MY YEARS IN THERESEINSTADT: How One Woman Survived the Holocaust

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

1-21-1998  Tenth Program in Series

 

Guest: Jutta Tragnitz, English version translator of Gerty Spies’ Autobiography:

 

MY YEARS IN THERESEINSTADT:  How One Woman Survived the Holocaust

 

ISBN-10:  1573921416  and ISBN-13: 978-1573921411

 

 

Roger:   Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  We’re happy to be with you once again, happy to be continuing this series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember.  It’s been a very interesting journey thus far, learning the many stories of man’s inhumanity to man, I guess, is the best way to put it.  Brutality and murder!  Starvation, disease, cold, the loss of dignity!  Boy, it’s almost impossible to imagine that these stories are true stories that happened to people in their lives.

 

This evening we are going to be talking about Thereseinstadt, a little known concentration camp.  You’re going to learn some interesting things here!  We’re going to talk about the years spent there by a woman named Gerty Spies.  It will be told by her translator, Jutta Tragnitz, who translated the book to English.  I just want to bring her right up and introduce her!  Jutta, welcome to the program!

 

Jutta T:  Thank you, I’m delighted to be on your program!

 

Roger:  I’m glad you’re her.  You know, I talked to you earlier today and I’ve been looking forward to this because Thereseinstadt is one of those places we don’t know anything about.

 

Jutta T:   That’s right.

 

Roger:   So, what I would like you to do is first, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up getting tied in with Gerty and doing this translation.  Then tell us all about Thereseinstadt.

 

Jutta T:  Okay!  I speak German, I am German.  A friend of mine at the University of Illinois, Esther Parada, she’s an artist and a professor of photography, asked me to take a look at this book because she was doing some research into German women.  She said, “If there’s anything in there that is pertinent, why don’t you translate some of it for me.” I was so touched by it, that I decided to translate the whole book!  Two reasons for that; one is, of course, is that Gerty Spies is a very special person.  The tone, when you read the book, I try to capture it, is something you wouldn’t expect.  She’s very gentle in the face of all these horrors that she’s experienced.   Her faith in humanity never, ever waivered.  There’s no bitterness, no malice, no cynicism.  She has such dignity and goodness that you’re almost speechless that someone who went through all this did not come out raging — like I would– if I would have had to go throught this!

 

Roger:   They would have shot me the first day!  Ha, ha!

 

Jutta T:   Yes, I think me too!   The other thing, of course, is I think it’s about time that more books from women holocaust survivors get a voice.  There are many books out; but, most at written by males.  The genders were separated and the women did have a different experience.  In the last 10 or 15 years, there have been more books by women and about women that went through the different camps.  I thought Gerty Spies voice should really be heard.

 

Roger:   Tell us about who Gerty was and how she ended up in Thereseinstadt, then tell us about Thereseinstadt.

 

Jutta T:   Gerty was born in 1897 in Trier.  That is a very small little town; but a very old town going back to Roman times on the River Rhine in Germany.  Her ancestors had lived there for centuries.  Her father was a businessman and he also wrote poetry in the Rhineland dialect.  Her mother was a nurse.  She had a brother.  She married a gentile in 1920.  They had two children and they divorced in 1927.  She always made a point of saying that it was for personal, not political reasons.  Apparently, they kept in touch during the war because he sent presents to the daughter in the 1940s.  He was a chemist.  I do not know what happened to him. I don’t know when he died.  She was very reticent to talk much about the early days before the war.  She really wanted to talk about her art after the war.

 

Because she was married to a gentile for awhile and had, what they called in those days, half-Jewish children of mixed-race, she was not persecuted right away.  When the racial laws changed in 1941 she was also one of the people who was transported into one of the camps.  The camp she went to was Thereseinstadt.  She spent three years there, from 1942 to 1945.  After the liberation she returned to Munich.  She had moved to Munich with her daughter in 1929 to live with her mother.  So she was actually deported from Munich to Thereseinstadt.

 

Roger:   Now, we Americans think about the Jews who left Germany permanently; but, there were a lot of Jews who stayed in Germany after the war?

 

Jutta T:   There were a lot of Jews, to give you an idea, there were about 450,000 Jews in Germany.   By the 1980s there was something like 30,000.  I don’t know how many did go back.  I think the majority that did survive did not stay in Germany.

 

Roger:   So, Gerty was unusual in going back?

 

Jutta T:  She was unusual in going back to Germany, yes.  She became very active in associations to further the dialogue between Jews and non-Jews in Germany.  She eventually even became the honorary president of one of the organizations and she received a medal from the German government.  She said that many times at lectures where she would read her poetry or where they were sitting around discussing political situations, she was asked, “Why did you come back?”  She said it took her a long time to find out why she did come back because at first she’d just think, “where else could I have gone?”  But, she did have other options because her mother had emigrated to America in 1933.  She came back in 1953 to live with her until she died.  Her daughter went to America in 1948.  She died in America in 1963.  So, Gerty could have emigrated.

 

As a writer, and this (German ed.) was her language, she said, first of all, there is the language.  Second, she considered Germany her home!  She said, “Why don’t they ask the communists or the socialists or the homosexuals that were also in camps and came why they didn’t leave?  I’m as German as they were!”  So, she had a different attitude.  I think that’s part of her whole attitude.  She said, “To forgive; but, not to forget; but, not to have any hate in your heart.  Get the dialogue going so these things can never happen again.”  I think that was her message and her mission to stay in Germany.

 

Roger:   Well, they sure needed people to help them through, to work and talk.  There’s no question there!

 

Jutta T:  Right, right!

 

Roger:  So, Thereseinstadt?  What was it?  It was certain not Auschwitz!

 

Jutta T:  No; but, it was a step towards Auschwitz, unfortunately.  Thereseinstadt, to go back to it’s history was built in the end of the 18th century.  It was close to the German-Czechoslovakian border, the old Bohemia that was part of the Hapsburg Empire.  It was built by the Emperor, Joseph II, as a garrison to hold about 7,000 soldiers and their families.  He named it after his mother, The Empress Maria Theresa.   That was the small little town at the German-Czech border.

 

When the Nazis took over in 1939 when they went into Czechoslovakia, they called it The Protectorate.  They decided by the 1940s that they had to do something with the prominent European Jews, Jews that were very well-known across the country, across the world.  They couldn’t just ship them out somewhere so they had to do something with them.  They decided that, as part of their “solution”, to say that Thereseinstadt would be a resettlement for prominent Jews to sit out the war.

 

You probably know that in most German cities that had a substantial amount of Jewish people, they would go to the prominent people in the cities and formed a Council of Jews (Jewish Elders)  “The Judenrat” as they were called. The Nazis sold it to them saying, “Give us lists of the people that are here and they are going to sit out the war in Thereseinstadt.”

 

Apparently, they did such a good job that some of the people got off the trains and said, “I’m going to have an apartment with a balcony because of the mountain views around here.”  They had no idea that once they stepped off, they came to this over-crowded space; dirty attics, underground rooms that were over-packed with people, no blankets, no stoves in the rooms, no medical care.  It was pretty grim!

 

This was a gathering point for the transports to the east.  Most of the meaning of “to the east” means Auschwitz.  They called it a sluice, a “schleuze”!  This was a word everybody feared every waking minute because they knew they could be called upon to get ready by tomorrow morning a get on a train to be transported further on to the east.  They didn’t realize at that point; but…..

 

Roger:  So, the Germans essentially got the elite, the leadership, to believe that they’d be going off to this country club environment….

 

Jutta T:   Right!

 

Roger:   …and all they needed to do was give them a list of the other Jewish people around and they could go off to Thereseinstadt and…

 

Jutta T:    There is a little controversy on this!  They don’t know how much the elite, these Jewish elders, knew what was happening; but, they certainly kept the rest of the people uninformed because  they were afraid there would be chaos or whatever.  So, many of the people who went there knew it wasn’t going to be nice, but they had no idea it was going to be this bad!  In fact, Thereseinstadt apparently had a better reputation…. if you “go east” and reach peace, Thereseinstadt is not too bad, there are worse ones.

 

Of course, the other thing to remember is it was only Jews in Thereseinstadt.  There were also practicing Christians as Gerty Spies points out.  They were converted Jews or people from mixed-marriages, people who had married a Jewish spouse and decided to go with them when they were transported.  According to Spies, they even had Christmas celebrations there.  I don’t have any figures on that.  It was probably a very small percentage; but, there were other religions in Thereseinstadt.

 

To give you some statistics, according to Hans Gunther Adler who wrote the definitive book (he was in Thereseinstadt, his wife died there),  there were approximately 141,000 people that went through Thereseinstadt.  Of these 141,000, there were 88,000 shipped out, mostly to Auschwitz and mostly to their death.  33,000 died in Thereseinstadt.  They did not have gas chambers there.  They died of disease and malnutrition.  A lot of them were elderly and susceptible to diseases that came through like pneumonia, dysentery and typhus.  They had a very high percentage of Jewish doctors; but, the doctors had no medication.  It was wartime and what medication there was went to the war effort, not to the camps.  So they had 33,000 people that died.  Adler said there were 10,000 children theat went to Auschwitz.  Most of them died.  There was one transport out to Switzerland in late 1944 or early 1945 with maybe 1,000 children on board.  When the liberation came in May, 1945, there were only 17,000 people left.  Out of that 17,000 people there were fewer than 100 children!  That’s a pretty grim statistic.

 

Roger:   Yes!  Oh, boy!

 

Jutta T:   Spies herself, lost seven relatives in Thereseinstadt.  She talks about a couple of her uncles that died there.

 

Roger:  What was life like…. the average day in the life of someone in Thereseinstadt?

 

Jutta:   First of all, let me tell you a little bit about the administration.  Again, the Nazis set up a Council of Elders in 1942.  This meant these Jewish Elders were supposed to do the administration of Thereseinstadt.  Of course, there was a German kommandant in charge and  they had to go to him.  He got his orders from Berlin, so this was just one of those layers what was supposed to make it look better.  The power of these elders was very limited; but, they had the offensive task of selecting people for transport.  If the Nazis said they wanted 1,000 people to go tomorrow, the elders had to make up the list.  Spies, in her normal, gentle tone, says very little of it.  Adler called them a, “hostile, divided triumvirate.” He said there was a lot of tension going on.  Every so often, they’d send elders to Auschwitz and have a new Council of Elders put in place.  Nobody was safe!

 

Even though the Council made the decisions for awhile, suddenly the rug was pulled from underneath them and somebody else was put in their place.

 

In the day to day activities the inmates had very little to do with the Nazis.  Food was given out by other Jewish people.  They had a whole Potemkin village set up; they had a post office, they had a bank, they had their own currency with supposedly Moses printed on one side with Tablets of Law printed on it to signify it was Jewish currency.  They had a library.  Apparently the library was really a great thing for those who were not too exhausted.  Spies said that although they were only allowed to bring so many pounds of luggage with them,  almost everybody that came had a book or two, which were confiscated right away.  Eventually they set up a library with over 60,000 books.  Spies talks about going to the library and taking out books.  A lot of times she could just barely start reading it and, you know, they all had to work long days and long hours on very little food, so they were very exhausted to read.

 

The interesting thing about Thereseinstadt that really makes it different is the cultural leisure or leisure time activities that we have now heard about a lot  Probably you have heard about anything, that’s what you know about it.  Because there were so many prominent highly educated people there from the arts, the professions and business, medicine, industry; they realized very quickly that they needed some intellectual activity.  It was essential to their survival, not just physical survival but also their mental survival.  Supposedly, men started talking about their expertise.  If somebody knew about history, they talked about history.  If somebody was in medicine, they talked about medicine or talked about travel or whatever.  In the arts, they talked about literature.  In the beginning, it was very casual, just a couple of them talking together, then eventually they started  giving lectures. Because, they were separated in different barracks, the women were not able to attend the mens’ lectures.  So, the women started doing the same thing.  Eventually, that broke down and they all went to each other’s lectures.  That was the beginning for what they called the Committee for Free Time Activities.  Supposedly, they had to clear that with the Council of Elders who had to clear it with the kommandant.  Much of it, according to Spies, was very impromptu.  They went there and somebody gave a lecture.  Nothing was every written down.  They didn’t have paper or anything like that.  It was very casual.

 

On the other hand, they could perform plays or operas from memory, and they did!  There were plays performed and recitals given.  There were no visual arts allowed.  The Nazis wanted to be sure there were no paintings left.  One of the books I researched said the painters had a hard time.  They tried to hide their work behind walls.  Somebody went back ten years later and found some of the works he had hidden.  There was documentation that he had painted it while he was Thereseinstadt.

 

As far as Gerty Spies is concerned, she made a conscious decision to turn to the arts.  She said, “I have to do something to get my mind off this horrid deprivation.  I’ve got to do something else!  Why not write poetry?”  She knew her father had written poetry and she thought she’d try.  That’s how she started to write poetry.  She said again and again, that if it hadn’t been for highly focusing on something else, she would not have been able to survive.  That really helped her survive.  It wasn’t easy to just decide to write poetry.  First of all, you have to write it down.  Secondly, you were not allowed to do that type of activity.  So, she goes into a long explanation of all the travesties she had to go through.  For example, she volunteered to become a stoker, to heat the stove, in the barracks where the women had to go to work in the morning.  That meant she had to get up even a couple of hours earlier; but, she knew she could then have access to a place where they had paper to light a fire, so she could steal some of that paper.  It was like brown packing paper.

 

Roger:  Jutta, I’ve got to take a break here.  We’ll pick up as soon as we come back.  Ladies and gentlemen, Jutta Tragnitz is our guest and we’re talking about the book, “My Years in Thereseinstadt” written by Gerty Spies.  Very interesting, quite different from the other concentration camps.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  We’re continuing our discussion with Jutta Tragnitz about Gerty Spies book that she translated, “My Years in Thereseinstadt: How One Woman Survived the Holocaust.”

 

All right, Jutta, we’re back!  Gerty is stealing paper from the fireplaces or something?

 

Jutta T:  Right!  As I said, she volunteered to be the heating woman, so to speak.  It was very difficult — she goes through this in the book– not only to find paper; but, to find wood.  They were allowed to burn, but, they were not allowed to go around and find it. She found the paper but in order to write it down she needed an opportunity, she needed privacy.  She was not supposed to have things like that on you and if it was written down, you couldn’t leave it in your rooms because there were inspections.  People came through looking for all kinds of stuff.  The slightest infraction of the rules meant you could be put on the transport.

 

So, she explains that sometimes she would struggle for a word, she would think of a line and she would have the line in  her mind.  She would go to the next line and go through the same thing again, repeat the first line and the second line and go on and on.  Sometimes it took days before she had the time to write it down.  But, she felt by focusing in on something like this, everything else was not there for her, she was in a mental state that transcended all this hunger and all the other things that camp life presented.

 

She eventually wrote some of them down and then started carrying them around with her!  She had some kind of backpack and kept them there.  As I said, there were Jewish people watching the people coming and going and working.  The overseers were Jewish and they would sometimes ask, “What do you have in your backpack?”  She’d say, “Oh, really nothing.”  And they’d look in and say, “Why do you carry this around?  You know, if you’re found you might be sent out!”  And she’d say, “It means so much to me, I want to keep it.”  This split in her life, that she had this terrible physical deprivation; but, she had this wonderful psychological and intellectual life.  It’s really nicely expressed in one of the poems.  Would you mind if I read one?

 

Roger:  Absolutely!  Go ahead!

 

Jutta T:   This is about the heating stoves.  It’s called,

 

“As a Stoker Woman”

 

One woman saws and chops the wood

And splits it into pieces.

The other withdraws,

Quiet and proud from the day’s noise.

 

One woman feeds the stoves,

Cleans away both cinder and soot

She hammers coals in smaller pieces

And subdues the embers and flames.

 

The other woman, in search of the spirit,

Breaks through invisible barriers.

She dreams and listens to nature,

Creates songs out of thoughts.

 

From time to time the two

Embrace each other with bright laughter.

Out of their kiss my being ascends,

A child of dreaming and waking.

 

I think she really caught her double life, so to speak, very nicely in that poem.

 

Roger:   I think what we’ve done, we’ve probably painted too glossy a picture of Thereseinstadt.  We need to remember these folks barely had enough food to survive, if that.  They had literally no heat….

 

Jutta T:  No heat!  Over-crowded, over-crowed which was very, very hard on them!  She describes how when they were in these barracks they had bunk beds, three women to a bed!  That means you didn’t sleep head-to-foot, you slept crosswise, three women sharing one bed.  Sometimes  the worked in shifts, but apparently there was a curfew when everybody had to be inside.

 

She talks about the horrible noise, when you’re all closed in and afraid to move.  You can’t get up to go to the bathroom at night.  Hunger was always with them.  They got a little bread in the morning and they had to ration it out through the day.  If  you ate it all in the morning, you  had nothing to eat later when your neighbor was eating.  And there was the deprivation of just not having enough sleep, of  working on nothing— they had to stand half an hour to get watery soup during the day that sometimes had to be discarded because the smell was so rotten to begin with!  They ended up subsisting on bread.

 

I’m not meaning to paint a rosy picture at all!.  But, I am trying to say that Spies was always emphasizing that because she was able to go to her inner strength, to her inner resources, she was able to turn that part as much as she could.  On the other hand, she always volunteered.  She volunteered for the mica factory work.  Do you know what I’m talking about?

 

Roger:  Not exactly.

 

Jutta T:  Everybody had to work and they had what they called mica-slate.  Mica was a substance used in the aircraft industry.  It’s something like asbestos that came in huge blocks that were broken up somewhere else and brought into the barracks in flat sheets.  Women were given special knives and they had to split it paper thin.  It was piecework and they had to do as much as possible.   Apparently, it had a glare to it and was very hard on the eyes, made them start watering and after a couple of hours you couldn’t see anything, you had to work by feel.  In fact, Spies said there were even blind women doing that.  They did that for about 12 hours a day!  In between they had maybe a half hour lunch to get that think potato soup or whatever it was.  At night they had to walk with all the rest of the people back to the barracks exhausted.

 

In the meantime, she was trying to think about, “I can’t think about this any longer, I have to think about my poetry to get away from all this!”  She felt that because she had something else to hold on to…..

 

Roger:   She created a reason to live!

 

Jutta T:  Yes, it gave meaning to her life, even in those circumstances.

 

Roger:  Was her daughter or anyone there with her?

 

Jutta T:   No, her daughter was half-Jewish.  Her daughter stayed in Munich.  Spies said she stayed there because she was allowed to finish school.  Then when Spies came back, her daughter in the meantime had a little child, so she had a grandchild!  Eventually the daughter and her husband took the child and emigrated to America.

 

Roger:   Wow!  So, she was all alone out there?

 

Jutta T:   She was all alone.  In fact, she does not  have any contact, as far as I could tell, with her granddaughter.  There is supposed to be a granddaughter over here.  But, there’s no contact with her.  Spies died just this past October, 1997.  She was almost 101 years old.

 

Roger:  Oh, my!  She lived a long time!

 

Jutta T:   She lived a long time; but, her mother lived until she was 98 also.  There was something in the genes for a long life.

 

Roger:   Did she make any friends at Thereseinstadt?

 

Jutta T:  Yes, she talks about people, like for example,  Elsa Bernstein who was a  well-know writer in Germany before she was sent to Thereseinstadt.  She kept up correspondence with her and helped very much with the poetry.  Gerty really did not have any training, so she talked to other writers and poets.  They talked about poetry and theory.  There was a lot of this type of thing going on, just to get their minds off everyday life.

 

Roger:   Clearly 33,000 people died at Thereseinstadt.  She saw her share of death!

 

Jutta T:  Oh, yes!  There must have been over 100 a day!

 

Roger:   Was she aware of what was going on in the other camps?

 

Jutta T:   She claims that towards the end….  She said she…. I’m a little confused about how much exactly she knew.  According to the book she wrote, she wasn’t totally sure.  No!  They had heard rumors towards the end that wherever they were going, that it would be the end.  In the beginning they weren’t sure.  I guess they just thought it was another camp that might be worse; but, eventually they were aware it was more or less death.

 

Roger:  Do you know how she able to avoid transport to Auschwitz?

 

Jutta T:   She claimed that anybody working in the mica factory for the war effort, anyone working for the war industry was pretty much safe because that need to be done.

 

Roger:   Was there confusion after the war about people who had been in Thereseinstadt being people who had sold out their own?

 

Jutta T:   Not that I know of, certainly not from Spies because she just was so gentle about all these things.  In this whole book she has just one line about one of her… I think it was her uncle who was old and sick.  Somebody made him work and she said, “ That should not have happened, and it has to be said, too!”   That’s all she said about it!  She said it was terrible and they had to take it; but, they couldn’t help it.  They were all in the same boat and there was nothing they could do about it.  She never talks about anybody that made bad decisions.  She always speaks on the goodness of the people.  She talks about people who would get a package and share the food.

 

Roger:  Wow!  To come through that and have that kind of spirit! What an amazing woman!

 

Jutta T:  Absolutely amazing!

 

Roger:   Hang on, Jutta!  We’ve got to take a break.  Folks, if you’d like to ask a question, we’ll take calls after the break.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Jutta Tragnitz is with us.  We’re talking about her translation of , “My Years in Thereseinstadt: How One Woman’s Survived the Holocaust”, the story about Gerty Spies and her triumphant recovery from the Holocaust, how she never lost her spirit and always kept her attitude up.  Boy, I don’t know how she did it!

 

Jutta, are you there?

 

Jutta T:   You talk about here survival after all these horrors.  She mentions at the end, these things never really left her, obviously.  In her goodness of character, she tried not to really talk about it so much or let it bother her as much; but, she said in the book (pg 98), “Often when the nights are long or when I open myself to music, when the breath of Spring obliterates the boundaries between here and there, when the first stars emerge in the evening sky, I often feel as if all those who were so close to me did not die.  Then it seems as if they still walk next to me, as if they touch my cheek….I pass through these days like a stranger, and it seems as if a spirit puts a pen in my hand, so that the bridge between our world and the world of our dead will not collapse under the storms of our times.”

She puts very nicely that this is always with her.  There’s no way that she could ever not think about that.

 

Roger:  In the book, she talks about the concept, “forgive, but do not forget.’

 

Jutta T:  Right!

 

Roger:   Can you explain what she meant by that?

 

Jutta T:  I think what she means by that is you have to go on, you cannot let hate and feelings of revenge stay with you, as she says in her own words.  Because they will block out all of your dignity, your humanity.  So, you should “forgive” but you should not “forget”.  You should keep your heart pure of hate and revenge.  Her leit motif is “ to understand and to love.”

 

Roger:  I’ve had some writers from that holocaust era say that those who say “forgive and forget” have nothing to forgive and forget.

 

Jutta T:  Yes, but, she doesn’t say “forget”.  She says “forgive”  but “DO NOT FORGET”!

 

Roger:  But, there are people in the world that say, “forgive and forget”!  It’s 50 years ago!  It’s over!  Forgive and forget!  So, I’ve read in numerous accounts that those people who say “forgive and forget” have nothing to “forgive or forget”.  What Gerty is saying is DON’T FORGET!

 

Jutta T:  That’s right!  Because you don’t want to have it  happen again, so you have to talk about it.  That’s why she was very active in these other organizations where she wanted to keep the dialogue going between the Jews and the Germans, at least with the non-Jews was the way she put it; but, I assume she meant the Germans.  So, you’re aware of what happened and that it doesn’t happen again, that from the personal experience, one-to-one, face-to-face, you see that we’re all just humans, no different.

 

Roger:  Does she write about many of her experiences after she returned to Munich?

 

Jutta T:   She wrote more poetry.  She wrote a book called, “The Black Dress,” where she uses the black dress as a metaphor, how it gets passed on when somebody dies and the next person has it and somebody steals it, the vagaries of what happens to that dress.  It’s like a person being handed on, how that person is treated.

 

Then she wrote a book about the youth during the war years; some of them were German and some were German-Jewish and their experience.  It was printed about a year ago.  It’s interesting that she had written it in the 1950s but nobody thought it would sell, so it wasn’t published. She had it published in 1997 just before she died.

 

Roger:   Wow!  Now if people want to get the book that you translated, “My Years in Thereseinstadt: How One Woman Survived the Holocaust,” how would they go about getting the book?

 

 

Jutta T:   You can go to Barnes & Noble or Borders.  If they don’t have it on the shelf they can order it for you in a day or two, or you could call the publisher, Prometheus, directly.

Their number is 1-800-421-0351.

 

Roger:   Would it be under your name?

 

Jutta T:   It could be under my name and   also under Spies name.

 

Roger:   You’ve gotten to know her and now she’s passed away.  You’ve done an excellent job, in my view, of translating the book.   Is it hard to translate from German?

 

Jutta T:   Very difficult!  Because you want to keep the tone.  That was so important!  It wasn’t just to get the storyline across; but, you want to keep the tone.   Yes, it was very difficult; but, I had a lot of people I could talk to and discuss it with.

 

Roger:  Yes, because words mean something and if you use the wrong word, you lose the meaning!

 

Jutta T:   Right!

 

Roger:   It seems like it would be very difficult to me.

 

Jutta T:   You have to be very careful.

 

Roger:   Is there much of a market for translated books?

 

Jutta T:   Probably not; but, I think it’s enough just to have it out and for people that are interested, they can now go and have one woman’s point of view.  Each holocaust survivor will have a different point of view because they had a different experience.  I think it’s important to have a woman’s point of view, a saintly woman’s point out there!   That’s all I can say!

 

Roger:   Well, it’s a wonderful book!  You’ve done a wonderful job and I want to thank you for being here tonight.   It was a pleasure to meet you.

 

Jutta T:  Thank you very much for having me.

 

Roger:   God bless and keep up the good work!  Good night!

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

JACK and ROCHELLE: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

12-10-1997  Sixth Program in Series

 

Guests:   Author, Larry Sutin with Parents, Jack & Rochelle Sutin

 

JACK and ROCHELLE: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance

 

ISBN-10: 1555975038 and ISBN-13: 978-1555975036

 

 

 

Roger:     Ladies and gentlemen, welcome!   I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy!  This evening we’re continuing with Part 6 of our ongoing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember.  Fascinating stories, just some wonderful history!  I’ve learned so much the last several weeks and have been brought, literally, to tears so many times.  It’s a difficult subject, I know; but, that’s the whole purpose, ladies and gentlemen, to ensure the kinds of tragedies and horrible inhuman acts that were perpetrated upon mankind during World War Two never happen again.

 

Today I’ve been reading a book that has brought me to laughter and tears a number of times, written by a son about his mother and father who were Jewish resistors in Poland during the time of the war.  Fascinating story!  I’d like to bring these folks forward and introduce them.  First, the son, Larry Sutin, who wrote the book, “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance.”   Larry, welcome to the show!

 

Larry Sutin:   Hi, thank you!  Thanks for having us!

 

Roger:   It’s really a pleasure to  have you here, sir!  And welcome to Jack and Rochelle Sutin who are the subjects of the book!  Jack, Rochelle, hello!

 

Rochelle and Jack Sutin:  Hello, hello!

 

Roger:  It’s a pleasure to have you folks aboard!    Larry, first of all, you wrote the book because of the compelling stories you heard throughout your life as a child, is that right?

 

Larry Sutin:   Right!  I had grown up hearing the stories of my parents’ childhoods and their work as partisans during the war, their stuggle, I should say.   There were some stories that were very happy; but, also stories of tragedy.  It all added up to what I thought was not only a touching story; but, important history.  The fact that there was Jewish resistance during the war is something people are still relatively unaware of.  My parents had the good fortune to find themselves in a situation where they could resist.  Many Jews did not have that good fortune.  They did find themselves in that situation after a great deal of misery and they resisted!  They also fell in love during the war so there was that aspect, too.  There’s a genuine love story of what I thought was depth, not just because they’re my parents.  While I think readers of the book

 

confirm that, I think there is something about the nature of their love story that is quite unique as well.

 

Roger:   I found it rather facinating, Larry, that a lot sons of WW II heros have gone on to write books about the historical events.  I think you’ve done a wonderful job with the book!  I’d like to meet your folks in the same vein the book is written in.    I’d like to talk to your mother first.  Rochelle, hello!

 

Rochelle Sutin:  Hello!

 

Roger:   Rochelle, where were you born and where did you grow up?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  I was born in a little border town between Poland and Russia.  It was called   *STOLCHA* .  For my whole life, I lived there!

 

Roger:  And Jack, how about you?  Where were you from?

 

Jack Sutin:   I was actually born in *STOLCHA*, too.  When I was six or seven years old my parents moved to a neighboring city called *MIR*.

 

Roger:   So, did you guys know each other as kids?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   After the Soviet army occupied us in 1939, we went to the same high school in *STOLCHA*.   We knew each other, just like you know all the kids.  There was no special relationship, nothing between us, we just knew each other as kids going to the same  high school.

 

Roger:   No love at first sight?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  No love at first sight!

 

Roger:   Ha, ha, ha!   How old were the two of you when the war broke out?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   I was fourteen.

 

Roger:   Wow!  How long were you able to stay together with your family until all hell broke loose?

 

Rochelle Stutin:   My father was taken right away in a couple of days.  They picked up the most prominent Jews in town and took them away.  They told us they would be holding them as hostages.  Later on I found out they were killed the same day.  They told them to dig their own graves and they were stoned to death!  They didn’t use bullets on them.

 

Roger:   Oh, Lord!   You didn’t know that at the time?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   No, no!  As a matter of fact, the guy who arrested him came back a couple of times and asked for his clothing, for winter clothing, for his medications, supposedly because he needed it!  So, we were completely….

 

Roger:   So you had a mother and siblings?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes, I had a mother and two sisters.  I was the oldest.

 

Roger:   Jack, how about you?

 

Jack Sutin:   I had a mother and father; but, no brothers or sisters.  Our family consisted of about sixteen people, uncles, cousins and so on.

 

Roger:  So, you didn’t have any brothers and sisters.  Were your parents assaulted initially or taken away?

 

Jack Sutin:   When the first liquidation of the ghetto started, my mother was a dentist.  Originally they told her they wouldn’t kill her because they needed dentists for the population and the German army.  Somehow the local police managed to get into the house and they killed her.  My father and I ran away before the second liquidation.

 

Roger:   Ran away to where?

 

Jack Sutin:  To the woods, the“underground”.

 

Roger:   People are not familiar with resistors, really their stories have not been told in any great way, in this country especially.  At that time you were more hiding than resisting?

 

Rochelle Sutin:    That’s right!  The beginning of the groups in the woods were the Jews that ran away after the first liquidation and the second.  Then there were Russian army personnel that

were treated very badly and they ran away from the camps to the wood, too.   They were just people who had to run away to save their lives.

 

Roger:  So Jack, you were out in the woods.  Rochelle, where we you at this time?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   I was in the ghetto.

 

Roger:   You were in the ghetto?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes.

 

Roger:   So, they hadn’t taken any of you yet, your mother and your sisters?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   The ghetto was formed after the New Year of 1942.

 

Roger:   The end of the year in 1942?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes.

 

 

Roger:   So you also ended up out in the wood, so to speak.  Maybe you can help me, how did you end up there?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   They put us all in the ghetto.  Then they started liquidating the ghetto the day after Yom Kippur in 1942.

 

Roger:  Define “liquidating”.  What does that mean?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  When we woke up in the morning, the ghetto was surrounded with SS and local police and nobody could get out.  They let out a couple dozen people out to work.  I don’t know the idea behind that.  Right away they started putting them on the truck, the graves were dug the night before, they took them to the graves and told them to undress, then they were machine-gunned.  Everyone was standing and then were “liquidated.”   That took place almost a whole day.

 

Roger:   That’s a cold term, “liquidated.”  I guess it is expressive.  How were you able to avoid being liquidated?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   I was working at a sawmill at that time.  I had to come out to the entrace of the ghetto every morning where a German would come out and take us to the factory.  I walked out from the house and understood right away what was going on.  I ran home and talked to my mother and two sisters so they knew what was coming.  I don’t know how I did it.  I had double feelings.  First, I thought I should go with them and stay with them.  Then, I guess the will to live was stronger.  I said goodbye to them and I went to the place where they picked us up and they took us to the sawmill and we worked.

 

Larry Sutin:    You should clarify, it was forced labor at the hand of the Nazis,, making wooden planks.  They weren’t working at a private sawmill.

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes, forced labor.

 

Roger:   So, first they put eveyone in the ghetto, then began liquidating and worked people they thought could provide some service.   So, you’re working in a sawmill.  At what point did you decide you couldn’t go back home?

 

Rochelle Sutin:    They didn’t take us back to the ghetto the same day because they were still going through with police and dogs searching out for survivors.  For a couple of days they took us to some undisclosed place and kept us there overnight.  I was sure, when we were working that day at the sawmill, as it happened the highway from the ghetto to the graves was close by the sawmill.  All day long I heard the trucks coming and the screams and crying of the people being taken to the graves.  Every so often I could hear machine guns rat-a-tat-tat!  Then it got quiet and new buses were coming by.

 

I’ll never forget the scene when the buses were coming back to the ghetto to pick up new people.  The local population was standing on the sidewalk clapping their hands!

 

Roger:   The Polish folks?

Rochelle Sutin:  They were Byelorussian Polish.

 

Roger:   They were clapping as the trucks went by?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   They were applauding the empty trucks!

 

Roger:    You’re kidding me!

 

Rochelle Sutin:   No, I’m not kidding you!

 

Roger:    But, they knew that those people were being taken to a place where they were shot and killed?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Absolutely!  They waited for this!  As soon as they liquidated a ghetto, the Germans went through.   There was nothing there because they took everything of value before we went to the ghetto.  First the SS and the police went through the homes and then they let the regular population go in and take miserable little things like pillows and blankets.  It was like a celebration in town!  They didn’t take us back to the ghetto until it was all cleaned out.  There were a couple of homes where they kept the survivors.

 

Roger:   Was it your take, at the time, that they were celebrating and applauding because they wanted the Jews killed?

 

Rochelle Sutin:    Absolutely!

 

Roger:    But, weren’t Jewish people just part of the community?

 

Rochelle Sutin:    Most of them had their sons and brothers in the police.  They knew what was coming up!

 

Roger:   But, they weren’t doing it for their own survival,you’re saying they were actually enjoying this?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   They enjoyed it, yes!

 

Roger:    So, the community, the people of your town would stand there on the sidewalk, alongside the road,  and clap as the trucks taking Jews off the be killed went by taking Jews off to be killed?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes, yes.

 

Roger:    Jack, while all this was going on, what were you doing out in the woods?

 

Jack Sutin:   They organized a little group of working people.  It was late in the year, around September, and we had to build a shelter for the winter months.  We built a bunker about the size of 12 x 16 feet.

 

 

One evening I was sleeping and I had a dream; my mother was talking to me and she said that Rochelle would come to the woods and that we would remain together and stay together.  When I woke up I didn’t know if it was something to take seriously or it was just a foolish dream.  I decided to build an extra space for Rochelle.  To make the story short, the miracle happened when she ran away to the woods, she was in the woods for quite awhile and finally ran into a Jewish partisan girl who knew me, she knew I was waiting for Rochelle, and she brought her to our bunker.  Since then we’ve stayed together, fighting together and surviving together.

 

Roger:   I get chills thinking about this vision you had, Jack!  It’s not typical; but, it’s fascinating!  Rochelle, at some point in time you went into the woods.  What did you first do?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   I thought my family was killed the same day as the liquidation.  I didn’t know that they hid with some other families in a hole under a house, under a sofa.  They were there for about a week.   Everyday they (the SS) would bring new people that they missed the first time, with dogs to sniff them out!  One day, a week after the original liquidation, a guy  who I went to school with came to the sawmill when I was working.  He called me a name because it was not a good thing if he talked to me.  He knew my family.  He said, “I just walked by… your whole family, your mother, your sisters, your aunts and cousins…. they caught them all today just sitting there.”  The way it worked was they’d combine all the people they found through the day until about sunset each day.  Then they’d put them on a truck and take them again to the mass grave.  So, I knew that my family was killed a week after the original liquidation.  After that, I knew they were going to kill the rest of us, too!  I had been the provider, bringing little pieces of wood for the stove and what things I could scrounge.  Now I had nobody to take care of or worry about.  I knew they would be killed.

 

The sawmill was near the river *YEMEN* surrounded by forest..  One foggy morning when we came to the sawmill to work, about 5 minutes before the machines started we could go to the outhouse and “do our job”.  I worked with another Jewish girl and I told her that’s what I planned to do if she would agree.  She said, “Yes, I’ll go with you!”  So we went to the outhouse when it was very foggy.  When the whistle blew to call us back to work, we got under the barbed wire and started running to the river that wasn’t too far.  As soon as we started running I could hear machine guns firing.  Fortunately, they didn’t have any trucks or jeeps.   The police were chasing after us on motorcycles an bicycles so we took off our jackets and shoes, jumped in the river, and swam.  The bullets were splashing all around us as we crossed the river to the other side where there was forest.  We ran fast to the forest!  That was in September, two weeks after Yom Kippur.  I don’t remember the date.  At night there was a good frost already; but, the days were still a little bit warm.

 

Roger:   And there you were; wet, cold, hungry and lost and alone!

 

Rochelle Sutin:    Yes!  At night everything used to get frozen!  We couldn’t even move!  We were in like an “ice suit”!  In the morning we tried to stay in the sun to thaw out.

