Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Believe

"I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love,
even when there's no one there.
And I belive in God,
even when he is silent,
I believe through any trial,
there is always a way
But sometimes in this suffering
and hopeless despair
- My heart cries for shelter,
to know someone's there
But a voice rises within me, saying hold on
my child, I'll give you strength,
I'll give you hope. Just stay a little while
I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining
And I believe in love
even when there's no one there
But I believe in God
even when he is silent
I believe through any trial
there is always a way.
May there someday be sunshine
May there someday be happiness
May there someday be love
May there someday be peace...."

Written on the wall of a cellar, by an unknown Jew in the Cologne concentration camp, during WWII.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

One young girl...

by Tadeusz K. Gierymski

The Righteous Among the Nations, the rescuers of life, are for me the most admirable people to emerge from the abattoir of WW II.

"Hidden in Silence" is a TV movie, telling the remarkable story of Stefania Podgorska, who for two and a half years hid and cared for 13 Jews in Przemysl, a small town (about 70,000 inhabitants in 1991) in south-east, German-occupied Poland. At the beginning of the WW II it was occupied by the Soviets.

I shall relate this story as real Stefania and Max tell it in the documentary film, "The Other Side of Faith."

Stefania, an ardent Catholic, was only 16 when, in November 1942, Max Diamant, who adopted the name "Joseph Burzminski," appeared at her apartment, asking for refuge. He jumped out of a train on the way to Belzec from Przemysl ghetto.

She had worked in Diamant's family store, lived with them, and after the Diamants had to relocate to the ghetto, she stayed on in theirapartment. She not only let him stay, but later went searching for his brother Heniek and Heniek's fiancee Danuta, to induce them to escape from the ghetto and to hide in her apartment.

At this time she was also taking care of her six-year old sister, Helenka, and was fully aware that she was risking not only her own, but also Helenka's life. When it became necessary for them to leave the old apartment, Stefania rented a flat consisting of two rooms and a kitchen in a ramshackle building without electricity, without running water, with only a privy, on Tatarska 3. There they walled off a cramped space in the attic above the apartment, where eventually nine adults and four children had to hide, as Joseph put it, "stacked up like sardines, head-legs, head-legs" much of the time. Joseph was a designated look-out, and the twisted position he had to maintain resulted in scoliosis.

Stefania worked in a factory to earn money "for her people," as she called them in the documentary film, and to be "legal" herself. She had to shop for, and to bring the food in unobtrusively; she had to help with complications of hygiene and demands of nature of thirteen people, who could not show themselves in public.

In the last weeks of the occupation Stefania was ordered by the Germans to vacate the premises in two hours. It was a death sentencefor the Jews hiding there, as it would have been impossible to find another hiding place, and to evacuate them at such a short notice. They asked Stefania to run and save herself and Helenka.

In despair, unable to abandon them, she went to pray in the nearby church instead. There, as she tells it in the documentary, she heard a woman's voice, a sweet, calm voice, telling her not to worry. She went home, assured her less than convinced charges that everything would work out just fine, and refused to leave them.

In the TV film she prayed in front of the pictures of Jesus and Holy Mary on the wall of her apartment, and "her people," somewhat hesitatingly and as if to support her, also slowly knelt behind the praying girl.

Shortly before the deadline she was told that only two German army nurses would be billeted in one of the rooms, and that she and Helena would be allowed to stay in the other.

The nurses had their soldier lovers spent the nights with them, and Stefania and her charges lived in constant terror of discovery until the Germans were driven out of the city by the Soviet Army.

They all survived the war, thanks to her, to Joseph, and their strong will to live. The group dispersed to other countries in Europe, to Israel and the USA. Only Dr. Schillinger and his daughter Judy remained in Przemysl. Helena is a physician in Poland.

In 1945, still in Poland, Stefania married Joseph. They now live in Boston where he is a dental surgeon and she works as his office assistant. At least such was the case in 1990 when Stefania and Joseph visited Przemysl to make a documentary, the production of which was encouraged by the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

One or the other is filmed at various locations: the railroad tracks where Joseph jumped off the train, at both apartments, in the attic, inside the church, on the streets of Przemysl, as they tell their recollections to the camera.

Like practically all rescuers, when praised, when called "heroic," Stefania answers that she only did what she thought she should do.

The documentary is free from artifice and lacks finesse; perhaps this fact gives it an extra dimension.

("The Other Side of Faith," Produced by the Documentaries International, a program of the Washington Liaison Office of T.S.E. Limited, 1990.)

"Hidden in Silence," the TV movie contains some events not described in the documentary, but its fictionalization does does not seem to do violence to the story as told by Stefania and Joseph.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Remembering Margot

Jetteke Frijda was Margot's best friend. They were at the same school, first the Girls' High School and later the Jewish High School. In July 1942 Margot suddenly disappeared. Jetteke heard that the family had fled to Switzerland. It wasn't until after the war that Otto was able to tell her what had really happened. Jetteke Frijda also went into hiding in the summer of 1942. She was not betrayed and survived the war.

"I first met Margot Frank at the Girls' High School. That was in 1938 when we were both 12 years old. At first I didn't have much to do with her but later we went a lot together, especially when we went to the Jewish High School. I knew, of course, that Margot had come over from Germany but she never spoke about it. She spoke fluent Dutch. Only if you listened very carefully could you hear a slight accent. Margot was sweet and kind. She was good at everything but also very modest. you could trust her; you could rely on her. Margot never spoke much about herself she was closed. What did we do? together? I can't really remember anymore, it was more than sixty years ago. I do remember that once, when I had 'flu and croaked " I'm dying, I'm dying," Margot said to me "You won't die that quickly.""

"Anne was a frivolous child who always sought attention and always wanted to be the first at everything. She was three years younger than Margot and that was quite an age difference. Margot looked upon Anne as her little sister, someone she had to protect. She must have been irritated by her occasionally but she never let it show."

"I didn't get on very well with Margot's mother, I found her distant. Her father was completely different, he was a very nice man. He showed me the office on the Prinsengracht once. I really found it very interesting, because I was shown around by the boss himself! He showed me the premises and told me everything about Opekta, the product that he sold. We used Opekta at home every day. I can see myself being shown around and I must have been into the secret annex too."

"My father was professor and member of the Academic Support Fund, a committee for academic refugees from Germany. We had a lot of contact with the refugees because my parents met these people, arranged accommodation, food and clothes for them. It's because of this that we had an idea of what could be expected when the German army occupied the Netherlands. In the thirties there was also anti-Semitism in the Netherlands, but it was hidden. I was at school with children whose parents were in the NSB (Dutch wing of the nazi party) but didn't notice anything in particular. These children didn't shout 'You're a Jew so get lost,' but you knew that they were anti-Semitic."

"In May 1940 the Netherlands were occupied by the Germany army. In the Autumn of 1941 all Jewish children had to attend Jewish schools. Margot and I went to the Jewish High School. It was the first time in our secondary education that we had boys in our class. It was a class of six girls and nineteen boys. The attention we received was wonderful! Of course, I had a boyfriend. Whether Margot had one I don't know. She was very reserved. Outside school there wasn't much to do because we always had homework and we had to be indoors by eight o' clock. Jews weren't allowed to ride bicycles anymore so we had to walk everywhere. From one day to the next something new was forbidden. I felt very threatened and had the feeling that I would suffocate from fear even though it wasn't as bad then as it was to become later."

"On a summer's day Margot Frank had suddenly disappeared. I went to their house on the Merwedeplein straightaway because I wanted to know what had happened. I heard from a neighbour that the Franks had fled to Switzerland. The door was slightly open and all there things were still there. I went into Margot's room and looked around. I took a book from the shelf to remember her by. It was a book about Dutch poets. Margot and I were both very interested in literature. Then I left quickly because what I had done was dangerous. I was wearing a Star of David and I was looking around the house of a Jewish family that had fled."

