I stared at the tattoo on her arm, not
knowing what to think. Images flashed through my 4-year-old mind. The
needles, the pain, the suffering. It was not my Safta's choice to have
this indelible mark on her skin; she was a survivor of the Holocaust. At
such a young age, I was not capable of fully comprehending what my
grandparents had endured. I did not understand why I had so few
relatives-why most of my family was murdered. I did not understand what
genocide was; I did not understand the Holocaust.
My Safta always said that nobody wants to hear about the Holocaust. She said everyone will forget what has happened. It is my obligation as a third-generation survivor to study the Holocaust and to teach others about it. Out of everything I have learned about the Holocaust, I believe my Safta's story of survival impacted me the most. It showed me the cruelty that lurks in some and what happens when people devalue human life. The way my Safta suffered is something that I will never forget.
The horror began with a grueling trip in a train car so congested with people that they could not sit down much less move. This car had no bathrooms and very little ventilation. These atrocious conditions caused many to die before even reaching the concentration camps. My Safta and her son were forced into one of these cars. This train was on its way to Auschwitz, Nazi Germany's largest concentration and extermination camp. Upon arrival, the prisoners were quickly herded off of the train. A man stood in front of them with polished boots and every hair in place. His name: Josef Mengele, "the Angel of Death." With a casual wave of his hand, their fate was sealed. Death to the left, life to the right. The men were then separated from the women. Thus, my Safta's son was torn from her arms.
The concentration camp was like a torturous nightmare from which she could not awaken. The stench of burnt carcasses permeated every breath of air. Bloodthirsty rats found the fatigued prisoners to be easy prey. The brittle wood of the barrack she slept on bore the filth of the excretions of sickly, diseased people. During one winter in Auschwitz, my Safta was stripped naked and whipped by Josef Mengele. This was her punishment for giving some bread she had saved to a woman in her barrack on the verge of death.
At the age of seven, my Safta's son was struggling to stay alive in Auschwitz's work camp. One day, through the fence dividing the women's and men's work camps, he came to my Safta and gave her his potato. He said, "rake this Mama; I don't need it anymore." He had dysentery. This was the last time she saw her son.
My Safta's husband was sent to Auschwitz shortly after she was. However, he died in a death march the day before Auschwitz was liberated. My Safta lost every relative in her family except her brother.
During my study of the Holocaust, I was devastated to find that this horrendous tragedy was not at all unique. It was not a one-time occurrence in history; the Holocaust was one of many acts of genocide, the systematic extermination of an entire group of people. Even more shocking was the fact that Hitler knew he could get away with murdering countless Jews. The day before Hitler invaded Poland, he said to his Army commanders, "Thus for the time being I have sent to the East only my'Death's Head Units' with the orders to kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish race or language. Only in such a way will we win the vital space that we need. Who still talks nowadays about the Armenians?" (Genocide) Hitler was referring to the genocide in Armenia between 1915 and 1918; 1.5 million Armenians were murdered (Armenians). The consequences of embracing the inhumanity that Hitler encouraged are the extermination of a group of innocent people and the loss of loved ones.
Fortunately, our Jewish people were not annihilated as Hitler planned, but six million were lost. I will not let the world forget about this dreadful tragedy as so many others have been. I will tell my Safta's story to anyone who will listen. I pray that if we never forget the Holocaust, then our children and our children's children won't have to experience the horror of genocide in their lives.
Armenians in Turkey. 2000. The History
Place. 15 April 2002 <http://www.historyplace. com/worldhistory/genocide/armenians.htm>.
Lefkowitz, Fruma. Personal interview. July 1990.
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