 

Roger:   You weren’t worried about the Nazis following you at that point?

 

 

Rochelle Sutin:  They were following us; but, if they didn’t catch us the first day, at that time, they were not allowed into the woods, especially after two Jewish girls.  I’m sure they thought the local population would take care of us!

 

Roger:  I’ve got to take a commercial break.  You all just hang tight for a minute and we’ll come back and continue this fascinating story.  We’ll be right back!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back!  I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy, continuing  our series The Holocaust: We Must Remember.  The book this evening is “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance” about Jack and Rochelle Sutin, edited by their son, Lawrence Sutin who is also with us tonight.

 

Rochelle, we’re talking about your story about the woods and your frozen clothes and I can almost see myself there on the river with you, running through the woods into hiding!  Apparently, they chased you for a day and then gave up, right?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  Yes, yes!  I forgot to tell you a very important thing, that friend of mine from school who supposedly saw my family sitting there when he walked by said the told him,  ‘Go to the sawmill, Rochelle is working there and please tell her that today’s the day we’re going to be killed.  Tell her to take *NOKOMA* ” That means “take revenge!  Their last wish was on my mind all the way when I was in the Partisans!

 

Roger:  I think what we need to do is fill in a gap.  The ghetto is where Jews were forced to live, right?  So, they already had the Jews segregated and they sent some off to the sawmill, to work camps, and they began what you call the liquidation.  Some people, Jack, yourself and others were not just going to sit there and die, you headed off into the wildernes for survival.  If you had stayed, you’d be dead, so you didn’t really have a choice!  What I’m trying to find out is why they didn’t follow you into the woods?  Why didn’t they go into the woods and pull out the resistors?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Well, they were very busy!  The front was going so fast!  The German army was going at high speed to Moscow!  These were the good days for them!  It wasn’t organized resistance yet.  It was just groups of people who would be killed by the Germans, just moving around in the woods not knowing what to do with themselves, just surviving from day to day.

 

Roger:   So, you were with this other girl from the sawmill.  What was her name?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Tania.  Her last name, I don’t remember.

 

Roger:   So, how long were you in the woods until you came across somebody?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   The next day we were hungry.  We didn’t eat for two days!  We saw a farmer in the field and we knew right away that he saw us, who were were; but, we had no choice, we had to eat something.  We asked him for something to eat and he said, “I have nothing to give you; but, I have some eggs.” and he gave each of us an egg.  We made a little hole in the shell and sucked it out so fast…. it  was just a second!

 

Roger:  I’ll bet it was the best egg you ever ate!

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes, the best egg I ever ate!  Then he told us which direction to go.  He’d heard some Russian partisans were forming resistance groups and told us to go there and maybe they would accept us.

 

Roger:    What is the term”partisan”?  What does that mean?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  That’s a Russian name.

 

Larry Sutin:    It’s a resistance fighter or a guerilla fighter.

 

Roger:    All right.  So, he pointed you in a direction, you had your egg and off you went!  Then what?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   We came to an isolated kind of farmer deep in the woods.  Sure enough, when we came there, he didn’t have to ask us who we were, we told him we were told Russian partisans were in the area and we wanted to join the resistance movement and fight in any capacity to help with their cause.  Sure enough, that evening a group of partisan came over!

 

We were barefooted, we didn’t have any shoes and our feet were bleeding and scratched from the frost and the creeks we’d walked through.  We asked if they’d take us in, we’d be willing to do anything for them to help them in their cause!  This group wasn’t so bad!  They accepted us and gave us shoes from dead Russian soldiers; but no pairs, I had two left shoes without laces!  It wa a pleasure to walk on the frozen ground not barefooted!

 

We walked for hours until we came to their camp in the middle of the woods.  There was a Jewish girl there named Sonia.  She had a protector or boyfriend there.  She lived with him and cooked and washed clothes and things like that.  I was glad to see another Jewish girl survive!  She was a wonderful girl!  She lives in Winnipeg and I still see her and correspond with her.  In the beginning that was it!  We were bringing water from a little well and cooking all night long, all the stuff they used to bring from the farmers; usually grain to make thick soups.

 

Then trouble started because the other partisans in the group started giving hints that if we wanted to stay, we would have to serve them as sex slaves.  We were sitting all night long near the fire, it was already very cold, and they’d come over and say, “Do you want sleep in a little hut?  Do you want to  have a blanket?  Sleep with me!”  Of course, we didn’t take up the offer, so we were sitting with our feet near the hot ashes all through the night.  We cooked and washed their clothes and did everything they wanted us to do.

 

Finally, Sonia told us that a lot of them were very unhappy, that they had  too many Jewish women there.  She said, “They want to get rid of you!”  Her boyfriend told her the plan was to call us in and tell us we were sent by the Germans and we were infected with venereal disease, that the Germans sent us to infect the partisans.  Then they would shoot us!   After this “good news” we didn’t know what to do!

 

Once it had happened that they brought in a Russian soldier with a woman and he was supposedly wanted to join the group.   When she came over with this guy, we were like slaves, we washed and cleaned and cooked for her.  Then they told  the head of the group that knew where a lot of ammunition and rifles were and they wanted to go show them and bring them back to the group.  And they fell for it! So they sent a couple of people with the group with these two newcomers.  He was a German spy and when they came to the Germans they told exactly where we were….

 

Roger:  Hold it right there, Rochelle!  We’ve got to take a commercial break.  We’ll be right back.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  We’re talking about,  “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance” in the war, World War II, the big one, the holocaust, folks!

 

Larry and Jack, we don’t mean to leave you out.  It’s just that Rochelle is doing such a wonderful job!  Rochelle, you said the German spy had given away the place where you were hiding.

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes.  One night we were cooking our usual meal and we had a big ladle hanging on a a tree.  All of a sudden about 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning we heard something hit the ladle!  We heard the machine gun firing.  We had a guy standing in front of the camp… what do you call them…?

 

Larry Sutin:   A guard, a sentry.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  Yes, yes!  They shot them!   We heard the shots then the ladle was knocked down by a bullet so we knew something was cooking!  The two of us started running!  We didn’t know where we ran; but, we were running away from the sound of the bullets!  We were running like this for a couple of days.  We didn’t have any idea where we were.  We kept running deeper and deeper into this wilderness that was the, *BALIVOSKA-PUSHKA*, acres and acres of swampland and woods that was never developed for hundreds of years.  We felt that the deeper we went into the wilderness we felt safer.

 

Then after we ran for a couple of days we came to another little town with a river called the *MOOSHER* River.  There was a little house where the guy made his living ferrying people from one side of the river to the other.  We came to his house and told him what happened.  Ususally the people over there were very friendly to the partisans.  He said there were some partisans coming in the evening but they weren’t too friendly, they were a mean bunch of people and they don’t like the Jews. ( That’s something new?)  Anyway, we didn’t have a choice. It got dark and soon enough the partisans showed up.  They were called *PARA—* because in the Russian army they were parachutists.   They were very well armed with pistols and machine guns.  The farmers started giving them food and a lot of vodka.  Then they started pouring vodka for the two of us to drink.  They told us right out that they had no use for us, to drink the vodka because they were going to shoot us and if we were drunk, we wouldn’t feel the bullets!  Well, we didn’t drink the vodka.  There were pots of flowers and bushes at the house and they got too drunk to watch us when we spilled the vodka into the pots.   As soon as the evening came, they took us outside and told us to run to the river.  The river wasn’t frozen yet; but, it strong enough to hold up a person.  Again, we were barefooted and we started running to cross the river.  The machine guns were going and i was aking Tania, “Are you hit?  Are you alive?”  She said, “no.”  I don’t know if they were too drunk to shoot us or they just wanted to scare us.

 

Anyway, we ran to the other side of the river and we found another farmer.  The farmer let us into the haystack where he kept the cows and pigs and there was a lot of hay.  He told us we could go in there and sleep.  Do you want me to go on or do you want to talk to Jack?

 

Roger:  This is really a compelling story, Rochelle.  I don’t think people here these kind of stories.  They make movies like that today and people pay to see them.  You must have been scared to death!

 

Rochelle Sutin:   That’s not the description!  We were just waiting to be shot, hoping they wouldn’t just wound us and leave us alone, that they would shoot us and we can die right away.

 

Roger:  You wanted to go quick.   So, Jack, you’re out in the woods and you haven’t seen Rochelle yet, but you’ve had a vision that she’s coming?

 

Jack Sutin:   Yes, one day someone comes into our bunker and tells me there are two girls a half a mile away and they want to come to our camp, especially to see me!  I put on my jacket and took my gun and went to see and sure enough there were two girls.  They were dressed in rags and they looked terrible.  I recognized Rochelle and I told her I had a special spot for her in our bunker and if she’s interested she can stay with us.  Then I found a place for Tania, the other girl.   When Rochelle came all my friends in the bunker were surprised!  Everybody said my dream was good!

 

Roger:  Your dream came true!

 

Jack Sutin:   Before Rochelle came they were thinking I was going nuts, that I don’t know what I’m talking about!

 

Roger:  So, how many years have you put up with this woman?

 

Jack Sutin:  This New Years it will be 55 years!

 

Roger:  55 years!   Listen, we’ve got to take a news break but stay around.  We’ll come back and continue after the news.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  We’re back!  Jack and Rochelle Sutin are with us.  They are resistors and survivors of the holocaust.  Their son, Larry, grew up hearing all these incredible stories!  It must have been quite an interesting childhood, Larry, to hear all these stories.  Not the typical lifestyle!

 

Larry Sutin:   Definitely not!  I definitely felt I was growing up in a very different household than most of my American friends.  My parents had a different outlook on things because they had been through this kind of raw horror.  Obviously, there were certain fears.  Also, there was a kind of fierce love they had  towards their family.  It was different for them!  Having children was a way by which they felt they had survived and affirmed themselves again.  So, we were very fiercely loved as children, we felt very protected, very valued!  We also felt a great deal was expected of us.  I remember my parents telling stories, worried that we wouldn’t believe what we were hearing, they we wouldn’t believe the truth!  I can honestly say that from the time I first heard the stories,  I believed them.  I can’t explain why.  I know some children of survivors say the stories were almost too incredible to believe; but, I never had that  reaction.  One thing I’ll say, again, many children of survivors that I’ve talked to say their parents found it very difficult to talk about those times.  My parents were always very open about those times.  Without trying to judge those survivors who were silent, I would say, in my case, I was very fortunate they were so open.  It was painful to hear the stories; but, I also felt trusted to understand them.  We had an openness in our family that allowed those conversations to take place.

 

Roger:  You have to think, as a parent, about the complexities of the issues, how they would effect the mind of a child.   It’s got to be real tough to sit down and explain these things.  The story is of a unique nature, simply because when you hear a story of escape…people got on a train… people got on a boat… they got out or were liberated at the right moment by troops.  You seldom hear about folks who were out there in a resistance mode.  As your mother said, her mother’s last message to her was to get revenge!

 

Larry Sutin:  I’ve always felt, and I know my mother has spoken about it, what an incredible weight that must have been!  Here she was a young girl, essentially alone in the world and surrounded by hostile Germans and native Poland population!  It is incredible to me that she did as much as she did!

 

I’d like to say about resistance, one thing.  My parents always felt very fortunate that they had the opportunity.  It’s important to understand that many Jews never had that chance!  They weren’t young enough to be put in the forced labor groups to begin with!  They weren’t young enough to make their escape because they felt tied to their children and other family members.  They had no arms, no training.  It was very difficult for a Jewish resistance effort to take root in Poland.  As my parents said, for a time Jews were just fleeing to the woods with no idea of what they could do.  Given how little in the way of armaments or support they had, what Jewish resistance there was was remarkable, I think!

 

Roger:  Yes.  I want to go back to the woods with you, Jack.   Your dream had just come true.  Rochelle is standing there in front of you and you’ve got a place that you’d previously built especially for her because of this vision you had in your dream where your mother said that Rochelle would come and join you.

 

Jack Sutin:  Yes, that’s right.

 

Roger:   So, Jack, you must have been flabbergasted!

 

Jack Sutin:   Yes!  I was very happy about it!  I considered the dream as a miracle because people have lots of dreams and nothing ever happens; but this dream was realized, and when she came it changed my life completely!

 

Until she came I was very reckless. Let me explain something.  When we were on our way to the woods none of the Jews who went underground expected to survive.  We considered that it was a matter of time; one would get killed earlier, another guy will get killed later.  The German front was very well set, deeper and deeper into Russia.  We just couldn’t dream that things will happen like they did happen.  So, the idea was to take revenge as much as possible.  I can’t tell you  everything we did—it would take half a day!  What we were doing was dynamiting highways, railroads, burning warehouses and sometimes we engaged in fights with German police or small groups of Germans.  We were always shooting from behind the trees when they were on the highways.  We were 90% successful!

 

Roger:   You weren’t just hiding in the woods, you were actually trying to fight the Germans?

 

Jack Sutin:   Oh, yes!  That was our main goal.  We expected to get killed sooner or later so the best enjoyment we had was to engage the Germans and we took revenge.  I must admit that we took much revenge!  I’ll tell you something else., among the Polish-Belarus population there were lots of sons and husbands that were joining the German police.

 

Of course, your listeners will ask how we survived; what did we eat, what about clothing?  We were searching out the families where their sons or  husbands were in the police.  We were raiding and taking away all the food we could find and lots of clothing.  When Rochelle came I outfitted her and she looked like a model!

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Yes, I did!

 

Roger:   Ha, ha, ha!

 

Now, because you were out on mission, for lack of a better term, did Rochelle stay at your camp?  Rochelle, you referred to the women in the book as having “protectors”.  In other words, they would settle with a man simply for protection because there were few women in the woods, is that it?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   That’s true!  There was a shortage of arms, so the arms that we had were better used by the men than by the women.  The women played a different role.  We were the ones that cooked the meals and kept the whole thing together.  There were very few Jewish women!  It was a shortage of women!  A woman, especially young girls, what did we know?  It was coming to a point, especially in the groups of all Russian or gentile partisans, a woman had to be attached to somebody otherwise you were in trouble, if you know what I mean!  With the Jewish guys it was a little bit easier.  Still, to be a woman with the partisans wasn’t the most pleasant thing to be!

 

Roger:  You were a sex object and a slave!  So, what were your living conditions like at this point?

 

 

Rochelle Sutin:  When I came to his bunker, it was like a little hole,  just the size for a person to slide down, like a child’s slide.   Then you wind up in that hole underground.  There were about 12 or 14 people there, people that never changed their clothes, never bathed, I mean animals!

 

Up to this point I was like a wild animal!  I slept in the woods in the open air; but, at least it was fresh air!  When I got to the bunker, I got nauseous and thought I was going to pass out.  So I ran outside then they started the rumor, “oh oh, she must be pregnant!”  Then they gave Jack a hard time, “see what you did?  You brought in a woman we have to feed and give her a space, and besides that, she must be pregnant!” because I was nauseous to sit there.

 

Roger:   You know, I ended in the book to where you did get pregnant later as you were moving into the city to take a job and looking for a way to move west.  That’s where I ended up with the book today.

 

I want to go back to the woods.  How many years were you folks out there doing your resistance missions and living in the woods?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  It was from the middle of 1942, 1943 to the middle of 1944.  We were liberated in June or July of 1944.

 

Roger:  How did you know you were liberated?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   The Russian army came in!

 

Roger:   The Germans must have headed for home, huh?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Oh, yes, the Germans were heading for home! They couldn’t run on the highways because the Russians were pushing through everywhere, so the Germans were running through the woods, the countryside.  That’s where the skirmishes got real bad because we were meddling… the Germans were running west and we were right there!

 

Roger:   Reading the book, Rochelle, you have a tremendous sense of humor!  It’s quite a statement for somebody who’s been through what you’ve been through in life.  One of the funniest things in the book was toward the end of all of this, Jack was going off to fight and you talked him out of it.  You addressed him as a woman.  Tell us that story.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  I figured I’d put in too much effort and too much time and too much energy to keep him alive!  Here I knew the Germans were running, the Russians were almost at our back and I wasn’t going to lose him then!  So I said, Hey, listen!  We were fighting all these years; but now, in the last day or two before the liberation a lot of our people died in skirmishes with the Germans, a father and son who were our neighbors in town and our commander, *DEZORIN*, the head of our group, was wounded in the leg and had it amputated. I just decided that I’d keep this guy alive.  He was worth keeping alive!

 

Roger:  Obviously, he was!

 

 

Rochelle Sutin:  So, I dressed him in a ladies’ dress with a Russian babushka on his head.  He’s tall so I told him to stoop down a little bit because they told the women to go in one direction and the men to stay and fight the Germans.  I wasn’t supposed to do that; but, I did it!  Anyway, he survived!

 

Roger:  One of the sad things I found reading the book that literally brought me to tears… there are a number of points in the story where humanity it really left at the door, where you became almost animals….

 

Rochelle Sutin:  That’s true.

 

Roger:   … and the couples that were joined in the resistance out in the woods… you say 80 % of them split after the liberation.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  More like 90%

 

Roger:  …. nothing to the relationships.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  Nothing!  It was strictly a survival  accommodation.

 

Roger:  It just amazes me what people can do when they’re in that kind of duress.  You and Jack were one of the few couples who were madly in love, as you describe.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  Yes.

 

Roger:  Then you got pregnant.  I didn’t read to the end of the book. How did you end up getting out of Russia?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Oh, that was a lot of monkey business!  We came back to his town, to *MIR*.  He looked terrible.  He looked sick like he had TB and he was coughing.  The nice Russian liberators, right away took the partisans who survived and immediately sent them to the front lines of the Russian army pushing to Berlin.  All of those who were sent the army, none of them came back!  Not one!

 

Here I go again!  I have to save my guy!  I told him, “you look terrible and you look sickly,” of course, they didn’t have any ex-rays or any doctors in the Russian army; but they still wanted to look at him.   I told him to go there and cough and look terrible, maybe they’ll let you stay there for awhile.  Finally the guy from *MIR * sent  him to the main doctor in the town of *BARANOVICH* . Who would “okay” him or tell him he had to go to the army.

 

So we went to *BARANOVICH*  and I thought to myself, this is my last chance to save him!  I found out where the main doctor from the army lived and I knocked on his door about 7 o’clock in the morning before he went to the office.  I had in my hand a couple of gold coins from the ______________ .  I thought to myself that he was going to throw me out and right away and accuse me of bribery.  Or it would be okay!

 

I was lucky!  I came in and told him who I was and my husband had TB, was coughing and very weak and wouldn’t stand a chance in the army.

While I was talking he was listening  to me and I said, “I’ll thank you beforehand” and I put the coins in his hand.  I thought, this is it!  Either he’ll throw me out or he’s going to be good.

He saw the coins in his hand and put them in his pocket, so I thought, one battle is over.  Not even that, he said, “By the way, my wife needs curtains.  If you can get some curtains, I’ll appreciate that.”  I said, “Good, I got it!”  He signed the papers that Jack’s not fit for the Russian army and that was it! Then we had to run away from the Russian liberators.

 

Roger:  The Russians weren’t killing Jews specifically, they were tyrants.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  They were what?

 

Roger:  Tyrants!

 

Rochelle Sutin:  We knew when they occupied us in 1939, we knew what they were!

 

From there we had to run from the Russian zone in Poland so we came to Lodz.  I was pregnant there.  When the Polish surviviors were coming into the town they were killing them!  One night there was a big pogrom not far from Lodz and we thought we’d be all be killed.

 

I thought, here I’m bring a  baby to world and that’s going to go to the grave, too, which eventually it did.  I was scared and shaking all night long, in premature labor in my seventh month.  Here he would survive; but, over there I didn’t even know I was in labor!  I walked to a Polish doctor in a private house.  He had one bedroom with a bed where he took his patients.  I had a baby boy.  He said, “He would survive but he needs a little oxygen and I have nothing to help him.”  So he says, “I’m going to put him on the window sill. It’s cooler…he’ll die faster.”  He didn’t want me to look at the baby.  He said, “Why should you look, you’ll never have him to hold.” So he put the baby… he was laying there all day long near the window.  About 5 o’clock in the afternoon he came in and said, “He’s turning blue so he’s going to die pretty soon.”

 

I remember Jack called the Jewish Committee in Lodz and told them we had a child we wanted to bury.  A guy came in and put a cloth around the baby and I watched through the window.  We gave him money and he promised to bury the baby in a Jewish cemetery.  Now today when I see premature babies only 2 pounds, 3 pounds and they survive, my heart just goes to pieces!  I had to bury another child, without a name, in a Lodz cemetery.  It’s for me, even now, to talk about it.

 

Roger:  Oh, boy.   Jack, how did you feel while this was going on?

 

Jack Sutin:  Exactly the same.  In Poland after the liberation the doctors didn’t have any equipment.  Don’t forget, it was  over 50 years ago.  50 years ago I was told premature babies here in this country didn’t have a chance either.

 

Roger:  We’ve got to take a little break here, Jack.  Please stay on the line.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll back with our guests, Jack and Rochelle Sutin and their son, Larry, who has put their story in a wonderful book.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:     Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  We’re talking to Jack and Rochelle Sutin and their son, Larry, about their years in the resistance as Jews hiding in the wilderness and fighting the Germans as best they could and eventually the expansion of their lives in the western world.

 

You talked in the book about wanting to escape to Palestine.  It wasn’t a Jewish state.  There was no Israel at that time.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  That’s right.

 

Roger:   Talking about Palestine…. did you get to Palestine?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  The truth is that we did want to go to Palestine because there was no Israel then; but, after I lost my first baby I was really depressed and the only way I could make myself feel better was, I got pregnant again.  In 1947 my daughter was born in the camp in Germany.  With a  child there was no way to go because we’d have to go illegally, like Exodus, crossing the Alps.  It was good only for strong young people.  After my daughter was born this plan sort of fizzled out.

 

I had an uncle in the United States and I thought that for the future of my child it would be easier to go to the United States.  We asked for papers and they sent us.

 

Roger:  What year did you arrive here?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  September 1949.

 

Roger:  It’s obviously a nice family that you built and you’ve got some great stories to tell.

 

Rochelle Sutin:  Yes, thank God!  So far so good!

 

Roger:    If people can learn the lesson of history, which is not likely, unfortunately.  I’m trying to do my part here.  If we can learn the lesson of history then maybe others will never have to go through what you went through.  Did you ever believe that you’d get out alive?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   No, no!  It was a matter of just how we were going to die.  We had a kind of pact, if we were going to be taken in a situation where we were caught alive, one would shoot the other because we always had our guns with us.  It  was just a matter of survival from day to day.  I would never, never believe that we’d survive and come to Minneapolis and have children and grandchildren.  It was an impossible dream!

 

Roger:  Jack, your father went into the woods with you.  What happened to your father in all this?

 

Jack Sutin:   My father came with us to this country.  He lived until age 88 and he died in 1974.

 

Roger:  Wow!  So the family made it out!  Larry, how does this affect you, as the second generation?

 

 

Larry Sutin:   I think it affects me in two ways.  There’s part of it that is obviously a burden in the sense that I live with this knowledge of evil in the holocaust.  I live in the knowledge that many members of my family were killed.  It also fills me with a sense of strength because my parents survived, they fought and they told me their story. We have been able to preserve it.  It makes me feel that life and continuing family… I have a child now, their grandchild, my sister has two children…. there’s something wonderful in continuing to go on!  But, there’s a bitterness to it and also a legacy of strength and survival.  It’s impossible to separate them.  They’re intertwined.

 

Roger:  Would you be willing to entertain some calls from the audience?

 

Larry Sutin:  Sure.

 

Roger:   I’m opening the phone lines for questions.  Larry, how do people get the book?

 

Larry Sutin:  It’s published by Gray Wolf Press which is a literary press, one of the best small presses in the country.  The book is available in national bookstore chains; but, it can be specially ordered through local bookstores or write Gray Wolf Press in St. Paul.  Most bookstores have Gray Wolf books and there is also a website where orders can be taken.

 

Roger:   Well, it’s a tremendous story!  This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone tell the story  of resistance.  I’ve probably missed about 99% of the good stuff; but, it’s hard to read the book real quick and do this.  Have you ever gone back to the old haunts, Jack and Rochelle?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  No, we never went back.  I can’t face Poland again!  To me Poland is one big graveyard!  The terrible memories!  We went there, to  *STOLCHA*, after we were liberated.  It was all burned down.  I looked at the people and each face reminded me of their clapping hands when we taken to be killed!  I can’t face them!

 

A friend of our went.  He’s from my husband’s town, *MIR*.  He went there with his son and grandson and made a video.  He even went to the woods.  The bunkers are still there!  Some are a little broken down but they’re still there.   He could still find the places where we were hiding.  He gave us the video.  We  have the video from * MIR * from the medieval castle where the last  Jews of *MIR* were sitting in the ghetto.

 

I have from Israel who went to *STOLCHA* and said there’s a mass grave.  No wonder I heard the machine guns!  It was maybe a half a mile from the sawmill where I was working.  When we put up a stone before we left,  we had to write the Russian _________ that you do not write that the Jews were killed here.  It was written that 3,000 Soviet citizens lay here, buried by the Nazis.

Now, after Belarus is an independent country, they went from Israel to *STOLCHA*.  We sent them money to put a beautiful stone in Hebrew saying all the Jewish population, 3,000 people are buried here.  They asked the mayor to see that it’s kept up.  Every summer somebody goes there to see everything is okay.  I couldn’t do that.

 

Roger:  Wow, 3,000!  How many towns like this were there?  There must have been hundreds of little towns like * MIR *?

 

Rochelle Sutin:   Jews lived all over Poland in little shtetls, little towns! It was 2,000 here, 3,000 there!  The crematoriums were not built yet!  They were going from town to town killing the people and burying them in mass graves!  We didn’t know there were such things as crematoriums until we were liberated!  The crematoriums were built in 1943 and 1944.  By then, the little shtetls were all all liquidated!

 

Roger:  While you were out in the woods fighting and putting up a resistance, you didn’t know what was going on….

 

Rochelle Sutin:  No!  We didn’t know the crematoriums were built!  When we came back to Poland and saw surviving Jews, we thought they were all in the resistance!  They said, “no, we’re from Auschwitz.”  That’s the first time we heard of concentration camps.

 

Roger:  Do you think, Rochelle, that haven’t experienced this kind of thing can understand it?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  No!  Absolutely not!  There’s plenty of nights when I can’t fall asleep.  I have a film in my head and think all this over.  There comes a point where I think, is this really true?  But, it really happened!  The older I get and the more I think about it, I don’t know how we did it and how we survived.

 

Roger:   Yes!  Well, hang on a minute.  We’ve got to take a short break. Folks, I encourage you to call in to ask a question or make a comment if you have something to suggest or present this evening.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Our discussion this evening about the book, “Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance,” by Larry Sutin, about his parents and their life as resistors living in the woods in Russian Poland during the holocaust.  We’ve got some calls!  Are you ready, folks?

 

Rochelle Sutin:  Yes.

 

Roger:  We’ve got Bill in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Hello, how are you?

 

Caller-Bill:  Fine.  My question is, I think all acts of genocide are reprehensible; but, the question is, Idi Amin killed 100,000 people in Uganda, Stalin killed 14 million in Russia, Mao killed 26, 000,000 in China, what is that’s made the story of the holocaust unique and why does people’s attention so much more?

 

Roger:  All right, Bill, thank you.

 

Larry Sutin:  I’ll take a crack at that.  I think the caller is right.  All acts of mass murder, mass crime are reprehensible.  It’s obscene, in a certain sense, to compare suffering.  What is unique factually, in terms of method, about the holocaust is, for example, the case of Mao in China or Stalin killing 14,000,000 in Russia wasn’t genocide.  It was an attempt to exert internal political control and the rid the dictators of their opposition.  In the case of the holocaust, the war against the Jews hindered the German war effort.  Resources that could have been used to fight against Russia to the east and the allies to the west, were placed instead, to the task of killing as many Jews as possible.  It was systematized killing and the absolute hatred that blunted political motivations on the part of the Nazi regime, other political motivations, that makes the holocaust factually unique as a horror.  There was no attempt to gain land from the Jews.  There was no attempt to rid the Jews as political adversaries, per se.  They were simply the hated element in society the Nazi used to win the support of the people.

 

Roger:  Yes.  They became the catalyst for the anger that drove the war machine.  Tom in Idaho, thank you for calling the program.

 

Caller-Tom:  Hi!  This question is on the same order.  I’d like to ask two questions, then hang up and listen.  The first is sort of on the same order.  What did the Jews do that was so bad that Hitler and his henchmen wanted to annihilate the whole race?  What did you do?  What caused this?  What is that?  Then the other question; don’t you think this could happen again to the Jewish race?  It’s almost a repeat over the centuries through the history of the Jewish people.  Here you are a group in the United States, a group in parts of England, who knows where you all are still.

 

Roger:  Scattered around the world!

 

Caller-Tom:  Wouldn’t it be a good idea for you all to band together in some central place, maybe Israel?  I’ll hang up now and listen off the air.

 

Larry Sutin:   I’ll take a crack at this questions, if I may.  First of all, it’s important to clarify, and I don’t think the caller meant any disrespect, the Jews aren’t a race.  That was the Nazi version.  There are Yemenite Jews, Morroccan Jews, Chinese Jews.  Yes, Jews are a people and a religion; but, not a race.

 

It isn’t a question of what Jews did that made Hitler want to get them.  There were no actions.  Jews as an entity don’t do anything.  There are individuals among Jews, as a with any other people.  There is a history of hatred that stems from the time when the church split in the early days after the death of Jesus and there was some feeling that Jews were responsible.  A good many historians and scholars question that version of history; but, there is a long-stemming hate from the accusation of Christ-killing , which I don’t think is a factual accusation.

 

Roger:   Larry, I think it’s more spiritual than that.  I think that God gave Abraham a covenant and that there’s been some real jealousy over that covenant since it was given.  There are those out there who would work for what I call “The Forces of Darkness”, for the Devil.  If we Christians have it right in the New Testament, you Jews are the key to our salvation.  I believe that it’s Satan who is driving because of this promise made to not only to Abraham through the Covenant; but, to the Christian world, that to achieve salvation it’s the Jewish people who are going to ask Christ to return.  So, I think there’s a lot of that that’s gone on.

 

Larry Sutin:   Well, I think there is a great deal of tension.  I think that you’re right, whether you call it Satan or whether you call it the evil within human beings.  People look for a scapegoat and I think a good many satanic or evil inclinations have utilized the Jewish people as a scapegoat as a way of gaining power.  I mean, Hitler clearly came to power by utilizing anti-semitic  hatred amongst the German people as a means of catalyzing the anger.

 

Roger:   Yes.  You know, I need to tell you that we’ve run out of time.  I just want to thank all of you.  Rochelle, Jack and Larry, thank you so very much!  As a bad as it was, it looks like it turned out storybook for you folks.  You’ve got a wonderful family and I hope your life in America has been wonderful!  And Larry, they raised a heck of a son!  God Bless you all very much, I wish you all the best!

 

The Sutins:   Thank you!  Same to you!

 

Roger:  All right, ladies and gentlemen!  That’s it for the evening.  Thank you for joining us tonight!  We can’t ever let this kind of thing happen — Never Again!  And, you can’t forget it, and you can’t throw if off and say it didn’t happen!  It did!  Believe it!

 

God bless you all and God bless America!  Good night, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

BONDAGE TO THE DEAD: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

3-18-1998 Twenty-First Program in Series

 

Guest: Dr. Michael Steinlauf

 

Book:  BONDAGE TO THE DEAD: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust

 

ISBN-10:  0815604033  and ISBN-13: 978- 0815604037

 

 

Roger:  Welcome, ladies and gentlemen!  Once again, this is our final program in this very long series on the holocaust.  It’s been quite a learning experience for me and I know for many of you.  We’ve heard some incredible stories and learned some incredible things about man’s inhumanity to man, and beyond that, man’s triumph over that!  It’s been a powerful series and I just want to thank all of you who have stayed with us for these 21 weeks.  It’s been a real pleasure to do it!

 

Tonight we take a look at the Polish-Jewish relations in Poland up to, during and beyond World War II and the Holocaust.  To help us get a grip on this particular area of interest, ladies and gentlemen, is a wonderful scholar joining us tonight.  We have Dr. Michael Steinlauf with us.  Michael, welcome to the show!

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Thank you very much, Roger.

 

Roger:  It’s a pleasure to have you here, sir.  I did not receive your book, so I am at a disadvantage this evening, but, I do know basically what your book is about.  We’re just going to have to go at it from that angle.  If you could first of all tell us a little bit about yourself and what it was that brought you to write on this issue of Poland, I’d be grateful.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  It all started about 15 years ago.  In 1983 I was graduate student in Jewish studies at Brandeis University.  I had the opportunity to go to Poland for a year as a Fulbright Scholar.  I came to Poland expecting to trace the history of ghosts, you might say, and I discovered that they were in the middle of —- that was the period of “Solidarity” in fact it was in martial law, “Solidarity” had just gotten banned.  It was a very exciting time and also a time all kinds of things were happening among living people as well.  I slipped into this strange world where the memory of the Jews seemed to be very, very important, not just the stuff of history; but, for living people.

 

That got me thinking about the issues.  Then some years later I had the opportunity to write an article about what it was that witnessing the holocaust had done to Poles.  The article became a very long piece.  I suddenly realized around six or seven years ago that I had more than an article, I had a book!  The article was published in a recently published anthology called, “The World Reacts to the Holocaust” edited by David Wyman, where 21 or so countries are covered in terms of how the memory of the holocaust had been constructed over the last 50 years in those countries.  My focus, of course, was on Poland which is a very unique situation in itself.

 

Roger:  You know, in history they say that to the victor go the spoils?  And, that he who wins the wars writes the history books for the future generations?  Do you find that makes it difficult to go back and research the events of the holocaust?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:   My motto has always been the opposite!  There’s a literary critic and philosopher who wrote in the 1920s and 1930s, a German-Jewish writer by the name of Walter Benjamin.  His motto was “brush history against the grain.”  What he meant by that is don’t accept the fact that to the winner go the spoils.  Go back into history because precisely what may be most important about history and in history is what has been silenced for one reason or another.

 

Roger:  I think that is really at the pinnacle of the discussion about the holocaust.  Has there been anything silenced?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:   Well, in many ways.  Look, you’re talking about, and I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate at this point if this is your 21st program, even today simply consulting the facts of what happened is well nigh unbelievable!  Incredible!  It just boggles the imagination!  It boggles the mind!  It boggles the human spirit that people could have done this, that human beings could have done this to other human beings!  Then imagine that we don’t have this 50 years and imagine people all over the world, and of course, all of the Jews themselves experiencing this, the Germans and Nazis and all the various levels of bystanders having to deal with this unbelievable reality that’s just only partially assimilated.  50 years ago we have this kind failure to fully witness this, with everyone involved no matter how close or how distant.  Now, 50 years later we know what the facts are; but, what do the facts mean?  In that sense, I think, we’re just beginning to deal with the events because they transformed the kind of world we live in.

 

Roger:  I started out on this journey, Michael, because I really wanted to have a deeper understanding of what it must have been like to be a Jew during the time of the holocaust in Europe and in America and other places.  It was last week or maybe the week before; but, last week in the 20th week of this series, I finally understood what it was like to be a Jew.  I broke down in tears.  I really finally got it!  It took that much absorption and that many authors and that many stories, of which there’ve been thirty-some, before I finally got it!  You can’t explain it.  It’s just the most amazing thing to me; but, I understand it!   I told my boss I’d rather be anything but a Jew.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, you see, this is why—the nature of the material is such that it lends itself, you see, and the nature of the truth is such that it lends itself to holocaust deniers also because people say, “yes, it’s unbelievable!  It never happened!”  That’s such a danger!

 

Roger:  Since you work at the YIVO Institute, I know that you look at issues relative to the Jewish condition.  I have had, and I might as well be up front about this, a lot of really strange email and mail and packages I didn’t want to open, if you know what I mean…

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Yup!

 

Roger:  … as a result of doing this series.  I have found a hatred that exists out there that is so powerful, so unbelievable in our modern time that I’m astounded by it, even though I knew it was there when I began!  It’s almost impossible to relate to people some of the things that are said to me.  The reason, of course, why I asked you this question about history; there are people who honestly believe that history has been revised so that some conspiracy of the Jews can take over the world—or whatever!  When I dig into the historic evidence that exists and I look in the past and the current time and I research the books and the stories, I’m compelled to think that it’s quite reverse of what you might call the anti-semites out there think that there’s so much more that hasn’t yet been told, that it’s mind-boggling!

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, this is people who refuse to look at the facts of history, find themselves in cause and effect in history.  Some people find that they have to create myths and create conspiracies in history.  Let me just tell you that the minute you talk about conspiracy, even if you’re not talking about the Jews, you’re talking something that potentially is going to involve the Jews because the oldest, oldest conspiracy that people have mythologized and created in their minds is that of the Jews, so that conspiracy theories are very tricky, dangerous things.