"In August 1942 I went into hiding. I moved hiding places five times. I was in an orphanage in the Veluwe region, in Zeist, in Amsterdam, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for months on end. My hiding situation was completely different from that of Margot. I could still walk the streets because I didn't look particularly Jewish. Once I took a short walk with a women where I was hiding and she introduced me to someone as her niece. 'Yes,' said the person, 'you can see that you look alike.' Thank goodness I was never arrested then I would really have been in trouble. Although I had forged papers I didn't know much more than my false surname. It would really have been better if I had learnt my new identity off by heart, but I could never bring myself to do it. My hiding places were all different. In some places I didn't have to do anything at all but in others I had to perform household tasks, such as in the orphanage. There I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone. Later I heard it was because they were afraid that someone who worked there would betray me. For the last year I was in hiding with a very religious family. There, I had to help a lot in the house and they tried to convert me."

After the war Otto Frank was so busy with Anne Frank's diary. I told him then: 'I think it's a pity that nothing is mentioned anymore about Margot. She is also worthy of being mentioned.'

"After the liberation I contacted my family straight away. They were very good to me. I hoped that Margot had survived the war. I started work in the Public Reading Room in The Hague. One day I heard that there was someone looking for me. It was Otto Frank. He told me that his wife and daughters had perished in concentration camps. He had met my father in Auschwitz. He cried. I don't remember how I reacted anymore, so much happened in those days; people who came back, those who didn't... Then I heard that my father had been murdered. I just had to accept it. I had always known that it was a possibility. You just accepted what happened and it didn't seem to surprise you. During the war I was very afraid and humiliated. After the war I had no security anymore. I had no friends, no furniture, no house, nothing. I had to start all over again. Only when you have experienced that can you imagine what it's like. We didn't talk about emotions then as we do now. Emotions were pushed away much more."

"After the war Otto Frank was so busy with Anne Frank's diary. He was very impressed with what readers of the diary had written to him. I told him then. 'I think it's wonderful what you are doing for Anne, but I think it's a pity that nothing is mentioned anymore about Margot. She is also worthy of being mentioned.'"

Monday, April 22, 2013

Former inmate recalls daring escape from Auschwitz

By Monika Scislowska, Associated Press Writer

With every step toward the gate, Jerzy Bielecki was certain he would be shot.

The day was July 21, 1944. Bielecki was walking in broad daylight down a pathway at Auschwitz, wearing a stolen SS uniform with his Jewish sweetheart Cyla Cybulska by his side. His knees buckling with fear, he tried to keep a stern bearing on the long stretch of gravel to the sentry post.

The German guard frowned at his forged pass and eyed the two for a period that seemed like an eternity — then uttered the miraculous words: "Ja, danke" — yes, thank you — and let Jerzy and Cyla out of the death camp and into freedom.

It was a common saying among Auschwitz inmates that the only way out was through the crematorium chimneys. These were among the few ever to escape through the side door. The 23-year-old Bielecki used his relatively privileged position as a German-speaking Catholic Pole to orchestrate the daring rescue of his Jewish girlfriend who was doomed to die.

"It was great love," Bielecki, now 89, recalled in an interview at his home in this small southern town 55 miles (85 kilometers) from Auschwitz. "We were making plans that we would get married and would live together forever."

Bielecki was 19 when the Germans seized him on the false suspicion he was a resistance fighter, and brought to the camp in April 1940 in the first transport of inmates, all Poles. He was given number 243 and was sent to work in warehouses, where occasional access to additional food offered some chance of survival. It was two years before the first mass transports of Jews started arriving in 1942. Most of the Jews were taken straight to the gas chambers of neighboring Birkenau, while a few were designated to be forced laborers amid horrific conditions, allowing them to postpone death. In September 1943 Bielecki was assigned to a grain storage warehouse. Another inmate was showing him around when suddenly a door opened and a group of girls walked in.

"It seemed to me that one of them, a pretty dark-haired one, winked at me," Bielecki said with a broad smile as he recalled the scene. It was Cyla — who had just been assigned to repair grain sacks.

Their friendship grew into love, as the warehouse offered brief chances for more face-to-face meetings.

In a report she wrote for the Auschwitz memorial in 1983, Cybulska recalled that during the meetings they told each other their life stories and "every meeting was a truly important event for both of us."

Cybulska, her parents, two brothers and a younger sister were rounded up in January 1943 in the Lomza ghetto in northern Poland and taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her parents and sister were immediately killed in the gas chambers, but she and her brothers were sent to work. By September, 22-year-old Cybulska was the only one left alive, with inmate number 29558 tattooed on her left forearm. As their love blossomed, Bielecki began working on the daring plan for escape.

From a fellow Polish inmate working at a uniform warehouse he secretly got a complete SS uniform and a pass. Using an eraser and a pencil, he changed the officer's name in the pass from Rottenfuehrer Helmut Stehler to Steiner just in case the guard knew the real Stehler, and filled it in to say an inmate was being led out of the camp for police interrogation at a nearby station. He secured some food, a razor for himself and a sweater and boots for Cybulska.

He briefed her on his plan: "Tomorrow an SS-man will come to take you for an interrogation. The SS-man will be me."

The next afternoon, Bielecki, dressed in the stolen uniform, came to the laundry barrack where Cybulska had been moved for work duty. Sweating with fear, he demanded the German supervisor release the woman. Bielecki led her out of the barrack and onto a long path leading to a side gate guarded by the sleepy SS-man who let them go through.

The fear of being gunned down remained with him in his first steps of freedom: "I felt pain in my backbone, where I was expecting to be shot," Bielecki said.

But when he eventually looked back, the guard was in his booth. They walked on to a road, then into fields where they hid in dense bushes until dark, when they started to march.

"Marching across fields and woods was very exhausting, especially for me, not used to such intensive walks," Cybulska said in her report to Auschwitz as quoted in a Polish-language book Bielecki has written, "He Who Saves One Life ..."

"Far from any settlements, we had to cross rivers," she wrote. "When water was high ... Jurek carried me to the other side."
At one point she was too tired to walk and asked him to leave her. "Jurek did not want to hear that and kept repeating: 'we fled together and will walk on together,'" she reported, referring to Jerzy by his Polish diminutive.

For nine nights they moved under the cover of darkness toward Bielecki's uncle's home in a village not far from Krakow.
His mother, who was living at the house, was overjoyed to see him alive, though wasted-away after four years at Auschwitz. A devout Catholic, however, she was dead-set against him marrying a Jewish girl.

"How will you live? How will you raise your children?" Bielecki recalls her asking.

To keep her away from possible Nazi patrols, Cybulska was hidden on a nearby farm. Bielecki decided to go into hiding in Krakow — a fateful choice they believed would improve their chances of avoiding capture by the Nazis. The couple spent their last night together under a pear tree in an orchard, saying their goodbyes and making plans to meet right after the war.
After the Soviet army rolled through Krakow in January 1945, Bielecki left the city where he had been hiding from Nazi pursuit and walked 25-miles (40-kilometers) along snow-covered roads to meet Cybulska at the farmhouse. But he was four days too late.

Cybulska, not aware that the area where she had been hiding had been liberated three weeks before Krakow, gave up waiting for him, concluding her "Juracek" either was dead or had abandoned their plans. She got on a train to Warsaw, planning to find an uncle in the United States. On the train she met a Jewish man, David Zacharowitz, and the two began a relationship and eventually married. They headed to Sweden, then to Cybulska's uncle in New York, who helped them start a jewelry business. Zacharowitz died in 1975.

