Harry Spiro is a survivor of the Holocaust, and as such he has experienced things that we hope never to suffer. He remembers, “When someone fell, you felt lucky you were next to him. The dead always had something useful.” The conditions in the Nazi-ran camps were unimaginable. Mr. Spiro remembers, “I didn’t think about survival. I thought: another day, another problem.” For example, “In Buchenwald there were three bunks on top of each other and at the beginning you would go to the bottom bunk. You learned that was a mistake. The people on the top bunk couldn’t get out of bed in the night so they would urinate on you.” Near the end of the war, he was forced to go on a death march from Rehmsdorf labor camp to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. The name “death march” is accurate because only 300 of the 3,000 people who were forced to undergo the death camp made it to the end alive. Mr. Spiro remembers, “The majority were killed because they couldn’t walk. If you fell over, the SS man would very calmly say, ‘Get up, otherwise I’ll shoot you.’ And then if you repeated it, they would shoot you.” At one point, bombs fell, and young Harry dived into a ditch in the field for safety. In the ditch, he saw something in the field he could eat: turnips, aka white beetroots. He put one in the pocket, but the turnip was not unnoticed. Another boy saw it and requested a piece to eat. At first, Harry said, “No,” but the boy said, “’If you don’t, I will tell everyone what you’ve got and they will crush you to death.” Harry gave him a piece, and another piece, and another piece, and finally told the boy, “Ask again and I’ll give you a knife [in the gut], not beetroot.” After the war, the boys became business partners. The other boy’s name was Harry Balsom, and the two Harrys started and ran a firm of tailors.
In 1998, Sandra Roberts taught her eighth-grade students in Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, about the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed 6 million Jews and 5 million other people. One of the students talked about how difficult it was imagine such large numbers, and another student asked if they could collect millions of something. Ms. Roberts answered yes — but whatever they collected had to be connected to the Holocaust in some way. After doing research, the students discovered that in 1899 a Norwegian had invented the paperclip and during World War II Norwegians would wear a paperclip on their clothing as a way to protest the Germans’ policies against the Jews. Therefore, the students decided to collect paperclips. The principal of Whitwell Middle School, Linda Hooper, wanted to put the paperclips in a transport car that had been used to take Jews to concentration camps. Two German journalists, Peter and Dagmar Schroeder, located one and had it shipped to the school. It arrived on October 5, 2001. The transport car now contains 11 million paperclips to represent the 6 million Jews and 5 million other people the Nazis killed. Outside the transport car is a sculpture containing 11 million paperclips that is another memorial to Holocaust victims.
During the Holocaust, the people of the town of Secchiano in central Italy engaged in a “conspiracy of goodness” to protect a Jewish family that had fled from persecution in Germany: Wolf and Esther Fullenbaum and their four-year-old daughter, Carlotta. Holocaust scholar Eva Fogelman has written about the Fullenbaums that in Secchiano, “Their presence was a matter of public knowledge and private pride.” The citizens of Secchiano housed the Fullenbaum family and fed them. Even after the village priest was arrested by the Nazis and taken to a concentration camp because he had helped Jews, the citizens of Secchiano protected the Fullenbaums. When Nazis saw Wolf and Esther working in a field, pretending to be farmworkers, the citizens of Secchiano told the Nazis that the Fullenbaums were deaf-mutes; that way, their German accent would not give them away. Eventually, the citizens of Secchiano helped the Fullenbaums to leave Secchiano and reach safety in territory held by the British.
Comedian David Brenner grew up in Philadelphia, and he likes to joke about how tough his neighborhood was. For example, he says that he once walked into a bar and asked, “What do you have on ice?” The bartender replied, “You wouldn’t know him.” Mr. Brenner has been very successful and owns a luxurious four-story townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He sometimes tells visitors, “Four hundred years of Brenner poverty stops here.” By the way, he points out, “I wear a tiny Mogen David [aka the Jewish star and the Star of David]. I wear it in memory of one of the more than one million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis in World War II.” Ask him if he knew any of those children, and he says, “I knew every one of them.”
Eddie Weinstein nearly died in Treblinka during the Holocaust. He and some other prisoners were ordered to strip off their clothes, and he knew that that was a prelude to death. Fortunately, he noticed some prisoners digging a trench to serve as a latrine, and he made his way there. Challenged by a guard, he said that he had been ordered to help dig the trench. Also fortunately, one of his friends was helping to dig the ditch. Seeing Eddie, and realizing that Eddie had a reason to be there, the friend called to him, “Eddie, get over here and back to work!” Eddie was lucky — he soon managed to escape from Treblinka by hiding in a cattle car. Eddie survived the Holocaust and wrote a book about his experiences titled 17 Days in Treblinka.
At Auschwitz, very many Jews were murdered, and some Jews committed suicide. Emil Gold and Zesa Starr, survivors of Auschwitz, remember the Nazis giving belts to prisoners. Mr. Gold remembers, “Every morning you woke up to find 10 or 20 people had hanged themselves. That was what the Germans wanted.”
“The Holocaust was the most evil crime ever committed.” — Stephen Ambrose
Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved
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