 

Roger:  We’ve gone into the origins of anti-semitism and talked about this catalyst in the Christian realm that brought forward this concepts, these conspiracies.  There are a lot of people out there today who read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they read The Lector Report, they throw these concepts into newsletter, the newsletters begin to circulate in copies that have been watered down to the place you can barely read them.  People read that stuff and take it verbatim!  They’ll believe that over the Bible!  How does that happen?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, it happens because people are not rational creatures, after all.  You know, we think we’re rational.  As far as I’m concerned, what that means is that despite all the trendy kind of talk about deconstruction and how do we know what’s true, and historical knowledge is relative; there’s all this trendy talk that I’m sure you’ve come across, some things and certainly in relation to the holocaust, here is something that is true!

 

There are some things in history that are black and white.  We have to just state that!  We have to state that over and over and over again!  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion  is fake, as false a book as can possible exist!  That has to be stated over and over again, as often as is necessary.  It’s a struggle!  It’s a struggle because there’s a lot of unbelievable stupidity and bad faith in the world.

 

Roger:  Yes, I interviewed a gentleman, in fact we didn’t even get it on the air yet, his name is Cohn.  He’s over in England.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Norman Cohn, of course!

 

Roger:  Right!  He wrote a book about that (Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of Jewish World Conspiracy and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and dedicated several chapters in the book to the actual origin of the Protocols.  I ask people when they call now and start throwing that at me, I ask me to name a couple of those elders for me.  Ha, ha!

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  I don’t even argue with dyed-in-the-wool anti-semites.  These people who believe in the Jewish world conspiracy are people who have a psychological need to construct a certain image of the world.  You’re not going to shake that!  I think it’s useless to argue with anti-semites.  Of course, you find yourself in that position because you have a talk show and these people call up a lot.

 

On the other hand, most of the people who listen are open-minded people who simply want to know the truth.

 

Roger:  I think one of things that people are not seemingly able to relate to, and maybe you can help with that, they don’t understand why 50 years after the fact, they still keep hearing about the poor downtrodden Jews —”there are lots of people who’ve been persecuted in the world!” and they go on to talk about Stalin or Mao Tse Tung or whoever.   Maybe you could address that for us, why this concept of genocide, set apart from the others is quite different and, more important, why we should pay attention to it.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  We’re not saying— I don’t think anyone is going to say — at least I certainly won’t and most historians won’t — that what happened to the Jews is somehow incomparable to any other mass murder or horrendous oppression that’s happened in history.  There are certain things about what happened to the Jews that makes it worthy of our attention and our knowledge.

 

For me, one of those things is that it is not something that happened centuries ago in some out of the way and supposedly barbaric corner of the world, that’s one thing.  Above all, you might say that it not only happened in the modern world, in a certain way it’s the result of the harnessing of all those wonderful technological powers that seemed to have made our world so good in a lot of ways, so to me that seems a rather important issue.

 

Think of this!  150 years ago we had a factory system and all of that technology transformed our world.  Come the Nazis who create factories—factories of what — not factories to produce things that people could use; but, factories to create death, to create death as effectively and expeditiously as possible!  And to process, literally that’s how they said it, to “process” human beings from something alive into something dead, something that just gets plowed into the soil!  To do this in such a way that millions and millions of people are “processed” (that horrible word!) in this way, within months, is something that talks about the potential in our modern civilization, I think.  It suggests that we have to be on our guard because we have this potential even though we also have the potential of transforming for good.  So, that’s one way I look at it.

 

The Jews, for better or for worse, found themselves at the center of this, at the center of this attempt in the modern world to take a group of people, simply because they were a group of people, and wipe them off the face of the earth!  Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to talk about other genocides and attempted genocides.  It doesn’t mean that one cannot talk about the millions and millions of people who were murdered in the course of being brought over to this country and other countries as slaves.

 

Roger:  Yes, but, it is different because of the genocide effect, isn’t it?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  It’s different because it somehow ties in with our modern world in a really, really scary way.

 

Roger:  Now, in Poland, I’ve heard some stories about Poland during the holocaust.  What were the relationships like between Jews and Poles up to the point of the holocaust?

 

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, it’s very complex, first of all, because regardless of what’s out there.  Let’s talk about the situation before the war.  We have to remember that Jews lived in this huge area that was Poland.  We’re not just talking about the area of this Polish nation-state today.  Historically, for hundreds of years in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period, Poland was a huge area that included what is today the Ukraine and Belarus and Lithuania as well as Poland and even more than that!  In those territories Jews have lived for centuries and centuries.  In comparison — in fact, they’d immigrated from Germany when there incredible persecutions that you’ve no doubt heard about in the Middle Ages.  Compared to the kinds of persecutions that were going on in Germany, there was relative tolerance in these Polish lands.

 

Jews lived there and other peoples lived there.  It was a kind of loose, decentralized world, an old-fashioned kind of feudal world where there were landowners and peasants, and there were Jews who performed things that people needed; making things, crafts, artisanry and commerce in the small towns.  They were very economically important given that kind of economy.  Now, things went on, it’s not to say that people loved each other; there were great differences between the local Polish peasants and the landowners and the Jews; but, they kind of accepted each other in the differences because they were able to live in a decent way for centuries and centuries.

 

The problem starts, what we call political anti-semitism, begins at the end of the 19th Century, that’s about 100 years ago when you start getting nationalists movements.  You get various kinds of nationalist movements in Poland.  One of those nationalist movements is very hostile, not just to Jews but to all minorities.  Their idea was that you have to have a Poland that’s ethnically Polish and Roman Catholic.  These people were called the National Democrats in Poland, called the “ND”.  They don’t actually ever come to power.  There was not Poland in the 19th Century.  There was no Polish nation-state.  It was part of the Russian Empire and part of the Austrian Empire; but, after World War 1 you do get a Polish state.  In that state, these nationalists, these very anti-minority and anti-semitic nationalists become increasingly more popular.  So, one could say that the worst moment in Polish-Jewish relations in hundreds and hundreds of years happens—this is a tragedy— in the period just before the holocaust.

 

I have to say, it doesn’t necessarily follow that because a whole lot of Poles weren’t crazy about Jews and would have like to have them out of Poland because most of the Polish political parties had platforms that said Jews should leave.  Not forcibly; but, that there were too many Jews in Poland.  This doesn’t mean that these people wished to see these Jews murdered!  That’s very important to say.  Just because you don’t like someone, even if you hate someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you would have them murdered in some horribly brutal way!  We need to say that because now that the holocaust has happened, we also kind of tend to think the minute there’s any kind of hatred that it could escalate.  It can, but, it also can’t.  Every situation is different.  That’s important to realize.

 

On the other hand, there was a great deal of anti-Jewish feeling in Poland.  There was the sense that there were too many Jews, a lot of Poles felt.  A lot of Poles felt that too much economic power was in Jewish hands so these Polish nationalists said that what they had to do was free the country of the Jews by pushing them out of the economy and eventually out of Poland.  This led to some violence as well.

 

The Roman Catholic church in Poland during this time basically supported the nationalist position with the proviso of “no violence.”  Violence was not okay; but, everything else in terms of pushing the Jews out of the economy was a fine thing.  Again, this has  to be seen in the context of what was happening in Europe, throughout eastern Europe, throughout Europe as a whole, throughout the world!  As you know, there was an upsurge of Jew-hatred and anti-semitism of all kinds, most obviously in Germany; but, everywhere in Europe.  That’s how I might characterize the situation.

 

Roger:  Well, it’s a perfect place of transition.  I need to take a break, so just hang on for a minute.  Dr. Michael Steinlauf is our guest, ladies and gentlemen.  His work, his book is about the relationship between the Polish folks, the Germans and as it trends through the holocaust.  We’ll continue our discussion right after this.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  Our guest this evening is Dr. Michael Steinlauf, senior research fellow at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York, a Fulbright Fellow in 1983-1984, one of the first students ever allowed to study Jewish history in Poland.  He’s taught at the University of Michigan, Brandeis University and Franklin and Marshall College.  He joins us this evening to talk about his incredible book, “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.”   We’ll tell you how to get that in a few minutes, folks.

 

Michael, we’re back!  I just wanted to take an aside here.  You talked about the Catholic Church and how they didn’t necessarily give an endorsement of violence; but,  they certainly didn’t mind picking on the Jews.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Right.

 

Roger:  Today’s church is trying to remedy that, reconcile with their past, so to speak.  Are they going to be successful?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, they’re certainly making efforts in that direction.  Certainly I can speak that the Polish church has changed quite a bit, not entirely — this is a very slow process— but, certainly the initiatives that I’ve seen of John Paul are certainly moving in the right direction.

 

Roger:  Why can’t the Catholic church just come forward and say, “We’re sorry!  We really blew it!  We screwed up!  We were wrong!  We shouldn’t have been on the other side!”  Why?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, the most  recent thing that just came out the other day tries to say something like that.  The problem, I think, is that one of the stickiest points of papal infallibility.  The issue that they really find tricky to address is what the pope back then was and was not doing because the pope is supposed to be infallible.  You cannot question what the pope does and does not do.  On the other hand, the fact that a lot of Catholics should have helped or should have protested and did not has been addressed.  I would like to hope that this issue will be addressed as well.  On the other hand, they will have to confront some of their own doctrine, I think.

 

Roger:  Alright.  I know it was an aside from where we’re going; but, I just was curious given this recent….. Going back to the Poles, I have interviewed folks who were on those trucks driving down the Polish roadways as thousands of Poles stood by the roadside applauding, “Kill the Jews!  Kill the Jews!”

Dr. Steinlauf:  Yes.

 

Roger:  That clearly wasn’t part of their nature prior to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, was it?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, you see, we have a situation.  Let’s try to put ourselves—- you were talking about trying to put yourself in the situation of a Jew.   Let’s try to put ourselves in the situation of a Pole now.  You have a situation where the Germans have created an environment where it is okay to have the most vile, the most awful feelings towards these people who used to be your neighbors come out.  On the other hand, it’s not okay to manifest publicly any feelings of sympathy.  Furthermore, and this is an important thing to remember, Poland was just about the only country in occupied Europe where helping Jews was punishable by death, not just your own death; but, there were cases that involved the death of your family as well.

 

So, we have a situation  where only the most bestial kinds of responses are what are going to be encouraged in public.  Okay?  The reality was that there were Poles who did more than clapped when Jews were put on those trucks.  There were Poles who helped kill Jews, who denounced them, who blackmailed them.  There were also, and I think given the situation this is totally extraordinary, there were thousands of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews!  That’s a fact, too!

 

Now, it’s a very complicated situation because here we have to try to grasp because in the most general situation, the most average Pole probably didn’t applaud and certainly didn’t help kill Jews—not the average Pole!  The average Pole certainly didn’t help save Jews; but, watched this whole thing happening!

 

It creates a very, very problematic feeling inside one.  Imagine that you have these neighbors.  You don’t like them very much and that’s a fact.  In fact, you wish there were gone!  Then what happens?  Somebody comes from outside, from far outside and before your eyes — you’re not even involved in this — before your eyes, murders these people in the most awful, bestial, horrendous possible way!  Then what happens?  You don’t even have to do this — then what happens is these people leave, they’re gone and you, because you live in that country, inherit all the property, all the things that were once Jewish; the buildings, everything from the homes and offices down to the bed linens and clothing!

 

Now, this is going to create, I would submit, a real problem!  A real problem that has to do with guilt, that has to do with things that are not resolved.  In a sense it’s easier for a German because in Germany you can punish a handful of guilty people, as in fact happened after the war, and say, “Okay,we’ve dealt with it!”  But, the Poles didn’t do the holocaust!  And yet, it was a kind of wish fulfillment in terms of getting rid of the Jews and then they’re kind of rewarded with all this property!  This whole world that used to have Jews in it is now in their hands.

 

So, that creates a very, very complex problem that works itself out in various ways over the past 50 years.  That’s just summing up, a kind of looking at a subjective experience of witnessing for the Poles who watched the whole thing from beginning to end.  They watched the ghetto wallss going up and their Jewish neighbors put behind them, they watched the deportations and they watched and were close to the death camps.  Of course, they smelled the smoke of the crematoriums!  So, they were witnesses of the whole thing.  That’s what makes their experience so unique.

 

So, the question is, how does the experience — that’s what my book tries to look at — how does this experience then affect the subsequent course of Polish history and consciousness?

 

Roger:  Well, tell me, Dr. Steinlauf, how did it affect them?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  In many ways.  There were periods here that can be looked at.

 

Roger:  Let’s look at the 20 years beyond the war.  What happened there?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Right after the war there were some really horrendous things that happened in Poland and this time it’s not somebody else doing the violence, it’s the Poles themselves.  In the years immediately after World War II — and again, this has to be put in context too — there was what amounts to nearly a Civil War between the communists who were taking over and the people resisting them, generally the nationalists and democrats of various kinds.  There was a lot of violence going on, a lot of random violence, too!  Within this over-all violence there were attacks on survivors; surviving Jews who appeared and the worst of these were actual progroms, in other words mass attacks!  The worst civil one on July 4, 1946 in the City of Kielce in Poland, 42 holocaust survivors who lived in one particular building where they were preparing to emigrate, are murdered and several hundred were wounded by an attack that began—-  I’m sure in one of your programs where you studied the history of anti-semitism you discussed the blood libel, the accusation that arose in the Middle Ages, that absurd nonsense that Jews used the blood of Christian children to bake matzos!  In 1946 such an accusation was made when a child disappeared, a child that turned up the day after the pogrom.  That kind of accusation led to a mob murdering 42 Jews!  That was the worst!  There were other attacks and about 1,500 to 2,000 Jews were killed because they were Jews.

 

Roger:  Dr. Michael Steinlauf is with us this evening, ladies and gentlemen.   Remind me, Michael, to tell people how to get your book, “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.”  We’ll entertain a call or two after the break, ladies and gentlemen.  Please stay tuned.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Dr. Michael Steinlauf, senior research fellow at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York joins us.  His book is, “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.”

This is our last program in our Holocaust Series, ladies and gentlemen, although we’ll continue to dabble the subject from time to time.  Michael, really quickly, how do people get your book?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  You can order it from Syracuse University Press 1-800-365-8929.

 

Roger:  Alright, really quickly and then I want to take a couple of phone calls, just bring us up-to-date.  How did Poland turn out after all of this?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Well, crucial was this new way of defining who they are.  That had to do with the Solidarity Movement that, of course, helped overthrow Communism; but, also started talking about a new way of thinking about being Polish.  What that meant was including differences, that it was okay not to be Roman Catholic, that it was okay to be something else.  So the memory of the Jew started being thought of in a different way.   What happened, interestingly enough, anti-semitism still exists in many corners of the society, but, beginning in the 1980s there was also a renewed kind of interest, especially by young people in universities, in the Jewish past and who these Jews were, these millions of Jews who once lived in Poland.  So, there’s both this fascination with the past in certain corners of the society and holdovers of this antipathy to Jews.  It’s a very complex situation; but, again, I happen to be optimistic.  I believe that gradually more and more of this past of dislike and enmity will be left behind and more Poles will appreciate and value this part of their history.

 

Roger:  So, time and education….

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Yes!  And there’s also a very small emerging Jewish community in Poland now, too!  Not  three and a half million which was the community before the holocaust.  It’s vastly smaller, 20,000 to 30,000 at most; but, it’s there and it’s making it’s presence felt.

 

Roger:  Alright!  We’re taking a couple of phone calls.  Bob in St. Louis, Missouri, you’re on.

 

Caller-Bob:  Hi, Roger and Dr. Steinlauf!  I’m part Jewish from my Hungarian ancestry; but, I’m concerned that almost like a second holocaust is occurring.  You were talking about the impact of modern Jews, what the thinking is in terms of Jewry today.  Since World War II, I heard a report about six months ago from Jerusalem saying that the Israeli military had scoured the entire world, looking to find every Jew they could, hoping to find more young Jews for soldiers.  All they could find was a maximum of 12.5 million Jews and most of those were elderly, above age 50.  So, they’re too old to be soldiers.

 

They were saying that at least theoretically, before World War II there were 25 million Jews which was the most of any time.  Right after the holocaust in 1945 there were 19 million Jews.  The problem is, with abortion and contraception, the Jewish population has plunged from 19 million down to 12.5 million.  They’re predicting that in another 25 years there will be only 2 or 3 million Jews left in the whole world!  Meanwhile, the world’s population has gone up about 200 %!  It seems like the Jews are almost causing a second holocaust by not having babies.  I’m wondering, especially with such constant focusing on the holocaust, why aren’t Jews having babies?

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  First of all, the problem you refer to is hardly a problem, only among Jews.  I mean, most advanced industrial societies, and Jews mainly live in such societies, the birthrate has either been maintaining or declining.  Indeed, the injunction to have many children is still followed by certain Jews, Orthodox Jews!   They have very large families.  I think the demographics of the Jewish community in future decades is definitely going to shift to a larger proportion of Orthodox Jews.  That’s clear!  On the other hand, secular Jews are hardly going to die out, certainly not in the next hundred years, that’s about as long as I can predict!

 

Caller-Bob:   Are there going to be massive conversions?  What they were saying is they couldn’t find any Jewish women of child-bearing age left.  Most Jewish women are post-menopausal and that means you’d have to have a massive conversion of gentiles if you’re going to have an increase in the Jewish population.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  I doubt there’ll be a massive conversion of gentiles!  But, on the other hand, statistics show that fully one third of the mixed marriages in the United States, marriages between gentiles and Jews, in fully one third of those the gentile partner converts to Judaism.

Caller-Bob:  So, pro-abortion liberal Jews marrying pro-abortion liberal gentiles….

 

Roger:  Bob, you’re really messing things up for me because there won’t be enough Jews to run the world when they take over if it’s true what you’re saying!  Ha, ha, ha!

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Ha, ha, ha!

 

Caller-Bob:  Seriously, what the Israeli government was saying is there won’t be any Jews left at all by the year 2023 because there are almost no Jewish women of child-bearing age.  All the old Jews are dropping like flies.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  That’s a little extreme!  I’ve never come across the idea that there won’t be anymore Jews after 2023.  I think that certainly, compared to figure before the holocaust, we’re looking at a greatly diminished proportion of Jews in the world.  On the other hand, for thousands and thousands of year the proportion of Jews in the world was very, very small.  Somehow Jews have gone on.  I personally am not worried about the survival of the Jewish people, given to fact that we survived the holocaust and many parts of the world seem to be undergoing a renewal.

 

Roger:  Dr. Michael Steinlauf, ladies and gentlemen!  “Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust.”  Michael, real quick, give us your number before you go.

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  My number to order the book is Syracuse University Press 1-800-365-8929.

 

Roger:  Michael, thank you!  God bless!  Absolute pleasure to make your acquaintance!

 

Dr. Steinlauf:  Same to you, Roger!  And God Bless for this series!

 

Roger:  Alright, folks!  That’s the end of the Holocaust Series.  I know for some it means applause and for others it means tears.  For me it means a rest for my mind.

 

 

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

The Four Forms of Resistance: ONE BRIDGE TO LIFE

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

1-21-1998  Eleventh Program in Series

 

Guest: Dr. William (Billy) Samelson

 

Topic:   The Four Forms of Resistance

 

Book:  ONE BRIDGE TO LIFE

 

ISBN-10:  093543738X  and   ISBN-13: 978-0935437386

 

 

Roger:   Welcome, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a pleasure to have you here with us tonight.  These are grueling, tormented tales, these stories of the holocaust; but, they must be told.  It won’t be much longer that there won’t be anybody left to tell the stories, unfortunately.  So, we need to get the stories told as best we can.  That’s why I’m not interrupting the series for the wild and crazy breaking news stories and things.  I don’t want to interrupt it, I want to ride this thing through to completion.  Call it a gift of love, an act of love or whatever.

 

Our guest this hour is a survivor.  At one time he was affiliated with the partisans as a young boy, spent time in concentration camps and is now a professor down in San Antonio.  He’s just an all around really swell guy, William Samelson.  We call him Billy!  Billy, welcome to the program!

 

Billy S:   Hello!  How are you Roger?

 

Roger:  Oh, I’m doing just fine!

 

Billy S:   Am I coming through all right?

 

Roger:   Oh, man!  You’re banging through here!  You’re going to wake up America, Billy!

 

Billy S:   I hope so.

 

Roger:   How are you doing today?

 

Billy S:   I’m doing fine, thank you.

 

Roger:   I am finer than a frog hair split five ways, my friend.   Billy, what I want you to do with me for a little bit tonight is to tell us about yourself, who you are and what you do now, then tell us where you came from, tell us your holocaust story.  Then I really want to talk about the resistance movement because there aren’t too many people who are familiar with it.  So, let’s just let ‘er rip!

 

Billy S:   Well, I was born in Poland almost 70 years ago.  During the first days of the war, the Nazi attack on Poland, I was with my grandparents in central Poland.  We really never dreamed in our worst nightmares what would happen a few days later.  We were, of course, occupied by the Nazis for the duration of six and a half years.  I was then eleven years old when the war began in 1939.  I spent 6-1/2 years in various activities; concentration camps, ghettos and some time with the partisans.  I was very fortunate to be liberated by the U.S. Armed Forces on May 1, 1945.

 

Roger:   You were a young boy when all this took place.  It’s amazing you have that kind of recall.  A lot of kids block out those sorts of memories.

 

Billy S:   Well, I don’t only credit it to my total recall, ever since I was liberated I’ve been writing a chronicle of it, helping my memory and, of course, my brother was liberated as well.  Together we helped each other remember events, people, faces, people we have lost, the loved ones.  You know, memory plays tricks on us, through time you tend to forget.  It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time.  You hope to forget the bad memories and remember only the good; but, inevitably you remember both or you forget both.  This hasn’t happened with us because I’ve written it all down.  Then, of course, through my later studies I’ve learned to record everything punctiliously and I’m fortunate that I have all these records, not only in my mind; but, no paper as well.  I’ve written a lot on it.

 

Roger:  What have you written, Billy?

 

Billy S:  My last book was a memoir titled, “One Bridge to Life,” which chronicles the beginnings  of the war and all the tribulations; all the camps, my experiences with the Nazis, and goes all the way to liberation by the American Armed Forces.   Then, of course, I’ve written a sequel already which is now in preparation for publication.  The sequel takes up from where the other one ended and goes all the way to 1972.

 

Roger:  Wow!  Was it different, do you think, for children?

 

Billy S:   Yes, it was.   With children, number one, was our size, we hadn’t grown to adulthood.  We were in our formative years ;not only physically but spiritually, mentally.  This not being matured in every aspect of existence helped us a great deal.

 

For instance, I weighed approximately between 85-90 pounds when the war began.  I was an 11 year old.  When I was liberated, I weighed 72 pounds and I was a grown adult!  I didn’t grow very much really.  I’m sort of short, 5 ft 6-1/2 in.  So, my growth was stunted by lack of nourishment and the stress I had undergone.  That was really how our size and immaturity both corporeal and spiritual was an advantage.

 

I have seen grown adults around me die very quickly, perish because of lack of the nutrition they were used to.  They were unable to maintain their strength.  They were unable to maintain a healthy  outlook on life because of depression immediately thereafter.  They went very fast!  Some of the adults died within 5 to 6 months of captivity.  We children sustained ourselves.  We had more resilience ritually because we played games.  Children played games.

 

You speak of resistance.  In the ghettos we played games among ourselves, resisting the Nazis.   Some of them would be the Nazi oppressors…. no one wanted to play them!.

 

Roger:   You mean like American kids playing Cowboys and Indians?

 

Billy S:  Exactly!  Yes.  Many, many different aspects of game-playing which were a sort of salvation.

 

Roger:   It kept you mind busy, kept you off the subject….

 

Billy S:   Kept our spirits up!  For instance, nobody wanted to be selected as Hitler, himself; but, invariably one got the role and we always killed him!

 

Roger:    Ha, ha, ha!  So, there was a little anger there?

 

Billy S:   Yes, there was!  Anger built up!  Hatred built up!  This remembrance of the losses that we have sustained; in lives, in loved ones, sustained us in our desire to survive and our desire see the enemy in chains.

 

Roger:   Did you want revenge?   As a child looking out at Nazi Germany and beyond….

 

Billy S:  We definitely did!

 

Roger:  What did you fantasize as a kid, when you thought of revenge?

 

Billy S:  We wanted retribution.  We dreamed, we fantasized in camps…. later on after the ghettos were closed and my brother and I were fortunate to be rescued by a leftist resistance movement that burned the train that was taking us to Auschwitz from central Poland.  They burned the train.  They destroyed it completely and killed all the Nazi guards.  A group of us were able to join them.  That gave us the opportunity to maintain human dignity.

 

Roger:  How old were you when that happened?

 

Billy S.   I was 12-1/2 when it happened.  My brother was 14-1/2.  There were boys and girls younger than us!  There were boys and girls that executed Germans without any compunction that were 8, 9, 10 years old!  It was easy, you see, the partisan underground used children very  frequently in the resistance because it was easier for children to gain the enemy’s confidence, going into enemy camps to work for them, to provide them with some necessities that soldiers usually need in an occupied land.  Gaining their confidence was not very difficult, especially for us Jewish boys because we knew German.  We spoke German to them and they considered us sort of their landsmen, their “volks deutsch”, we told them we werevolks deutsch, German nationals.  They had designations for different phases, different spheres of population.  Anyone who spoke their language was considered an ally!

 

Roger:  Wow!  So, as a boy, did you end up doing some of this yourself in the resistance?

 

Billy S:  Yes, we did.  I spent 8-1/2, almost 9 months in the eastern sector of Poland, near Wolyn.  We heard the group of partisans that I was with received notice from headquarters from the train…you know there is a European railroad that was running.  It was the Moscow-Berlin Express.  Remember the stories about that?  It ran all the way from western Europe through the Soviet Union all the way to Vladivostok, all the way to the eastern part of Asia.  We heard there was a change in the railway gauge.  You know, the Russian gauge was about 10 inches wider than the rest of European railroad gauge.  Europeans have a standard gauge of rails.  The Soviet Russians had a wider gauge.  Usually the transports that were going east with personnel and materiel of Nazis, of Germans, going east when they attacked Russia, went through a small town on the border of Poland and the Soviet Union (unintelligible Polish word) near the Treblinka extermination camp.  We heard all of the trains stopped there overnight and were changed; all the personnel, weaponry and materiel would be unloaded from the European rail and loaded onto the wider gauge train.  We were active in that sector of Poland, destroying the railroad tracks, destroying materiel and personnel.  We killed!  I was instrumental in the deaths of many enemies, without realizing that it would bother my conscience one day.

 

Roger:   Wow!  How would you plan these assaults?

 

Billy S:  The group that I was with was supported by the leftist movement in Poland, by the communist movement in Poland.  They were the only ones that took the Jews in!  The others, the home army that were resisting also, that were partisans of the home army, was called the “Armia-Krajowa”.  They were just as anti-Jewish as the Nazis!  So, we had no hope with them.

 

But, the people we were with, most of them were former military who had either escaped Nazi POW camps or had never been captured.  They formed these partisan groups and the were trained soldiers, trained military.  The planned all the strategies, plan all the activities very thoroughly within the area of their operations and they would execute them.  Of course, this type of military armed resistance was very helpful to the military operation of the Soviets as well as the Allies later on, because wherever there was martial resistance— not passive—there were many, many types of resistance that I could talk on for days and nights and I have written that in a book I’ve just done on the murder of the European Jews….but, this martial resistance was very helpful in that the Nazis had to bring in troops from the front in order to subdue military martial resistance.

 

Let’s take the Warsaw Uprising, for instance.  The Warsaw Uprising was more significant than any of the battles that took place during WW II.  You have to understand that during that three month period…. there were only about 23,000 Jews; men, women and children and virtually unarmed., fighting with deficient arms that were sold to them on the pretext of selling them good arms in good condition.  They were fighting with molotov cocktails, as you are familiar with molotov cocktails, they are bottles full of gasoline with a lint going into them.  They were thrown on the SS tanks that were coming in.  Such resistance was the first to cause the Nazis, to cause these assassins, to withdraw completely from the ghetto and to bring in reinforcements from the front, from Stalingrad where they were besieged, to Warsaw.  They brought in 40,000  men; SS troops, highly trained assassins, to subdue the Warsaw insurgency.  That was unheard of!  It delayed the conquest of the east.  It delayed the whole operation called Operation Barbarossa.  Therefore, it was one of the most significant battles, if not The Most Significant Battle of WW II!  It brought the turnaround of the Nazi conquest.

 

But, you know, there are issues in resistance, in Jewish resistance.  Let’s ask ourselves a question.  What price were the persecuted willing to pay for moral victory?  Would they pay with their lives?  Was the life gained from dehumanization a life worth living and fighting for? These were the questions that we had to ask ourselves.  A  resister, a fighter, has to be able within his mind to decide that a life is not worth living unless it is lived with dignity.  That dignity, that fight for freedom, liberty and dignity is worth laying your life down for.  That’s very important!  Anyone who fears giving the life, being down away with, being killed in resisting, will not resist.  There has been a widespread stereotypical belief that the Jews was estranged from the use of arms and the Jews was devoid of martial qualities.  Even in the Nazi period, people were saying there was a general absence of physical resistance among the persecuted Jews.  This is absolutely a myth!  It is not true!  It does not do justice to the various types of resistance that occurred in the face of Nazi oppression.  The evidence points to forms of resistance ranging from unarmed/passive resistance to examples of armed resistance, not only in the concentration camps; but, in the ghettos!  That should dispel the myth that Jews went passively to their deaths.

 

Roger:  Well, you see, that’s what their image is, Billy, especially in America.  I was raised to believe that the Jews were like sheep.  The Nazis just picked up a staff and herded them into the cattle cars and drove them off to the gas chambers.

 

Billy S:   It is a myth!  It is a falsehood!  You realize…. now, look at it this way, the ironic contradiction to that myth of lack of resistance, of passivity and going like sheep to their death, the very ironic contradiction to that myth is the fact of the record of Jewish resistance…. mind you, this is important….the record of Jewish resistance to Naziism far exceeds that of the combined POW camps notwithstanding the fact that the latter comprised trained military personnel!  In all of the POW camps allies of French, of British, of American, of Soviet origin, there was less resistance than in the death camps, the killing factories, than in the ghettos, the concentration camps and labor camps!  So, that myth should be completely dispelled!

 

Roger:  There was a lot more resistance than history tells us about!

 

Billy S:  We owe it to the 6,000,000 dead of Nazi persecution to dispel that myth completely!

 

Roger:  Yes!  Billy, we’ve got to take a break here.  Hang on!  We’ll be back in just a couple of minutes.  Ladies and gentlemen, our guest is Professor William Samelson, we call him Billy here.  He is a survivor and we’ll get into some more of his story in just a little bit.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Professor Billy Samelson’s here!  He’s a survivor and was a resister.  He has quite a bit of information about the holocaust and the Jewish people.  Billy, welcome back!  To dispel this myth is very important!  I was unaware that it was a myth.

 

Billy S:  Yes it was.  I would like to also elucidate on some points; why resistance was so difficult during the Nazi period, the Nazi persecution.  It needs to be done as preface as to what resistance really took place.

 

There were three aspects of Nazi persecution.  The Nazis, being well aware of who the Jews were. :

 

First:  The Jewish tradition of love of family.  As long as the Jewish family was together in ghettos later on, they would not resist simply for the reason that they would jeopardize family safety and family life and community life…if they resisted because it’s been well-known that for one Nazi soldier or SS man killed, the Nazis would take reprisals and kill a whole shtetl or kill 100 people, killing families!  So, love of family prevented many, many Jews from resisting, from taking part in resistance.

 

Second:  Nazi Deception:  The promises the Nazis made in the ghettos they allegedly came in to resettle us,  to take the people out of crowded ghettos and resettle them onto places where they would allegedly, as they professed through the bullhorns when they told people to get out of their homes and climb onto the railway wagons, the cattle wagons.  They would promise many things.  They would promise the resettlement would be for the better, that there would be no disease, they would be more food at the destination, and so on.  People believed because most people want to be believe!  They were walking into those freight wagons, those cattle cars with their families intact!  They were with their loved ones!

 

Third: Fear of Betrayal: Another aspect of lack of resistance, where resistance might have been expected was the fear of betrayal.  There were many who would be betray us; many among our own people and many among their allies, the henchmen they brought in from different ethnics and national groups.

 

But, there was resistance activity and resistance can be divided into four categories:

 

  1. The actions of individuals and groups in defense of their own lives and human dignity.
  2. Participation, as I did, participation in partisan war was waged on Polish and Soviet soil against the Nazis.
  3. Underground activities in cities and ghettos. We had many, many varied underground activities.
  4. Escapes from camps: from death camps, from killing factories, as well as ghettos and concentration camps.

 

But, you see, even when you escaped, and this was a form of resistance, even when escaped the camp—-let’s say you escaped the ghetto or a labor camp—the entire Nazi-occupied zone of Europe included practically every country except Switzerland, Spain in the south and Lichtenstein, perhaps, and some small communities.  All of Europe was in the enemy camp!  It has been known that a Jew that escaped from a camp or a ghetto and counted on someone aiding him in the escape, found that he was betrayed, that people would deliver him or her to the Nazi authorities for pound of sausage and a bottle of whiskey which was very difficult to come by.

 

So, the armed resistance,, although it did occur in many instances, found the Jew rather helpless and found the Jew counting on the world coming to his aid, and the world was silent!  The world was unwilling to do it!

 

Then they say, why didn’t we revolt in concentration camps?  When we entered a concentration camp we were disrobed, we were placed naked to the world!  A naked man loses the power of being resistant.  He ceases to fight against fate.  Together with his clothing, he at once loses the intitiave and instinctive will to live!

 

Roger:  The indignity!

 

Billy S:   The indignity of being naked in front of the enemy and being completely helpless!  There is no hiding place, you see!

 

Another thing, when a Jew finally decided to fight for his life, for his dignity, he realized the odds were against him or her because of lack of a defensive weapon.  He realized that he was not subject to international laws of war.  For instance, when they caught us, if they didn’t need us for labor, they would have killed us all!  Summarily!  A Jew knew if he or she resisted they would have to fight to the death because if they didn’t, they’d be killed by the Nazis anyhow, without a tribunal, without any compunction.  They were not POWs.  The Nazis didn’t take prisoners of the Jews, they just killed them!

 

Roger:  Instantly!

 

Billy S:  Instantly, yes!

 

Roger:   It wasn’t like they had to get permission from Berlin.  Ha, ha!

 

Billy S:  Ha, ha!  They took the law into their own hands.  The officers in the field took the law into their own hands.  So, there was a great deal of thought and decision-making involved in resisting.  Yet, we resisted!

 

Roger:   Yes, and you had nowhere to run!

 

Billy S:   Nowhere.  It was all enemy camp.

 

Roger:   You either prayed for divine intervention or the outside would come in and help… and no one came until 1945.

 

Billy S:  That’s right!

 

Roger:  Oh, that’s terrible!

 

Billy S:  So, you see, it is this very moral substance of resistance that differs from the political.  By its very content, the moral substance spurs people to action.  The ethical and moral impulses of resistance were present in every aspect of Nazi-dominated Europe.  They were expressed by people of varied social and intellectual levels.  They all united in resisting.  This kind of resistance, I want to tell you, was and still remains the bedrock of civilized society.

 

Roger:   Now, did the partisans focus on sabotage or get into actual battles?

 

Billy S:   We were primarily involved in sabotage.  Primarily, we were a hit and run group.  Most of the time we spent hiding from the enemy because they had superior forces so we could only do hit and run activities.  We could only act in random, sporadic movement so as not to be eradicated.  You cannot fight tanks when you just have pistols in your hands!  Those pistols were not automatic, they were ancient weapons that were sold to us for good money.

 

Roger:  So, you were eventually captured?

Billy S:  Captured, yes.  We were captured at the end of 1943.  That was a time when the Nazis suffered tremendous reverses on the eastern front, on the Soviet front.  They needed labor!  They had conscripted practically German grown-up, every German adult into the armed forces.  They were already scraping the bottom of the barrel, taking Hitler Youth children into what they called the “Home Front” in order to send the able-bodied adults to the front because they were getting whipped by the Allies!

 

They needed labor in their factories and that is why they took the unit—they killed quite a lot of us during the ensuing resistance, the ensuing battle we had with them.  Those of us that they captured they interrogated.  They beat us to a pulp then sent us off.  I wound up in Buchenwald, at the concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar.  That was in early 1943.

 

You know, every concentration camp had branches because, most people don’t realize it, all of the concentration camps or labor camps as they were called, were constructed near industrial centers.

Let’s take Auschwitz, for instance.  Auschwitz- Birkenau, the twin camps, were constructed for reason of building up I.G. Farben Industries.  I.G. Farben drew most of the benefits for the camps being there.  When a camp was resisting, when people in Auschwitz resisted, burned some of the crematories, the industry suffered for that.

 

Roger:  Listen, I’ve got to take this break.  We’ll come back after a few quick commercials and then take a few phone calls.  So, you folks on the phone lines, hang in and I’ll get to you just a quickly as possible.   We’ll be back with our good friend, Dr. Billy Samelson, and finish up the program.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Okay!  We’re back with Billy Samelson. We’re running short on time and we’re trying to get a few callers in if we can.  In Eugene, Oregon, we have Gene on the line.  Gene, welcome!

 

Caller-Gene:  Hello, gentlemen!  Billy, I’m glad you’re on tonight, especially speaking of the resistance movement!  Organized resistance movements are the key to effective fight a large army and win for long periods of time.