In Poland, Bielecki eventually started a family of his own and worked as the director of a school for car mechanics. He had no news of Cybulska and had no way of finding her. In her report Cybulska said that she was haunted in the years after she left Poland by a wish to see her hometown and to find Jurek, if he was alive.

Sheer chance made her wish come true.

While talking to her Polish cleaning woman in 1982, Cybulska related her Auschwitz escape story. The woman was stunned.

"I know the story, I saw a man on Polish TV saying he had led his Jewish girlfriend out of Auschwitz," the cleaning lady told Cybulska, according to Bielecki.

She tracked down his phone number and one early morning in May 1983 the telephone rang in Bielecki's apartment in Nowy Targ.
"I heard someone laughing — or crying — on the phone and then a female voice said "Juracku, this is me, your little Cyla," Bielecki recalls.

A few weeks later they met at Krakow airport. He brought 39 red roses, one for each year they spent apart. She visited him in Poland many times, and they jointly visited the Auschwitz memorial, the farmer family that hid her and many other places, staying together in hotels.

"The love started to come back," Bielecki said.

"Cyla was telling me: leave your wife, come with me to America," he recalls. "She cried a lot when I told her: Look, I have such fine children, I have a son, how could I do that?"

She returned to New York and wrote to him: "Jurek I will not come again," Bielecki recalled.

They never met again and she did not reply to his letters.

Cybulska died a few years later in New York in 2002.

In 1985, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem awarded Bielecki the Righteous Among the Nations title for saving Cybulska. The institute's website account of the escape and its aftermath is consistent with Bielecki's account to The Associated Press.

"I was very much in love with Cyla, very much," Bielecki said. "Sometimes I cried after the war, that she was not with me. I dreamed of her at night and woke up crying. Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again."

Friday, April 19, 2013

The White Rose

Sophie and Hans Scholl grew up in an somewhat unorthodox German family. Their family was religious, but had an ardent love
for discussion; they were free growing up to form and express even unpopular opinions. They also grew up with a firm sense of
responsibility for their fellowman, and a deep commitment to a faith that could see them through death. Brilliant young
people, they each headed eventually for the University of Munich, Hans first to Medical School [interrupted by a stint in the
German armed forces] and Sophie, later, still undecided in her major, but having some experience in education, with a love
for philosophy, music and the humanities. Both had a keen sense of politics: not only national politics but also of the
politics of human understanding. Even as young people they wrote extensively, keeping journals and diaries, and they were
exposed to many scholars, artists and musicians of the day, who despite the darkening skies of the Third Reich, held to their
views and art, even when banned or censored.
As Hitler took office and consolidated the power of the presidency and the chancellory, brisk winds blew through the academic
institutions of the time. University of Munich was one of the premier universities of Germany and it was no exception. In
1933 many Jewish scholars and professors were removed from their positions for having what was considered by the Reich to be
'degenerate' ideas, particularly Bolshevism. Bolshevism was the name given to the early formations of the Communist party and
ideals; it was more idealist. While it was a hated philosophy among the National Socialists the term was often misapplied and
became a 'catch-all' phrase to indicate any political or national group that was the object of prejudice. The Jews were among
those who were consistently referred to by Hitler and Goebbels as Bolsheviks, regardless of their stance. It was into this
politically-charged arena that Sophie and Hans Scholl entered their University years.

The Bishop, Euthanasia & a First Pamphlet
As Sophie and Hans went to Church one Sunday, they heard Bishop Galen speak of the emerging Euthanasia polices of the 3rd
Reich. Hitler was with and without parental/familial permission, ending the lives of the mentally retarded and mentally
'infirm' pharmacologically. It was in line with his Eugenics plan: Hitler as most of the Nazi hierarchy felt that the
mentally-ill and developmentally delayed would contribute negatively to the 'bloodlines' of Europe. He also felt they were a
burden on the state and should therefore be 'euthanized'.
Sophie and her family were horrified. She listened attentively to the Bishop's sermon, decrying the cruelty of such action;
and the inhumane attitudes of the regime. Impressed deeply, she got permission to reprint the sermon in pamphlet form. She
and other students handed out the pamphlet at the U of Munich, in opposition to the laws of the time. The Scholls and others
were deeply influence by a faculty member with similar outrage to Hitler's policies. The Scholls, Chris Probst, and Professor
Haber became the core of a non-violent resistance group on campus, comprised entirely of Germans. This Group was called, The
White Rose (weisserose), named after a Spanish novel (Rosa Blanco). The Group coordinated efforts on Campus for Civil Rights
and Opposition to Nazi policies. Among their efforts on campus were weekly discussion groups, painting 'freedom' on brick
walls at the entrance into campus, and distributing leaflets opposing the Reich on moral and political grounds, encouraging
students to think for themselves.
The Jews were also of central concern to the group. Many try to dismiss German domestic responsibility in the Genocide of the
Jews of Europe, claiming they did not know it was happening. Several of the Scholls' pamphlets describe the mass executions
and deportations to Death Camps. It is clear that the information was available, though forbidden by Law. Free Speech was
suspended in the Reich because it was felt to dampen the War Effort. Knowing the cost, (they made it clear in their writings)
they continued their efforts, hoping to influence German opinion and bravery against the Nazi Regime. The reason the
distribution of pamphlets was considered so treasonous is expressed below:

"Since Hitler's Moods were said to be extraordinarily dependent on the sympathy of the masses, a reversal of feeling among
the populace would have been a weapon of considerable force against him, one which would threaten his own self-confidence.
FOR THESE REASONS the leaflets of the White Rose, were held by the highest levels of the party to constitute one of the
greatest politcal "crimes" against the 3rd Reich". p.96 3

Good German Citizens
The Scholls, Probst and the others were not Jewish, Communist or violent dissenters. They were all German citizens, and the
Scholls had been leaders in the Nazi Youth Party (hitlerjugend). He had been a flagbearer at a Party Rally in Nuremberg, and
loved the Great German philosopher. Additionally, Hans had enlisted in the German Army: he fought for Germany. One day,
however, he saw a young Jewish woman, under forced labor, digging a trench. The whole of what the Regime was doing struck his
heart, he realized but for the grace of God, he could have been the one there, or his sister. He reached down to give her a
flower and some food but she resisted, unappreciative of Nazi hospitality. He knew she was destined for one of the Killing
Centers, or Concentration Camps, to an almost certain death. This event so struck his heart, that when he returned to Medical
School, he devoted his life to his views and faith.
Sophie also had been a leader of a Nazi Youth Group. It is important to understand that they loved the Germany that was their
Motherland: they wished only good for their countrymen. They had both received accolades and awards for their efforts as
stellar German Citizens: these were not rebels, or delinquents with a chip on their shoulder, they were fine young people,
pursuing an academic degree; who decided that even if their life was shorter than it might be it was still better to stand
for the truth.

