|The Holocaust resulted in the as death of over six
million Jews. However, hidden in the unwavering shadow of that
staggering number are countless survivors, each with a story to tell.
Some of these survivors credit luck. God, or even certain Nazis for
their survival. No matter the reason for their survival, they lived, and
each has a memory - a nightmare to share, seeking to educate the world
and eliminate the hate that became the Holocaust.
Adopted in 1935 by the German government, the Nuremberg laws initiated what was to be the most immoral, grotesque act in modern history. They defined what was legal for a Jew and what was not, according to Adolf Hitler. Jews were forbidden to marry Aryans or hire young Aryan women for housework. All marriages for Jews required a medical examination and a certificate ("The Nuremberg Race Laws"). Racism and anti-Semitism became the driving force of the law (Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center).
The Nuremberg Laws also attempted to define the Jewish individual. If a person had three grandparents who were Jewish, they were considered Jewish. Those with one or two Jewish grandparents were called Mischlinge, or mixed ("The Nuremberg Race Laws").
Eventually, these laws and others became the basis of the Nazi propaganda to purify the Aryan Race. Jews could no longer participate in public schools, and Jewish teachers were forbidden to teach at public universities (Schoenfeld 248). Hitler and his Nazi party tried to destroy everything about the Jews - not just their lives, but their families, history, and heritage (Bloomer). What seemed like simple acts of aggression toward Jews rapidly escalated to massive deportations to ghettos.
While in the ghettos, the Jewish society faced extermination and starvation. Members of the SS constantly sought Jews who owned houses, businesses, or anything else of possible wealth. To avoid capture, many Jewish men and women tried inventive techniques to look Aryan. Men who were circumcised- a telltale sign of a Jew- had cosmetic surgery. Women disguised themselves by dying their hair or wearing wigs. Other, more thorough concealing methods included learning about the Catholic religion and wearing crucifixes (Schoenfeld 102).
Many sympathetic and religious organizations participated as an underground for the Jews in the ghettos. These supporters forged documents, Kenkarte, work papers, and even helped to change names (Schoenfeld 313-317). Underground meetings of the Christian Church and of Jewish synagogues helped to comfort those who felt they had nowhere else to go (Schoenfeld 303).
On April 19, 1943, in response to massive ghetto deportations, the Jewish Fighting Organization led the first civilian attack against Germany. This small, unorganized group had few modern weapons, but it had the allegiance of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. After the organization attacked a small party of Nazi men, it was decided that the ghetto should be liquidated. Almost 3,000 SS men entered the ghetto to take the rebellious Jews to concentration camps. The Jewish Fighting Organization attacked them with Moltov cocktails, rocks, and many other objects. In response, the Germans placed guards around the ghetto. The resulting battle lasted for 27 days and ended only because a German general set fire to the ghetto's buildings ("Warsaw Ghetto Uprising").
Many people, especially in the Lwow ghetto, wanted to escape to Hungary. This idea became even more profound when several Jews were able to bribe their way across the border. Soon, Gestapo agents began to leak rumors about chance opportunities to escape to Hungary. The Gestapo then approached wealthy individuals about payment to Hungary in a van under the surveillance of the Gestapo itself. Many of these wealthy Jews agreed (Schoenfeld 108).
What seemed too good to be true, in reality, was. Those Jews who boarded the vans never ended up in Hungary. They never even left Poland. After a short drive, they were ordered out and walked into a prison yard (Schoenfeld 108). Those who went east generally became a statistic.
The Jews were also told that they were simply being resettled in the East, which was where some of the concentration camps were. They usually ended up in death camps, where officials forced them to send letters to relatives praising the atmosphere of the camp ("36 Questions about the Holocaust").
Once removed from the ghetto, Jews were put on to trains and treated like cattle. They stood with little or no space between the person next to them and had barely enough room to breathe. There was generally no food and no water. Small buckets were in the car for sanitation, but they were out of reach for most. A small opening at the top of the trains allowed a tease of air, but it afforded no relief to the intense temperatures felt in the metal boxcars (Greenspun). The next time the boxcars stopped, the Jewish prisoners caught their first glimpse of the camps.
Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka were the six most notorious camps, known as death camps. Auschwitz was the most deadly death camp, killing more Jews than any other. Unlike the other death camps, it was made for many things besides death, such as concentration, labor, and factory work (Holocaust Memorial Center). Other camps simply held Jews in uninhabitable areas or made them participate in grueling work.