 

Billy S:  Yes.

 

Caller- Gene:  The second thing I wanted to mention, could you name your book again before you’re off the air?  And the third thing is, do you see persecution coming again, in this generation or the next, for Jews and Christians?  I’ll take the answers off the air.  Thank you!

 

Roger:  All right, Gene, thank you.

 

Billy S:   The title of my book is, “One Bridge to Life.”  Yes, I would say that persecution is always possible under certain circumstances.  This is why it is so important that we see the earmarks of any such threat rearing it’s ugly head and we can counteract it.

 

Roger:  What do you think the signs might be, Billy?

 

Billy S:  The signs would be, for instance, when times get really critical, like economically critical, the people love to put blame somewhere.  They usually look for scapegoats.  Scapegoating is the normal reaction of a human being who seeks to shirk his or her own responsibility for their own fate, they own destiny and blame it on someone else if things go bad.  There are many, many factors involved that contribute to that.

 

Roger:  What if you, for example, saw the government demonizing and attacking a group of people?

 

Billy S:  I would….

 

Roger:  …. if you saw that slowly building, and even though you didn’t like those people or their ideas or religious beliefs, would you still see that as a sign or would you ignore it because they’re people you don’t like anyway?

 

Billy S:  I would still see it as a sign, yes.  It is very important to remember that when your fellow human being is unjustly persecuted, you are being persecuted as well.  We are our brother’s keeper, really.  Let’s face it!  This world has become too small for us to be ignorant of that and turn our faces away from those in need.

 

Roger:  Aren’t we doing that really right now?

 

Billy S:  We are!  And there are people who are not!  There are people who are taking very active part in being vocal when they see injustices.  We see all sorts of movements of people of good will that take up for the disadvantaged, that take up for the people who are mistreated.

 

You see, this is why it’s so important to carry the message of Jewish resistance!  The heartening aspect of the holocaust is the emphasis on the indomitable courage and spirit displayed by those who resisted no matter what form that resistance took!  Sadly, we must say that has taken the worst of humanity to bring out it best.

 

Roger:   Yes.

 

Billy S:  The lessons that we learn from those who braved the danger to save themselves and others is this great lesson—that we cannot live without our souls, without our conscience!  We can not!

 

Roger:   But, do we judge the motivation of the people?

 

Billy S:  Yes.  We should always judge the motivation of the people.

 

Roger:   I mean, Hitler was compelling in his propaganda, that the Jews were destroying the economy and had secret….

 

Billy S:  Yes.  And, nobody asked him, “what price will we pay for persecuting this segment of our population?”  Nobody asked.  Everyone listened to him and he spoke the words they all felt deep inside but never spoke.  He gave them a goal, a goal that would improve their lives, at what cost he didn’t say.

 

 

Roger:  Billy, it’s been a pleasure, my friend!  I’m really glad I’ve met you!  You’ve given me some new insight on the whole resistance movement and I greatly appreciate that.  I’m sure the audience does as well.  Continue your writing and your good work, and let us know when your new book comes out!

 

Billy S:  Thank you!  I shall do that!  Good night.

 

Roger:  All right, ladies and gentlemen – the Holocaust Series  — I know it’s not as exciting as talking about the presidential probe, the big story of the day.  But, then again, it’s necessary because we’ve got to remember!  Eternal vigilance, ladies and gentlemen, is the key to freedom!  We’ll be back tomorrow night, until then good night and God Bless America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

WHEN THEY CAME TO TAKE MY FATHER: Voices of the Holocaust

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

2-18-1998 Sixteenth Program in Series

 

Guest: Rachel Hager

 

Book:  WHEN THEY CAME TO TAKE MY FATHER: Voices of the Holocaust

 

ISBN-10:  1559703059 and ISBN-13: 155970355

 

 

 

Roger:   Welcome to the program, ladies and gentlemen!  It’s a pleasure to bring you this series.  It’s been a remarkable number of weeks now.  It just gets better and better each and every week!  It’s amazing, the things we learn when you talk to people who actually experience some of the worst nightmares of humanity; and to still have some of theses folks around to tell the stories is quite a blessing, indeed!

 

This week we’re going to talk to Rachel Hager who is senior editor with Parent’s Magazine.  She edited the book, “When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust.”   The book is incredible in itself because of the many stories that are told; but, one of the unique aspects of the book are photographs by Mark Seliger.  The photographs tell stories that the words couldn never tell.  You can see in the faces of these honorable people, the pain, the suffering, the joy and the fascination with life!  It’s amazing to see them in this light!

 

What a wonderful book, Rachel!  Welcome to the show!

 

Rachel H:  Thank you!  Thank you for having me.

 

Roger:  Now, Rachel, for the sake of the audience, would you please give us a little biographical background—what you’re about?

 

Rachel H:  I am actually a child of survivors myself.  The title of the book is taken from the interviews I did with my father who was born in Vienna and experienced Kristallnacht which was a terrible night for all of the Jews in Vienna and Germany.  It was also the night his father was taken to Dachau concentration camp.

 

As a child of survivors, you sort of see life through different eyes because everything that you experience is really experienced through the eyes of your parents, through their experiences.  I think that Benjamin Mead, President of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, really sums it all up when he says that, “When survivors get together they can be talking about carrots or flowers and inevitably the talk comes back to the holocaust.”

 

That’s certainly the way it was for me growing up — everything was before the war—during the war — after the war.   I had a strong sense of the holocaust without every having been told much about it; as a child –there would be snippets of conversation gathered here and there that would suddenly work their way into my subconscious.  I remember riding the subways at a very early age in Brooklyn and was completely terrified of being in the front car where I could see the tracks because although I had no real concept of what cattle cars were, that was instinctively what the subway cars reminded me of.

 

Roger:   Oh, that’s really strange!  I mean, it’s bizarre that you would even make that correlation, not having lived it!

 

Rachel H:  Right!  Interestingly enough, when I got to college I was very fortunate to have Helen Epstein as a professor who is the author of, “Children of the Holocaust.”  In reading her book, I was very surprised to find that experience is actually shared by a number of children of holocaust survivors.  They just have this instinctive “cattle car” feeling.

 

Roger:  Maybe it’s from hearing those stories as a child.  Now, were your parents pretty open about their story?

 

Rachel H:  Yes, pretty much.  Both of my parents were actually very  fortunately not to have been in camps.  My mother was born in Poland and was a child of two when her family moved to Antwerp, Belgium before the war.  She was twelve when the war broke out.  She and her family escaped to France.  The train ride from Brussels to La Champs in the Pyrenees,  normally a 1-1/2 hour train ride,  took 7 days because of all the bombardment and the need to hide at various points.  She and her parents spent the war on the run from one section of France to another.  They had a number of close calls.  In fact, when they were in Nimes, in the south of France, my grandmother had a dream one night that her father, who actually died before the war, and her brother came to her and said, “Raisa! Raisa!  Close the shutters because there is going to be huge storm!”  The next day they got word that the Jews in the area were going to be rounded up so they fled!  In fact, the Germans came to their house about an hour after they had gone.  The pots were still warm on the stove!  So, there were a number of very close calls.

 

I grew up in a community of survivors, so for me this was not unusual.  It was not unusual to have friends whose parents had numbers tattooed on their arms.  I really thought that all Jews had been in the holocaust.  It wasn’t until I got to college that I met any Jews whose families were not!  So, it gives you a different perspective on life.

 

My father’s father, as I mentioned, was in Dachau and  that severely affected him.  My father says that  when he got out, he could not sleep through the night for two years.  He’d wake up screaming and shaking.   In marches outside around the camp in freezing, sub-zero weather with no clothes on, he’d suddenly see people tied alive to trees and left there to die!  He could hear the wails and the screams in the barracks!

 

As a result of some of these experiences, he had a lifelong distaste of stripes.  I remember as a child, my mother would never dress me in anything with stripes when he was visiting because it brought back memories.

 

Roger:   How was it your grandfather survived this, do you know?

 

Rachel H:   My father’s mother had a cousin in Switzerland who actually had an acquaintance who was like a “deep throat.”   They gave him the name, Shimon.  I don’t know what his real name was; but, he was a friend of Himmler.  So, this cousin used that connection and was able to buy a number of Jews out of Dachau.

 

Dachau was one of the earlier concentration camps that was set up and initially  was one of the more severe ones.  There were very few survivors from Dachau.

 

Roger:  I didn’t realize that people were bought out of captivity.

 

Rachel H:  It was not a common practice.  It was a moral dilemma because you knew that on some level this money was going to finance the German war effort.  At the time, if you had the ability to get people out, clearly, you would do everything that you could to save human lives.  I guess it was at a time when that was still possible; but, it used up all of my grandfather’s money trying to get as many people out as he could.

 

Roger:  Boy!  What a story some of these folks have to tell in your book here.  You’ve done a good job putting this book together, condensing the stories.  The photographs!  Tell me how you came to the conclusion that the photographs, which really are the major part of the book, would play such a significant role, because they do!

 

Rachel H:   Yes!  Actually, that is really to Mark Seliger’s credit.  He was the person who conceived of this book and really had always wanted to photograph survivors.  He is Jewish, from Texas, an American for several generation so there was no direct correlation.  But, these people always held a fascination for him and he felt he really wanted to capture them before it was too late!  This  generation is aging and they won’t be with us forever.  He has a unique way of truly, as you pointed out in you introduction, of truly capturing peoples’ souls.  I really think he did an excellent job of that!

 

Roger:  Oh, yes!  I’m looking at these pictures and the faces just tell it all!  It’s unbelievable!  You can see these people and know they are Jewish survivors before you read a word!  It’s just amazing how much you can get from a photograph, or at least, how much Mark is able to put into these photographs.

 

Your folks just kind of bounced around and hid out apparently?

 

Rachel H:  Right.

 

Roger:   They were able to escape some of the worst torment of the time; but, everyone in the book did not have that fortune.

 

Rachel H:   True.

 

Roger:   You have the Mengele twins in your book.  What is their story?

 

Rachel H:  That’s really an amazing story!  They were among the youngest twins to have survived.  In fact, Irene, one of the twins was devastated when people would kind of question her experience.  Afterwards people would say, “you could not possibly have been a Mengele twin because you’re too young.”  To have the double-whammy of going through the experience and then having it questioned is unimaginable!

 

I think the best way to tell her story is to just read some excerpts because her words —-the book is written in first person, that was intentional because of the way that we edited it.  I really felt that nobody could tell these stories better than the people themselves.

 

Roger:  Right!

 

Rachel H:  Just to give you some background, Irene was actually the twin that was experimented on.  Rene, her brother, was the control.

 

…We were with our mother for the first four months at Auschwitz, then one day, I guess, they decided we were old enough to do without her and we were separated.  When it came time for them to take my Mom, she didn’t want to let go of us and we didn’t want to let go of her.  We heard this horrible screaming and one of the guards just hit her and she fell to the ground.  We never saw her again.

 

Rene and I were separated.  Siblings of the opposite sex didn’t get to stay together.  As part of Mengele’s great scientific plan to find a master race, he had a passion for studying twins.  Usually one twin was the control and one was experimented on.  I was the “lucky” one who got to go to the hospital for all kinds of experiments.

 

Could I pick Mengele out?  Never in a million years!  I only remember a doctor in a white coat.  He once gave me candy.  It was all so innocent.  He was our savior and our demon.

You had this ambivalent feeling, wanting him to like you!  I would think, “I’ll be really good and then he’ll be my friend and then he won’t hurt me.”  But, it wasn’t like that!  There were some things that I’ve never spoken about that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to speak about.

 

When you meet Irene, she is amazing; the fact that she’s managed to have a life at all after all of this!   Actually, she struggles with MS and her condition is deteriorating; but, she is such a strong, unbelievably strong person.

 

… I remember once hiding among dead bodies.  I knew that these were dead bodies; but, to me it was what you had to do.  I could see the chimneys day and night.  I knew something terrible was going on; but, I figured when my turn comes, it will be my turn.

 

It’s very hard to find the right words to explain what I felt as a child.  I lost my childhood.  I had no childhood.  I was so scared all the time and I felt so alone.

 

One night I had to go to the bathroom and then tried to come back inside.  It was dark and I got confused.  I didn’t know where my bed was.  I was groping trying to find my way back and people were pushing me away.  “This is not your place,” they said.  Grown people pushing me away!  I felt so rejected, I can’t explain it.   Finally somebody said, “okay, you can stay with me for the night.”

 

At the end she was, basically, just laying on the ground for days wondering what was going to happen.  Finally she was taken by a Polish woman, a gentile, to her house.  At that point, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee came to get her and she was adopted by a family on Long Island.  When they found out that she had a twin brother, they really put themselves out trying to find him.  As it turns out, when the war was over, he was in Czechoslovakia and they actually got him out in 1950, so they were reunited!

 

Roger:  The stories that are told in the book, Rachel, are pretty hard, I think, for people to swallow without tears.  I’m reading the book and just wondering how in the world something like this could happen.  I was really fascinated with one of the quotes you highlights from Isaac Jarkowski,

 

“For each Jew that was denounced,  people got 50 francs.  50 francs at that time was $1.00 – a Jew was worth $1.00”

 

I thought that was really a powerful statement!  People would turn other people in, knowing they were going to be killed for a buck!  It’s almost impossible to fathom that!  I mean, really just unbelievable!

 

In this country, as you well know, people don’t really understand the holocaust.  Really!  It’s different, I suppose, in New York; but, out here in fly-over country, people really don’t get it!   What do you think are the lessons from the holocaust?

 

Rachel H:   Well, there are good lessons and bad lessons.  I think that the…..

 

Roger:   I mean, do you think humanity really learned anything from it?

 

Rachel H:   There is a part of me that…  certainly, I hope so!  There is a part of me that thinks that there are people who have learned from it and who learn from it every day.  I have met countless  young Germans and young Poles, children of Nazis and of Polish sympathizers, who truly will go to their graves trying to make up for what their parents or grandparents did.  So, I think that there are people that certainly have learned!  But, I think as a whole, we haven’t because it happens all the time in different forms, whether it’s in Bosnia or …. not to equate it all because I actually am of the mind that the holocaust was unique, that it was very organized, very orchestrated and basically, the world was silent!

 

It wasn’t happening far away in one country, it was direct.   Go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.   You can see aerial photographs that American reconnaissance planes took.  How do you explain that?  I know that the response to that is, “we didn’t want to bomb the camps because we didn’t want to kill innocent people.”  Well, guess what?  People were being killed anyway!  Maybe they could have stopped it sooner.   So, I fear that we haven’t learned.

 

Roger:   John Klein said this in the book, “Those who say we should forgive and forget, have nothing to forgive and nothing to forget.  I cannot forgive and I cannot forget.”  In my right-of-center political sphere, I’m always saying to political groups, “forgive and forget,”  You know, move on!  This put kind of a new spin on that for me.  What do I have to forgive?  What do I have to forget?  Those are powerful messages that come from the heart and soul of those people that lived through this tragic time!  Boy, I’ll tell you, you’ve done a wonderful job!

By the way, if people want to get the book, how do they do that?

 

Rachel H:   They can get it at any Barnes & Noble or major bookstore, or call Arcade Publishing in New York  212-475-2633.  The title of the book is, “When They Came to Take My Father.”  Mark Seliger is the primary name.

 

Roger:  The photographs are wonderful!  Rachel, hang on, we’ve got to take a break.  Folks, Rachel Hager is our guest this evening.  She is the senior editor for Parents’ Magazine and also one of the editors for this wonderful book filled with some of the most impressive stories and finest photographs I’ve ever seen!  The photographs themselves just tell a story that can’t be told in any other way.  You can ask Rachel some questions.  We’ll take calls after the break.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  I’m Roger Fredinburg.  Our guest this evening is Rachel Hager.  She is senior editor for Parents’ Magazine and editor of this wonderful, wonderful book, “When They Came to Take My Father.”  Photographic evidence of survivors and the pain, suffering and joy is all there in the pictures!  Great stories with some incredible quotes; quotes that I think will give you whole new thinking on this issue — this one is from Irving Miltzberg, “The Poles had an expression, they’d say, “from now on soap is going to get expensive because there are no Jews from which to make it anymore.”

 

Tom Lantos, the democrat from California whose politics I have denounced  here on this program many a time—- I did not know he was a survivor.  Tom Lantos talks about  being fortunate that he was a tall, blond Aryan-looking fellow.  It kept him out of some trouble.  He escaped 17 times from work camps!  He describes situations where the Germans and SS would have you pull down your pants because only Jews were circumcised and then it was easy for them to tell—then they’d send you off to camp!  Powerful stuff, Rachel!

 

Rachel H:  Yes.

 

Roger:  Now, Tom Lantos, I did not know he was a survivor.  It’s a very interesting story, his wife is a cousin to Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor?  I always just disliked his politics, you know?

 

Rachel H:   Ha, ha!

 

Roger:  But, having read the story about him it gives insight as to where he’s coming from!

 

Rachel H:   Does it make you regret denouncing his politics?

 

Roger:   Oh, not at all!  No, no!  America is built on good discourse on politics; but, it gives me insight to the man.  In other words, where I might have really disliked the man, I have a whole different feeling for him now.  And, I wouldn’t have had that had I not read the book and had the opportunity to share his life story.  So, that in itself is kind of fascinating.  Do you want to take a few phone calls?

 

Rachel H:  Sure.

Roger:   Alright!  Let’s go to John in Bemidji, Minnesota.  Hello, John!

 

Caller-John:  Hello, Roger!  I don’t know a lot about this subject; but, from what I’ve heard, about half of the people who died in these death camps were part of the Jewish holocaust or genocide.  When I was on a trip over there with my family, our one vacation to Europe, my kids wanted to go to Dachau so we went.  I was looking in these books where they had the names of people who were inmates or prisoners there and their disposition; either they died, or they were transferred, or they were set free.  I may have even been looking at her grandfather’s name there possibly!  The clergymen were marked.  I was wondering if you guest has and notion about how many of the inmates at Dachau were part of the Jewish holocaust, victims of the holocaust?

 

Rachel H:   I’m afraid I don’t have precise numbers; but, I would say in terms of the holocaust in general, that the number of victims who were Jewish is more than half.

 

Caller-John:  Well, I was just going by what they seem to be saying on TV when they talk about this sort of thing.

 

The thing that struck me, looking at these books, is that almost all the clergymen—almost every one—in these books I was looking at in Dachau—were Catholic priests.  You mentioned that it was one of the earlier camps.  My daughter has a doctorate in history and I was talking to one of her associates who’s a history buff.   He said the Catholic centrist party in Germany resisted the Nazis, some of them resisted the Nazis—talked against them, along with other resistors or political dissidents.   Dachau was one of the first camps the Nazis opened up and they threw them in there.

 

Rachel H:   Um hum.  That wouldn’t surprise me.  Disagreeing with the Nazis would certainly be enough to get them placed there.

 

Caller-John:   I think that’s how they held on to power.  They were hanging on by their fingernails in the beginning.  If you were a communist or a monarchist or some kind of conservative, they just threw you in the camp and that was it!

 

Rachel H:  I think that people forget that this was very, very organized, everybody thought that they were safe.  They started with certain groups;  initially it was only German or Austrian Jews; but, if you were a French Jew in France you were okay.   If you were a Belgian Jew who had run away to France you were not okay.  It kind of kept people in constant guessing and constant fear of what would happen next!

 

Caller-John:  Yes, I guess that’s true!  You made a comment I thought was sort of disingenous, that the United States could have stopped that genocide earlier, almost implying like they chose not to!

I just disagree with that!  The blood that was let, not so much by the United States; but by the English and the Russians fighting these Nazis — they saw tens of thousands of their people dying fighting these people!  They poured the coal on and the United States poured the coal on; bombing every day!  The British bombed every day and the Americans bombed at night.

 

Roger:  You know, in the book….

 

Caller-John:   The blew up factories right beside these camps and didn’t bomb the camps!  I’m not sure if they knew exactly that they were death camps though.  Eisenhower said that he didn’t know until they over-ran them!

 

Roger:   John, thank you very much!  I think they knew a lot more than they told.  History, of course, will reveal some of the truths.  We’re seeing that now with the Swiss gold and things that are going on, now finding out that American gold was melted down and recirculated in Nazi camps— a lot of things we did not know a few years ago.  Now it’s really beginning to open up.  It’s all most unusual; but, we’re seeing a lot more evidence and a lot more stories come to light, aren’t we Rachel?

 

Rachel H:  Yes, unfortunately, that’s true.  I’m very thankful to be in America.  I am American.  I am first generation American and very partiotic; but, I do think that each and every country knew a lot more than they…..

 

Roger:   I was just reading a quote by Max Jukers.  I think the guy’s got a little bit of sense of humor here.  He says, “After the war we went out into the streets of the city and couldn’t believe what we saw, so many dead bodies; in the water, everywhere!  I had to carry my horse on my back!  He refused to go because of all the dead bodies.”

 

Rachel H:   Right!  He wasn’t kidding!

 

Roger:  Ha, ha!

 

Rachel H:  Ha, ha!  Believe it or not! Beyond the bodies that were actually dead, there were countless Jews who went back to their lands of birth were greeted— my mother and her parents included, went back to Antwerp, Belgium and their neighbor looked at them and said, “What are you doing here?  I thought Hitler killed all the Jews.”  That’s a nice welcome home.

 

Roger:  Isn’t that something?  The spiritual aspects of this, the religious aspects — I know some Jews that really got more religious because of their experience; but, others became atheists because of it.  In other words, if there was a God, how could this happen?  What do you suppose the percentages are?  I mean of the number of people that became more spiritual and those who denounced God?

 

Rachel H:   I think that probably a somewhat larger percentage of people probably denounced God, although it’s probably more even than some people think, in terms of people who got more religious.

 

Frederick Cherna is an interesting case in point.  He grew up in a very kind of intelligentsia, not a very religious environment to begin with.  The war soured him completely.  He was in Theresinstadt and several camps after that.  He made a point during my interview with him, consistently saying that he was a atheist, that he didn’t believe in God.  Yet, every Saturday —-he was married for the second time to a younger woman and had a small child — every Saturday he took this child to synagogue.  He would sit there.  He wouldn’t pray; but, he would sit there and suddenly feel peaceful.  I asked him.  I said, “Why do you feel drawn to a spiritual place of worship if you don’t believe that there is a God?’  He had no answer!

 

 

Roger:   Maybe that was his answer.

 

Rachel Hager is our guest, ladies and gentlemen.  She is senior editor of Parents’ Magazine and editor of this book, “When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust” photographs by Mark Seliger.  What an incredible bunch of photographs they are!

We’ll be right back!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  Rachel Hager is our guest.  We’re talking about the book, “When They Came to Take My Father,” a wonderful book filled with just captivating stories about people who survived the holocaust with photographs by Mark Seliger, some of the finest photographs you’ll ever see in your life!  Just amazing work!

 

Rachel, another wonderful quote, probably the one that was the most unsettling for me, was Flora Hagner’s quote, “I think I shut off all understanding.  The only thing I knew was that my mother wasn’t there and I knew I wasn’t supposed to say I was a Jew.  In some way, I guess I knew I wasn’t supposed to exist.”  That’s a powerful statement because I think it really sums up the feeling that a lot of people must have had, that “we’re not supposed to exist!”

 

Rachel H:  Right!

 

Roger:   And they almost didn’t exist!  Powerful!

 

Rachel H:   But, these survivors are actually testimony to the fact that they do continue to exist and that Hitler was not successful!  That was the driving force that really pushed a lot of people on.  One man, Feldinger, said that the only thing that got him through was knowing that his father had said to him, when all this is over you have to go home.  That was what kept him alive during Auschwitz.

 

Roger:  Oh, boy.   Let’s go to Larry in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  You’re on the radio, Larry!

 

Caller-Larry:  Good evening, Rachel and Roger!  Rachel, my mother-in-law who is 89 now and lives with us, was in a convent in Budapest Hungary in 1937 going to be a nun.  She had not taken her vows yet.  She was a family friend with some Jewish people.  To save this Jewish man’s life, who is my father-in-law, she married him!  The priest there helped with paperwork saying that he was Catholic.  Unfortunately, my father-in-law’s sister died at Dachau.  My mother-in-law saved my father-in-law, saved his ex-wife and his son.  I guess there are stories all over the world where people have really done a lot of things to save these people  Of course, thank God for me, I got to marry their daughter!  He escaped  from the communists in Hungary in 1956 with his son.  My wife came over in 1960.

 

Roger, you might remember this!  It was on the news when Douglas Edwards did the news; my father-in-law knew Garst in Iowa who Kruschev stayed with back in 1960.  Does that sound right?

 

Roger:  I wasn’t there, Larry.

 

Caller-Larry:  Well anyway, he wrote him a letter in 1959 and Mr. Garst talked to Kruschev and they made a big deal about letting my mother-in-law and my wife who was 13 years old at the time.  It was on  Douglas Edwards news.  For some reason or other, I remember it even though I was only 13 years old.

 

I guess I’m going to get your book because I’m sure your book is full of great stories of people pretty much committed everything, including their life, to save people.

 

Roger:  This is the kind of book, Larry, that you put on the coffee table in the living room and everybody is going to spend hours thumbing through it.  They won’t be able to put it down!  Just because the photographs add so much to it.  It’s really a compelling book!

 

Caller-Larry:  Awhile ago, Roger, you were talking about having trouble, even though you’ve never been on a cattle car.  My wife, right now, does not talk about things like that.  If it hadn’t been for my father-in-law and mother-in-law I would never have known because, even though she was born in 1947, she knew what her father had went through.  He’d lost everything!  He was a very wealthy man back in the 1930s and between Hitler and the Communists, they took it all!  It was a bad deal all around.  Like I said, there’s a lot of people in the world that have the same story.

 

Roger:  Larry, thank you very much!  We appreciate you sharing with us.  Rachel, one more time, give the publisher’s infomration so people can order it that way if they can’t find it in their bookstore.

 

Rachel H:  Sure!  The name of the publisher is Arcade Publishing.  They’re in New York.  It’s an imprint of Little Brown.  The phone number is 212-475-2633.

 

Roger:  Alright, let’s go to Brian in Central Point, Oregon.  Brian, very quickly because we’re running tight on time.

 

Caller-Brian:  I understand.  I was reading Einstein’s biography and some friends mine too, discussing things that are similar to that time in Germany here in the United States.  With Germany, you could go to another country and get away from it all.  What do we do in this country when you see the government doing things like this creeping up?  It’s not as bad as the holocaust; but, you can see it’s eventually going to come with Christians and the anti-semitism and things going on.  What do we do?

 

Roger:  Well, we have to fight against it, Brian.  You know, that’s a good question!  Maybe real quickly, Rachel, before you go—-do you find when you interview these folks, did any of them have regrets they didn’t see it coming soon and fight against it harder?

 

Rachel H:  I think they all live with intense guilt complexes for having survived, for not having fought even through they couldn’t have fought.  And, mostly for surviving when others did not.  But, I think your point is absolutely correct.  What we do is we fight against it when we see the early signs.  I think that at the time it was unfathomable that any human being could do these things to another human being.  The point was that Jews were not looked at as human beings.  They were demoted to animal status in peoples’ minds.  So, it didn’t matter.

 

 

Roger:  And maybe in their own minds because of the conditions were horrible!  Rachel, I appreciate your being here.  It’s been a wonderful hour!  Your book is wonderful!  Your work is wonderful!  Mark’s work is fantastic!  I just want to thank you folks for leaving this legacy!

 

Rachel H:  Thank you!

 

Roger:  Thank you and God bless! Alright folks, that’s Rachel Hager.  You can order it at your bookstore, “When They Came to Take My Father: Voices of the Holocaust,” photographs by Mark Seliger.  I’ll tell you something, you could have this on the coffee table and everyone would want to look at it!  It’s that good!  It’s really good!
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

Hitler and His Secret Partners: Contributions, Loot and Rewards: 1933 to 1945

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

11-12-1007  Third Program in Series

 

Guest:   James E. Pool, Author

 

Hitler and His Secret Partners: Contributions, Loot and Rewards: 1933 to 1945

 

ISBN-10: 0671760923 and ISBN-13: 978-0671760823

 

 

Roger:     Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!  I’m Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy!  Nice to have you aboard!  We’re continuing our series on The Holocaust: We Must Remember.  Last week we had James Pool with us.  We talked about Hitler’s early days, 1919 to 1933.  His book is  “Who Financed Hitler.”   We have James Pool back with us this week, a continuation, his second book “Hitler and His Secret Partners: Contributions, Loot and Rewards – 1933 to 1945.”  We’ll pick up where we left off last week with Hitler in the midst of the Great Depression and rising to power where he eventually becomes chancellor of Germany, and beyond that to his fortunate end and demise.  I’d like to welcome James Pool back.  James, how are you?

 

James:  Fine, Roger!

 

Roger:    Nice to have you back, my friend!  Where we left off last week, we had a lot of very interesting calls after you were off the other day, this evening we’ll handle those questions.  I didn’t want to get off the time frame last week.  We did have some challenging calls last week after we let you go last time so we’ll take them now when you can answer for yourself, okay?

 

James:   Okay!

 

Roger:     We’ll have some fun with that!  I think we left off when Hitler was miring around in the Depression and rebuilding the party.  People were once again beginning to listen to him because the economy was bad and his message was resonating with the people.

 

James:  Exactly!  The Depression became so bad in Germany that one third of the workforce was unemployed.  Under those conditions, the Nazis started to win a tremendous number of popular votes and became the largest party in Germany.  At that point, the conservative nationalists whose following was diminishing, decided that their only chance was to try to put together some kind of coalition with Hitler. In 1933 they formed a coalition government with Hitler.  A lot of people don”t realize that when Hitler first came to power in the 1933 it was part of a coalition government in which the conservatives held all the powerful positions.  They held the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Economics and the Foreign Ministry.  They thought they had Hitler pretty well controlled!  They thought they could use his as somebody to bring the mass following into their camp.  On the other hand, Hitler was planning to take advantage of them; to work with them only as long as he needed them.  So it was kind of a coalition of….

 

Roger:  Well, we see that today in Israel, for example. Benjamin Netanyahu’s got to watch his       Ps & Qs because if he doesn’t meet the standards of certain groups he’s going to lose!

 

James:  Yes.  On the other hand, these were real crooks!  They were really planning to take advantage of each other, and as we’ll see, murder each other if they had to!

 

At first Hitler behaved himself.  In fact, there are photos in the book showing Hitler and Prince August Wilhelm, the son of the former Kaiser.  Hitler and Goering, during this period, almost always had this Prince with them, because they were promising the old conservatives that they would bring the Kaiser back.  Also from this period, if you see pictures of Hitler and President Hindenburg.  Hindenburg was still president and actually held more power than Hitler did as chancellor.   When Hitler greets Hindenburg he bows so low it almost looks ridiculous!  In fact, there’s a good story about that.  Shortly after he became chancellor, at some sort of state function party, one of the royal  family, Princess Louisa (who was known to be rather short, fat and ugly) was talking with Hitler.  She wanted some refreshments so he bowed and went off to get her wine and refreshments.  Of course, the gossip columnists really had a field day with this!  They were saying the chancellor was behaving like a flunky because never before had the German Chancellor run off to get some princess’s refreshments!

 

That kind of behavior continued for awhile; at first trying to play un to the old conservative nationalists.  However, these people, these conservative nationalists, had a lot of the same goals that he did!  Even during this period while President Hindenburg was still alive, Hitler started the boycott against Jewish businesses.  Basically, this was the first phase of the holocaust!  Nazi goons would gather outside a Jewish business and keep customers from going in, unless they wanted to risk being beaten up by these Nazi bullies.  The boycott didn’t work very well because soon after the Nazis started it, they began to get complaints some of Hitler’s own financiers.  The bankers were worried that if the Jewish department stores didn’t do any business, the stores would go bankrupt and the bankers, some of the very people who helped finance Hitler, wouldn’t be able to collect on their loans!

 

Roger:  The old Catch 22!

 

James:  Exactly!  It’s kind of funny!  In fact, one of things Hitler wanted was to confiscate Jewish department stores!   The problem racists run into;  and they don’t give much thought to this, is “what is a Jewish department store?”  Is it Jewish if the owner and management are Jewish but the employees aren’t?   That was the case at many places in Germany.  The employees, some of whom were Nazi party members, petitioned Hitler to keep the department store open because they’d be thrown out of work during the Depression!  Some other department stores might have Jewish management but they were public companies with stockholders.   So it’s kind of amusing, some of the problems racists run into when they try some of the ridiculous stuff!

 

Roger:   Oh, the quagmires!   So, Hitler, as chancellor, had other clearly identifiable goals.  At some point we head toward dictatorship.  What were the steps that there?

 

James:   Hitler began this re-armament, preparing to go to war.  A few years into his regime, President Hindenburg died.  Hindenburg had been the great field martial of WWI.  He was respected by all classes of the German people.  When Hindenburg died, the industrialists, the army and the Nazis got together.  There was some question over who would succeed him as chief of state; whether it would be  the Kaiser’s son, Prince August Wilhelm, a general or Hitler.  They decided on Hitler.  That marks the beginning of Hitler’s dictatorship.  But, a lot of power still remained with the partners!  They still controlled the army.  That was the deal Hitler cut with the army in order to be president, president and chancellor, that is in effect dictator.  The deal was that he would not interfere in army affairs.

 

Roger:  As Hitler gained that kind of power, you are obviously not going to stop him.  In Chapter 3 of your book there’s a fascinating story about a power struggle between Hitler and his partners.  I thought you might go into that story and talk about the extravagant party and what was going on there.  It’s a really interesting story I’d like you to share with the audience.

 

James:  Will you refresh my memory a little bit?

 

Roger:  Where people were being killed, his own people, when he was a the big party.

 

James:  Yes!  This is a situation; a man I had mentioned last week, who had really helped build the party up from the beginning, his name was Ernst Rohm.  He was an army captain who was also gay.  This was something Hitler seemed to tolerate very well.  There were rumors they might even have had an affair at one time.  I was not able to substantiate those rumors.  Once Hitler became chancellor, he appointed Ernst Rohm as the leader of the Storm Troopers, the Browshirts.  They numbered about 500,000 men!  Remember that at this time, the German army was restricted by treaty to be no larger than 100,000 men.  So, here you had these Brownshirts whose number was five times the size of the regular army!  They were really a potential threat and could have taken over the regular army!

 

There was a showdown betwen Hitler, the generals and the industrialists.  The generals and industrialists said, ‘Get rid of Rohm!” Rohm was socialist -leaning, primarily because all the Brownshirts were, basically, unemployed and they wanted to take over the factories.  Hitler agreed to get rid of Rohm.  That was called “The Blood Purge” in which he surprised Rohm and some of his lieutenants at a resort in Bavaria. Rohm was gay and some of his key lieutenants were gay.  They found some of them in bed with young boys, some were in bed with each other.  Hitler surprised them with his SS bodyguards, shot some of them on the spot and had the others brought back to Berlin in chains.

 

He couldn’t bring himself to give the orders to execute his friend, Rohm.   He had Rohm arrested at the resort and brought back to Berlin.  Rohm is sitting in prison the day after his lieutenants had been shot.  Hitler had a diplomatic reception; a fine party with waiters in white livery and gloves serving champagne on silver trays, and some observant reporters noticed that Hitler was very uneasy.  Rumors had been going around that something was going on; but, none of this was in the media, that Hitler had conducted this purge the night before.  But observant reporters notice Hitler was very edgy at this party.  At one point a lady dropped a glass, and when the glass hit the floor and shattered, Hitler jumped!  It was an instinctive reaction.  Remember, Hitler was an infantryman in WWI and when he heard something that sounded like a shot, he reacted instinctively.  During the party a messenger came in and gave a message to Hitler.  He wrote a note back saying he’d finally made up his mind during the party to have his friend, Rohm, shot!  He gave Rohm the opportunity to kill himself.  Rohm said, ‘if Adolf wants me dead, let him come do it himself.”   Hitler wasn’t about to do that, so he gave the order to have Rohm shot. So while Hitler and the generals partied, Rohm and some of the very men who had worked with Hitler from the beginning, some of the most devoted Nazis, were stood up against the wall and shot at a military barracks a couple of miles away.

 

Roger :   This was all party of the underlying power struggle?

 

James:  Exactly!  You said that there are coalition governments and parliamentary democracies; but, not like this!  In this, the various partners were planning each other’s executions!

 

Roger:     It was a matter of survival—kill or be killed!  That’s the position they ended up in.

 

James:     And they were fighting over the loot!   Who was going to get control of all this?

 

Roger:    You say Hitler was given his orders.  What was that?

 

James:    That was basically talking about the situation with Rohm and the Brownshirts who wanted to take over from the army.  Before that purge, before Rohm was shot, Gustav Krupp, the great steel tycoon came to Berlin to talk to Hitler to complain.  He said that the Brownshirts must go!  Hitler still wavered because the Brownshirts were a tremendous paramilitary force, a militia.

 

Roger:   I watched a German propaganda film the other day.  It took me through a bunch of marches and incredible crowds of people surrounding Hitler, the Hitler Youth, the tens of thousands of young kids; 13, 14, 15 years old!  It just blew my mind, Jim!   We saw some of the grotesque Auschwitz kind of films in school; but, we didn’t see any of this propaganda stuff!  Unbelievable numbers of young people who were loyal to Hitler!  It was just amazing!  They were a very dynamic group, scary people!