Imprisonment, Martyrdom & Death
On one of their last days before imprisonment, Hans & Sophie mimeographed several hundred more pamphlets. They knew that
distribution was becoming more and more dangerous. In the early morning hours before classes began, the bulk of the leaflets
were passed out, and in a symbolic gesture, Hans dropped many from a balcony, which fell like the petals of the White Rose. A
building superintendent, Jakob Schmied, betrayed them: in that day, every one was an informer. Before 48 hours was over, the
members of the White Rose had been arrested and charged with Treason: punishable by death. They were imprisoned at Stadelheim
Prison and continued in prayer, knowing they were facing their death in their young 20s. On her way to sentencing before the
"Peoples' Court" and a judge known for his intolerance, Sophie's Mother turned to her and said, "You Know, Sophie, Jesus".
Sophie nodded in agreement. Sophie, Chris & Hans were sentenced to death by guillotine. Hitler had brought it back as a means
of execution because he found it threatening and foreboding and felt it would be a crime deterrent. Shortly after sentencing,
in an unjust trial, with a court-appointed Nazi attorney, the young people of the White Rose were executed. The sentencing
was brief, Dr. Freisler, presiding.
"The People's Court has found but one just punishment: Death." The two young people with a few others were executed following
their February 18, 1943 arrest. Their great crime of making the truth known resulted in a cruel and unjust death. Hans once
wrote a significant passage that sums up the motivation and heart of the young Scholls:

I lay no claim to age and experience but above and beyond the flickering blaze of my youthful soul, I sometimes detect the
eternal breath of Something Infinitely Great and Serene. God. Fate. ..."and is most clearly expressed by the quote by Rilke
that Hans kept in his pocket with a rosebud, "He that holds his peace is wise, but he that speaks, speaks not for his own

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


It was late Shabbat afternoon, that magic moment between dusk and darkness. The visitors had gone. The baby was already sleeping. Soon the lights would go on. My father and my brother would be home from Shul. There would be a call for the Havdalah candle, wine and spices, and the workweek would begin.

But for the moment it was Shabbat--Shabbat peace, Shabbat stillness. I curled up next to my mother on the living room couch, and begged, "Tell me a story. Tell me about myself when I was little."

And my mother began:

You were born in a very difficult time, a sad and bitter time for our family, for the Jewish people. Wicked Hitler was on the march across Europe. Like Haman before him, he had sworn to destroy us, to kill every Jewish man, woman and child who lived on the face of the earth.

Hitler's armies had not yet reached Hungary. He had not yet arrived in our town. We had heard terrible stories, things we didn't believe, couldn't believe. But I was young, not much more than a girl, and I had just been blessed with my first baby. Forgetting all our troubles, I waited eagerly for the nurse to bring my baby to me. I sat in the large hospital bed, and watched the nurses bring the other women their babies.

Finally, a nurse came walking toward my bed, holding a small bundle wrapped in a flannel blanket. What a beautiful baby you were: Your eyes were big and blue in your small rosy face. Someone had tied a matching blue ribbon into your fuzz of brown hair.

"Oh, give her to me!" I cried. "Please, let me hold her!" But the nurse, a heavy-set woman with small, hard eyes, did not smile.

"Take her," she said shortly, dumping you roughly at the end of the bed. "I don't know why we have to bother with these Jewish brats." I must have gasped, because she looked straight at me and repeated. "These Jewish brats. They are a waste of time and money. Hitler will take care of all of you before the year is out."

I couldn't answer her. I just held you tight in my arms and cried and cried.

"There, honey, don't let that old witch upset you." It was the woman in the bed next to mine. She was a rosy-cheeked farmer's wife with graying hair. "Come on, let's have a look at your baby. Oh my, oh my; isn't she cute. What a pity..."

Suddenly, she sat straight up in her bed, and spoke to me with great earnestness, "Listen to me, listen to me, Mrs. ...."

"Mrs. Rosenberg," I supplied.

"Listen, Mrs. Rosenberg. Let me have her." Her heavy face was flushed with excitement. "Let me take her. Why should she die, the innocent babe? I swear to you, I will care for her as if she was my own. I never had children, you know. Give her to me."

I stared at her in amazement. "What do you mean? What are you saying? How can I give her to you? She is ours. She is a Jewish child and we will raise her, G-d willing, as a Jewish child."

"You won't raise her." The friendliness was gone from her face. "That poor babe, she hasn't got a chance. There won't be any Jewish kids left when Hitler gets here."

"Don't be so sure," I answered uncertainly. "Don't be so sure. This is not the first time they have tried to destroy us." And suddenly I remembered. I remembered that it was Purim that day.

Purim was your birthday. It was a sign, I thought, a sign from Heaven, that my baby was born on the very day that Haman met his downfall. It was the day that was transformed from darkness to a great light. I was suddenly filled with courage and confidence. "In every generation they have risen up against us to destroy us, and G-d has always saved us from their hands. And He will again. He will again!"

My neighbor continued to reason with me, but I was no longer listening. I was thinking about my baby's name.

Your father came to visit me that afternoon. How good it was to see him, his megillah tucked under one arm, a bag of kosher food in his hand! My first words to him were, "Avrom, I know what our baby's name will be. She will be Esther, Esther Malka."

Your father nodded. "Esther. Esther Malka. A beautiful name, a good name." Gently he stroked your little head. "G-d will surely help."

And that is how you got your name. To us your parents, to our relatives, to all the people who knew you, your name held a special meaning. It meant hope. It meant faith. "Ah, Esther'ke. Esther Malka," people would say, smiling down at you. "A beautiful name, a good name." And then they would sigh, "G-d will help. G-d must help."

Indeed, we needed G-d's help desperately in those days. Hitler's armies entered Hungary. By the time you were two years old, we were forced to leave our homes, and we were living in the ghetto. What is a ghetto? It was a kind of prison. There was a section of the city that was surrounded by walls and guarded by Nazi soldiers. Young men like your father were marched out at the point of a gun to work for the Nazis. Otherwise no Jew was allowed to leave the ghetto walls. And inside those walls we lived, crowded together, many families in one apartment. We lived with cold, hunger and fear. Many became sick and died. Others were taken away by the Nazis and never heard from again.

That is how you lived and grew in the ghetto. You were a pale, thin little girl with wide, anxious blue eyes. There were so many things you could not understand.

And then it was Purim, your third birthday. Your father and I were determined that this one day you would have a taste of Purim joy, that you would laugh, have some fun. We planned it all carefully. That morning before your father left with the workers, I sewed a pair of gold earrings inside his jacket. He would trade these with the farmers for flour, sugar, and dried fruit. We would have hamantashen. After he had left, I found a torn lace curtain. It became your gown. From cardboard and old wrapping paper, I fashioned a crown. Your costume was ready. When the men returned from work, people gathered in our house to hear your father read the megillah. How little it takes to make a child happy! You wore your costume like a queen. I had let your hair loose and brushed it until it shone. Your eyes sparkled under your crown. Your cheeks were flushed with excitement. In your happiness, you were the center of attention. People smiled, and cried. They were remembering other Purims in better times. Every time your father read the name Esther HaMalkah ("Esther the Queen") the other children smiled at you. You stood very proud, very serious. The megillah was your story. That night, as I tucked you into bed, rosy and happy, stuffed with hamantashen, you murmured sleepily, "I'm lucky I am Esther."

But that was the last happy day I can remember in the ghetto. Things got worse and worse. Every few days now, German soldiers rounded up terrified Jews and forced them into cattle cars. They never returned. Finally, the day came when we realized that we had to send you away. The plan was to smuggle you out of the ghetto, and send you far away to the countryside, to one of the little villages so poor and small that it was forgotten, even by the Germans. There you would live with a peasant family until the war was over. For a sum of money, the last we had, they might agree to take in a Jewish child, and ask no questions.

When you woke up that morning, I had all your clothing packed in a large satchel. The young man who was going to take you was already waiting, sitting patiently in the corner. As I dressed you hastily, I tried to explain. I told you that the young man was a friend. He would take you to a place where there were no soldiers and no guns, where you could eat all the potatoes and bread you wanted.

You asked, "Are you and Tati coming with me?"

I told you we were not. Then I gripped you by the shoulders and spoke to you very sternly. "Remember one thing. You are not called Esther anymore. Your name is Eva. Say it again. Eva. No matter who asks you and when they ask you. Nobody must know you are a Jewish child. Do you understand?"

You were only three years old, and you didn't understand. You burst into loud sobs. "You won't come with me. Tati won't come with me. And I can't even have my name."

