survivor of the Holocaust whose story tells details of running and hiding. She tells of how her family chose to send her away from the horror approaching them. She fled to Holland and after it’s invasion, hid for 2 years. The fear that must have been instilled in her is amazing, but she still faces it every time she speaks of her experience, (Landau 91-7).

Others had to deal with the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. Those approaching must have had unexplainable fear.

"My father was an extremely smart man. Sitting in the cattlecar, I talked to him. ‘Daddy, what’s going to happen?’ and he always assured me, ‘Don’t worry. This is the twentieth century. They’re not going to kill us.’" - Frank Block – (Superstation 1).

The approach of a concentration camp is like death staring a person in the face. Fritzie Frishall says of her first experience at Auschwitz, " ‘ When will I see my mother?’ I was shown the smoke. This is how I found out where she went," (Lawliss 129). Jack Polack wrote of his experiences at the camp Bergen-Belsen. He tells of his 12-hour days chopping trees in fear of being torn to shreds by the German’s dogs (Landau 101). One person has actually survived the gas chambers in an extermination camp. Alice Lok says of her experience, "It turned out the shower did not work, that it was really the gas. I know only that it was dark, that the Germans were terribly nervous, that when we came out they were very, very angry," (Lawliss 120). After the liberation from a camp, many inmates were in disbelief, even shock. "After the Allies opened the camp gates, I didn’t move for three days. I was so exhausted, heartsick and finding it hard to believe that it was over," (Laundau 83).

Tales of Courage

Sometimes, tragedies can bring out inner-strength which never was expected. Just as in the musical Les Miserables, when Jean ValJean becomes incredibly strong after a carriage crash and saves someone by lifting it up, others can take the initiative to save lives in crisis. The will to exist does not escape all.

For example, a young actress named Dina Pronicheva lived through the mass murder of 33,771 people at Babi Yar, a ravine in Kiev, Soviet Union. When the order for her death came, she pretended to be shot and fell on top of many other corpses in the ravine. She waited until night and clambered as the sand they threw reach her mouth (Lawliss 88-90). Her heroic act and clever skills saved her life.  

Another attempt to save lives was by an anonymous woman in the gas chambers at Birkenau. After distracting the German guards with a stripping act, she turned on them and, with the help of others fighting for their lives, shot two guards and sent the others running. Although her efforts ended in death, the act was honorable and bold, and the only attempt ever made in the gas chambers to save lives (Lawliss 133-6).

Continuing the Legacy

"As long as I am able, I will continue speaking about the Holocaust. Six million Jews were killed – I was fortunate enough not to be and that really obligates me to speak for those whose voices have been forever silenced. I will try to tell their story." - Jack Polack – (Landau 104)

The Holocaust seems so far in history, so untouchable and unreal; as Sylvia Plath described it, a grayness on TV screens. Some even deny it’s existence. The truth is, though, it was little more than 50 years ago. Some of those who lived through it are still alive to tell their story. They can write it down or paint it as clearly as they yet see it.

Although sunlight now glints through our stained-glass windows and although our bones are not bare and gray, we must, as a society, remember the Night, to be sure the darkness will never again shadow our human spirit. The survivors of the Holocaust help us to remember. They remind us of the suppressed spirits by telling of the grim death. They give us hope by telling of the small miracles of heroism. They write their feelings, their frustrations and stories, so that we may have a taste of their pain, a sample of the soup that was all their sustenance. By reminding us of the Night, the survivors of the Holocaust ensure a more peaceful future by teach us of the past.

"We are given our tomorrows

By those who gave their todays…"

-- Anon --

 

Works Cited

Bitton-Jackson, Livia. I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust. Scholastic Inc, 1997: New York.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of Anne Frank. Macmillan Press, 1980: New York.

Grebenschikoff, Betty. Personal Interview. 10 March 2000.

http://tbssupersttion.com/survivors. "Survivors of the Holocaust" TBS. Jan 8, 1996.

Landau, Elaine. We Survived the Holocaust. Franklin Watts, 1991: New York.

Lawliss, Charles. …and God Cried. The Holocaust Remembered. JG Press, 1994: New York.

Menzen, Jane. Personal Interview. 21 March 2000.

Plath, Sylvia. The Collected Poems. Harpen Perennial, 1960: New York.

Wheal, Elizabeth-Anne; Pope, Stephen; Taylor, James. Encyclopedia of the Second World War. Castle Books, 1989: New York.

Wiesel, Elie. Night. Bantam Books, 1960: New York

 

 

 


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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