 

James:   In the book I have a photograph of Hitler standing with his hands on a little boy’s shoulders.  The sort of satanic eyes, the mesmerism coming out of Hitler’s eyes!   The way he controlled the youth of Germany!  In fact, he had a saying.  He would say, “Whether you join us or not, I really don’t care.  Your children are already our followers.  We will control the next generation.”  That militarism, that propaganda that was his greatest skill!  Remember those torchlight rallies!

 

Roger:   Telling young boys, ‘you are the future of Germany— you are the German race—you are the best, the brightest, the strongest’ — YOU ARE THE CHOSEN FEW!

 

James:    What kid doesn’t want to play soldiers?  A lot of kids fell for this.  They got to handle a rifle so this had a great deal of appeal.  Hitler Youth was a big factor in Hitler’s corner.

 

Roger:   At this time Hitler has taken control of the government, seen to it that those who present a threat in his immediate cabinet were taken care of—THEY’RE GONE!  Hitler still had a difficult economy to deal with.  He’s in the middle of a Depression and he’s got to rebuild and re-arm.  How does he do that?

 

James:  One problem sort of solved the other.  As he started to re-arm, it put a lot of people back to work.  That tied into Hitler Youth because as they were being trained to put on the uniforms of the reserves of the regular army when they turned 18.  They built up a large military reserve.  The first military step Hitler took was the re-occupation of the Rhineland.

 

Roger:  Where did he get the money, Jim?

 

James:   At this stage, most of the money was from contributions he got from the German industrialists.  They were borrowing hand to mouth to get the re-armament this far.  They were still too poor to go to war.  You can put Hitler Youth boys in uniform, you can produce riflers for them; but, it takes a lot of money to buy and produce heavy artillery, tanks, airplanes.  They did not have that yet.

 

In order to get that (money), they had to look someplace else.  They had to look at the small countries on their borders.  The plan was pretty simple.  Attack these countries one by one, overrun them, loot them, steal their gold reserve, use their gold reserves to buy Swedish steel needed to building tanks and artillery, to gradually build up the military machine.  This is what he did.  Austria was the first small country he over-ran.

 

Roger:    Did the king of England help Hitler re-arm?

 

James:   At that very crucial early phase of the rearmament, even before he occupied Austria, his first step was into the de-militarized Rhineland.  Basically, he was going to fortify the River Rhine because unless he could do that, France could easily cross into Germany at any time.  He was vulnerable.  When he started to re-occupy the Rhineland, it was a violation of the Treaty of Versailles.  France and England would have been justified in sending troops into Germany.  They could have easily defeated him at that stage.  He wasn’t nearly strong enough.  But, the King of England, Edward VIII, intervened with the British government on Hitler’s behalf, to let Hitler go ahead and re-arm the Rhineland.  That was a tremendous help he gave to Hitler!  Hitler was still vulnerable at that stage.

 

Roger:  At this point his anti-semitism becomes pretty blatant, doesn’t it?

 

James:  Very much so!   As soon as the Nazi’s took over in Germany, even before Hindenburg’s death, they started to throw the Jews out of all government jobs and out of the professions.  This was done by a goon squad of Nazis that would show up at a town courthouse.  They’d go in and physically grab any Jewish judges or lawyers, rip their robes off and throw them out in the street!  Just as simple as that!

 

Roger:  You’ve been fired!

 

James:  Exactly!  Many Jews started to leave the country, those who could afford to.  Some were too patriotic in their German patriotism, they thought it couldn’t get any worse, so a lot of Jews stayed, unfortunately.

 

Roger:  Jim, we’ve got to take a break.  Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening, for the second week in a row, is James Pool, author of the book, “Hitler and His Secret Partners.”   Just hang with us, we’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover, then we’ll open up for phone calls.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   We’re back with James Pool!  James, as Hitler was re-arming: he’s got an army along the Rhine now, to protect himself from France, doesn’t that spark England and France to re-arm as well?

 

James:  Not to the extent that Germany did.  You have to remember, they had never really dis-armed.  You have a very large French army, probably at least four times the size of the German army.  Britain had a large navy.  It’s army was not as big.  They really weren’t beginning re-armament yet.  Hitler’s first military move was into Austria.  There was no armed resistance by the Austrian government.  They decided that resistance against Germany would be ridiculous because the Germans outnumbered them.

 

As soon as German troops rolled into Austria, German bankers and industrialists followed to claim the various properties they wanted.  For example, the Rothschild Palace, within the first hours of occupation, was looted by the Nazis who just tore out silver candlabras, paintings, and all things of value.  There’s a good account of that in the book William Shirer wrote.  He was a great reporter and was right on the scene in Austria when the occupation took place.  He watched the Nazis loot the Rothschild Palace.  It didn’t just happen to wealthy Jews, it happened to ordinary Jews.  The Nazis might roll a truck up outside a delicatessen and loot the place; carry out the big sausages, the big wursts and roll of cheese, just empty the place to four walls!

 

Some Nazis played a different tactic.  For example, where an Austrian Nazi worked in restaurant, they’d just throw the Jewish owner out, install themselves behind the cash register and put up a new sign saying UNDER ARYAN MANAGEMENT!  That was it!

 

Roger:  Who got the loot when they took this stuff?

 

James:   It was all prearranged because, naturally, if it had been every man for himself as far as the Nazis were concerned, they would have been shooting at each other!  My research confirmed this was all prearranged.  For example, the big chemical companies went to the German chemical cartel, IG Farben.  Krupp, a financier of Hitler got some of the big Austrian steel companies.  Dr.  Schacht, a banker who supported Hitler in the early days, was one of the first ones in Austria to claim the gold reserve.  The Austrians had a nice big gold reserve.  He claimed that gold reserve for the German Reichsbank.  It was by looting that Austrian gold reserve that Hitler had the new infusion of cash to keep him going; to buy more tanks, more artillery, more planes to set him up for the next phase, the attack on  Czechoslovakia.

 

Czechoslovakia was a key strategic point because France had an alliance with Czechoslovakia and Poland and other eastern European countries.  The Czechs were a very industrious people.  They had very good industry.  Their army was small; but, it was one of the best equipped.  Far better equipped than the German army was!  They had the newest artillery.  Hitler wanted to get those Czech weapons.  He wasn’t quite sure he had enough to attack Czechoslovakia itself yet; so he worked the famous Munich Agreement with the British, Neville Chamberlain.  Basically, Britain sold out the Czechs!  Chamberlain’s excuse was he did it to prevent war. Actually, I believe he had other motives, a deal worked out with some of Hitler’s financiers to turn Czechoslovakia over to Germany.

 

Roger:     A lot of the western people that we think would be the folks who would stand firm against the whole concept of Nazism actually helped bring Hitler to greater power!

 

James:    Definitely!  The reason was, especially when we talk about somebody like Chamberlain….. remember, the basic goal of Hitler and his partners, these industrialists, these ultra-nationalists, we to build a great German empire in eastern Europe when the countries of Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia were.  People  like Chamberlain thought there would be tremendous business opportunities if Germany was to occupy all those countries.  If Britain was in good with the German government and those countries were opened up, it would be like opening up the American West.   When we talk about Chamberlain this brings us to another individual who was influential at that time, Joe Kennedy, who was the United States Ambassador to Britain.

 

Roger:    Good old Joe!

 

James:   Joe, for people who don’t remember, was JFK’s father.  At that time, John Kennedy was just a kid in college.  Joe was the US Ambassador in Britain.  People who knew him well knew that he had definite anti-semitic tendencies.  His background was as a stock market trader, a  stock market manipulator who had put together a lot of famous takeover deals.  A lot of people think takeover deals are new; but, Joe Kennedy had been putting them together in Hollywood, one studio taking over another, back in the 1920s.  He made contemptuous references to Jewish executives in Hollywood calling them “pants pressers” and things like that because earlier in life they might have worked in the dry cleaning trade.  It was known by some people that he had anti-semitic tendencies.  When he got to Britain he was definitely pro-Hitler.  He was very much anti-communist and thought Hitler was a good defense against communism.  He was also, like Chamberlain, looking for new business opportunities with this eastern German empire if Hitler was allowed to expand to the east.

 

Now, I make a statement in the book that Joe Kennedy bore some responsibility for the holocaust because of something he said to the German Ambassador in Britain.  They were at a diplomatic reception, a party, and he said to the German Ambassador….remember, this is when the situation in Germany was they were persecuting the Jews, smashing the windows of Jewish businesses and some perceptive people in the United States were complaining about it…. Joe Kennedy was feeling some heat, so he said to the German ambassador, using the example of a private club in Boston that hadn’t had a Jewish member in 50 years, so he said,  “You know, this kind of discrimination against the Jews goes on in the United States, but we do it quietly!  You could get rid of the Jews if you just do it quietly don’t make such a fuss about it.”

 

Roger:   Oh, Lord!  Hold it right there, we’ve got to have a break.  Hang with us!  We’ll take calls in a little bit!

 

COMMERICAL BREAK

 

Roger:   We’re back with James Pool!  Last week we learned that Henry Ford, creator of the Ford Motor Company, was involved early on with financing Hitler.  Tonight we learn that Camelot, America’s prize royal family, the Kennedys, supported Adolf Hitler!  This is unbelievable, James!  Did Kennedy offer financial support or just moral support?

 

James:    At this stage, at this party in London, he had told the German diplomat, in effect, ‘you can get rid of the Jews if you just do it quietly.’   I think what Kennedy meant by this was discrimination against the Jews in business, kicking them out of various professions, maybe even expelling them from the country.  But, the diplomat immediately wired this back to Berlin!  The next morning, Hitler’s morning routine was, first of all, his attaches brought him the major news stories that happened overnight and the major diplomatic wires that came in.  They filtered through them at first, but he always wanted to see everything that had to do with the Jews or anti-semitism and anything to do with major powers.  So this statement by Kennedy who was from an ambassador of a major power, the United States, and it had to do with the Jews so it was one of the first things across Hitler’s desk the next day!  When Hitler saw this: YOU CAN GET RID OF THE JEWS IF YOU JUST DO IT QUIETLY— in his mind, he’d been planning to get rid of the Jews— he wasn’t thinking of kicking them out of the country, he was thinking of exterminating them!

 

Roger:   He saw this as an endorsement!

 

 

James:   Exactly! “Kill the Jews if you just do it quietly!”  Sure enough, when the holocaust was actually put into effect, they put up those concentration camps in remote locations in Poland and eastern Europe where nobody actually saw what was happening.  They shipped the Jews out to, in effect, kill them quietly.

 

Roger:  You also mentioned Charles Lindbergh in your book.  How is he connected with all this?

 

James:   At the time of the so-called Munich Conference, when Chamberlain sold out the Czechs, Lindbergh had been touring Europe and he was very impressed by the German Air Force.  Like Kennedy, he had anti-semitic tendencies.  He had a lot of admiration for the Nazi Luftwaffe.  He and Kennedy conspired together.  Lindbergh wrote up some kind of document saying that in any struggle, the German Air Force would defeat the British Air Force easily.  Kennedy gave this to Chamberlain before the Munich Conference and Chamberlain used it as an excuse to sell out the Czechs.  In other words, Britain isn’t strong enough for war yet so we’ll let Hitler go ahead and have Czechoslovakia.

 

Roger:  Wow!  These are folk heroes!  These are American folk heroes!  Joseph Kennedy, the Irishman with the whiskey brogue! Charles Lindbergh!  He’s one of the greatest aerial heroes!  For people who are into flying, they have his picture on their wall!

 

James:    Like Henry Ford,  Lindbergh was very brilliant in his field as  far as flying was concerned; but, when he got into politics, he was just out of his depth, so he fell for some of the Jewish conspiracy stuff!  If there’s any doubt about it, later on he started the America First Party, supposed to keep America out of war; but basically, he didn’t want to go to war with Germany.  Some place out in the midwest, I think it was Des Moines, he gave a very anti-semitic kind of speech in which he said that the Jews were trying to drag us into war.  Then there was no more doubt about Lindbergh’s anti-semitism.

 

Roger:  What were some of the other big names involved in financing Adolf Hitler?

 

James:  At that stage, the big German companies had something called The Adolf Hitler Fund.  That started shortly after Hitler became Chancellor.  Gustav Krupp, the great steel man, was appointed head of The Adolf Hitler Fund.  He wrote a letter to a lot of other powerful German industrialists saying, “Whoever helps quickly, helps doubly” in order to solicit funds for Hitler.

 

Roger:   What did these people get in return for the money they gave Hitler?

 

James:  In the first stage in Germany, they got the confiscated Jewish property.  The little Nazi got the job of the Jewish school teacher who was thrown out of his position.  The big Nazi like Gustav Krupp, would get a steel factory that was confiscated from wealthier Jews.  These were the sort of rewards that were handed out at first.  Then when he invaded Austria, they kept dividing up more Jewish property among the people who had financed him.

 

When he over-ran Czechoslovakia, it was looting the gold reserve and all the weapons of the Czech army.  After the looting of Czechoslovakia they were almost strong enough to go to war with France!

 

There were stories from reporters on the scene who said after the Germans over-ran Czechoslovakia, for about the next month or two, every night there were just rows after rows of German trucks full of  Czech valuables, raw materials, taking them over the border into Germany.  Every night!

 

Roger:  We’ll be back with James Pool to continue this discussion after the break.  Please stay tuned.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:     Welcome back to the program!  I’m Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy!  We are in week 3 in our 20 week series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember.  For the second week, James Pool is with us discussing his second book, “Hitler and His Secret Partners: Contributions, Loot and Rewards: 1933-1945”   So far we have talked about Hitler becoming the Chancellor, some of the power struggles, the lack of funds.  Then, of course, the sudden discovery of those monies, and who helped finance him.

 

Interestingly, Joseph Kennedy, in London as our Ambassador from the United States, sort of encouraged Hitler to get rid of the Jews!  This is very powerful! Charles Lindbergh, another American folk hero, was also very supportive of Hitler’s military, his Air Force, and helped to establish that Chamberlain would not try to stop the Germans from taking over Czechoslovakia!

 

Jim, we need pick up the pace a bit so we can get some phone calls in.  I’d like to get right up to the things that happened leading up to the actual holocaust, the genocide that became part of the whole Nazi movement!

 

James:  We’re right at that point now.  Once he over-ran the three small countries; Austria, Czechoslovakia and when he attacked Poland, that was the war!  When war began, the holocaust was put into operation.  In Nazi terminology, the code words were “the final solution to the Jewish question.”  When they moved east they started rounding up the Jews in Poland put them into ghettos.   After they conquered Poland, they turned around, invaded and conquered France. After looting France, they turned their attention to the invasion of Russia.

 

Their plan for this great empire in the east was to move German settlers in.  But, if the countryside is already crowded, you can’t move settlers in so they wanted to combine that with the final solution to the Jewish question.  Behind the army came the SS, that literally take Jews out of the villages, march them through the countryside, force them to dig a trench, line them up and shoot them and push them in the trench!  Hundreds of thousands of people were just murdered on the spot this way!

 

Roger:  Oh, Lord!

 

James:  This was one of the most gruesome aspects of the holocaust!  Men, women and children were just butchered!  The Russian Communists bear a little bit of the responsibility because they knew through their military intelligence this was going on; but, they didn’t warn the Jews.  If they had warned them, they could  even have given them rifles so they could disperse into the woods to defend themselves; but, no…. they didn’t!  They were only concerned with protecting Russians because there was a certain amount of anti-semitism among the Communists, too!

 

Hitler had a problem!  In remote areas of eastern Europe, in Russia, he could just butcher Jews on the roadside.  He couldn’t do that in France, Holland and Belgium, the countries of western Europe.  So, he decided to build these great concentration camps in  the east, like Auschwitz in Poland, ship the Jews by rail from France to Poland to exterminate them at the concentration camps.   However, there was a very valuable resource here they did not want to affect;  to use those Jews who were physically to work as slave laborers because the pro-Nazi German industrialists saw great opportunity here!  They could have Jewish slave laborers working for just a few pennies a day.  This is where you have that partnership, and you have the responsibility of certain companies and certain German industrialists in the holocaust,  because after arresting the Jews, the SS would sell them as slave labor to the industrialists and companies!  Some of those companies actually built factories at the concentration camps like Auschwitz!  The SS told the industrialists, ‘you can work them for as long as you want—24 hours a day for all we care’.  So a lot of that responsibility falls on the heads of those industrialists who did work those Jews 18 hours a day— worked them to death!  In fact, there was a phrase used among Nazi industrialists, “Extermination through Work.”    Work them until they could work no longer, then ship them over to the gas chamber, the ovens,  where they could be exterminated.

 

Roger:  Oh, boy!  So across eastern Europe you had continuation of the SS roadside killings, marching people into the woods and killing them!  By this time, the wars is in full flow; you’ve got problems with supplies, you’ve got hunger, you’ve got disease, you’ve got all kinds of problems now!  How did Hitler deal with that?

 

James:    As far as murdering the Jews on the roadsides in Russia (shoving them into a ditch),  they did this while they were at the height of their power, closing in on Moscow, almost to Stalingrad!  The war was really going well for them!  In fact, they were worried that a German victory would come before they had exterminated all the Jews!  The reason they worried about that was because once the war was over and people and reporters from neutral countries would be able to travel freely, they couldn’t keep butchering people because of the bad effect on international relations.  They wanted to hurry up and exterminate all the Jews before the war was over!  Fortunately, Russia proved to be a harder nut to crack than Hitler had bargained on!  The war didn’t go so well!

 

Roger:   After Stalingrad?

 

James:  Yes.  After Stalngrad things started going downhill.  There was a shortage of food, so the rule was : Germans eat first, other people eat afterwards!  In places like the Ukraine, a very fertile area, all the food crops were shipped to Germany while the Ukrainians had to sit starving, watching the railroad cars loaded up with Ukrainian wheat and agricultural supplies with names of German cities written in white on each railroad car: Cologne, Berlin, Munich.  This is where their food was going while they starved!

 

In the concentration camps, the Jews worked as slave laborers, the ones that could.  Of course, the poor  children and older people were gassed immediately!  The industrials took advantage of this cheap labor and profitted enormously!

 

Roger:  Jim, you are not a Jew?

 

James:  No, I’m not.

 

Roger:   You’ve studied this issue for 25 years.

 

James:   Yes.

 

 

Roger:    What I hear coming the mouths of ‘good Americans’ all over this country is, ” The holocaust didn’t really happen.  There weren’t even 6,000,000 Jews in Europe!  This is a hoax!  This is part of the Jewish Conspiracy!”   Do you find any evidence of that in your 25 years of research?  And if there’s not, where does this stuff come from?

 

James:    Where it comes from is, even as the Nazis were being defeated, Hitler and Dr Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, were planning how the Nazis would polish their image post-war.  They were already thinking about it then!  They were destroying any documents that would implicate them in the holocaust.  As soon as the war was over, neo-Nazis put their propaganda into motion to deny that the holocaust ever happened.

 

For me, the most convincing thing was that someone that I knew, an American GI (who is not Jewish), was one of the first ones that arrived at Dachau as an 18-year old GI.  He described the pitiful state, bodies lying around… rotting corpses!  This is a guy I know personally!  He’s not part of some propaganda conspiracy or anything!  That kind of thing really brings it home to you.  Then when you start to look at the documents you see there’s just no doubt about this!  There’s no doubt about the numbers.

 

Roger:  But, was the propaganda machine so potent, so powerful, that 50 years later in America in the 1990s, people are still caught up in it?

 

James:  Oh, sure!  The neo-Nazis are a powerful force!  They have a few historians in their camp and they represent a powerful interest group.  They churn this stuff out and they have considerable funds in their resources.

 

Roger:  All right, James, I’m going to open up the phone lines soon to let folks ask some questions!  Are you ready for that?  We’ll take calls right after the break!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  We’re back, ladies and gentlemen!  We’re with James Pool!  His book is, “Hitler and His Secret Partners: Contribution, Loot and Rewards: 1933-1945”  I guess the big ones here were the industrialists, eh, James?

 

James:  They certainly were!

 

Roger:  Let’s take some phone calls.  We’ve got Marie in Medford, Oregon on the line!

 

Caller-Marie:  Hi, Roger!  I’m enjoying your guest!  He left out a few people that supported the Nazis.  (unintelligible sentence)  A lot of people in England supported Nazism.  A lot of people in the United States, aside from those he mentioned.  There are still people in the United States….

 

Roger:  Who are some of those people in the United States?  Can you name them?

 

Caller – Marie:   The Duke of Windsor.  I think a good number of your calls (last week?) of laypeople, people on the fringe who write books and the people who read this trash!  I call them “anglophiles” !  They totally deny the 12 Tribes of Jews!  Roger, you’ve gotten calls like that before.  I’m sure there’s some big guns somewhere.  I’ve read that even President Roosevelt knew what was going on.  Could he have stopped it?  I don’t know!  I’m an ex-Catholic and I know the Roman church knew what was going on!  Could they have stopped it?  I don’t know!

 

James:    I think you’re right, Marie!  There were a lot of people that I haven’t mentioned on a one hour program.  I think you’ll find a lot of that in the book.  There’s certainly no question that the Vatican knew this was going on.  The Vatican even signed The Concordat, the treaty with Nazi Germany, basically saying if Hitler didn’t touch the Catholic schools, the Catholic church would go along.   Of course, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor….

 

Caller-Marie:  What about our president and some of this staff knowing it was going on?  Surely his intelligence was good.  I am not saying he could have done anything about it.

 

Roger:  I think the American people was the reason.  We did not want to get into the war. if I remember correctly.

 

James:  She’s right to a certain extent about Franklin Roosevelt.  There’s a story in the book about a very tragic incident, the refugee ship called the Saint Louis.  The ship was full of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, trying to be admitted into the United States and President Roosevelt turned his back on them because of political pressure from anti-semitic groups in the United States.  He was afraid to challenge that!

 

Caller-Marie:   Also, keep in mind Roger, and you’re much younger than I am, that Roosevelt’s name  “sounded Jewish” to some people and he lost votes because they thought he was Jewish!

 

Roger:  Okay, Marie, thank you!  Gearhardt, of Oakland, California, you’re on the radio!

 

Caller Gerhardt:    There’s really no end to historical reconstruction we can all do.  To look back on what Hitler was doing before the war and say, “why didn’t anybody step in and do something?”  That’s like trying to say today, “Why didn’t we send our troops in to stop the Hutus and the Tutsis from chopping each other up?”  It’s none of our business!  Sure, it was nasty!  Sure, it was rotten– no good!  But, that’s no pretext on which to launch an international military expedition.

 

Another thing that bothers me about this.  We automatically hit the number 6,000,000 when we talk about Hitler.  It’s been pounded into our brains from age two!

  1. He killed 12,000,000 in the concentration camps and they weren’t all Jews!
  1. The Madision Avenue-ization of the Jewish persecution.Yet, nobody looks at the 26-28 million Russians that were killed.

 

Roger:  Gerhardt, I have to interject here.  First of all, the Jews were specifically targeted for genocide.  Stalin just killed people who disagreed with his agenda!  Hitler was not out to exterminate all Russians, he was out to exterminate the Jews.  His primary focus was to commit genocide aginst the Jews!  He wanted to rid the world of the Jews!

 

Caller-Gerhardt:  And Slavs… Jews and Slavs!  This is the part you leave out!

 

James:    There certainly were many Slavs killed and their deaths number in millions…

 

Caller-Gerhardt:  …many more millions than Jews, also… yet, nobody calls this a holocaust with a Capital H.

 

James:  In fact, a lot of the Slavs who died were Russian soldiers who were imprisoned and certainly mistreated.

 

Caller-Gerhardt:   Most were civilians!

 

James:  Many Russian civilians died during the war; but, you see, that’s a slightly different situation.  They weren’t singled out for extermination!

 

Caller-Gerhardt:  Oh, sir, you don’t know what you’re talking about!  You’re a complete fool!

 

Roger:  I’m not going to let you talk to my guest like that!  You can’t get into name-calling because, first of all, James has studied this issue for 25 years!  To call a man who has written two wonderful books “a fool” is not going to be allowed on this program!  To disagree with him is fine.  But, I’m not putting up with name-calling!  Tom, in Tampa, Florida, you’re on the radio!

 

Caller-Tom:   Yes, sir! My question is similar; but somewhat different than the prior caller.  Please don’t interpret this as anti-semitic or to lessen or mitigate anything that happened to the Jews because I think it was obviously direct genocide!  There’s no doubt about that!

 

Roger:  Tom, I’ve just received a signal that I’m headed into a break.  If you could just hold on, we’ll be back!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:     Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  James Pool is our guest.  We’re talking about his second book , “Hitler and His Secret Partners, Contributions, Loot and Rewards: 1933-1945.”  Last week we talked about his other book, “Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler’s Rise to Power: 1919-1933

 

Next week we’ll have Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman as our guest to talk about her book, “The Uprooted.”  Boy, it’ll be a real fascinating week!     We’ll be continuing the series for about 17 more weeks and I’m hoping that at that time, many of the questions you have had over the years will be answered.  Hopefully, some of you who have been indoctrinated with what I call “craziness”, this disinformation, this propaganda, will begin to clearly see what really went on.  That’s my hope!  I hope you’re paying close attention and you’ll try to be objective.

 

James, welcome back!  We’ve got Tom in Tampa, Florida waiting.  But, first let me ask, how do people get your book?

 

James:   Yes, the big chain bookstores have it!

 

Roger:  All right!  Hello, Tom in Tampa!

 

Caller-Tom:  My question is to James.  This is in no way meant to denigate or mitigate…. I certainly think the extermination of 6,000,000 Jews  as a race was the clear intent of the German hierarchy.  Were there any other groups such as the gypsies or anybody else also targeted?  This is just to get a perspective on the real magnitude of the mindset of the Nazis.  That’s the reason I ask this question.  I’m 54 years old.  I was born in 1943 so I am not at all what happened during that time.

 

I have tried to study it in the past been haven’t had much time to devote to it.  You’ve had a great deal of time!   We’re any other groups targeted?

 

James:   You’re right, Tom!  The other group targeted for extermination was the Gypsies.  This didn’t happen as early as the plan to exterminate the Jews.  At first, the Gypsies were rounded up and put in concentration camps; but, they got much better treatment than the Jews.  For example, they were allowed to live in family groups.  The Jews were separate: women to one place, children and old people to another place to be exterminated.

 

The Commandant of one of the concentration camps, I think it was Auschwitz, used to go to the Gypsy section and there was a Gypsy orchestra to play music for him!  The Nazis hadn’t realy cranked up the propaganda against the Gypsies as much as they had the Jews, so when the orders came down for the Gypsies to be exterminated in the concentration camps, some of these commandants were a bit reluctant; but, they went ahead, of course.

 

Caller-Tom:   Why, the Gypsies?  I mean, how does that tie in with their world view or where they wanted to go?  I’m trying to elucidate, what was motivating them?  We know, in some regards, why they exterminated the Jews; but, why target another group of people who were relative innocuous?

 

James:    That’s a very good questions because, in Nazi terminology, Gypsies were considered “useless eaters.”

 

Caller-Tom:  Parasites!

 

James:     Not just that; but, there was a shortage of food during the war.  In the book, I certainly do not neglect the suffering of the Polish people and the Russian people.  They suffered miserably and were treated brutally.  But, the Jews were treated worse!

 

There’s a good example in the book!  When the Nazis first came into Poland, they put the Jews in ghettos before they put them into concentration camps.  The first thing they did was  ration the use of food.  A German was entitled to buy approximately 2,000 calories of food a day.  A Pole was only allowed 500 calories a day.  A Jews was allowed 200 calories.

 

Caller-Tom:  My God!

 

James:  You know, a Pole might be able to stay alive on 500 calories, especially if he could cheat a little bit and get something from a farmer or somebody else.  But, 200 calories, it’s definite what they were intending to do!

 

Caller-Tom:   Right!  And they were restricted to the ghettos so they had no opportunity to go out and dicker with anybody else to obtain anything!

 

James:  Exactly!  We don’t realize the shortage of food that existed.  One of the big things that really defeated Hitler, something not many people talk about, is the British naval blockade.  The British Navy put a steel ring around Europe and food supplies couldn’t get in!  So, the Germans only had what they could grow in Europe and what was in Russia!  There was a huge food shortage.  That’s why people like the Gypsies were singled out.

 

 

Roger:  That was one of Hitler’s motivations to take over territory, too.  Because there wasn’t enough territory in Germany-proper to feed the Germans!

 

Caller-Tom:  That’s what I was going to say, too!  Isn’t that the reason he attacked Russia?

 

James:  Exactly!  There were two reasons he attacked Russia!  It can be summed up in two words… FOOD and OIL!  The Ukraine was the richest agricultural area in Europe… to get the grain and crops from the Ukraine and to get the oil from Baku…that was the real reason behind the attack on Russia!

 

Roger:  Tom, thank you very much for your call!  Barbara in Central Point, Oregon!

 

Caller-Barbara:  Good evening, Roger!  The gentlemen before me talked about the Gypsies.  Also, the Jewish people in Warsaw did the “turning around” or changing of the Jewish nature.  In Germany they’d just stand there and be mowed down!  In Poland, and especially Warsaw, they started fighting back!  They started fighting!  I nursed with one of the girls who was in the Warsaw Ghetto.  She told us a lot of stories about it.  People can not deny the Holocaust.  I don’t know if there’s any film left; but, during that time we had the March of Time (newsreel).  It showed pictures—they were stacked like kindling!  At the end of the war when they were found, they looked like stick figures!  It was the most pathetic thing you ever saw!  A lot of the boys over there in military prison camps were starving.  One of the guys I went to school with said he would dream of food at night.

 

Roger:    Barbara, in this series we’re going to be talking to a number of survivors and resisters.  You’re going to hear some of the horrific stories, what it was like inside those camps.

 

Caller-Barbara:  I’ve heard a lot already.  When the war first started, Hitler didn’t appear to be a mad man like he did later on.  He was so charismatic!  We’d listen to him on the radio here in the United States in the 1930s and just drew you to him!

 

Roger:    He had that cadence when he spoke!

 

Caller-Barbara:   Oh, definitely!  And, we had a lot of first and second generation Germans here in the United States that had brothers and sisters and grandparents over in Germany.  It was during the Depression and things got better when Hitler got in there.  There was never hatred for the Germans, even when we were fighting them, not like there  was towards the Japanese!  It was a totally different feeling!  There were German prisoners out here at Camp White.  They’d be let out and work in the orchards with us high schoolers!  Those of us that could speak German would talk with them.  The Japanese were in a high security pen with guard towers!  The Italians were kind of sulky and didn’t respond much; but, the Germans worked in the sawmills and out on the farms.  There would be one guard over a whole bunch of them working!

 

Roger:  Barbara, thank you very much!  Brian, in Springfield, Illinois, you’re on the radio!

 

Caller-Brian:   Hello, Mr. Pool!

 

James:  Hello!

 

 

Caller-Brian:   I heard there was talk at one time in the 1930s of a British-German Union, that the British League of Fascists came close to getting into power.

 

 

James:  Yes!  There was a party called the British Union of Fascists led by Sir Oswald Mosley.  He was one of the people I interviewed in researching this book.  He was very friendly with Hitler.

 

Caller-Brian:  If the British Union of Fascists had come to power and Britain and Germany joined forces, would that have made Germany and Hitler stronger?

 

James:  Definitely!

 

Roger:   You’d be speaking German today, Brian!

 

James:  Yes!

 

Caller-Brian:    How were the blacks treated in Germany?

 

James:  Actually, there were very few black people in Germany.

 

Caller-Brian:   How were other blacks in Europe treated under Hitler’s regime?  Were they gassed?

 

James:   No, not that I know of!  There was no program to do so.

 

Caller- Brian:  What did Hitler think of black people?

 

James:   He thought they were inferior.  He used various derogatory words to describe them that we don’t need to mention on the air.

 

Roger:  We’ve got to take a break, gentlemen.  Do you have another question, Brian?  Hang on just a second!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

 

Roger:   All right!  We’re back with James Pool.  You can get either of his books by just asking at your bookstore!  Brian, let’s hurry along!  I’ve got to give as many callers a chance as I can.

 

Caller-Brian:  Okay!  James, how did Hitler view his allies like the Japanese?  Did he look at them as equal to the Germans?

 

James:  Certainly not!  Officially, as far as their propaganda was concerned, they did.  But, Hitler had a very ambivalent attitude toward the Japanese.

 

Caller-Brian:  Didn’t he try to get the Japanese to invade Russia with him, at the same time?

 

James:  If he had done that, he probably would have won the war!

 

Caller-Brian:  He probably would have defeated Russia with Japanese help?

 

James:  Yes.  Because of  this racist attitude he had toward the Japanese, he recognized  that they were great warriors; but, he considered them racial inferiors.  He didn’t want to share Russia with them.

 

Caller-Brian:   If Hitler would have invaded Russia with the Japanese coming in from the Siberian side and the Germans coming from the European side, would that have forced Stalin to fight a two front war?

 

James:  It certainly would!  And it probably would have led to Russia’s defeat.

 

Caller-Brian:  Do you think Hitler and the Japanese would have fought sooner or later?

 

James:    Thieves and criminals always fall out in the end!

 

Roger:   Brian, thank you very much!   Doc in Roseburg, Oregon, you’re on the radio!

 

Caller-Doc:  Good evening, Roger!  This is certainly an astonishing program!  You are the best thing Oregon has going for it!  Now, to give two examples of how it is known that the holocaust happened: my grandfather and great-grandfather left small trusts in the early 1900s to Jewish communities in White Russia, the very far western area of Russia near Poland.  They left trusts for friends, people of the same religion in Russia.  These trusts were administered by two different banks in Connecticut.  Both trusts were returned to the heirs, in other words, to our family after WW II because the banks were unable to find anyone to give the money to—- the communities no longer existed!  I have a Key to the City of one of these communities gave to my grandfather in 1902.  I have the Key to that City in my hand!  It was originally presented in 1902 and reaffirmed in 1928.

 

Something that should never be forgotten is there was another genocide that the Germans were extremely implicated in during WW I.  The German were allies of the Turks.  Germans were their suppliers and trained their officers!    In 1914-1915, the Turks killed—murdered a half million Armenians!  This is extremely well documented.

 

There’s something Armenians, Jews and Gypsies have in common.  They are all extreme individualists!  They’re individualists for different reasons; Armenians for nationalist reasons, Gypsies for cultural reasons, and Jews for religious reasons.    The reason Jews are individualist is because an individual Jew’s first relationship is with God!  It’s not with a government, not with a political party, not with a state, it’s with God!   That’s where his first allegiance would always be!  Of course, that makes him very unpopular when there’s totalitarian political forces.

 

On another issue, Roger, just today is the first day I had to withdraw my child from the government schools in Oregon because the Outcome-Based Education is another attempt at totalitarian government!

 

Roger:   Yes, it is!  It’s happening right now.  You follow this series for the next 20 weeks …..

 

Caller-Doc:   I’ll be here!  You’re going to win an award for this series, Roger!

 

Roger:   Thank you, Doc!  We’re trying to squeeze in another caller.  Hello, Brenda from Grants Pass, Oregon!

 

Caller-Brenda:  Good evening!  I was remembering what you were saying earlier about the recruitment of the younger people.  It reminded me of a very good movie that depicts this sort of thing, when Hitler was taking over the youth in Poland.  The name of the movie is “Swing Kids”.  I thought maybe I’d bring that up.

 

Roger:  People should rent that movie, it’s incredible!   We’ll try to sqeeze in Sol from Eugene, Oregon real quick!

 

Caller-Sol:  I just had two quick questions.  Do you know anything about the connection between Standard Oil, Prescott Bush, Harriman and Associates, some of the shipping firms that were profiteering off the war and the hearings held after the war pertaining to Wall Street connections?  Also, the connection between the eugenics movement with the Nazis and their American and other worldly affiliates?

 

Roger:  James, you’ve got 10 seconds to answer that question!  I’m sorry.

 

James:  There were alot of people and big American companies that invested in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.  That’s different than actually financing Hitler.  In the end, alot of these people actually lost money  and their investment.  Some people confuse the two and think that if somebody on Wall Street invested in Germany in the 1930s, which was perfectly legal to do, that they financed Hitler.  That’s really not the case!

 

Roger:   Their object was to make money.  There’s nothing wrong with that in a capitalist society!  James, I appreciate having you as a guest, my friend!  I’ve enjoyed the two weeks!  It’s been an incredible time.

 

James:  I’ve enjoyed it, Roger!  Thank you so much and thank you listeners!

 

Roger:  Folks, we’ve  got another part of this series coming up every Wednesday!  God bless you all and God Bless America!  Good night, everyone!

 

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

Altruistic Personality: Rescuers Of Jews In Nazi Europe

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

2-11-1998  Fourteenth Program in Series

 

Guest: Dr.  Samuel Oliner

 

Book:  Altruistic Personality: Rescuers Of Jews In Nazi Europe

 

ISBN-10: 0029238293   and   ISBN-13: 978-0029238295

 

 

Roger:   Welcome once again, ladies and gentlemen, to our Wednesday night special, the Holocaust Series.  It will be over in a few weeks.  It’s been a great pleasure.  I want to once again thank Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson for all their effort in helping me locate some of the great authors and survivors and onlookers to talk about this tragic time in world history.  It’s really tough, I know, week after week; but, we’re leading up to something, ladies and gentlemen, a climax that will shake your very soul.  I can’t say much more about it; but, hang in there with us because this is really going somewhere!