I tried to think of words that would comfort you. But none came to me. Besides, I was afraid that if I spoke, I would be crying along with you.

Then I heard the young man speak. "Come here, Ester'ke." His voice was calm and friendly. "Come, I want to tell you a secret." You stopped crying, and regarded him curiously. Tall and blond, dressed in the rough clothing of a peasant, he looked like a gentile. But he spoke to you in Yiddish, and his eyes were Jewish eyes, kind and sad. "You're not leaving your Tati, your Mommy, or your name. Not really. You will keep them all with you, here." And he pointed at your heart. "And at night, when you are alone, in bed, you will say the Shema and you will think of them, your mother, your father and your Jewish name. But you won't tell anyone. It will be your secret. And one day, your mother and father will come and get you, and bring you home again."

"And you, do you have a secret?" you asked him. He nodded. "Yes, I do, Es... I mean Eva. Yes I do." You left me then, holding tight to the hands of your new friend. Your face was smudged with tears. But you went quietly, won over by a sucking candy and a new doll.

For many, many months, we did not hear from you. Towards the end of the war, roads and bridges had been bombed, and we were cut off from the countryside. Somehow, through many miracles, we survived, your father and I. Many, many Jews, millions of Jews, did not. Then, the war was over. The wicked Nazis were destroyed. Like all the Jews who survived we tried to put our life together again. Our one thought was to find you.

We set out for the village where we had sent you. We walked ten miles by foot. The railroads were down and there were no trains. And as we walked, we prayed. We prayed that we would find you safe. We knew that many villagers had driven out the Jewish children that they had agreed to shelter. Others had handed them over to the Nazis. We also knew that there were villagers who had grown to love the children in their care and did not want to give them back to their parents. And the children themselves were often too small to remember that they had Jewish parents.

Torn between fear and hope, we made our way down the dirt road that led through the village. We decided that we would not tell you all at once that we were your parents. It might frighten you. We would make friends with you, slowly. We would win you over. Gradually, you would remember.

Suddenly, we caught sight of a child, a small, sunburned girl with matted brown hair and bare feet. She was playing in the dirt in front of a house. Our hearts leaped. It was you. "Little girl," your father called in a trembling voice, "come here."

You came over and stared at us with wide, wary blue eyes. You stood there with your thumb in your mouth. How can I describe how I felt? My heart sang with gratitude to G-d because we had found you, healthy, alive. But there was no welcome, no recognition in your eyes. You had forgotten us completely. Suddenly, you turned and ran into the house. "Ma," you called to someone inside. "There are people here, funny people. They're outside."

A small woman in a black kerchief came out. She was holding you tightly by the hand. Her face was blank, stony. She looked us up and down, our pale faces, our dusty city clothing.

Suddenly, I was frightened. She was holding you so tightly, as if you belonged to her. I remembered the woman in the hospital who had said, "Give her to me." I forgot all our plans. I forgot that we had decided to tell you slowly, gradually.

"Ester'ke," I burst out. "Esther Malka. It's Mommy and Tati! Don't you remember us?"

You froze. You stared at me, without moving. Suddenly, your face changed. You seemed to awaken from a dream. Recognition flared in your eyes. With a little cry, you tore your hands away from the woman who held you, and you were in our arms.

It had grown quite dark while my mother was talking. She stirred, glanced at the clock on the wall, Shabbat was over. But I wanted to prolong the moment, to make it last a little longer.

"How come," I asked, "How come I forgot everything--you and Tati and being a Jewish girl--and remembered only one little thing, my name?"

My mother rose to take out the spices, the Havdalah candle and the wine cup. "I guess," she said, "I guess because a name, a Jewish name, is not a little thing after all."

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My First Guest Post!!!

Thanks to my sister Sean MacKenzie at Fictionista, I did my first guest post for another blog. It is about Irena Sendler, entitled "The Angel of Warsaw," in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Month. So, please check it out.

Thanks and God Bless!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Woman Who Loved Children

Irena Sendler rescued 2,500 children from the Nazi death camps. Her story, writes Marti Attoun in Ladies' Home Journal, was rescued by three Kansas teens.

And her story is astounding, as awe-inspiring as that of Oskar Schindler, whose courageous acts of Nazi resistance became a book and an Academy Award-winning film. But unlike Schindler, who received international acclaim, Sendler had been a footnote in history for nearly 60 years.‚ That all changed in September 1999, when three teenagers in a small town in Kansas were looking for a topic for a history project and stumbled upon a short mention of Sendler in an article in a 5-year-old newsmagazine. As a Catholic social worker, the article said, Sendler had organized the rescue of 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Nazi-controlled Warsaw ghetto in 1942 and 1943.

"We thought it was a typo," recalls Elizabeth Cambers, now 18 and a college freshman. "We thought it was supposed to say she rescued 250 children, not 2,500."

In September 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Sendler was a 29-year-old social worker employed by Warsaw's social-welfare department. An only child, she had been just 7 when her father, a Catholic doctor, contracted typhus and died after treating Jews during a 1917 typhus outbreak . But she never forgot his sacrifice. "I was taught that if a man is drowning, it is irrelevant what is his religion or nationality, " Sendler has said. "One must help him. It is a need of the heart."

In the fall of 1940, Sendler watched as the Nazis forced 350,000 Jews inside the Warsaw ghetto, a 16-square-block area that was walled off and guarded. With each passing month of the war, the torment of the people locked inside intensified. They were dying of starvation and disease while unknowingly waiting for the Nazis to herd them into freight cars that would ultimately take them to their deaths in the gas chambers.

Sendler joined Zegota, the code name for the Council for Aid to Jews in Occupied Poland, an underground network founded in December 1942 by psychologist Adolf Berman and six other prominent scholars, religious leaders, and social activists. The secret organization, which forged thousands of birth certificates and other documents to give Jews safe Aryan identities, asked Sendler to head up their operation to smuggle Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.

But first she had to get inside. Because the Nazis were on guard against the spread of infections, they allowed the delivery of medicine inside the Ghetto. A Zegota member working inside the Polish disease department forged a permit that allowed Sendler to work undercover as a nurse inside the ghetto. Her code name was Jolanta.With the help of 10 "messenger friends," as Sendler called her colleagues, and dozens of volunteers, she organized the effort to sneak the Children to orphanages, convents, and private homes in the Warsaw region.

Children who were old enough to talk were taught to rattle off Christian prayers and mimic other religious behavior (such as how to make the sign of the cross) so they could live safely without arousing suspicion of their Jewish heritage.

Sendler and Zegota devised several routes for smuggling children out of the ghetto. Kids escaped on foot or in the arms of volunteers through sewer pipes or basements with underground passageways. Many also escaped through the courthouse, which had entrances on both the ghetto side and Aryan side. Other methods were more inventive. For instance, a trolley driver and Zegota member, when crossing from the ghetto to the Aryan side, hid little ones in trunks, suitcases, or sacks under his back-seat, where the Nazi guards could not see. Another supporter, an ambulance driver, kept his dog beside him in the front seat and trained him to bark to camouflage any cries or noises from the babies hidden under stretchers in back. Sendler also arranged for babies and children to be sedated and smuggled out with merchants in potato sacks, under their loads of goods. Sometimes, she even sneaked sedated children out in body bags, telling the guards that they were dead.

Day after day, for about 16 months, Sendler persuaded parents and grandparents to hand over their babies and children, to give them a chance to live. "There were terrible scenes," Sendler says. "One mother & I wanted a child to leave the ghetto while the father did not. The grandma wanted, the husband did not. They asked what was the guarantee? What kind of guarantee could I give them?" She couldn't even guarantee that she could get past the guards. On slips of tissue paper, Sendler recorded the identity of every child she rescued. Whenever possible, she wrote down the child's Jewish name as well as the child's new Christian name and new address. Sendler buried these names in jars under an apple tree in a friend's garden. After the war, Sendler hoped, the children would be located and their Jewish identities revealed to them.