When prisoners arrived at the camps, they were divided into three groups: men, women, and children. The men and women were forced to remove their clothes and prove to the Nazi officials that they were physically fit. Judith Jaegermann recalls the initial
inspection " We were standing in rows in order to be shaved everywhere. Our clothes ...had immediately been taken away from us (Jaegermann)." Men generally went to mines, whereas women made clothing for soldiers.
Those individuals who did not go to the labor camps (old women and children) headed for the gas chambers. These chambers were large, empty rooms that had showerheads, which released gas and killed all exposed to the toxic fumes. The lifeless bodies were then burned in huge crematoriums ("Auschwitz").
Life in the concentration camps was horrible. Prisoners were forced to stay in small rooms that were severely overcrowded. They did not bathe, but had a small bowl, with which they put some water on themselves. The entire room shared a small toothbrush without toothpaste or proper dental care (Lucille E.). Lice became normal; everyone had lice crawling all over them. Joseph Sher remembers allowing the lice to freeze in the winter and shaking them off the blankets, only to have them back when the temperatures warmed up (Sher).
Amid these dire situations, however, there was hope, faith, and the will to live. Those who had these were guaranteed nothing, but those who did not give up prevailed. Lucille E. knows that the only reason she is alive today is because of her position of work in the camp. Lucille worked inside. The office she worked in was heated, and she did not have to face the freezing work conditions that many other women had to. Other women would say "You're not out in the cold," and Lucille knew that the office position saved her life (Lucille E.).
Isak Borenstein is alive today because of a sympathetic SS man. While he was at camp in Linz III, he was sent to be killed. However, an SS man saw his prisoner number, 37,200, and sent him back to his block. A number this large meant that the prisoner had been detained for a long time. The prisoners of these camps had a belief that a large number would save you. Isak found out first hand that this belief was reality (Borenstein).
Joseph Sher credits his survival to two German Jews whom he met in a ghetto. One of these men was a psychologist, the other a doctor. Everyday, Sher would help them out by filing things and doing laundry. One day, the two men heard that he was going to a labor camp. They promised Joseph's mother that they would get him back. Nine months later, Sher was taken from that labor camp and wrapped in bandages to mock an accident. The two men carried him out of the camp under the impression that he was injured. The two German Jews saved Joseph Sher (Sher).
Traitors to the Nazi regime also helped Jews. In one ghetto, there were two German doctors who hid Jews. They were sent to Auschwitz, where they were treated just as the Jews were (Radasky). "God saved me," praised Helen Greenspun, a survivor from Poland (Greenspun). One woman, Jeannine Burk, credits her mother for saving her life. When she was ten, her mother hid her with another woman, who successfully kept her from being taken by the Nazis (Burk).
The survivors of the Holocaust did not leave their memories behind. They looked forward, toward the future, and brought those memories with them. These memories are not simply extra baggage, they are teaching tools to educate younger generations. They teach against hate, prejudice, and inequality. If this teaching works, then the Holocaust will always be a memory. Such extreme hate will never again be expressed by the human hand, and the survivors that hoped, prayed, and persevered, will have contributed the greatest gift to humanity: life.
"36 Questions About the Holocaust." Weisenthal.com. 23 Feb. 2000.
The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by
the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.
"36 Questions About the Holocaust." Weisenthal.com. 23 Feb. 2000.
"Auschwitz." Holocaust Survivors.org. Holocaust Survivors.org. 23 Feb. 2000.
Bloomer, Mitchell. Holocaust Resource and Education Center of Central Florida. Lecture.
1 Feb. 2000.
Borenstein, Isak. "Isak Borenstein's Story." HolocaustSurvivors.org. 1 Feb 2000.
Burk, Jeannine. "Jeanine Burk's Story." HolocaustSurvivors.org. 1 Feb 2000.
Lucille E. Interview. Lucille E. <http://wvw.remember.org/witness/lucillee.html>.
Greenspun, Helen. Lecture. 14 Feb. 2000.
Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida. Display. Visited
1 Feb. 2000.
Jaegermann, Judith. "Memories of My Childhood in the Holocaust." Dec 1985.
Remember.org. 1 Jan. 2000. http://www.remember.org/witness/jaegermann.html>.
"The Nuremberg Race Laws." HistoryPlace.com. HistoryPlace.com. 23 Feb 2000. http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/holocaust/h-nurem-laws.htm>
Radasky, Solomon. "Survivor Stories: Solomon Radasky." HolocaustSurvivors. 12 Jan.
Schoenfeld, Joachim. Holocaust Memoirs. Hoboken, New Jersey: Ktav Publishing
House, Inc., 1985.
Sher, Joseph. "Joseph Sher's Story." HolocaustSurvivors.org. 1 Feb 2000.