 

We have a wonderful guest this evening.  I’ve been thumbing through the book today and it’s just fascinating!  The book is titled, “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe.”  It’s just a fascinating book, a collection, and anthology—- just stories of people who put everything on the line, trying to do something innately good, something not found often in the human character, I must tell you!

 

Our guest is Dr. Samuel Oliner.  He is Project Director of the Altruistic Personality and the Prosocial Behavior Institute.  He’s a survivor of the holocaust and has written “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe,”  “Who Shall Live: the Wilhelm Bachner Story,” and “Restless Memories: Recollections of the Holocaust Years.” 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome Samuel Oliner to the program!  Sam, how are you?

 

Dr. Oliner:  I’m very well!  How are you, Roger?

 

Roger:  I’m doing just great, Sam!  This is really a great book because you touch on an aspect that is not often talked about.  When we talk about Nazi Germany generally, we just think of all the bad people, all the evil and all of the hell!  I suppose it is depicted about as well have I’ve read it in your book, in the Forward, the first paragraph!  Somebody else wrote your Forward, didn’t they?

 

Dr. Oliner:  A reknowned man of the cloth, Rabbi Harold Schulweis wrote the preface.

 

Roger:  Let me read that first paragraph, just to set the tone here:

 

Victor Frankl, the founder of logotherapy, recalls lying at night in his bunk at Auschwitz.  Next to him his fellow inmate lay tossing and turning, uttering tortured screams.  Frankl wondered whether he should rouse him from his dreams.  But rouse him—to what?

At Auschwitz reality was more frightening than nightmares.  Frankl decided to let

him alone.

 

That’s a powerful paragraph and it just really brings it home!  That your worst nightmare couldn’t be as bad as what we’ve always observed in Nazi Germany!  Terrible stuff!  But you found some goodness there, you’re saying?

 

Dr. Oliner:   Yes.  As you said already, Roger, I was rescued myself in Nazi occupied Poland by a wonderful, beautiful, simple peasant woman and her family in the southern part of Poland.  This happened, right after my entire family,everyone that I loved, along with 1,000 other people from a tiny little ghetto in Poland were all taken to a mass grave and executed!

 

My stepmother’s last words to me were, “You’ve got to run… you’ve got to hide… you’ve got to save yourself!”  Of course, a 12 year-old boy didn’t know much so she gave me permission to survive.

 

Roger:   Well, I read your story, Sam, how you shinnied up to the roof and stayed up there on the roof for a couple of days, then you came down off the roof and ran into a Polish child  that you’d known in the ghetto and you ended up in a fight with him.  He ran off and you spent the night in a closet.  It was just a fascinating story!  A 12 year-old kid to go through that!  I can’t even imagine it!

 

Dr. Oliner:   I often wonder whether I would be able to do this again.  I guess the will to survive is so strong so you always feel that somehow or other you’ll make it, especially when your parents, your loving stepmother tells you to go and hide, run and survive. This kid was a kid who was an anti-semitic kid!  He didn’t like Jewish people particularly so his objective, because the ghetto was being searched as a mop up action by the Nazis, his objective was to let the guards know that here was a Jew-boy and betray me.  So, the only solution I had was to pounce on him and pulverize him so that I could get away through the hole in the fence and run away across the field!

 

Roger:   Now, you were in your pajamas?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Right.  We need to back up for just a second!  Why I was in pajamas….

 

Friday morning, very early in the morning, August 14, 1942 the Nazis surrounded the ghetto very early, brought dozens and dozens of huge miliary trucks into the square of the town, the ghetto.  They went around knocking on doors and asking all people to get out and move to the square upon penalty of death!  In a state of trance and shock, I was still in my pajamas.  Hundreds and hundreds of people were brutally led into the square and then loaded into the trucks and subsequently took them to a mass grave!  So, that’s how I found myself in pajamas.

 

In a state of fear and trance I was hiding in various places.  Finally I was able to get some clothing and tried to make a break for it, run to the fence where I knew there was a hole… and this kid saw me.  He tried to notify the guards who were mopping up the place.

 

I escaped and was wandering in a state of fear and fright.  I already knew, from nearby peasants, where they took my entire family and the rest of the ghetto people, they took them to a pre-dug mass grave, a little hill probably 8 or 9 miles from the ghetto.  They undressed them all, forcibly humiliating them and dragged them all into the mass grave where there planks were laid.  They were machine gunned, falling down either wounded or from fright.  At the end of 18 hours, they covered them up with chemicals and dirt.  Lots of bodies were still moving!  Subsequently, one man who escaped from the top of the pile of bodies, his mind snapped and he became totally insane with the shock.  Of course, the Nazis caught him a few days later and finished him off too.

 

So, I escaped and wandered around the village a little while, then I thought of this Polish family of a woman named Balwina.  She saw me and she knew exactly what happened!  She saw me, she took me in, she calmed me down and hid me for awhile because there were also certain individuals (not too many) who made their living catching Jews and delivering them to the Gestapo.  That means betraying Jewish people who were hiding and those Polish Catholics who were hiding them!

 

She kept me for awhile and taught me the catechism.  I changed my name to a typical Polish name and then went from village to village – she directed me in that area – and I found a job as a stable boy, ironically at a Jewish farm where the Jewish owners had been exterminated and the place was rented to an anti-semitic  man by the Nazis.  She and her son kept an eye on me throughout the balance of the years.  She helped me authenticate my lie because I did nothing but lie to this new employer.  He wanted to know who I was and where I was from, what kind of payment I wanted to be his stable boy; so she helped me survive that way!

 

This act of kindness by this one woman’s family, I could never forget!  In some ways it motivated the rest of my life in the sense that when I came to this country as an immigrant in 1950  (by the way, I was almost immediately drafted into the Korean War)  I got my U.S. citizenship quickly.  When I got my Phd from the University of California in Berkely I studied much about “evil.”  I did all kinds of research on “evil”; racism, anti-semitism, genocide, holocaust, intolerance generally.

 

Roger:  Let’s talk about for a minute because I’m trying to imagine, first of all, what does a 12 year-old boy, meandering down a muddy trail right after his parents have been killed,  what is going through a 12 year-old’s mind at that point?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Well, disbelief at first, that it couldn’t have happened, a kind of denial! Then a kind of fear and cunning because you wanted to survive.  You were told to survive!  You were given instructions by a loving adult.  Then I was fortunate enough to be guided by compassionate, loving people.

 

Roger:   Did you hate, Sam?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Yes, I did.  I did; but, right after the war, for instance, in 1945 I was a 15-1/2 year old kid and I found myself in Germany in the American zone of occupation.  I’d been in the middle of Germany so I hated Germans with great passion!  I discovered as I grew older that hate in itself is destructive.

 

Roger:   Isn’t hate evil?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Extremely evil!  And it was actually destroying me, my hatred!  That’s one of the reason I subsequently studied so much about “evil”.  One day at Humboldt State University in Northern California where I have worked for about 29 years or so, I introduced a course on The Holocaust because believe it or not, Roger, there are still people today in certain parts of the US and other parts of the world, that think the Holocaust is a hoax, it’s Jewish conspiracy to defraud, hoodwink humanity!  When I heard this I became extremely angry as an adult, as a GI, as a Phd in Sociology.

I asked my Dean for permission to introduce a course on The Holocaust.  When I did that — what do you talk about in a course on The Holocaust?  Just the dates, the names, the places, the evil, the Auschwitz, the murders, the films, the documentaries of evil?

 

In one of my classes, and this is another pivotal point in  my life, a young German woman who was married to an American boy, got up on the fourth or fifth day of my class and with a German accent and said to me in tears, “Professor, I’ve got to drop your class, not because it’s bad, not because your information is not valuable; but, because I feel so guilty—what my people did to your people.”  I was moved to tears because in some ways this was an innocent woman.  That single act of hers made me start thinking, “Wait a minute!  Wait a minute!  Is there anything else that happened in WW II besides the killing of 50,000,000 people— the sum total of the war itself including 6,000,000 Jews?”  So I started thinking of Balwina, that woman who rescued me.  That launched me and my life’s partner, my wife, Dr. Pearl Oliner — launched us on this project.

 

For the last 18 years we’ve been studying “Goodness”!  Goodness is altruism, goodness is prosocial behavior, goodness is rescuing, goodness is hospice volunteers, goodness is the kind of heroes in this country who risk their lives to save strangers from certain death!

 

Roger:  Sam, what is “altruism”?  I mean in it’s purest form?

 

Dr. Oliner:  First of all, there are a lot of sceptics out there and I’ve run across critics who say “altruism” does not exist.  I say to those people, “I’m sorry to inform you; but, it exists, it’s mearsurable.  Just like bigotry exists and is measureable, so is “goodness”!

 

Altruism, Roger, would be something as follows: It is an act of helping someone who will benefit from such help which involves high risk and high cost to you, the helper, the rescuer and for which you are not expecting any external reward– no checks, no medals!  You are just doing it as an act of kindness, an act of humanity, an act of recognizing your fellow human being.

 

Roger:    So, someone rushing out into the middle of the highway to save a child from a moving vehicle without regard for their own life is an altruist?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Absolutely!  As a matter of fact, our current research we’ve just begun less than a month ago is on America and Candadians who risked their lives for total strangers; saving from drowning, from burning, from various accidents, from violence, from guns, shootings and so forth.  So, yes, that would be a good example of heroic altruism.

 

Conventional altruism, Roger, is the thousands and millions of acts of kindess, the 75,000,000 people who are unpaid volunteers in this country.  If somebody paid them, they’d be earning

$150 billion dollars a year!  These are examples of conventional altruism and heroic altruism. It exists!  It is real!  We hope and pray that more people move from the Bystander “I-don’t-care/these are not my people,” position to the position of people who intervene on behalf of humanity.

 

 

That’s what we’ve been doing, interviewing.  In the book that you mentioned, “The Altruistic Personality,” which is published by the Free Press,  what were were doing is actually interviewing bona fide rescuers, heroes, people like the woman Balwina who saved me.   For purposes of trying to find out what motivated them, Roger, we compared them to a group of bystanders.  We wanted to know what the difference was between them.  That’s what this research was about.  It’s a kind of systematic social science research.  It goes beyond simple anecdotes.  The anecdotes that you kindly recited, referred to are simply anecdotes of heroism; but, the analysis of these 800 repondents that we have done over a period of 8 years — which was from Poland, from Germany and from the United States, those rescuers that came to the United States after the war, from Canada, France, Italy and even Norway—from this we had a combination of some 800 rescuers and bystanders.

 

From this data we drew some conclusions about what makes a compassionate person which we are kind of proud of.  It’s been critiqued and quite well-accepted by …..

 

Roger:   But, Sam, didn’t the very fact that the Holocaust happened, bring credence to the concept that man is inherently evil?

 

Dr. Oliner:  No!  No, I’m not willing to buy this!  Man is born….

 

Roger:   I mean, even the altruists in their selfless acts, get some charge out of it, don’t they?

 

Dr. Oliner:  You asked two different questions.  One question that you asked, Roger, is man inherently evil?  I think that man , if you’re saying inherently—biologically or genetically evil, I don’t think there enough evidence to make a tentative…..
Roger:  Well, pick a religion, Sam!  We’re all born to sin!  If you’re a Christian, God had to give laws to Moses.  Aren’t we born evil, Sam?

 

Dr. Oliner:  No!  Because, you see, the institutions of the religions; some institutions, some religions, some books, some ideologies, some parents, some groups are able to inculcate hate in us.   I know that you know there’s been some work done on twins.  Take one twin and bring him up and he can become a killer, gangster, hater, racist, anti-semite, homophobe.  Take the other twin of this pair and he can become a priest, and get involved in the well-being of humanity.  So, I wouldn’t say we are born evil, I would say that we have acquired it in on the road of life.

 

Roger:   Sam, I’ve got to take a break here.  If you would be so kind as to relax for a few minutes, we’ve got to get through these advertisements and we’ll be right back.  Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Samuel P. Oliner is our guest.  He is the author of, “The Altruistic Personality.”  He’s a professor at Humboldt State College in Eureka, California.  I think you’re all finding  him as fascinating as I do!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

 Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Dr. Samuel P. Oliner is our guest this evening.  His book is, “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe,” a book about “goodness” in man, the good, good, good people that exist in our world, or existed during the holocaust!

 

Sam, welcome back!  I want to go back to something you said earlier.  Here you are, a graduate of Berkley, hanging out in Humboldt, deciding that because you’ve run into these crackpots who really believe the holocaust is a hoax and a Jewish conspiracy, you decided to take this cause on and teach The Holocaust.  Was that an act of altruism?

 

Dr. Oliner:  It was an act of education and information.

 

Roger:  What was your motivation?

 

Dr. Oliner:   My motivation was…..

 

Roger:  I’m going to show you bastards the truth!  Wasn’t that really it?

 

Dr. Oliner:  I guess you could put it that way.  Ha, ha!

 

Roger:   No!  I mean really!  It didn’t really come from the “goodness” of Sam Oliner.

 

Dr. Oliner:  It came from the rage….

 

Roger:   The hate!

 

Dr. Oliner:  The anger, the hate… yes.

 

Roger:  So, you formed this class based on something evil, didn’t you really?

 

Dr. Oliner:   No, (ha, ha) I think that I formed this class in order to deal with evil.

 

Roger:  Samuel Oliner, Phd, UC-Berkley…. what in the hell do you people mean who think the holocaust didn’t happen?  I’ll show you!  Right?

 

Dr. Oliner:   Well, by correcting the information, I guess you could say, “I’ll show you!”  It was based upon my frustration that people in the late 1960s, early 1970s could be getting away with this sort of stuff.  Even currently, by the way!  Take a look at the websites and you’ll find 600 to 700 hate groups viciously racist and anti-semitic!

 

Roger:  Are they?  Or are they just misinformed?  I mean, has the propaganda survived the holocaust?

 

Dr. Oliner:   I think it’s perhaps a combination of both; misinformed-yes.  I think in the human psyche, that is to say; if as you are growing up you are beaten and abused….

 

Roger:   Come on, Samuel.  Jesus was a Jew and the Jews killed Jesus, so Christianity through their crusades and all the things…. those evil Jews killed Jesus, they killed our Savior, our Christ…. the Jews did that!  Right?  Isn’t religion the essence of goodness, your foundation?  Yet, there is the evil right there….

 

Dr. Oliner:  Sure, I agree with you 100% when you talk about the source of evil.  The source of evil is—a child is not born evil; but, a child internalizes the teachings and the preachings about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

For instance, in the case of Jesus, and I’m sure there are various interpretations, I know that Jesus existed.  I know that Jesus was crucified.  I also know know, at least from scholarship, that it was not the Jews who killed Jesus, it was the Romans.  But, the Jews were delighted and happy enough because he was a rebel who showed they were corrupt, they were not caring enough, they were highly stratified….

 

Roger:   They were evil.

 

Dr. Oliner:  They were evil in the sense of practicing injustice and inequality.

 

Roger:  They were evil.  Right?  Isn’t that what Christ was trying to point out?  So, I want to make a point here.  I believe, personally, that man is inherently evil, born to sin!  I also believe that the people who don’t believe that the holocaust happened only do so because they don’t comprehend how evil man is because we gloss it over!  We keep telling ourselves there are good people out there!  Sam, are there really  good people out there?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Yes!

 

Roger:  Really?  Can you tell me about some good people?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Yes, I can tell you about good people and I will believe for the rest of my life that humanity is basically good….

 

Roger:   I want to believe that!  I want you to convince me….

 

Dr. Oliner:   Humanity is basically good.  It is institutions, parents, role models, misguided Hitlers and leaders, it is perversion of truth that leads people along the path of hatred — also economic troubles and frustration and scapegoating.  There is goodness.

 

Roger:  Introduce me, Sam, to some people who are truly altruistic because I’m finding it hard, as I look across the landscape of my community, I’m finding it hard to find true altruism.

 

Dr. Oliner:   Okay!  Again, I would have to disagree with you.  Even in your own community there are lots of people who are caring and compassionate and take care of needy, etc.

 

But, let me get back for a moment to the slightly larger picture.  If you’re talking about goodness and altruism, I’ll start with the big ones and go on to some very exciting small ones, small heroes; you have Mother Theresa, you already know; you have Gandhi, you already know; you have Jesus, you already know, and a number of super-super altruists who lived for humanity’s sake.

 

Now, in the case of our research, I can tell you, first of all, there is a profound difference between rescuers and bystanders.  If we have the time I’ll go into some of them. But, you want some stories.

 

Roger:  I want you to convince there are really altruistic people out there!  I don’t know that I’ve ever met one.  Maybe I did and just didn’t notice!

 

 

Dr. Oliner:  Well, I’m surprised that you haven’t noticed because I am sure in your daily life, in your daily relationships with people in your community, there must be individuals who have done acts of kindness for you.  In turn, I’m almost sure that you’ve reciprocated in kind.  So, I’m not sure that….

 

Roger:  But, that’s socialization!  I mean, we socialize…. you send me a Christimas card so I send you a Christmas card.  I’ll meet you downtown at a meeting, I’ll shake your hand… that kind of thing.

 

Dr. Oliner:  Sure!  But, altruism comes from moral socialization, moral role models, moral examplars, the parents’ instilled values into you — your mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, priests and ministers.

 

Roger:  Sam, 6 million Jews died in Europe —13 million or so, estimated totals of gypsies, homosexuals and whoever else they didn’t like!  Lot of dead people over there, Sam!  Now, there couldn’t have been too many rescuers over there could there?  Not too many altruistic people!

I’ve heard stories on this program, Sam, of people selling out Jews for a buck!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Right.  But, you see, it’s a question of…. Yes, I agree with you…and that’s what we did in our research.  Under the the Nazi occupation….there were 300 million people living in Nazi-occupied Europe; Poland and all the other occupied countries including Germany itself.  Yes, in our book, we sadly take the best educated guess and there were less than 1% of those 300 million people who acted heroically and altruistically.  So, yes, I agree with you that, unfortunately, there are not enough people….

 

Roger:  So you agree that 99% of  people are inherently evil?

 

Dr. Oliner:   No, 99% of the people were bystanders, my friend.  That’s not the same thing as being evil.  A “bystander” is a person who is afraid, a person who feels —these people are not my people —the Nazis are going to kill me if I help somebody.  Only a few times in human history was there a situation where if you, Roger, save me, and it was discovered, you’d be shot and your entire family would be exterminated, along with me!  So, when you have such stringent laws that were carried out— in Poland alone there were 2,000 Catholics (and that is a fact!) who were executed along with the people they were hiding, once they were betrayed by their fellow Poles who were making a living by getting payment from the Gestapo.

 

So, yes, I agree with you that not enough people are altruistic.  Yes, I agree that not enough people are involved with humanity.  But, I’m also saying to you there is hope for the future because it is not a gene.  We do not have a gene for evil.  If we are socialized and treat well, taught well and our parents role model kindness and compassion, more of us can leave the status of a bystander or even a perpetrator and become a rescuer/helper.  So, there is hope in this!  That’s why I cannot agree that we are basically evil and doomed to remain like this because if we entertain an image like this, think of all our children and the kind of image we leave them with—that humanity is nothing be evil—and we can predict and foretell the world is alienated and separate from each other.

 

Goodness and altruism, in my opinion and I don’t mean to sound preachy, is the antidote to a divided world.  We need more of it.  We need more of it in our leaders.  In the second book that we wrote, “Toward a Caring Society,” we suggest that caring and compassion can be cultivated; in the workplace, in the church place of religious institutions, in educational institutions, family and other major institutions where caring and compassion can be taught and inculcated.  It doesn’t cost you anything!  When you treat a group of employees with kindness, and there’s lots of examples…..

 

Roger:  I’ve got to take this break, Sam!  When we come back, give me your best shot!  Tell me about the most altruistic person that you’ve found in your studies.  Will you do that?

 

Dr. Oliner:  I don’t know if I can tell you “THE MOST”, but I’ll try!

 

Roger:  We’ll be right back, ladies and gentlemen!  Our guest is Dr. Sam Oliner.  His book is “The Altruistic Personality.”

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  We’re talking with our guest, Dr. Samuel P. Oliner, about altruism and whether it’s really real.  My feeling, of course, is that the vast majority of people, I think ALL MEN, are born evil.  I do!  I think it takes a lot of work to be good.  I do!

 

But, if you read Dr. Oliner’s book, it’s filled with stories of good people; the kind of goodness that is almost as difficult to describe as the evilness of the holocaust!  Sam, give me your best shot here, buddy!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Okay, you want the best shot as far as….

 

Roger:  I want to believe in altruism, Sam!  I’ve been reading your book!  I want to believe that there is goodness in man!  I really do!  But, I think it’s the same kind of denial that I see elsewhere, that you’re trying to find goodness where there isn’t any.

 

Dr. Oliner:   Ha, ha!  We could go on for hours….

 

Roger:  No!  Because I read your book and I see goodness there, Sam.

 

Dr. Oliner:  Okay, just to convince you a little bit more….

 

Roger:  First of all, before we move on any further, how can people who really want to know about the goodness of man get your book?

 

Dr. Oliner:  That’s an easy one!  It’s out in paperback.  It’s “The Altruistic Personality” and is published by the Free Press.  Any bookstore will have it or can order it for you.

 

Roger:   You get into all the psychology of altruism and evil in your book.  Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into all of that tonight.  What I’m trying to discover, the real essence of this battle between good and evil that mankind has faced since Year 1— Cain and Abel, great story, right?

We ‘ve faced this battle of good and evil forever; but, the holocaust is like this paramount, the climax of evil in modern society!  It’s this incredible story that’s real, that’s so difficult to understand, that I don’t think you can understand it unless you were there!  Even then, I don’t think you could really, truly grasp the evil that was underlying this incredible event.  So, when you talk about altruism, these wonderful people selflessly giving to those in need, regardless of the consequences…

I mean, sure there were a few people who probably snapped and lost and their minds and did good things; but, did really sane people?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Ha, ha!  Absolutely!  They were sane people.  They were rational people.  They were compassionate people!  Let me give you a few quick examples!  I don’t know how time is going?

 

Roger:   I might have to keep you over, Sam!  This is not a subject I want to let die!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Whatever you …

 

Roger:  You just tell me, and we feel like we’ve sufficiently covered the subject, we’ll quit.

 

Dr. Oliner:  Fine.  I am sure the many listeners that you have must have heard of Oskar Schindler, must have heard of Wallenberg.  I’m not going to be speaking about them.  I’m going to give you some more close-to-home figures.

 

RaoulWallenberg, in Hungary, rescued between 30,000-50,000 Jews, just one man,oe man in the face of Nazi persecution of these people.

 

Oskar Schindler, rescued about 1,200 people.

 

Sempo Sugihara, a Japanese, by himself saved 15,000-30,000 people when he was a diplomat in Lithuania, issuing passes to these people.

 

Gergio Perlasca, an Italian rescuer who took over the Spanish Embassy while the Spanish Diplomats fled when Russian armies were advancing towards Budapest. He was able to issue Spanish
passports to Jews in order to save them.

 

The Village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, in France.  A friend of mine studied it very deeply and carefully.  They saved about 5,000 people.  A group of protestants hid these Jews in cafes, in churches, in basements and shed, in forests and under bridges and saved their lives!

 

So, I agree with you —- before I go into a few stories that I know personally, and we’ve interviewed these people—- I agree with you, Roger, that there wasn’t enough done!  There were too many bystanders.  There’s still too many bystanders!  But, I’m saying that education and socialization away from evil and towards facts, truth and the teaching of justice can really take more millions of people away from the role of bystanders or sceptics or even bigots and turn them to people who are at least neutral, and at best empathic to other people’s pain.

 

Let me get to a story which I think shows you it is not random, it is not planned or anything like this!  They were marching a group of people in a very famous city called Krakow, the oldest city in Poland.

 

Roger:  You know, Sam, here’s what’s going to happen to you and me.  We’re going to come up to a break here where I normally go on to other subjects.  We haven’t explored this yet.

 

It think we have too much ground to cover and I need to ask you to stay at least another half hour or even beyond.  It depends how it goes.  Would that be alright with you?

 

Dr. Oliner:  I’ll be very happy to!  You sound like a very important person because by doing what you’re doing, you are inculcating goodness and I appreciate you!

 

Roger:  Now, don’t tag me with this label of altruism.  I am a man who has tried desperately to fight against evil in my own life for many years and I am trying to become what you might call a “good” person.  I think I’ve come pretty close; but, I know in a heartbeat that called to answer the challenge of my own survival or basic and important, maybe political or social concepts, I could be driven to kill people in a heartbeat.  I know that the warrior spirit is alive, in me and in all men!  Our president is about to go and blow up Iraq because we don’t like them denying us the inspections of their facilities.  We are warriors, we are murders, we are takers, we are conquerors….

 

Dr. Oliner:  …. And we are compassionate people as well!

 

Roger:  Yes, well, after the bloodletting we’re always compassionate when we come down from our festive high.  We’ll be back to continue this discussion with Dr. Sam Oliner!  He’s a fantastic guy and the book is fantastic!  It you read the book you will believe in goodness!  “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe”.  Get it at your bookstore! We’ll be right back!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Our guest this evening is Dr. Sam Oliner.  He’s a professor at Humbolt State in California.  The book we’re talking about relates to the holocaust, an incredible book he and his wife wrote called, “The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe” — what led ordinary men and women to risk their lives on behalf of others?

 

Sam and I have been having a little discourse.  I believe that all men are born inherently evil; yet, I have evidence before me in Sam’s book that that is not exactly true.  I’m suffering now in personal crisis trying to overcome it, ladies and gentlemen, but I will before this program is over.  Ha, ha!  I suppose there are some good people out there; but, I think there are damn few of them!  We’ll take some calls from listeners in a bit.

 

Sam, welcome back!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Thank you.

 

Roger:  Alright, the altruistic personality we’ve been talking about, how do we know…. you and I were talking about some of these great names from history…how do we know they didn’t do these things just for history’s sake?

 

 

Dr. Oliner:  Well, you asked a very good question.  You know that I like to talk to you because you ask very good questions!  First of all, altruism… I defined it for you and I said that altruism does not mean that you’re selfless, that you are always altruistic, that you never do anything bad or unjust or unfair.  It means that most of the time you do something kind and compassionate.  What I’m trying to say is that the fact that Wallenberg or one of the people that I’m going to talk about, I have 100s of case here, they helped other people without expecting external reward; but, internal reward—definitely!  Internal reward is the feeling good about yourself, feeling you did something right, feeling you might get some praise from your loved ones and approval.  So, Wallenberg did this because he was a diplomat saving 30,000-50,000 Jews.  But, he also probably felt very good about this.

 

If you call it selfish — I’m going to do something kind for Roger so I will feel good about it— that’s fine!  There’s nothing wrong when a corporation does something for people, for their employees, and they get harder-working, more loyal workers in return, there’s nothing wrong with that.  The thing is internal reward is what counts.  They achieve exactly the opposite of what PG&E or  some other corporation that does something for the people; but, something for himself as well.  Namely, he feels good about this; but, at the same time, in the world of work, you may get better workers.  Internal reward could be called selfish if it’s done for selfish reasons, I don’t know.  It could be said that way; but, that doesn’t deny the existence of altruism just because you did it for internal reward.

 

Roger:  Isn’t ego a sin?  Isn’t pride a sin?

 

Dr. Oliner:  No, absolutely not!  Ego is not a sin!  If you have a healthy ego it makes you a healthy person.  Pride may be a sin if it’s avarice and greed and violence and destroying someone else.  That’s a sin!  Not pride, unless you have too much pride that leads to arrogrance.  Pride and a healthy ego— there’s nothing wrong with that!  As as matter of fact, a guy like Wallenberg who tragically died in a Soviet prison…the irony of history, a man who did so much to save lives, the Soviets arrested him and he rotted in prison.

 

Roger:  But, Sam, nobody would come to the aid of the Jews.

 

Dr. Oliner:  That’s not true….

 

 Roger:  You know the president of the United States.  He knew what was going on in Germany, in Europe!  You know, Sam, that if the America people had known, IF THEY HAD KNOWN they wouldn’t have done anything!  The American people were upset because Pearl Harbor got bombed and they were going to get those Japanese!  But, they didn’t care that Jews and others were being slaughtered by the millions in Europe!  Come on!

 

Dr. Oliner:  That is true…

 

Roger:  They didn’t care!  Where’s the altruism there?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Altruism is right away an individual thing….

 

Roger:  Sam, 24 million African citizens have died in the last decade!

 

Dr. Oliner:  24 million? … African?…. citizens?

 

Roger:  Yes, from war, aids, whatever.  It’s terrible! Nobody cares!  There’s not a lot of people rushing off to Africa to help, are there?

 

Dr. Oliner:   You’re right!  It’s a tragic situation.  Too many of us are bystanders.  Our government is a bystander frequently, politics are bystanders, powers are bystanders.  All of this is geo-politics and all that.

 

In the case of countries during the holocaust, it is true that some individuals in the State Department couldn’t care less because they were anti-semities.  On the other hand, even when you look at other cultures….. for instance, Denmark.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the situation in Denmark during the war.  The notion that when the Nazis finally decided that the Danish people had better give up their 8,000-9,000 Jews to extermination in Auschwitz, the people refused!  The people refused!  King Christian X refused.  The government refused and hid them and transported them across the water to neutral Sweden.  Bulgaria, for instance, did something!  In Greece, the City of Salonika saved most of their Jews, so everybody was not a bystander.  But, I have to agree with you, too many people were bystanders then….

 

Roger:  Are they bystanders or is it really, at it’s root, gutteral level cowardice?

 

Dr. Oliner:  I don’t like the word cowardice.

 

Roger:  Why?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Because coward would imply that you had an opportunity and your leaders, ministers and churches told you to do something and you were too afraid.  I think a better explanation is a bystander is a person who see a tragedy and finds a reason for not doing something for no one has defined for them that they ought to do something about it.  He is not informed enough, involved enough.  So, I think a bystander is a better term than just a coward.  A coward is someone who runs away and hides.

 

Roger:  Let’s explore that because you get into the psychology pretty heavy!  Let’s explore that!  I walk up to some Polish woman and I am some anti-semitic Polish officer serving in the SS and I ask her what she thinks of Jews, like Peter in the Bible.  What does she say?  “They’re not even people, those Jews!  They’re animals!”

 

Dr. Oliner:  There are some people like that.

Roger:  Isn’t that cowardice when deep down inside this Polish woman may have no animosity at all towards Jews?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Cowardice, in that sense, is saying you don’t want to rock the boat and you don’t want to get involved.  You don’t want the policeman or the Nazi to call you a Jew-lover.  In this country the word would be Nigger-lover, if you’re pro-African American.

 

Since you mention this woman, let me give you a story that’s just the opposite and see if you agree with me.

 

Roger:  You tell me the story, then we’ll take a couple of calls and you can give me another story!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Okay!  Well, as I started saying before about this beautiful city, Krakow, Poland that has the most ancient university in the world.  They were marching a group of a thousand Jews to the railroad station to the cattle cars.  A Jewish woman has a small little infant and she knows, somehow deep in her heart she knows that the end is coming.  So she sees some people on the sidewalk of Krakow, sees a blond woman standing there.  She sneaks away from this column and runs over to the Polish woman and says, “Please, I beg you ma’am, to save my child!  They’re going to kill her! I beg you to save my child!”

 

This blond woman takes this 5 month old child, takes it home.  She lives on the 3rd floor of an apartment.  She was neither pregnant or married and the neighbors begin to suspect that it may be a Jewish child.  As evil would have it, someone reported her to the police, namely the Polish police in the service of the Nazis.  (They were not exactly popular after the war.)  Anyway, the Polish police come and arrest this woman with the child and she’s brought to the police station, to a big room with 6 to 10 police officers sitting around their desks.  They sat her down to a desk to wait for the captain to arrive. The Polish captain arrived and he looks at her and barks, “This is not your child, lady!  This is a Jewish child, isn’t it!”

 

By divine intervention, this woman breaks into Academy Award tears, pounds the desk and says, “You should be ashamed of yourself!  Are you men?  Are you Poles?  You call yourselves human beings?  One man in this room has fathered this child,” and she looks around the room at the men sitting there, “ and he called it a Jew so it would be exterminated and he wouldn’t have to take responsibility for it!”

 

Now, you tell me, why did she do that?  What kind of evil is that?  For the rest of the war, she was able to save this child!  There are people like that!  Their stories ought to be known!  They ought to be in history books! The Schindlers and the Wallenbergs ought to be in the history books because they’re more important than Hitler, Himmler and Eichmann.

 

The point I’m trying to make here is that’s the social science interpretation; that altruistic and compassionate people are made— they’re brought up!  Here’s an example of compassion, social responsibility.   And by the way, as a P.S., the child grew up and is a scientist now.  He’s no longer a child— ha, ha!  — the woman is still alive and we had the privilege of interviewing both of them!

 

The State of Israel has an institution called Yad Vashem where they recognize from 15,000 to 18,000 of what they call Righteous Gentiles.  I know this is a tiny little percentage; but, it is something to be put in history books and it helps us to straighten out a little bit of the distorted image of the cynicism that everything is evil, nobody cares and man is nasty and brutish!

 

I think we’ve got to fight that kind of image!  Teachers are trying to do something about it, little by little, by teaching courage, character development, prosocial behavior.  I think there’s hope!  I think there’s hope because the alternative is nothing but despair.  I’ve got thousands of stories I don’t have time to go into….

 

Roger:  Let’s take a call or two and see what our listeners are thinking about our discussion.  We’re going to Brian in Springfield.  Brian, welcome!

 

Caller-Brian:  I want to sorry because I’m going to have to stand behind Sam on this one!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Thank you!

 

Caller-Brian:  I  believe there are altruistic people out there and it’s not human to be “born evil”.  It’s just ignorant!

 

Roger:  Well, were our founding fathers of America ignorant when they slaughtered the Native American Indians?

 

Caller-Brian: Of course!

 

Roger:  Were the Spanish conquistadors ignorant when they slaughtered the Mexican peasants and the Incas and the Mayans?

 

Caller-Brian: Of course!

 

Roger:  Was Alexander the Great ignorant when he conquered Persia?

 

Caller-Brian:  I can’t answer that one.

 

Dr. Oliner:  I think the question…. can I get into this, too?

 

Roger:  Yes, absolutely!  That’s why you’re here!

 

Dr. Oliner:  I didn’t know how that works.  The question that you’re asking about our founding fathers and slavery…. it is obviously within a tradition, with the teachings, within the arrogance of our culture.  It is born out of our misinformation about other human beings, thinking that Blacks and Native Americans were savages without a soul, beasts of burden!  So, I agree with Brian that it is a form of ignorance!  It’s mis-education, under-education!

 

Roger:  So, was God ignorant when he brought the rains and flooded the planet and only Noah and his family survived?

 

Caller-Brian:  He brought the winter on to actually stop the Nazis as they marched into Russia!  He helped us out there!

 

Roger:  Alright, Brian!  I appreciate that!  Thank you very much!

 

Samuel, I am trying to grasp this.  I know from going through your book there are some wonderful people in your book!  I know there are some wonderful  people; but, I don’t know if it’s our nature to be good.  You seem to lead to that conclusion in your book.  That it is our nature…

 

Dr. Oliner:  Probably not our nature.  When a child is born and you see your child for the first time, you don’t know what it’s nature will be.  But, you can probably take a very, very good educated guess that if your child is loved and nurtured, taught the right values and tolerance, if I was a betting man I’d say there’s a 95% chance he or she will grow up to be a decent, caring person because you would be the role model.

 

Roger:  Alright!  Let’s take that decent, caring person and piss them off, fill them with hate, fill them with rage!  Give them a reason, then where do they go?

 

Dr. Oliner:  The decent, caring, compassionate person will probably buy less of the propaganda, will internalize less hate, will probably see two sides of the coin rather than  only one side of the coin.

 

If you look at the people who joined the Nazi movement, these were decent people who I’m not defining out of the human race. These people who voted for Hitler were less educated, more unemployed, less informed, less experience with Jews and more susceptible to the systematic, vicious propaganda.  Remember, Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Education and Propaganda said it so well that it’s used in college textbooks today, “ The bigger the lie, the more frequently repeated, the more likely uneducated people will believe it.”

 

So, I would say that, yes, economic frustration, misinformation, under-education, political frustration, humiliation will absolutely make you a recruitable person to a hate group or to a movement which was nationalistic and chauvinistic.  Hitler said two or three important things to his people which is right on.  He said we are in trouble in Germany because of the Treaty of Versailles, unemployment, horrendous unrest.  We are in trouble!  Do you agree with me?  Vote for me and I’ll solve all your problems. The problems are the Jews, the Bolsheviks, the Communists, the Americans.  Vote for me and I’ll solve your problems.

 

Roger:   Sam, Germany was the most cultured, the highest form of civilization on the planet!The people that supported Hitler, that moved Hitler into a position of power, that gave him money and cut deals with him for their business operations, these were not ignorant people!  These were not uneducated people!  These were the crème de la crème of the world!