On Oct. 20, 1943, the Gestapo arrested Sendler. They had long suspected she was running a smuggling operation, and one of her messengers had been caught and tortured until she gave up Sendler's name and home address. The Gestapo interrogated Sendler, demanding information about the identities of the other rescuers and the children in hiding. But she refused to talk, even when she was beaten until her legs and feet were broken. "I was quiet as a mouse," Sendler has said. "I would have rather died than disclose anything about our operations." She was then taken to Pawiak prison, where she was sentenced to be executed.

At the last minute, however, the woman who had rescued so many others was herself rescued. On the day she was to be executed, Zegota paid ahefty bribe to a guard, who allowed Sendler to escape. The guard subsequently posted Sendler's name on public bulletin boards as one of the executed, essentially rendering her invisible to the Nazis. She then went into hiding in Poland, just like the children she'd saved.

When Poland was liberated a year and three months later, in January 1945, Sendler returned to the friend's garden and dug up the jars. She turned over the rescued children's names to Zegota's Berman, and he and other members of the group tried to locate the children's foster families.‚ Sadly, most of the children had no parents or grandparents to be found. Less than 1 percent of the Jews inside the ghetto survived the war, most having perished at the Treblinka death camp in northeast Poland. After the war, Sendler married, raised two children of her own, and continued her career as a social worker in Warsaw. The beatings she had suffered at the hands of the Gestapo left her permanently disabled and she has had trouble walking ever since. But she never talked openly about her rescue work. Poland was under a communist regime, and the postwar climate wasn't safe. For almost 60 years, her story was essentially lost to history.

Then, in March 2000, she received a letter from Elizabeth Cambers and two of her classmates at Uniontown High School in Uniontown, Kan. Encouraged by their social studies teacher, the girls had selected Sendler as the subject of their National History Day project, and though information about her was scarce, they had been able to write a 10-minute play, titled "Life in a Jar", that had already won first place at the state level of the national contest. "We explained who we were and what we were doing," says Sabrina Coons, now 20 and a student at Kansas State University. "We told her that we found her story amazing."

Sendler's response, handwritten in Polish, arrived in Kansas three weeks later. "I am very eager to receive and read your play,"Sendler wrote. In a series of letters, Sendler answered the students'questions, and slowly the details of her remarkable story unfolded; an international friendship was forged.

After an emotional performance of Life in a Jar at Uniontown High, the students were invited to perform the play for church groups, nursing homes, and civic organizations throughout southeast Kansas. Through their correspondence with Sendler, the teens learned that she lived quite meagerly. So at each performance, they set out a donation jar. Their first gift to Sendler was $3, which they told her to use for postage. "We found out later that she gave the $3 away to a children's home," says Coons. "That's just how she is."

Although the girls didn't win any awards when they traveled to Maryland in June 2000 to compete in the national contest, their play gained national and international attention, and the students have since given more than 100 performances of the play in eight different states. As a result, Sendler has received numerous awards for her courageous work. After learning she was

to be given a $10,000 humanitarian award from the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington, she wrote to her girls "My emotion is being shadowed by the fact that no one from the circle of my faithful coworkers, who constantly risked their lives, could live long enough to enjoy all the honors that now are falling upon me.... I can't find the words to thank you, my dear girls.... Before the day you have written the play "Life in a Jar" -- nobody in my own country and in the whole world cared about my person and my work during the war ..." One member of a Kansas City audience was so profoundly moved by Sendler's story that he raised money to send the play's three authors to Poland to meet Sendler in May 2001.

"It wasn't real until I actually met Irena," says Megan Stewart. "We all ran up and hugged her. She wanted to just hold our hands and hear about our lives." Cambers told Sendler, "I love you. You are my hero." Sendler, a 4-foot-11-inch woman who now uses a wheelchair, deflected the girls' praise. "A hero is someone doing extraordinary things," she told them.. "What I did was not extraordinary. It was a normal thing to do.

"From "The Woman Who Loved Children," Ladies' Home Journal Print Edition, December 2006.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Queen Esther and the Nazis

Life in Frankfort in the 1930s was like the morning before a thunderstorm -- clear blue skies and a brisk breeze, with threatening gray clouds massed on the horizon and ominous rumblings of thunder in the distance. Nevertheless, the Jews of that city managed to maintain a normal existence, and their children for the most part enjoyed a carefree childhood. The famed Hirsch Realschule continued to educate children as it had for generations, while being careful to keep the Jewish children off the streets when the gentile children got out of school. In such a society did my grandmother, Berta, and her siblings grow up. Raised in a proudly Orthodox home, she absorbed at a young age the lesson imparted by the fraulein in school: "Gutt is uber alles" -- God is over us all.

As the years passed and Hitler rose to power, many Jews attempted to leave Germany before it was too late. Although some managed to escape, it was soon clear that for the vast majority there were precious few places to run. The world was turning its back on the Jews. The wise fraulein would say to Berta's class, "There is nowhere left for us to go. Gutt is uber alles. God is over us all. If He wishes to save us, He will."

Then came Kristallnacht.

Berta's father, a Polish emigre, was shipped to the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, from where many never returned. Frantic, as their father's fate hung in the balance, Berta's family discovered that many detainees were being granted their freedom on the condition that they leave the country immediately. But where could they go? The doors of the world's great democracies were slammed shut in their faces. Berta's family managed to obtain false Venezuelan visas, and thus armed, the 16-year-old Berta made her way to the SS headquarters to plead for her father's life. She was granted his freedom on the condition that he leave the country within 24 hours. Germany does not have many ports, however, and that day only one ship, the Orazio, was leaving the country from Hamburg. Berta contacted the shipping company in the hopes of securing place on board for the family, or at the very least for her imprisoned father, but the anti-Semitic shipmaster refused to allow a Jew on board. The desperate family pleaded for standing room in any corner available, even in the bathrooms, but to no avail.

Defeated, Berta returned the next day to SS headquarters, only to be greeted by an incredulous Nazi captain. "Are you still here?" he questioned, and then burst out laughing. "Your God must be watching over you. The ship that you did not board yesterday exploded as it left the harbor."

Impressed with Berta's courage, he permitted the family to travel to Italy, where they boarded the Augustus, the last ship to leave Europe before Italy joined the war. As the ship steamed towards the unknown world of Venezuela, Berta once again repeated her teacher's wise words, "Gutt is uber alles. God is over us all. If He wishes to save us, He will."

Although the story of her family's survival was devoid of obvious miracles, Berta always recognized God's presence in her life. Throughout the years, Berta never doubted the hand of God in her life. Compared to the stories of many other survivors, (including her own husband), her story seems tame, almost commonplace. Her entire family simply left Europe before the full fury of the Holocaust was unleashed. The fact that they narrowly avoided being blown to bits in the Hamburg harbor can be attributed to mere coincidence, a fortunate, but in no way miraculous, occurrence. To Berta, however, the Divine Hand guiding her footsteps has always been clear. Although the story of her family's survival was devoid of obvious miracles, Berta always recognized God's presence in her life.

Over the next half a century, she trained generations of her children, grandchildren and students to do the same; and many of her acquaintances, Shabbos guests and students attribute their commitment to Judaism to her. Her students remember her warmth, her dedication, and her unswerving belief in the Almighty. In her inimitable German accent, she taught them all to say, "Gutt is uber alles. God is over us all."

This month we celebrate the holiday of Purim and read Megillat Esther, which chronicles the survival of the Jewish people in ancient Shushan. Megillat Esther is unique among the books of the Torah in that the name of God is not mentioned at all. The megillah contains no obvious miracles; its events can be read as a combination of lucky coincidence and chance historical events. It was mere chance that a drunken King Achashverosh ordered his wife Vashti killed and unknowingly appointed a Jewish woman as her successor. Fortunate coincidence determined that Mordechai saved the life of the king, and that the wicked Haman came to request his execution on the very night when King Achashverosh had decided to reward him. All the random events of the megillah combined to affect the salvation of the entire Jewish nation without one mention of the name of God. Queen Esther, however, never doubted His Hand, and established Purim as a day to acknowledge God's constant, though hidden, presence in our lives. (Indeed, many communities and families throughout the ages have established private Purims in order to commemorate a personal salvation.)

To me, it is no coincidence that my Bubby Berta was born on the first day of Adar, and on that very day, 17 years later, escaped the shores of Europe with her family. Like Queen Esther of old, her story contains no obvious miracles, but her faith in the hand of God has been unwavering. And like Queen Esther, she gave over her belief in God's constant presence in her life to the coming generations. Like all of Bubby Berta's grandchildren, I grew up never doubting that the God who watched over my Bubby in Nazi Germany would watch over me as well. In my own personal, though hidden, miracle, my oldest daughter was born on Bubby Berta's birthday; a further validation of what she has always taught me.

Gutt is uber alles. God is truly over us all.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Helena's Story

“Seven-year-old Helena (Stefania Podgorska’s sister) had grown quite adept at passing slips of paper through the barbed-wire fence unnoticed, but this time she was unlucky. A gang of teenage boys saw Helena take a note from inside the ghetto, and began to chase her.

Frightened, Helena started to run away. Although she could not read or write, Stefania had told her never to let anyone see the little pieces of paper she took from the ghetto. As she ran, she tore up her message and ate the pieces. When the boys caught up to her and found nothing in her hand or pockets, they beat and kicked her so badly she could barely make it home.

For four years after the war was over, Helena was mute. Now in her fifties, she still stutters. The need for secrecy had been impressed on her so deeply, and the trauma of discovery had been so shocking, she could not escape from her habit of silence.”

Monday, April 8, 2013

I Saw Anne Frank Die

Original Article

I TURNED 100 YEARS OLD IN APRIL AND HAD A BEAUTIFUL birthday party surrounded by my grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members. I even danced a little. Willard Scott mentioned my name on television. But such a time is also for reflection. I decided to overcome my long reluctance to revisit terrible times. Older people must tell their stories. With the help of Jonathan Alter of NEWSWEEK, here's a bit of mine:

I was born in Germany in 1897, got married and had two children in the 1920s. Then Hitler came to power, and like many other Jews, we fled to Holland. As the Nazis closed in, we sent one daughter abroad with relatives and the other into hiding with my sister and her children in The Hague. My husband and I could not hide so easily, and in 1941 we were sent first to Westerbork, a transit camp where we stayed about a year, and later to Bergen-Belsen, a work and transit camp, from where thousands of innocent people were sent to extermination camps. There were no ovens at Bergen-Belsen; instead the Nazis killed us with starvation and disease. My husband and brother both died there. I stayed for about three years before it was liberated in the spring of 1945. When I went in, I weighed more than 125 pounds. When I left, I weighed 78.

After I arrived at the Bergen-Belsen barracks, I was told I was to be the barracks leader. I said, ""I'm not strong enough to be barracks leader.'' They said that would be disobeying a command. I was terrified of this order, but had no choice. It turned out that the Nazi commandant of the camp was from my home town in Germany and had studied with my uncle in Strasbourg. This coincidence probably helped save my life. He asked to talk to me privately and wanted to know what I had heard of my uncle. I said I wanted to leave Bergen-Belsen, maybe go to Palestine. The commandant said, ""If I could help you, I would, but I would lose my head.'' About once every three weeks, he would ask to see me. I was always afraid. It was very dangerous. Jews were often shot over nothing. After the war, I heard he had committed suicide.

There were about 500 women and girls in my barracks. Conditions were extremely crowded and unsanitary. No heat at all. Every morning, I had to get up at 5 and wake the rest. At 6 a.m., we went to roll call. Often we had to wait there for hours, no matter the weather. Most of the day, we worked as slave labor in the factory, making bullets for German soldiers. When we left Holland, I had taken only two changes of clothes, one toothbrush, no books or other possessions. Later I had a few more clothes, including a warm jacket, which came from someone who died. Men and women lined up for hours to wash their clothes in the few sinks. There were no showers in our barracks. And no bedding. The day was spent working and waiting. At 10 p.m., lights out. At midnight, the inspection came - three or four soldiers. I had to say everything was in good condition when, in fact, the conditions were beyond miserable. Then up again at 5 a.m.

One of the children in my barracks toward the end of the war was Anne Frank, whose diary became famous after her death. I didn't know her family beforehand, and I don't recall much about her, but I do remember her as a quiet child. When I heard later that she was 15 when she was in the camps, I was surprised. She seemed younger to me. Pen and paper were hard to find, but I have a memory of her writing a bit. Typhus was a terrible problem, especially for the children. Of 500 in my barracks, maybe 100 got it, and most of them died. Many others starved to death. When Anne Frank got sick with typhus, I remember telling her she could stay in the barracks - she didn't have to go to roll call.

There was so little to eat. In my early days there, we were each given one roll of bread for eight days, and we tore it up, piece by piece. One cup of black coffee a day and one cup of soup. And water. That was all. Later there was even less. When I asked the commandant for a little bit of gruel for the children's diet, he would sometimes give me some extra cereal. Anne Frank was among those who asked for cereal, but how could I find cereal for her? It was only for the little children, and only a little bit. The children died anyway. A couple of trained nurses were among the inmates, and they reported to me. In the evening, we tried to help the sickest. In the morning, it was part of my job to tell the soldiers how many had died the night before. Then they would throw the bodies on the fire.

I have a dim memory of Anne Frank speaking of her father. She was a nice, fine person. She would say to me, ""Irma, I am very sick.'' I said, ""No, you are not so sick.'' She wanted to be reassured that she wasn't. When she slipped into a coma, I took her in my arms. She didn't know that she was dying. She didn't know that she was so sick. You never know. At Bergen-Belsen, you did not have feelings anymore. You became paralyzed. In all the years since, I almost never talked about Bergen-Belsen. I couldn't. It was too much.

When the war was over, we went in a cattle truck to a place where we stole everything out of a house. I stole a pig, and we had a butcher who slaughtered it. Eating this - when we had eaten so little before - was bad for us. It made many even sicker. But you can't imagine how hungry we were. At the end, we had absolutely nothing to eat. I asked an American soldier holding a piece of bread if I could have a bite. He gave me the whole bread. That was really something for me.

When I got back to Holland, no one knew anything. I finally found a priest who had the address where my sister and daughter were. I didn't know if they were living or not. They were. They had been hidden by a man who worked for my brother. That was luck. I found them and began crying. I was so thin that at first they didn't recognize me.

There are many stories like mine, locked inside people for decades. Even my family heard only a little of this one until recently. Whatever stories you have in your family, tell them. It helps.

Friday, April 5, 2013

First They Came for the Jews

by Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An Auschwitz Survivor Searches for His Twin on Facebook

Menachem Bodner last saw his twin brother at age 4, when he was liberated from the infamous Auschwitz laboratory of Dr. Josef Mengele. Now, armed with proof that his brother also survived, he’s watching his search go viral online.