 

Dr. Oliner:  There were very rich industrialists, very wealthy people who had businesses and corporations who saw…..

 

Roger:  But, haven’t you just countered your own argument?

 

Dr. Oliner:  No, I have not!  What I’m trying to say is that people made mistakes, including…

 

Roger:  Listen, collect yourself here.  We’re going to take a short break.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be back to continue with our wonderful guest,  Dr. Sam Oliner, about his fascinating book, “The Altruistic Personality” that’s just filled with stories of goodness.  Goodness!  You’ll feel really good after you read the book and you can get it any bookstore.

We’ll be right back.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Dr. Sam Oliner is our guest.  His book, “The Altruistic Personality” is just filled with a lot of interesting psychoanalysis and wonderful stories, tales of good people who put everything at risk to help the Jews during the holocaust.  It goes into great depth about the whole psyche of these individuals, what they were really about deep down in their core.  Fascinating reading!  I hope you’ll get the book!

 

Sam, I want to get through this before we take the next call.  You make this assessment, and I think it’s a dangerous, maybe even arrogant, assessment that people who are uneducated, I mean in the classic sense, are somehow easier to manipulate than people who are educated.  I don’t think that I believe that!  Can you make that argument, really?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Let me put it another way.  People who are less educated are more likely to be involved in stereotypes, more likely to buy distorted images of another group.  They’re more likely to buy into the official line of propaganda.

 

Roger:  Okay, back that up!

 

Dr. Oliner:  I can back that up by……

 

Roger:  Wait!  Now, listen!  That’s a profound statement!  I think that we’re driven by our spirit and by common sense, by instinct and things that are innate within us!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Let me back up for a second and say that I do not mean to imply that people who are less educated are therefore evil or that they are not capable of great compassion and helping.  For example, in our sampling of 800, we found that uneducated people were just as compassionate as educated people.

 

What I’m trying to say and I hope I can make this statement clear is that less educated people are more likely to “buy the line”.  They don’t have the educational background to look at the other side of the coin.  Is it really true that Jews in Germany dominated the economy?  Total absolute nonsense!  There were only half a million Jews in Germany and 80 million Germans!  Now, Jews did very well; but, they were not dominating the economy of Germany.  An informed person would know the economy; the history, the details, the facts and figures and would probably not buy this unless it suited his purpose.  Propaganda is to inflame people. A misinformed person might say, yes, these people are dominating my country, they’re evil, etc.

 

Roger:   Now, I want to agree with you.  Here’s what I want to say, harkening back to the beginning of the program when you talked about initially beginning your class on the Holocaust at Humboldt State because you were surprised at the number of people that didn’t believe that the holocaust even happened—they thought it was a hoax!  I want to tell you something, Sam.  I have met a lot of those people!  A lot more than I care to remember!

 

I was deeply involved in certain studies that led me to the Lector Report and the really egregious things that exist out there; The Protocols of the Elders of Zion!  Let me tell you what I found that I think is rather interesting.  Most of the people who fall for it are low-class white trash, the bottom of the spit!  I’m just telling you from being out there and doing research on my own.  There are hundreds of them, Sam!  Not a few, but hundeds of them!

Most of them are right down,  rock bottom  at the lowest echelon of the class structure.

 

Dr. Oliner:  Economic structure as well.

 

Roger:  So, Sam, I hate to tell you; but, I think you’re right!  Stupid people are dangerous!

 

Dr. Oliner:  They are more susceptible to buying the line.  Especially if they’re not reachable by some method to inform.  Inform the people and I think they’re more likely to make a just judgment, given both sides of the coin.  Thank God for the United States and the free press!  We can counteract bigotry, not that we  have licked it all.  We’re trying!

 

Roger:  Sam, I like to play the devil’s advocate occasionally and I’ve been doing it with you this evening somewhat.  It’s more fun for me!  In all honesty, I’ve now been through 12 or 15 of these interviews, read so many books and done so much research on this subject, I still cannot comprehend the kind of evil that was so compensatory throughout the holocaust.

 

Yet, when I read you book, I cannot in all my wildest dreams imagine that there aren’t really a lot more good people than what has been discovered.  If my neighbor really was in trouble, I would be there.

 

Dr. Oliner:  I know you would.

 

Roger:  I really would!  I would die for principle and I know a lot of my good friends would do the same!  At least, I think we would.

 

But, then faced with this ominous evil authority that came with the Hitler regime and the SS and the hit squads, maybe not!  I don’t know now because I can’t comprehend it!  I cannot, in my mind’s eye, see loading human beings onto cattle cars and dragging them off to their death!  I cannot visualize it, even though I know it happened!

 

So, I go back to the opening paragraph of your book where a man is resting in his sleep, or not resting but having nightmares, and his friend not wanting to awaken him to the worse nightmare of his reality.  That is so powerful!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Yes, it’s by a famous guy, Frankl, who I’m sure you know is a psychologist.  His famous book is “Men Search for Meaning.”  To survive a horror like this is to try to live in you mind, try to suppress the evil around you,  try to think of poetry and beauty and flowers, what might have been or what once was….

 

Roger:  Before I take calls here in just a minute, I just want to ask you this.  Did we learn anything from this horrible atrocity, this terrible, terrible, terrible war on mankind?  Did we learn anything from it?

 

Dr. Oliner:  I think that we have learned something although not enough!  Let me talk about “not enough” because since then we’ve had Bangladesh, Biafra, the Tutsis and the Hutus.  So, we’ve had other genocides.  We haven’t learned enough because our leaders still remain as, I don’t know, moral dwarfs or something — people who did not stand up and intervene in evil.  We have the capability of stopping the slaughter in Bosnia, the Europeans had the capability.  So, we haven’t learned enough!

 

But, we’ve learned something! For one thing, the school systems in a number of states are now teaching about genocide, the massacre of indians, the holocaust and other genocides in 13 other places.  There’s more sensitivity to the idea of …we’ve got to teach prosocial behavior and we’ve got to talk more about moral leaders, moral people.

 

Roger:  Sam, I know you’re living in Eureka, the pot capital of America and all the people are like peaceful and high and everything.  But, do you know what they call it when young Black men in inner-city America are running up and down the streets at night and during the daytime hours, shooting each other and killing each other?  Do you know what they call it?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Go ahead, tell me.

 

Roger:  It’s the “good riddance factor”.  I mean we don’t even deal with these situations in their microcosms in America today, let alone go to Rwanda or Burundi.  We don’t even have the capability of dealing with this horrible evil that exists right here at home!

 

Dr. Oliner:  We have the capability, Roger; but, we are indifferent to it.  We are indifferent…

 

Roger:  Then let me ask you before we go to the break and we’ll take calls immediately after the break— did we really learn anything?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Yes!  We learned that there was evil and some people stood up against evil.  We must be vigilant and we must teach about it.  Some people in this country call it the Holocaust Industry.  No, it’s not!  What it is, we are building libraries and memorials so that people can learn for the future what might happen if we are bystanders, indifferent to the past.

 

Roger:  We’ve got to take a break.  Dr. Sam Oliner is our guest.  His book is “The Altruistic Personality”.  If you want to get a good feel for goodness, get the book!  We’ll be right back to take your calls.  Please stay tuned.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:    Welcome back!  Dr. Sam Oliner is with us.  We’ll go right to the phones, okay?  Jimmy in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  Hello!

 

Caller-Jimmy:  Hello to you and hello to that eminent gentleman we’re talking with.  Can you hear me?

 

Dr. Oliner:  Hello! Yes, I can.

 

Caller-Jimmy:  I’ve enjoyed listening to your comments, especially when the Jews were being ignored by the United States and many others.  How true those words are, Roger!   Roosevelt ignored everything and could have done a lot more than he did!  I have never liked the man because of his actions towards the Jews.  I’m a Catholic; but, I was always taught to be nice to people.

 

53 years ago I saw the Bergen-Belsen, Hannau (sp?) and Dachau camps.  I still find it appalling! I was fortunate enough to have been spared after I had seen the signs of  “Arbeit macht frei”(Work Will Set You Free) that I didn’t go to one camp. But, the sights that I saw were stomach-turning! It was anything but pretty!  George Patton said he wanted every soldier in his Third Army area —- the American soldier didn’t always know what they were fighting for —- He said, “I want you to come and take a damn good look at what you’re fighting against!  This filth!!!”  He hit it right!  That’s just what there were!  To see those human skeletons, I remember it well!  I’m looking forward to your book, Sam!

 

Dr. Oliner:  Thank you very much!

 

Roger:   Thank you, Jimmy.

 

Caller-Jimmy: Goodnight.

 

Roger:  Dave, in Central Point, Oregon.  Hello, Dave!

 

Caller-Dave:  Good evening to you Roger and to your very distinguished guest there. God bless him for living through such a hell!  Listen, Roger, I’ve got tell you, it’s not inherited evil, it’s inherited sin, you know?  And, a lot of what Sam says is true.  It’s ignorance!  The way they tell the lie over and over and over again until people believe.  Look at America!  Look at our own propaganda machine!  You can see it happening at work.

 

Roger:  The media can demonize anyone they want, that’s true.

 

Caller-Dave:  Well, look at the polls.  The sheep believe it!  There you have it.  There’s your proof.  But, it’s inherited sin.  It’s adamic sin! Then add to that our corrupt culture and there you  go!  I’m scared about the rest of the world, like China and Africa and all these other places where it continues.  God help us all!  I hope he comes back soon.

 

Roger:  Dave, I really appreciate your call.  God bless!   Carol in Madison, Wisconsin, hello!

 

Caller-Carol:  Yes, I have an article from the British Medical Journal here headlined, “Half of German Doctors Were Nazis” and it quotes a professor of Medical Ethics, Dr. Michael Grodin and a professor of History of Science, Dr. Robert Proctor.

 

Dr. Oliner:  Yes, I know him.

 

Caller-Carol:  They talk about a meshing of medical ideology and Nazi ideology, namely a homeopathic paranoia, a desire to cleanse the German volk of all impurities and health threats including contamination by undesirable elements in society.  So, those doctors can hardly be called ignorant!  They were the most active of any segment in the population, according to Dr. Proctor’s book.

 

Roger:  Imagine being a scientist….

 

Caller-Carol:  And their ideology is still alive and well today in the anti-smoking movement.

 

Roger:  Carol, thank you.  Hitler did give carte blanche to Mengele and his vast cadre of followers and….

 

Dr. Oliner:  In the name of science, they committed the horrors and atrocities.  The caller is right!  And, by the way, not only ignorant people can do evil, educated people can do evil, to—especially when they have bought into the ideology that they’re doing it in the name of science.

 

Roger:  I think that you can make a case that some people should know better and other you might not expect to be as readily knowledgeable.  Don, in Roseburg, Oregon, hello!

 

Caller-Don:  Hi Roger, howya doin?  I just wondered if the Doctor knew, or if he can sense any of the same things happening in this society now with the liberals as has happened all across…..

 

Roger:  You can’t ask Sam that questio!.  He’s a U.C. Berkely grad!  Ha, ha, ha!

 

Dr. Oliner:   Ha, ha, ha!

 

Caller-Don:  Ha, ha, ha!  Can he sense that type of thing happening, the ignorance of a lot of people?

 

Roger:  Do you see the tentacles of fascism in America today, Sam?

 

Dr. Oliner:  No.  I hope to God not!  I’ve lived in a very fascistic society.  With all our troubles, problems and corruption we have, we still have a belief in democracy.  We still have a belief in freedom of religion and freedom of the press.  When this goes, then we’ve got a problem and we’ve got fascism coming; but, I don’t think that is going to go because there a lot of people sensitive and bright enough not to permit this to happen.  People must have freedom — must have freedom of worship — must have freedom of the press!  So, I feel more safe here.

 

Roger:  Well, the warning signs will obvious, I suppose.  I’ve seen little pieces; but, I do think the people in this country would be hard-pressed to fall into the same trap, let’s hope!

 

Sam, I really appreciate having me you.  You seem like a wonderful guy!

 

 

The book, “The Altruistic Personality,” by Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner is available at your bookstores.  Sam, the pleasure was all mine!

 

Dr. Oliner:  It was my pleasure!   Thank you very much and I thank all your listeners.  They’re wonderful!  Appreciate it!  And Good night!

 

 Roger:  God bless!  Ladies and gentlemen, that’s that for this week’s Holocaust special.  We were only going to go for an hour but it turned out to be so fascinating – at least, it was for me and I hope it was for you.  We’ll be back tomorrow night.  God bless America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

RENA’S PROMISE: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

1-7-1998  Seventh Program in Series

 

Guests: Heather Macadam and Rena Kornreich Gelissen

 

RENA’S PROMISE: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz

 

ISBN-10:  0807070718  and ISBN-13: 978-0807070710

 

 

Roger:    Good evening, everyone!  Thank you very much for continuing to tune into our continuing saga here.  We’ve got several more weeks of The Holocaust series upcoming and we’re getting into a phase of talking with a number of survivors.  This is a most difficult task for a talk show host and for the people being interviewed.

 

Our guest this evening has quite a story to tell, indeed.  Not that all survivors don’t; but, this is a rather interesting and intriguing story this evening.  I want to read the prologue to the book to start out and then I’ll introduce our guest.

 

“I touched the scar on the left forearm just below the elbow.  I had the tattoo surgically removed.   There were so many people who didn’t know and so many questions:  “What do those numbers mean?”  “Is that your address?”  “Is that your phone number?”

 

What was I supposed to say?   “That was my name for three years and forty-one days?”

 

One day a kind doctor offered to remove it for me.  “This is not charity,” he assured me.  “It’s the least I can do as an American Jew.  You were there, I was not.”

 

So I chose to have the questions excised from my arm; but, not my mind —that can never be erased.  This piece of skin the doctor surgically removed rests in a jar of formaldehyde which has turned the flesh to an eerie green.  The tattoo has probably faded by now, I haven’t checked.  I need no reminders.  I know who I am.  I know what I was.

 

I was on the first Jewish transport to Auschwitz.  I was number 1716.”

 

With that, I’d like to welcome Rena Kornreich Gelissen to the program.  Rena, welcome to the show!

 

Rena G:  Thank you.

 

Roger:  It’s a pleasure to have you here.

 

Rena G:   I’m happy to be here.  I’m just sorry my voice is a little bit hoarse.

 

Roger:   We’ll put up with it!  Ha, ha, ha!     I also want to introduce Heather Dune Macadam who is the author of the book.  Heather, you wrote the book for Rena, is that right?

 

Heather M:   Yes.  I worked with Rena for about nine months, interviewing her.  The confusion tends to come from the choice I made to tell her story in first person, present tense.  It’s confusing for some people reading it because they feel she wrote the book.  I call it “method writing”.  We became extremely close and I listened to her with my heart and with my soul and my mind.  There were moments when she definitely came through my fingers as I was writing her story.  Anybody who speaks several languages knows their spoken word is always different than the written word.  Rena speaks fluently in about four or five languages; but, writing in English was much more difficult that speaking in English for her.  So, she used me as her instrument.

 

Roger:   That’s wonderful! Rena, the book is titled, “Rena’s Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz”.  What I would like you to do is talk a little bit about your childhood, where you grew up and your family, please.

 

Rena G:   I come from an Orthodox Jewish family in a little town in Poland called Tylicz.  We had a small farm.  There were two older sisters before us; one was already in the United States – she left when I was a baby, the other one was in Poland living near us.  The youngest one was my sister, Danka, two years younger than I was.  We sort of grew up as just two sisters because the other ones were a lot older.   My oldest sister was sixteen years older and the other sister was fourteen years older than I was.

 

So, I was  together with Danka at home when the war started, September 1, 1939, when Hitler’s army marched into my hometown, Tylicz.  My hometown was only about 2-1/2 miles from the Czechoslovakian border.  Because of the annexation, Hitler’s army was already in Czechoslovakia.  They came in the middle of the night and attacked Poland and the suffering started.

 

Roger:   Now, how old were you when this happened?

 

Rena G:  When the Germans marched in I was nineteen and my sister, Danka, was seventeen.  We escaped to Czechoslovakia, both of us.  My mother heard rumors they were taking Jewish girls to the military compound and raping them and she said she didn’t want to risk this happening to her daughters.  I didn’t want to leave them alone because they were elderly people and they were helpless.  I was young and strong and I wanted to stay with them; but, Mama’s wishes had to be fulfilled because she said, “If you don’t go, then I will go away and you will never see me again.”

So we had no choice.

 

A guide came with a sled in December and brought us both to Czechoslovakia. I don’t know how much you want me to tell about Czechoslovakia?

 

Roger:  Just tell your story, Rena.

 

Rena G:  I was staying with a family in Bratislava and my sister was staying with another family in Bratislava.  She was nanny to a little boy with a Jewish family.  I was with another Jewish family who took me in because they knew what was going on in Poland and they thought what was going in in Czechoslovakia was a lot better because of the annexation, Hitler’s army, the Nazis treated the Jews in Czechoslovakia a lot better.  That’s what Mama thought; it was going to be better that we escape.  We had relatives there in a small town; but, we went to a big city because it was easier to hide us, being foreigners.  The first time we escaped to Czechoslovakia I stayed six months and learned the Czechoslovakian language, so I knew already Slovakian, and my sister, Danka, too.  We both escaped one time.

 

This was our second escape.  She was in the big city there and I was, too.  The people that I stayed with, the Jewish family, heard some rumors they were going to pick up young Jewish girls and bring them to a work camp for forced labor.  They decided to contact a family in a small town in Czechoslovakia, the town is called Hummene.  They decided there was a family who may take me in there.  Maybe in a small town it may be easier to hide, or something like this.

 

Ironically, when I came to the small town about a year later, by that time it was 1941, it was the first town the Nazi SS decided to take to Auschwitz.  There they took 999 young women from Czechoslovakia and I was one of them.  They were picking up Jewish girls from their homes if  they were between17 -19 and 21-22 years.  That’s where it started.  I gave myself up because I was with a young family – I was mostly a nanny to their little five year old daughter.  They were very nice and kind to me.  Then they took (unintelligible) from Hitler’s army, from the Nazis.  If anybody had a foreigner, it was martial law from now on.  There were big signs everywhere in the building.  Martial law means if you’re hiding a foreigner, then the person that you are hiding will be killed on the spot, there will be no arresting, no punishment or anything, you’re just going to be dead!  And any family keeping a foreigner is just going to be killed!

 

By that time I was 21 years old and I certainly understood what it meant — a young family with a five year old girl that I loved very much—and she loved me, too.   They didn’t want me to go, to give myself up.  We foreigners were supposed to give ourselves up to a military compound.  They didn’t want me to go.  When they left to go shopping with their little girl, I sneaked out after I quickly wrote a letter to my little sister.  I had a fiance there since my first trip and I wrote him a letter telling him I had to go because there was no choice.

 

I went to the military compound and gave myself up thinking I’m going to a working camp.  They kept us there the whole night—quite a few other people like me, foreigners.  The next morning we were escorted by two SS men to the train.  No, first they took me back to the family I stayed with and told me I could pack as much stuff as I wanted to take with me.  So, I did.  I packed my suitcase, I didn’t have so much; but, I did have some belongings to take with me.  They took me to the train station.  I didn’t see a train, all I could see was  cattle cars.  All the young girls and we discovered we were the ones to go in the cattle cars.  That was the first beginning of being taken to Auschwitz.

 

I arrived at Auschwitz six days later.  It was March 26, 1941.

 

Roger:   Describe your first day at Auschwitz fto me, if you could, please?  What was the routine?

 

Rena G:   From the beginning when we arrived?

 

Roger:  Yes.

 

Heather M:  If I may interject here, it was 1942.

Rena G:   Sorry, sorry, I’m a little bit nervous!

 

Heather M:  That’s okay!  It does get confusing.

 

Rena G:  She knows the dates very well.

 

Heather M:  She has an amazing memory!

 

Roger:  Yes, the first day, Rena.

 

Rena G:  We arrived there first on the cattle cars there was standing room only because there are no seats in a cattle car.  So we stood the whole time, six days, no food, no drink—nothing at all!  We had our suitcases with us; but we couldn’t even sit on our suitcases because there was no room, that’s how packed it was—between 80-100 people in one cattle car.

 

On the way there somebody asked, “Is somebody here from Poland?”  At first I was very absent-minded and miserable seeing what was going on in that cattle car.  It didn’t register right away, I didn’t hear it.  Then I said, “I am Polish.”  The man said, “We are going to take you off and see where you are going to.”  We didn’t know which country were in. “Could you read the station names, maybe?”  So I saw the signs were in  the Polish language-I was reading the Polish name for Auschwitz.

 

When we arrived there in Auschwitz, the doors opened up and we had to jump down about five feet with the suitcase in our hands.  After spending six days standing, our knees almost broke when we did that!    We were standing there with the suitcases and we were told to put the suitcases in one pile by six SS men standing there in beautiful shiny boots with rifles and guns.  We were supposed to line up.  There were some elderly people there with  us, too.  The young people, all of us young girls, the 999 they took from Hummene were supposed to line up in rows of five.

 

I studied the German language when I went to Hebrew school and I thought I could speak German.  I walked up to one of the officers and said, “How are we going to find our suitcases if we have to throw them in that pile?”   He told me, “Shut up and get in line!”  So, I had a pretty good idea when I looked at them, I said, “Oh boy!  This is not going to be a work camp!”  It’s horrible to say that the people that you’re taking for work — not giving them food the whole time, nothing to drink — if you’re want somebody to work, you feed them if they have to work, even if it’s forced labor.  Anyway, I put the suitcase down and then they marched us into camp.

 

Over the gate in the camp next to us was the mens’ camp. They made a temporary station, a wall separating the men’s camp (from the womens’ side ?).  They had buildings called blocks, numbered from 1 to 24,  with 12 on one side of the wall with the electrical high-power wire and the  rest on  the other side.  We  marched in there and we had to stand in rows of eighteen.  One row was going into the first building, block 2, and we had to go in from the back.  I wasn’t in that first row.  Other girls were going in there and then coming out the front door to line up again to stand up for roll call.

 

When we were standing there, some of the girls went in.  Then we saw  people coming out. We thought that these people looked crazy; they had shaved heads and junky uniforms, just a piece of wood on the foot with leather straps that was supposed to be a shoe.  It was March and it was snowing and raining a little bit at the same time.    Then I heard one of those girls shouting to  her sister, “They took away everything from us!  It’s me, it’s me!”she said to her sister.

 

We got terrified!  We thought at first it looked like mentally retarded people!  I said, “Why would take mentally retarded people to a concentration camp?”   They were our girls; but, that’s what they looked like, with shaved heads, wood strapped on for shoes, wearing uniforms with no buttons on it, they were holding onto the pants and the jacket at the same time!

 

They took away our jewelry, too.  I had earrings. One of the girls was shouting, “Get rid of it, just shove it into the mud or something, don’t give it to them.”  So, I took off my watch, I forgot I was wearing earrings; but, I took off my watch and shoved it into the dirt.”

 

When we went in they registered us.  When they asked me where I was from, I said, “Poland.”  So they  put down “Polish” and they understood that I was Gentile so they gave me a Red Triangle because the Yellow Star was for the Jewish people and they thought I was Polish.  I was the only Polish girl there on the transport because it had come from Czechoslovakia, not Poland.  So they put down just the nationality.

 

They told us to take off our clothes and fold them neatly in bundles and to tie the shoes together if they had shoelaces.  Then they started processing us; shaving our heads and all bodily hair and dumping us in disinfecting wash tubs, old fashioned wooden ones.  After this we were supposed to march in another room where there were piles and piles of uniforms.  We had no idea what kind of uniforms they were because we didn’t see the insignia on them anymore, some of them were without buttons.  We were supposed to be putting on these uniforms.  We were all naked, no underwear, nothing at all, just the uniform on the naked body – and a piece of wood with a leather strap for the feet!  We started with each other; some of us were taller, some short, and the pants were too long, so it was really chaos!  We were terrified, and still without food and without drinking!  Then they marched us outside for roll call.

 

After this they, with the group that I was in, put us in Block 5.  When they came into the room on the 2nd floor – there were two floors in the building— they came into the room and locked the door on the outside.  We were still without food or anything.  Then we saw straw lying on the floor, a whole pile of straw.  Some of the girls were exhausted and laid down.  Then we discovered it was full of bedbugs.  Everybody was covered with the bedbugs, faces covered with bedbugs!  This was our first introduction to Auschwitz!

 

We pounded on the door, “Let us out!  What did we do?”  We were naive. We didn’t have any idea that we (unintelligible).   I already had experience with them in my hometown, when they came in they made us do slave labor already, scrubbing their floors and polishing their boots and doing their laundry; but, I didn’t experience anything like this, being shaved and things.  I was wearing my own clothes in my hometown.

 

In the morning we went on roll call.  On the third day they put in another building, Block 10.  All the brick buildings were called Blocks and were were moved to Block 10 because new transports were coming in every single day.  We didn’t goout to work, we just went for roll call in the morning.  After roll call we each got a little piece of bread,  like 3” x 3”, and a bowl of so-called tea which was a kind of black water they called tea.

In Block 10 the bare straw was not there.  There  was burlap for cover, stuffed with straw and we were sleeping there on those beds every one of them in three tiers— bunkbeds.

 

Roger:   When did you get the tattoo, 1716?

 

Rena G:   The 2nd day when we came for roll call, we didn’t march out to work yet, so we didn’t know what we were waiting for.  We just marched out for roll call.  The SS came in and counted us—back into the building—then we had to march again to the mens’ camp.  There in the mens’ camp the men were sitting there with needles for tattooing and on the left arm they put the tattoo.  Then a couple of days later they gave us material to sew our number on the sleeve of the uniform.  1716 was the number I had to sew on the dress.

 

Heather M:   A note here, they started numbering the Jewish women at 1000 because on the same day, March 26, 1942 — this footnote comes out of the “Auschwitz Chronicle” which was compiled by Danuta Czech. It is a day-by-day accounting of everything that happened at Auschwitz from 1939-1945.  One of the footnotes that is in the book states that 999 German women classified as A-Social, Criminal and a few political prisoners received the numbers 1 to 999.  Those women are Capos, who were over the Jewish women…

 

Rena G:  Excuse me for interrupting.  They just had the numbers on their clothes.

 

Heather M:  Right.

 

Rena G:  Only Jewish people were tattooed.

 

Heather M:  Right, they were not tattooed.  The capos were German prisoners who were put in charge of the Jewish prisoners.

 

Roger:  So, you have your number, you’ve sewed it on your uniform.  How large were the blocks?

 

Rena G:  They were pretty large buildings.  There was just a big room downstairs and a big room upstairs, maybe 15 ft x 20 ft with all the bunkbeds in one row along the side.

 

Roger:  How many girls in one Block?

 

Rena G:  In one Block the first time we came in, all of us on the first transport were divided into four Blocks.  One Block was for the newcomers to come in.  The groups on the first transport I came with, the 999, we were in two Blocks.  We were taken out of Block 5 where they put us on the first day because they needed it for the newcomers, we were staying there on the lower floor and on the second floor.

 

Roger:   I have to take a commercial break.  If you could please hold and be patient, we’ll be right back, ladies and gentlemen, and continue after the break.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

 

Roger:  Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back!  Our guests this evening are Heather Macadam who wrote the book for Rena Cornreich Gelissen.  The book is “Rena’s Promise: The Story of Two Sisters in Auschwitz.”

 

Rena, I want to go back to those first days in Auschwitz with you.  You got a tattoo.  Now,you said that you were not identified, at first, as Jewish; but only as Polish.

 

Rena G:  Yes.  Later on there were no Polish girls in this camp.  Later on they let me have the same number I kept when I had the Red Triangle.  But, they still treated me just the same as the other Jews. because the Gentiles, the Polish people, when they came in later, they did not treat in the same way and they did not sleep in the same barracks, in the same buildings.  They had separate barracks with a little bit better beds, mattresses and  blankets.  So, I stayed there but it didn’t change the Triangle.

 

Roger:   So, it was kind of a class system there in the camp?

 

Rena G:  Yes.

 

Roger:   People who were Gentiles got more  food and better housing and all that?

 

Rena G:   Not exactly more food, maybe a little bit more food; but, better treatment and different kind of work.  They did not work with us when we marched out to work.  This was later when we went to another camp.  In the meantime…..

 

… I neglected to tell you, I should have explained probably, that the title, “Rena’s Promise,” the publisher decided on this title.  The reason for it is that when my Mama and Papa decided to have a guide, when he came with a sled, they got dressed and they put us into the sled and covered us with blankets because it was snowing, it was December and it was pretty cold.  Mama whispered in my ear, “Take care of your little sister,” because she was two years younger.  Mama always said “Take care of your little sister,” when we went out to play.  I said, “Yes, Mama.”

 

I didn’t know that there was very little that I could do for her.  I did whatever I could; but, Auschwitz wasn’t a place that I could take care of my sister or give her comfort, or protect her from beatings, or give her more food, or anything.    But, I was doing for my sister, whatever I could.

 

Roger:  Trying to keep that promise to your mother.

 

Rena G:  Yes!  And, the publisher decided  the title of the book should be “Rena’s Promise”.

 

Roger:   I think the publisher made a good choice.  Rena, how long were you at Auschwitz before your sister came?

 

Rena G:  Only three days.  On the third day after we went for the tattoo– and it was very painful, too– I shouldn’t have gone anywhere, but, the transports were coming in and I sneaked away looking for air because I was afraid if more people were going to come there’s going to be a big crowd and I wouldn’t recognize her, especially with a shaved head and everything.  I might not know who she is, so how could I get her?  I wanted to keep her with me, close to me, so I sneaked away instead of going into the Block.  The other ones one standing there with the shaved heads, I looked the same as they did because we wore the same uniforms.

 

On the same day as I had the tattoo, there she was!  I recognized her.  She had red hair and beautiful brown eyes!  So, I recognized my sister!  I grabbed her by the hand and said, “Pretend we are important her and we are going into Block 10.  We’ll see what happens.”  She was shaking and looked at me.  At first, she didn’t recognize me.  She went into Block 10 and I asked the Block Elder who was dealing out the bread — my sister came from Bratislava, for more than three days without food — I told the Block Elder she was very hungry.  She said, “Okay.  You help me deal out the bread today, give the portions to everybody and you get an extra portion for your sister.”  So, two portions plus an extra portion.  I did help with the bread dealing out to everybody and got the extra portion.

 

Then she started telling me how she was in Czechoslovakia with the Jewish family, how they came to the house picked her up and just took her Auschwitz.  She didn’t know where she was.  She was for many days on that cattle car, just as we were.  They took away everything, too!

 

I forgot to tell you, I also had earrings in my ears and my sister had, too, Danka.  My grandfather, my mother’s father, was giving to all his granddaughters when they were six years old, entering school, giving gold earrings and a little ring with a turquoise stone.  When the woman took away the clothes from us and told us to fold the clothes neatly and tie the shoes, I walked away.  I forgot I threw the watch outside so I stepped on it and forgot I was wearing these earrings since I was a little girl, since I was six years old.  She said, “Get those earrings here or I’m going to tear them off your ears!”  So, I took them off and threw them in that bowl they had for all the jewelry.  My sister had to do the same thing.  When she came out I asked her, “Did you have to take off the earrings yet?”

She said, “Yes, she shouted at me because I didn’t know I had to them off.”

 

Heather M:  Danka’s number was 2779.

 

Rena G:  Yes.  I forgot to tell you, when we went for the tattoos — the German woman, the one who came from prison to be our superior, did the shaving, the disinfecting and also the registration, not of our names but just which countries we came from.  The same woman was in charge of everything else, the uniforms and what we put on.

 

While I was in line for my uniform, I forgot to tell you, there was a table on the other side— like, I’m standing in the middle of the room and to the right is going for the uniforms, all stark naked we go and stand for the uniforms!  To the left is the so-called doctor standing at a long table.  Every girl had to go naked on that table!  Naked!  He had rubber gloves and he was examining the girls.  I was naïve, I had no idea what he was doing!  I found out later he was looking in all the crevices of the body for jewelry.  There was screaming and crying!  It was painful!  Instead of going to the left to that table, I decided quickly to go with the naked girls who were already processed from the table, to go with them to the uniforms.  So, I cheated them out of that  experience!  I cheated Hitler out of the first horrible experience, that I wasn’t examined and I didn’t suffer the pain!

 

When Danka came, I told her to do the same thing.  But, they stopped doing it the third day.  I don’t know what they were doing later; but, she said she wasn’t exposed to it at all.  They didn’t make them go there.

Roger:    What was going through your mind after you settled in there for a few days?  Did it begin to seem hopeless immediately or …?

 

Rena G:  Yes, it did!  I looked at them and I decided, these are not human beings, these are monsters!  They were already pretty bad; they almost shot my father to death while I was still at home, doing all the work for them and the way they treated us!  I decided that they’re the enemy; they are the bad people and we are the good people!  I’m going to make sure we survive!  If I can’t save my sister, I don’t need to live; but, I have to keep the promise to my Mama so I’ll see to it that we stay alive!  I tried very hard, both of us tried very hard to stay alive.

 

One night, we were only there for four days, I heard some shots outside.  Danka was already asleep, she was exhausted.  We still didn’t go out for detail, for working.  We still were in Block 10 and there were windows on the second floor.  Through the windows on the second floor we could see over the wall, the wall was shorter than our windows, we could see the Polish men (we found out later that they were Polish) on the other side, from their windows looking out.  When Danka came I stood by one of the windows there, opened up, I heard shots at night and I was intrigued by it. I was wondering, did  those shots mean that every night or every morning, they were going to shoot us, a couple of us at a time?

 

The man shouted from the window on the other side, “Anybody from Poland?”   I said, “Yes, I am, my sister and I.” because the rest were all Slovakian Jewish girls.  They asked, “What can I do for you?”   I said, “Well, she’s very hungry,  with so many days on the train.”  We didn’t get much bread here either.   I said, “I have something very important to ask you.  I hear shots every night and I’d like to know what it is?   Does that mean they’re shooting so many of us every night, so many of us?”

 

He said, “No.  I’m going to write you a note.  Listen,  you have one toilet in that building there.   When you get a note from me with the bread I’m going to send for your sister, when you get the note, it will explain to you what the uniforms you are wearing, what the shooting means.  You’ll have to flush it down the toilet or if you can’t get rid of the note any other way, just eat it, swallow it.”

 

Roger:    Rena, I’ve got to take a break here.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’re talking about the book, “Rena’s Promise: The Story of Sisters in Auschwitz”.   We’ll be right back.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Welcome back!  We’ve got Rena Gelissen and Heather Macadam on with us tonight.  Rena, you were talking about the note.  Did you get this note?

 

Rena G:  Yes, I got the note!  He told me to destroy it and I gave the bread to my sister because she was very hungry.  The note I read.  The note explained to me what the shootings were about.  There were 12, 000 Russian prisoners of war.  The straw I saw in Block 5, the Russian prisoners used to sleep there and that’s why it was full of bedbugs and lice.  It said we probably now had it in the uniforms, too.  That was true!  He said the of the 12, 000 there were about 500 left.  Everyday they shoot more of them!  The uniforms you are wearing are from the dead Russian prisoners!

 

Roger:   Could you see out and around Auschwitz much?  Could you see what was going on in the surrounding areas?

 

Rena G:   I didn’t see anything but the buildings across from us, the mens’ buildings.  When they came back from work in the evening, I saw them from the windows where we looked out.  They told me that every day there were shots.  When I heard the shots later on, I looked out the window.  They bolted up the windows from this side.  It was between Block 11 and Block 10.  We were in Block 10, the building was Block 10.  Block 11 was the Block of Death.  It’s still called the Block of Death.

 

When I looked out the window, I sneaked out after Danka fell asleep because I didn’t want to scare her, I sneaked out to the window.  Between the boards at the top I could see against the wall of Block 11, a soldier standing —in the same uniform I was wearing— with hands up against the wall and under my window I didn’t see anybody; but, I heard the shot and the soldier fell down.  I heard the shot and another one fell down,…l and on, and on, it went for the rest….

 

Heather M:   I’d like to add to that.  Anybody who visits Auschwitz today, there is a memorial in that spot where Rena witnessed the Russian POWs being murdered.  It is right between Block 10, where she was imprisoned when she first came to Auschwitz through August 1942,  and Block 11 which is called the Block of Death.  There is actually a courtyard between those two blocks and there is a memorial in that area where she witnessed the POWs being executed.

 

Roger:   Rena, how long were you in Auschwitz?

 

Rena G:   Altogether, when the Russians were coming close in 1945 the Nazis took us as hostages on a Death March.   They were fleeing and they took us on a Death March.  The whole thing together; first Auschwitz One which I’m telling you now.  Later on they changed I and put us in the fall to Birkenau, where the crematoriums and gas chambers were.  Then they took us on the Death March, then they took us to Ravensbruck in Germany, then another camp, Neustadt-Glewe in Germany.  On May 2, 1945—by that time it was three years and forty-one days, we were liberated by the 82nd Airborne of the American army.  They’re stationed right here in North Carolina where I live.

 

Roger:   What kind of work did you do all those years?

 

Rena G:  Oh, my God!  It was digging for planting, somebody else was planting.  We were digging the ground and turning it over.  Then it was sifting sand,  like you do for buildings.  They were building more buildings because there were more Jews coming in and some of the younger they were keeping in these buildings.  Then we were going out to sift that sand and put it in lorries.  I don’t know if you know what a lorry is.