It’s most likely that Menachem Bodner last saw his identical twin in 1945, in Dr. Josef Mengele’s gruesome Auschwitz laboratory. He was 4 then and doesn’t remember his time in the notorious death camp. But in the 68 years that have followed, Bodner says he’s “always” been certain he was one of a pair. He just didn’t have any proof until this past year. Now, he’s searching for Jeno, a man who probably looks just like him, and who has a distinctive “A-7734” tattoo on his forearm. And 1 million Facebook users are helping him look.

Mengele, known among prisoners as “the Angel of Death,” was deeply fascinated with twins and used them for research experiments in his macabre Auschwitz lab. Thankfully, Bodner, now 72, has no recollection of the cruelty he most certainly endured while undergoing experiments, though he can remember a sense of paralyzing fear. Unfortunately he also has few impressions of his family’s prewar life in a small town east of Munkacs, Hungary, which is now in the Ukraine. But despite the lack of memories from a war-marred childhood, Bodner says that throughout his life he’s felt a deep connection with his twin—and is positive he’s still alive and out there. But where?
Until last May, Bodner didn’t even know that his own name was once Elias Gottesmann. Now he knows that. And he knows for certain that he has a twin—thanks to the Nazis’ dogged, pathological documentation of their crimes. Ayana KimRon, a professional genealogist in Israel, found the evidence, clearly written in a record put together by the organization Candles, of twins who were “identified as having been liberated at Auschwitz or from a subcamp”:
A-7733, Gottesmann, Elias, 4
A-7734, Gottesmann, Jeno, 4
KimRon got onto the case after spotting a posting made on a genealogical forum by a cousin of Bodner’s partner, seeking information about the long-missing brother. When the woman was unable to answer KimRon’s questions, Bodner ended up calling the curious researcher himself. “I was hooked,” KimRon says of that first call. “I said, ‘Look I’m going all the way with you,’ and it turned out to be the project of my life.” Bodner, a retired Israeli tax-service employee living in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon LeZion, was dubious at first, but KimRon began digging anyway. She asked him if he had any sense of his brother, and he told her, “All my life I’ve known that he was alive somewhere; I felt that he was alive.”
In early March, after months of dead-end trails and fruitless posts within the Jewish and genealogical communities online, KimRon decided the campaign needed a broader audience. She created a Facebook page titled “A7734,” posted a black-and-white shot of a young boy and a caption with his tattoo number, and asked for any clues into his whereabouts. Within 24 hours it had gone viral, and a within a week, the photo has had 23,000 shares, 1.13 million views, and hundreds of comments from readers offering resources, prayers, and words of encouragement. Other twins pledged to help. Amateur etymologists traced their names. One man even attempted to age the photo into what Jeno (known by his nickname Jolli) might look like now.

“I was astonished by the amount of comments, and I’m very grateful for each and every one one of them,” Bodner, who speaks Hebrew, says of the rapid response. Before talking to The Daily Beast, he and KimRon had been watching the page, mesmerized as the comments and countries rolled in: China, Argentina, Ireland, Portugal, Finland. The success is galvanizing, and Facebook is just the beginning. “I’m going to maximize the Internet,” KimRon says, explaining that her next plan is to build a YouTube channel of Bodner speaking (a Twitter account launched Sunday night).
In 1945, as allied troops advanced into Poland and the Germans fled Auschwitz—the most notorious of Nazi death camps—a boy approached a young Jewish man searching for his family and asked: “Will you be my father?” When the man asked his name, young Elias Gottesmann took a guess, saying his first name was Mendele and giving a similar-sounding last name. More than a half-century later, he laughs and shrugs when asked how he came up with that new name.

As the pair walked out of the camp a few days later, they saw a battalion of Soviet soldiers approaching. “I don’t like them,” he told the man. “They didn’t save my brother, Jolli.” Five years later, the ramshackle family moved to Israel. When Bodner turned 20, his adoptive parents told him about those words. Despite searching through Jewish agencies and publishing requests, searches using the name Bodner had yielded no clues about the fate of his brother.
But when KimRon ran the unique tattoo number through the Red Cross records, she soon found the proof of the twin Bodner always knew existed. In a hospital record dated February 9, 1945—nearly two weeks after Auschwitz was liberated—his brother’s name shows up. Ironically, as Bodner lived with his adoptive family in a neighboring camp, Jolli was just inside those infamous gates. KimRon explains why Bodner never searched for himself or his brother using the inked numbers on his arm: “That’s the symbol of turning human beings into numbers,” she says. “People don’t want to relate to it.” She utilized it because she realized it was the only way past the dead-end trails.
Patricia Heberer, a historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and author of Children During the Holocaust, explains that twins studied by Mengele were housed together in barracks, underwent daily physical examination, and received surgeries or experimentations as a pair. “Experimentation included injections that caused pain or disease, spinal taps and spinal injections, and deliberate infection with certain diseases,” she says. Surgeries were even more gruesome.
Because of Mengele’s secretive nature (he “destroyed much of the documentation about his ‘research efforts’ in his effort to avoid capture,” Heberer says), many twin survivors, like Jeno and Ellas, have spent the rest of their lives unaware of the nature of their experimentation and suffer serious health consequences as well.
Along with historical records, KimRon found a flock of nearly 70 extended family members both in Israel and the U.S for a man who believed he had no blood relatives. Many of them had searched for Bodner for years. “I was shocked,“ he says. “I thought that nobody would look for me. I had a dream to find someone. It made my dreams come true.” Within less than a year, Bodner has quickly assimilated into his family, and KimRon, who has found herself as part of the clan, says that the relatives “embrace as if they were together since birth.” Bodner speaks to his new cousins weekly, and they’ve spent the past year’s holidays together. “I’m still memorizing the names,” he says with a laugh.
The enigmatic connection between family members who spend years separated is well documented. Nancy Segal, a psychology professor at California State University, Fullerton, and director of the Twin Studies Center, has spent years researching twin connections. She says that even after decades apart, many twins still find they have similar attitudes, values, and interests upon reuniting. “Sometimes circumstances of rearing and living can get in the way,” she wrote in an email. “But even some who met in their sixties and seventies did well together.”
Despite the skepticism he had going in to the search, Bodner has been eager to soak up his newfound history. “This man has quick digestion. He wants to face the demons,” KimRon says reverently. In June—just a month after learning of his family—Bodner traveled to his small hometown in what is now Ukraine, but was once Hungary. When he arrived, an old woman approached the group, looking at the house they were eyeing. She still recalled his family. “In this house there were twins,” she told them. Bodner, too, remembered the house and the Gestapo officers who came to take them from it two months before his fourth birthday. “I remember when Nazis came to take us: it was midday, I was outside, and my brother was asleep in bed,” he says. “I saw them coming.”
This June, Bodner, KimRon and four family members plan to make a trip back to Auschwitz, the death camp that once housed him, his brother, and his mother (a survivor who was murdered a year after the Holocaust while searching for her sons). The last time he was there was just a few weeks after liberation, when a Jewish journalist asked Bodner and his adoptive father to take him. As they approached the gates, the 5-year-old panicked. “I don’t want to go there,” he screamed. “They turn people to dust in there; I don’t want to go there.”
Sixty-eight years later, Bodner is ready to try again. “Until now I didn’t have the mental strength to do it,” he says, “but after finding my family and my house, it is time to close the circle.” As for his twin, he knows he’s out there somewhere. And Facebook’s combined power of 1 billion users is a promising allure to renew optimism. “I never lost hope, and now I hope more,” Bodner says.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Holocaust Remembrance Month

Monday, April 8, 2013 (the 27th day of Nisan in the Hebrew Calendar) is Holocaust Remembrance Day. So this month I intend to dedicate all of my blog entries to the memory of those who perished during that turbulent period. I will be posting stories, poems and pictures about the subject.

If you would like to contribute something, please private message me or message me on Facebook. Thank you and God Bless.

Never Forget…