 

Heather M:   A wagon.

 

Rena G:  Yes. Usually they’re put on railroad tracks; but, they made us…four on one side, four on the other side… load us the lorries with sifted sand and bring them to the buildings where the Polish men were building the buildings.  They were there as political prisoners and for religious reasons.  There were priests ….

Roger:   How big were the gas chambers?

 

Rena G:  Well, I wasn’t in them, thank God!  It was a big building.  One time my friend that came from my hometown was assigned where they were sorting the clothes from the gas chamber.  Jewish people were supposed—the young kids and the elderly, everyone over 32 or 33 years and under 17 or 18 were all going to the gas chambers.   Their clothes were put in another building where my friend from my hometown was working.  They were helping fold and ship them to Germany, all the clothes.

 

While I was there that one day, I tried to get into another detail, not working outside.  I thought it was kind of hard working outside and she was under a roof and sometimes she could find some chocolate in the pockets of the Jewish people who were brought into the camp, and sometimes pieces of bread.  She suggested that we come in.  So Danka and I went in.  While I was there I found a coat of my uncle in Czechoslovakia.  His name was Yacov and he was a tailor.  My aunt had a black persian coat.  One of the things I was folding was my aunt’s coat.

 

Roger:   Oh, boy!   Ladies, we’ve run out of time for this hour.  I want to thank you very, very much, Rena.  You’ve given us some insight on what it was like that first day.

 

Rena G:   I want to thank you because I want people to know because I promised myself in camp, two things; that I’m going to take care of my sister and when I come out alive I’m going to tell the story and world is never going to have a war anymore.  But, that didn’t come out exactly, did it?

 

Roger:  Well, keep working at it!  You’ve got a lot of insight and a lot of wisdom.  Maybe someone will listen to you!  How do people get the book, Heather?

 

Heather M:  We are being published by Beacon Press in America.  It’s available in local bookstores.

 

Roger:   Thank you ladies, for sharing your wonderful story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

Theological Perspectives of the Holocaust

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

2-18-1998  Fifteenth Program in Series

 

Guest: Dr.  Barry R. Leventhal

 

Topic:  Theological Perspectives of the Holocaust

 

Roger:   Welcome once again, ladies and gentlemen!  It’s a pleasure to be back with our special this week.  We’re running down to our last few guests now, bringing us to a climax.  It’s been a wonderful series!  We’ve met some wonderful people and learned a lot, a whole lot about the holocaust and all the different social and political and moral and spiritual implications.  It’s just mind-boggling that you can learn so much, even when so much has already been taught to us in our lives, there’s so much more to learn!

 

Our guest this evening is Dr. Barry Leventhal.  He did a doctoral thesis on the Theological Perspectives of the Holocaust.  I don’t know Dr. Leventhal at all; but, what I’ll do is just bring him on and we’ll all meet him together— bring him on and let him introduce himself!  Barry, hello!

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Hello!  Greetings!

 

Roger:  It’s a pleasure to have you here, sir!  I guess where I want to start, since I don’t have a copy of your work is to have you to give a little biographical detail of who you are.

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Well, my doctoral dissertation was a climax of doctoral Phd program at Dallas Theological Seminary.  My degree was granted in 1982.  My dissertation was on the Theological Perspectives of the Holocaust.  Since that time I have spoken and written on it many times and many places around the world.  I’m now serving with Shoresh Ministries out of Jacksonville, Florida.  I also teach at  Southern Evangelical Seminary where I live in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

Roger:  Were you with Ariel Ministries for awhile?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Yes, many years on their board and I also served as co-director for a few years.

 

Roger:  With Arnie Fructenbaum over there, right?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Yes, right.

 

Roger:  I guess what I would ask you first is what ever got you started down this path for your doctoral thesis?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Ha, ha!  Well, it wasnt’ initially the path I chose.  When I went back to do research—I’d completed my Masters program and was out ministering for many years, then went back to study and to teach —I want interested in another area.  When in to discuss my dissertation work and laid out what I was thinking about, my Doctoral advisor, Dr. Charles Ryrie, said, “I’ll let you do that; but, before we decide I want you to take a couple of weeks to pray about doing something about the holocaust.”  I asked why and he said that there’s no evangelical work on it of any substance; no dissertations, no book books on it from and evangelical position.  He said that he thought I needed to pray about it then if I decided to go in another direction it would be fine.

 

As I left his office I was convinced there was no way I was going to step into that vast darkness!  I discussed it with my wife, Mary, and we prayed about it.  I went back and got approval to do this work which was finished about 3 or 4 years ago.  It was a challenge from a professor who felt very deeply that we needed something from our perspective to say about it to believers as well as those outside the faith who are struggling about it.

 

Roger:  Give us all the juicy details, Barry.  What did you discover?  Obviously, you felt compelled to move in this direction.  What was step one and where did it take you?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  In the First Chapter that was rather lengthy, over 100 pages, I wanted to do a survey of what religious Judaism had to say about the holocaust; meaning by that, Jewish rabbis, theologians and philosophers.  I did not do any research  with lay persons per se.  You have to limit it somewhere; so I spent time at different libraries in the United States, I was in Poland and I spent a summer living in Jerusalem and doing research at Yad Vashem, the International Holocaust Archives Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

 

Really, that confirmed to me the awful struggle, the painful struggle within Judaism; no matter whether you’re believing from an ultra-orthodox position, all the way to a reformed or even more liberal position.  There’s just no authoritative answers, no really convincing answers no matter what position you’re coming from!  That was really painful research to do; but, it needed to be done.  It really set the context for what we can say about it from a biblical evangelical position, basically.

 

Roger:  You were raised in Judaism?  So, what led you to Christianity?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Yes.  My grandparents came from Russia and Hungary around the turn of the century.  They were orthodox Jews looking for a freer and better life, obviously.  My parents were born here.  While my grandmother was alive I would spend many hours with her in an orthodox synagogue.  After she died I was raised and had my bar mitzvah in a conservative synagogue.  I’ve always believed that I was Jewish because I was born that way.  I always believed in God, basically.  I never had any reason to question it.

 

I went to high school and then off to college at UCLA.  When I was there I was in a Jewish fraternity.  I was there on an athletic scholarship as well, playing football.  Through a series of circumstances, one of my best friends who had been raised as an Episcopalian told me that he had come to know Jesus as the Messiah and his Savior in a personal way.  I said, “What are you talking about, you’re a gentile?  You’re not supposed to believe that Jesus is the Messiah!”

 

So, through a series of circumstances and discussions with him and other people, just before I graduated in 1966, through a lot of painful thinking and realizing that at that age the reaction of my parents and my Jewish fraternity, nevertheless, as I went through the Hebrew Bible and studied it, I became convinced that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies and he must be the Messiah.

As I studied the New Testament for the first time, realizing my own sin and that I couldn’t pay back to God what I needed to pay back, I had to trust in Him even as Abraham did – he believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.  I invited Him into my life and thanked Him for being the Messiah and Savior of me personally, as well as all the Jews in the world.  That happened in April, 1966.  It was the beginning of the journey, really!

 

As I moved out and graduated, I was supposed to go to Grad school and become a teacher.  I ended up on staff of what was called at that time, Athletes in Action  with Campus Crusade for Christ.  I was with them for a couple of years then went to Dallas Seminary the first time from 1968-1972.

 

I’ve been involved in various works around the United States and Israel, establishing congregations and teaching at the graduate level and so forth.  I have a wonderful wife, Mary, I met through Campus Crusade.  We have four children who are, in theory, grown – two married daughters, and one of my daughters has given us a grandchild!  We have two sons; my oldest son is a first year Dallas Seminary student and my youngest son, Timothy, is working in Blacksburg, Virginia.  That’s summarizing a lot!

 

Roger:  When you use the term “theological perspectives on the holocaust,” can you expound upon that and define it for us?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Sure!  You hit it on the head!  I’m not trying to prove any particular point or say that there’s one particular solution or answer to the holocaust.  My point is, what can we tell from the Bible that would give us theologically to something like the holocaust?

 

It’s really a particular quest under a much larger philosophical issue that’s been wrestled with for centuries that’s called Theodicy.  In a genuine theodicy you are wrestling with, “How can God be just in light of the evil in the world?”  The holocaust is a particular kind of evil under the theodicy question.

 

I began by looking at the whole question of the calling of the covenants that God made with Israel, built into them being the fact that Genesis 12:1-3, “Bless Abraham, bless his seed and bless the whole world through his seed.”  In Genesis 12:3 He builds in what some have called an anti-semitic clause where he says, “I will bless those who bless Abraham and his seed and I will curse the one who curses him.”  This whole concept that in some unique eternal way, Israel as a people, as a nation, is set aside for God’s purposes and to tamper with the “Apple of God’s Eye” is to bring on some form of curse or judgment.  So, I dealt with that.

 

I then dealt with other aspects of the covenants, the Davidic Covenant in 2nd Samuel and also in 1st Chronicles 17 talks about an ultimate son of David who would sit on his throne forever.  This would be a king who would not have to be judged or disciplined by God as His Father, who would be one who would be the rightful eternal heir to the throne.  Up to that time, every king of Israel until this final Messianic King comes, would experience the rod of men against him and also against his people.  Sure enough!  As you trace it through Biblical history, whenever the kings of Israel went away from God and apostasized, they brought upon themselves the judgment of God, through other nations and through dispersion, and upon their people as well.

 

 

This carries over into, of course, not the kings of Israel; but, this calling on Israel in terms of their calling to be the people of God.  Amos 3:2 says (Amos speaking for God)  “becase I have chosen you from all the nations of the world, I will bring upon you whatever discipline is necessary.”  So, there’s that whole aspect; that the calling brings privilege, it brings awesome responsibility and judgment.  Within the call, the nation as a whole in the Old Testament, in the Hebrew Bible as well as down through history, has pretty much been routinely unfaithful except for what the Hebrew Bible calls the remnant of Israel, a small core of true, faithful Israelites in the Old Testament period, the New Testament period and in the future — who remain faithful to the covenant promises and conditions.

 

I also try to show there is documentation; from catholic, protestant and jewish historians that were literally thousands of messianic Jews that died in the holocaust; in the ghettos of Europe and the extermination camps.  They were part of the believing remnant that went into the camps with their faith.  Many came to faith within the camps themselves!  One of the all-time books that gives evidence to this,among many others, is Rachmiel Frydland’s book,  “When Being Jewish Was a Crime.”   He’s Jewish himself and is also messianic believer.  Many, many whole families of Messianic Jewish believers from Poland and Romania that he knew personally did not survive.  So, there’s that whole aspect of the remnant.

 

Then you’ve got the whole issue of why is there such a Satanic and demonic thrust to destroy the Jews?  All the way through the Bible, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, you’ve got this utter satanic hatred to destroy the Jews.  It’s bound up, among other things, with that if there’s no Jewish people left at the time of the end, the Last Times; then the Messiah cannot come to set his kingdom up because there’s got to be a covenant people, a remnant, who will embrace the covenant promises.  If there is no covenant people, then the Messiah cannot come again!  The enemy of heaven knows he cannot attack the risen Messiah who is sitting on His throne; but, he can attack the people who still have a future with him.  So, it’s all wrapped up in the eschatology of the Bible.  There’s that perspective, as well.

 

Then there’s some other angles too in terms of the theodicy question that I wrestle a lot with, especially over the last few years when I speak on college campuses.  Why is it worse to reject God in view of the holocaust than to embrace Him with all the struggles there are to embrace Him?  If you read through a book like “Knight,” by the leading storyteller of the holocaust, Elie Wiesel, and you’re convinced that he really became an atheist!  He was a religious Jew before the holocaust.  His family dies, ultimately his father, and he says that his faith went up in the smoke of burning children!  Yet, after the war, in several journal articles and magazines, he makes statements like this, “I can’t accept the holocaust with God, I can’t accept the holocaust without God.”

 

The question is why isn’t he able to throw off God completely as many other Jewish theologians like Richard Rubenstein did and other Jewish lay persons did?  The answer is simple.  It’s simple in it’s understanding, it’s deeply painful in its outworking, however!  If we throw off God for any reason, in light of the holocaust or any other evil or suffering, then the only other alternative in terms of determining what is law, what is moral, what is ethical….. if there is no God? That leaves it up to the human animal, to human beings, to men!  It means the whole thing is thrown up into the air as relative, there is no absolute moral transcendent law that handed down that we are accountable to.  Therefore, things like majority rule, the elite dictators or party at the top determine what’s right and wrong.

Therefore, if there is no God, the Nazis had every single right to determine for themselves who were the Aryans of the pure race and who were the vermin that needed to be destroyed!  You can’t hold them accountable if there is no God because they had every right to determine for themselves, on a human level, what is right and wrong, what is good, better and best in terms of morals, values and purpose!  And that is exactly what they did!  From the top down, the people, as a majority, were in favor of what took place, even though someone said that on the day the war ended, you couldn’t find anyone anywhere in Germany who said they were a Nazi.

 

Nevertheless, like our culture today, if you cited the polls for a particular moral issue, whether it’s abortion or euthanasia, the polls would have shown that the majority of Germans were in favor of exterminating the Jews, the gypsies and political dissidents and homosexuals. Because they were vermin, they would do away with them so they wouldn’t infect the Aryan race!  So,  Wiesel knows if you throw God out, then you’re thrown into a whole humanistic determining scales for morals, values and purpose.  That is worse than that God somehow must be involved even though I may not be able to explain it.

 

Roger:  Let me just interject something here.  You can expound on it if you like.  Did the holocaust move forward the cause of God or did it set man back and move him closer to secular humanism?

 

Dr. Leventhal:   I don’t know how we can even measure…. it’s a good question… I don’t know how we can measure.  I suspect that probably both answers are true.  Anytime that suffering and pain comes in our lives as individuals or as a society, it forces us to come to grips with; who is man, who am I, what is our society, is there a God, if not, why not?   So, those kinds of ultimate questions are good.  It forces us to get out of our comfort zones, our materialism.  In that quest, when we are in pain, many people find God, as the did in the holocaust!  On the other hand, many people lose God in that quest.  They turn against Him and become bitter.  They set themselves up as their own God to determine what is right and what is wrong.

 

Roger:  Is it a fair question….let’s say you’re a sonderkommando at Auschwitz and you’re sorting through the bodies and pulling gold teeth, do you ask the question; why would God let this happen? — or if there is a God, this wouldn’t happen?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Are you talking about the sonderkommando, himself?

 

Roger:  Yes.

 

Dr. Leventhal:   Of course, he was already committed by faith to a worldview that said there was no God.  When there’s no God, as Dostoevsky said, everything is permissable.  Their worldview was that man was in charge, that he was the highest value, the highest calling and; therefore, he could do whatever he wanted with no accountability whatsoever.

 

You’re talking about the perpetrators.

 

Roger:  Yes.

 

Dr. Leventhal:  The question often arises, what  would we have to see happen to allow evil to surface in any particular culture?  It doesn’t come out of nowhere.  It’s a result of religious beliefs, values, authority, moral absolutes.  When it disintegrates at the human level it affects what we think is right and true and how we behave.  They were already committed to a worldview.

 

One of the interesting aspects of this whole thing came from Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi war criminal hunter.  In a book that he wrote called, “Every Day Remembrance Day: A Chronicle of Jewish Martyrdom,” he was asked the question, “what would it take for a holocaust to happen again?”  What were the causes, the factors that fell into place the moved the Nazis into power and eventually allowed them to murder six million Jews, a million and half being children, as well as six million non-Jews.  He came up with an opinion with six major causes of the holocaust.  He said whenever these six factors come together or converge in a country or a culture, another holocaust can occur.  It’s a frightening thing to listen to!  Let me give them to you because our own culture is not far from this.  He said there must be:

 

  1. Hatred: By that he means bigotry or prejudice.  It could be religious, political or social. Hate propaganda.

 

  1. Dictatorship: By the one, the few or the many; emperors, kings, bishops, generals, party leaders, bureaucrats that have the power and authority to carry out such bigotry and prejudice.

 

  1. Bureaucracy: A government rule characterized by a rigid hierarchy of bureaus, chiefs and petty officials leading to massive red tape.  He said also all those who carry out the orders of state, corporate or ecclesiastical institutions, organs, accomplices leading to the attitude we often hear, “my superior” or “my country right or wrong”.

 

  1. Technology: Technocrats, scientists, researchers, engineers, technicians.  They could never have a holocaust without that.  He says modern technology provides the practical instruments for mass murder.  Progress makes possible the partially successful final solution to the Jewish question and a final solution to the question of mankind.

 

  1. Crisis: Something like a war.  For example, the economy in pre-WW II Germany led to fear and panic.  Again and again we notice those institutions and personalities who sought to persecute and destroy the Jews bided their time and waited for an opportune moment for acts of this kind.

 

  1. Scapegoat: There must be a minority as a scapegoat, also a kind of sign as an eye-catching stigma during the fanaticism of religious and political bigots.  He talks about the danger and precarious status of minority groups, the demonization of a minority, ethnic cleansing kinds of things.

 

All of those fell into place, in Wiesenthal’s opinion, during the years after WW I, probably going back even centuries before that in certain religious bigotry.  When those six factors came into place, they gave birth to the holocaust.  It seems to me that many countries could pull that off.  In fact, some are doing it right now in terms of ethnic cleansing.  It’s a frightening thing to think about, I think.

 

 

Roger:  Yes.  Barry, I’ve got to take a break here.  When we come back from the break, what I’d like you to do is tell me how Jews, religious Jews particularly, differ in their view of the holocaust as compared to evangelicals.  Can you do that for me?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Sure.

 

Roger:  Alright!  Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Barry Leventhal joins us in our Holocaust Special this week as we try to explore the spiritual depths of the holocaust and what it really means.  We’ll be back with that in just a second.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  The Holocaust Special continues.  We will be taking calls.  Our guest tonight is Dr. Barry Leventhal talking about the theological perspectives of the holocaust.

 

Barry, the reason I asked the question before we went to break is because I’m trying to find out if we really learned any lessons from the holocaust, and if we learned different kinds of lessons, what they are.  So, it’s important for me to know how religious Jews view the holocaust today versus evangelical Christians.

 

Dr. Leventhal:   Let me preface this with a couple of comments.

 

First of all, as you well know, Judaism is not monolithic.  There’s not a, “what do Jews believe about any particular subject” per se.   Coming from an orthodox position, their view of God, the nature of God, if there’s an afterlife what it’s like, is one thing.  If you’re coming from the opposite extreme, from a reformed or agnostic Judaism or any other more liberal form, the question of God is up for grabs.  There is no afterlife.  Then, of course, anywhere in between where there’s conservative Judaism or reconstruction, it all depends who you’re talking to in terms of what their view is of the realities of life.  So, that’s an important thing.

 

To give you an example, let’s take two areas.  Religious Judaism, and I’m talking now more towards the orthodox or conservative wing of religious Judaism; before the holocaust, and basically in their so-called theological statements, they don’t believe that man is instinctively from conception a sinner by nature.  Man is born like a blank slate and he then chooses to do good or evil.  He has two inclinations that are like two barking dogs and he can choose which one he will submit to, the inclination for good or the inclination for evil.  So, that man becomes a sinner because he sins.

 

The biblical testimony from the Hebrew Bible, like in Psalm 51, all the way through the New Testament says that man is a sinner from conception and by nature; therefore, he sins.  He is not a sinner because he sins.  He sins because he is a sinner!  That was almost universally held, and there’s some real religious question about that by religious Jews since the holocaust.

 

For example, the famous Jewish historian and political philosopher, Abba Eban, in his work entitled, “My People: The Story of the Jews,” he said, “Until the Nazi holocaust there was an innocent assumption that no man, however depraved, can stand unmoved before the innocence and fragility of childhood.  The human race can no longer allow itself even this consolation.”

To give you one more example of the radical rethinking about the nature of man within religious Judaism, let’s take well known rabbi and author, Bernard Bamberger.  In his work entitled, “The Search for Jewish Theology,” he says, “What Auschwitz teaches, if it  teaches anything, is that we have underestimated man’s capacity for evil.  We have two often assumed that men are guided by self-interest and that their evil deeds are the result of a misguided urge to protect or aggrandize themselves.  We have not recognized that men may be attracted to evil because it is evil, even embrace it in a mad ecstasy!  Our failure to take this fact into account does not mean that never had been known.  An attentive reading of the Bible makes plain the truth that moral evil is sometimes more than mere efficiency.  It can be a dynamic demonic force in human life!”

 

It seems to me that as he moves back towards the Bible , as the evangelical understands as the ultimate authority, he must comes to grips about the holocaust.  As you move further and further away from the Bible and it’s authority, then it changes your view of God and that ultimately changes your view of man.  So, I don’t think, in a sense, that our culture, and I don’t see per se, where religious Judaism has learned that man is, by nature, potential of any evil whatsoever!

 

I think they still have this humanistic ideal that if we can just create the right climate, the right atmosphere, the right environment, man will move on to perfectability on his own.   So, although there’s been a lot of rethinking among religious Jews about the holocaust, the basic framework, that man is basically good, without any outside transcendent help from God or whatever, he can simply bring in his own utopia.  I don’t think there’s much change in that, per se.

 

A second area I think is a good example of this, and also surfaces the issue is that we talk about Judaism, when we talk about Biblical Judaism, that is the Jewish scriptures and the Hebrew Bible; then we talk about Rabbinic Judaism , the Judaism of the rabbis.  They are not the same!  They’re not the same in most areas of theology.  They haven’t been for centuries!

 

Biblical Judaism, for example, recognizes clearly that there is a world to come, that there is an afterlife, that there’s a heaven and there’s a hell.  This also consistently taught in the New Testament as well.  It is affirmed both by the Messiah and His followers.  So, you see, to believe in this afterlife and that there is a place for justice, yet assumes, as biblical faith teaches all the way from Abraham on, that to get to this heaven is a gift of God’s grace, simply based on faith and not on works! If it’s based on works as all of Judaism teaches if they have any concept of an afterlife at all, then it’s up for grabs who can get in!  Hopefully, God grades on the curve—my good works will outweigh my bad works—so I can get in!

 

As any rabbi will tell you at any Jewish funeral, in the pain and agony of everybody there, I don’t know where this dead person is because only God knows if he has enough good works to outweigh his bad works and that would control whether he got in.  This rabbi doing  the ceremony cannot assure you.  He may hope, he may pray that someday you will see this other person; but, he doesn’t know where the person is, whether they’re in heaven or not.  There’s no assurance whatsoever!  That’s certainly not true in the Hebrew Bible of Abraham and David, in Psalm 16 and Job, “I know my redeemer lives—I will see him in my flesh on the earth!”  This is tremendous!  And, of course, with the resurrected Messiah, this afterlife is completely, completely dominate in terms of this life is just a mere vapor of passing——

 

 

But, you see, when you come to the holocaust or any kind of suffering evil like that, if the boundaries of your vision are only temporal; if there’s no eternity, no afterlife where justice will be done, then you can’t handle—emotionally, spiritually, morally— you can’t handle the holocaust!          If all the justice we’re looking for is in this life because there is no afterlife— the Nazis got away with  all kinds of things!   Hitler escaped judgment by suicide!

 

If you go into our courts today and expect to get justice, you’re going to be very disappointed most of the time.  If you get any kind of a just reward for something you did right, or if you are falsely accused you can count yourself thankful in a culture like ours.   But, if the Bible is true, where it says we will suffer unjustly but we know from Ecclesiastes 12 and all the way through the Bible that one day God will bring all into judgment.  No one gets away with anything!

 

That changes my whole response pattern to things like the holocaust, whether it’s on a national level or whether it’s on a personal level, whether suffering from cancer or whatever else is going on, because I know that in this brief life which is just a vapor, a cloud, a mere breath, a dry leaf (all these images are in the Bible) is simply passing away.

 

As the Puritans taught, our task is to prepare men and women to die a good death. Death, to religious Judaism, and I mean all the way from ultra-orthodoxy to agnostic Judaism, death is fearful, death is painful, death is something that is frightening.  If you don’t believe that, just step into a Jewish funeral.

 

Paul Johnson, one of our great modern historians, lived most of his life as a socialist. Then he became a theist, a believer in God, says, “Perhaps the greatest of all 20th Century follies is the belief that we can ignore death, sweep it under the carpet, as it were.  It is almost a truism to say that in this present age, so brazenly outspoken about the physical realities of sex, recoils in horror at the prospect of mortality and talks of it only in hushed whispers, in euphemisms and circumlocutions or not at all.”  Kind of like Woody Allen, “It’s not that I’m afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”

 

So, those two areas; the whole issue of the nature of sin and the whole rejection of, or at best, questioning the reality of an afterlife, a world to come, a future judgment based on God’s just and righteous attributes, is simply lost.  Therefore, it’s not surprising—-since the rabbis have been teaching this for centuries, it’s not surprising that religious Judaism and non-religious Judaism cannot handle the holocaust!  It poses one of the greatest dilemmas of all because we know that 6,000,000 Jews were killed— 1,500,000 being children!  And, no one except a few of the “so-called leaders” who went to their execution in the war tribunals without ever facing up to it, except perhaps one, died in an unrepentant attitude.  I mean, how fair is that?  How just is that?  So, I don’t see how any individual, be he Jewish or non-Jewish, religious or non-religious, can handle any kind of evil and suffering like the holocaust, or even on a personal level, without some awareness and assurance as the Bible teaches it.  Only the Bible!  It’s the only place in the whole world; not all the religions, all the cults, and frankly, even in midst of much of Christendom.

 

It says there is a heaven, there is a hell and entrance into heaven is a free gift of God and it must be received by faith.  God is absolute!  He can’t grade on the curve because He’s holy and righteous and just!  He cannot accept sin; therefore, He sent the Messiah to solve the sin problem.  He raised Him from the dead to validate that His death solved the sin problem because He bore our sins on Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  We don’t have to work for it!  We simply have to accept the fact that He died for us and embrace him as our substitute!

 

Without that kind of very unique portrayal or worldview, there no possible way that anybody could handle something like the holocaust.

 

Roger:  Yes.

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Those are at least two major areas.

 

Roger:  I’m finding, fifty years after-the-fact, that this is one of the most difficult things in the world to accept.  I mean, reading the stories, talking to the people.  It just amazes me that mankind can be that evil which brings me, I think, to believe that mankind may not be responsible for it at all.  We’ll talk about that in just a second.   Dr. Barry Leventhal is with us, ladies and gentlemen.  We’ll be right back.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Dr. Barry Leventhal is our guest, talking about the theological perspectives of the holocaust.   Barry, do the Jews blame anyone in particular for the holocaust?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Well again, when you say “the Jews,” you are looking at a broad spectrum.  There is no one view on anything about “the Jews.”

 

Some Jews, of course, blame God.  Richard Rubenstein has written very articulately about being a Jewish atheist since the holocaust.  So, some blame God!

 

Some, obviously, blame the Nazis, as they should!  And, Hitler!

 

Some, it’s painful to say but it’s in Jewish writings, some blame the Jews themselves, who walked passively into this and did not fight back!  As if these Jews from Europe and the ghettos of Europe were trained as soldiers.  They didn’t know anything about fighting!  They had no weapons!  But, some blame the Jews themselves for taking that kind of……  And, therefore, by the way, they see  modern Israel retreating from this religious passivism and fighting back against their enemies.

 

Some would say that there was a demonic force cut loose in it.

 

Roger:  Don’t the Jews blame Christianity?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Well, of course, there’s a sense where….

 

Roger:  I mean, isn’t anti-semitism rooted in Christianity and….

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Well, it’s not rooted in Christianity, it’s rooted in Christians!  Some Christians!  Another question:  is the New Testament inherently anti-semitic?  I don’t think so; but, there has certainly been, going back to the Patristic period, to the church fathers from the 2nd to the 5th Century,  there were some —not all— there were some church fathers that were anti-semitic to the core.  Martin Luther, in his old age, said some very evil things about the Jews, of which Hitler picked up and quoted in his work “Mein Kampf.

 

So there was, and is even to this day, some sense of religious Christianity, “Christians” having anti-semitic feelings.  Certainly, as you said, some Jews would blame it there!

 

But, you have to also recognize that there were true believers, what we call true christians – born again people — believers in the messiahship of Jesus, who on the authority of their Bible, gave their lives for Jews, who actually went to the camps with them!  You can think of the Ten Booms and others like that!

 

It seems to me that anybody that is a true believer in Jesus as the Messiah, Savior, Lord and King who is an evangelical that submits their whole life under the authority of the Bible — I’ve never run into anyone under that particular description who hated the Jews, was anti-semitic, who was for Hitler or against the modern state of Israel.  The most supportive of the modern state of Israel are those who are evangelicals, who have a future belief in some continuing work of God within the Jewish people.

 

Roger:  Because of the remnant?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Right!  Sure!

 

Roger:  And who is the remnant?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Well, the remnant concept is always, in whatever particular time you are looking at; past, present or future; is the believing core or remnant within the total Jewish population, the Jewish nation, that hold to the covenant promises.

 

Like Daniel, they may suffer along with the Jewish nation in judgment.  Daniel was a righteous man and his friends were.  They were taken in captivity, the judgment for the nation.  They prayed for the nation.  They preached to them.  They spoke of the promises that they should embrace.  They kept calling the nation back to God.

 

Today the present remnant would be the messianic believers, those are Jews who believe in the messiahship of Jesus.  They’re called different terms; Hebrew Christians, Jewish Christians, Messianic Believers, or whatever.

 

There’s going to be a future, just before the return of the Messiah, a future remnant as well that will believe according to Zechariah 12-14, who will embrace the promises as well.

 

God only accepts people who will embrace Him and His promises by faith.  Just because we are born one way or the other, Jew or non-Jew, does not mean we have a shoe-in into heaven or the kingdom.  God only accepts faith!  People that are people of faith, believe Him and His Word.  That’s the remnant idea as well.

 

 

The Bible is clear from Psalm 51 and Psalm 58 and numerous statements; Ephesians 2:1-3,

Romans 2 and 3, that we have really underestimated — I think we, as evangelical believers also have underestimated, the potential evil that lies within the human heart.

 

Roger:  Alright, wait.  Stop there!  What is…. because we confront our enemy, we can then, hopefully, be victorious, win over the enemy ….what is the source of that evil?  How do we confront it?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Well, the source of evil in humanity, in all of us, is the fact that we are sinners from conception—in the very core of our being, in our hearts, in our center cores— and eventually it will express itself in thought, word and deed!

 

God, being absolutely holy and righteous, cannot accept that sin.  Therefore, it spills over…

 

Roger:  What is the source of sin?

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Sin is breaking the law.  It’s rebellion against God.

 

It may be passive rebellion: “God, I don’t want to do that.  I don’t care anything about you.”

 

It may be active rebellion:  “God, kiss off ! Get out of my life!”

 

So, it’s active or passive rebellion.  It’s breaking His law.  The Book of James say that if we break the law at one point, we’re guilty of breaking the whole law!  God does not grade on the curve.  He’d have to jettison His own character, being holy and righteous!

 

Roger:  But, if we’re blaming God for the holocaust when we should be blaming Satan, haven’t we missed the point?

 

Dr. Leventhal:   Of course we have!  By the way, God is not embarrassed to hear our arguments with Him.  In fact, just read through some of the Psalms!  The psalmists went into the closet with God and really had a fit about suffering he went through, that it was unjust, either individually or as a nation.  I think that’s the best place to deal with it because God who knows our hearts anyway; but, when we hear ourselves out and we pray it to God, it basically moves into the fact that we’re trying to call the shots!  We think we’re in charge.  It doesn’t go our way and eventually moves us to recognize in His Lordship and, therefore, to confession and repentance.

 

We are responsible!  Satan has a place!  Man has a place in it!  God permits it!  When we kiss off God, that creates a vacuum and allows our sin nature to express itself.  It also allows for demonic influence to rush into the vacuum to move us towards evil as well.

 

Roger:  Dr. Barry Leventhal, I want to thank you very much for participating in our holocaust series.  I wish you all well and God bless, my friend!

 

Dr. Leventhal:  Thank you, very much!

 

 

 

Roger:  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us once again for a holocaust special.  We have several guests left; but, we’re winding this down.  I hope you enjoyed it!  I hope you are learning something from it.

 

 

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy: Voices of Those Who Escaped Before “The Final Solution”

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

11-19-2007  Fourth Program in Series

 

Guest:   Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman

Clinical Psychologist

Website: www.DoritWhitem

 

The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy: Voices of
Those Who Escaped Before “The Final Solution”

 

ISBN-10: 0738205796  and ISBN-13: 978-0738205793

 

Roger:    Hello, everyone!  I’m Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy!  This evening we celebrate Part 4 of our continuing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember.   We want to thank Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson for all their labor and work in helping find the guests, getting the books to me and all the work they’ve done on the internet, the phone calls and the love they’ve put into this project.  Thank you very much, ladies!

 

We’ve talked to Michael Berenbaum and got a wonderful overview of the Holocaust Museum and the things depicted there; we’ve had a couple of weeks talking with James Pool talking about who financed Hitler.  The topic when you talk about the Hitler era always focuses on those who went through the camps and the hell of the Holocaust.  A quite different approach to the whole subject of the war and the Hitler Legacy is found in a book “The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy” written by Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman.  Dr. Whiteman is an escapee from Hitler.  She arrived in with her family in New York via England in 1941.  She earned a PhD in clinical psychology from New York University, has a private practice in New York and serves as editorial consultant for the Journal of Psychotherapy, was president of the Nassau Psychological Association and was until recently the Director of the Psychology Department at Flushing Hospital Mental Health Clinic which she started.  She has more credentials than that; but, this book, “The Uprooted,” is what we’re going to talk about tonight!  Welcome to the program, Dr. Whiteman!  Hello!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Thank you!  Hi!

 

Roger:  It’s a pleasure to have you here!  You take quite a different route in your historical documentary about what happened during Hitler’s reign.

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Yes. Over the years, most of the studies and the research dealt with those Jews who were either murdered or who managed by the slightest of margins to survive death camps.  But there were also a number of Jews who managed to escape from the Nazis, at least until World II started, and who under the most difficult circumstances reached countries of safety.  I will refer to these as “escapees.”  Some of these escapees had been in concentration camps, though not in death camps, where many died of starvation, beatings or gassing.  But some, both young and older, managed by various means to flee the German Reich.  It is that group on which I was focusing.

 

The reason why all attention centered on the death camp group is really quite clear.  The fate of the concentration camp victims was so horrendous, so ghastly, so inhuman that the fate of any other group paled beside it.  It had to be brought to light first before other discussions could follow.  Even the escapees themselves did not talk extensively about their own fate until much, and I can tell you why!  The escapees lived under Hitler a briefer time than the death camp or ghetto victims and did not suffer the same tortures.  Thus they felt it too immodest to say: “Let me tell you about all the horrible things that happened to me”…”Let me tell you about our tragedies”…. “Let me tell you about the disasters that befell us.”  No disaster could be as horrific as those as those which befell those in death camps and ghettos.

 

What Triggered the Study

 

I was a child when I fled Vienna with my parents and sister to England.  Later we made our way to the United States.  We were extremely fortunate that our whole nuclear family survived.  At the moment I am talking about, I was visiting my cousin in Manchester, England.  He had escaped Austria after having already been in a concentration camp.  He fled by disguising himself as a Hitler Youth, and crossed the border into Belgium in that uniform – a very dangerous undertaking, since he had a limp from infantile paralysis.  No one with a physical handicap was accepted into the Hitler Youth organization, and so he could have been easily recognized as an imposter.  Fortunately he was not noticed and through much machinations reached England. However his parents, my aunt and uncle, were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz.  My cousin’s wife’s whole family was also murdered in Auschwitz. As I was talking to my cousin, I thought to myself what I had said to myself  and what most escapees had said to themselves in the same situation over the years: “How lucky I have been.  Nothing happened to me or my family.  We managed to survive”.  Then I suddenly began to think about the horrors my family had faced -the fears, the terror, the relatives lost, the possessions lost, the professions lost, one’s language lost, going from country to country before finding a haven only after many years search until an ordinary way of life is finally reached again.  No, we were lucky only vis a vis the concentration camp survivors, not vis a vis people who lead normal lives, but our perspective had so changed over the years that we considered ourselves lucky simply because we were alive.

 

The Beginning of the Study

 

This gave me thought.  I wanted to know how escapees had managed to flee a Nazi occupied country, what problems they encountered in trying to resettle and what   the emotional consequences of these experiences were.  I decided that I would obtain the answer to my questions through a very long questionnaire sent to various continents by mail and through personal interviews of people I could contact.  I called my questionnaire “What Happened To Those To Whom “NOTHING HAPPENED AT ALL”?  The escapees immediately understood the title.  I didn’t have to explain!  The title caught their interest and they were eager to participate.  They think back about all the years they have missed.   Many were elderly now and wanted to leave their story to the world at large and to their children in particular.  That’s how this project got started!

 

Roger:   That’s wonderful!   I never had thought before reading your book that people would be kind of humble about their experiences because of the dire tragedies that occurred to others!

 

Dr. Whiteman: In any other century, the fate of the escapees would have been talked and written about long before I started to do that. But as I said, it was overshadowed by the experience of those in death camps.  Now there is a feeling: “We have a story to tell that every should hear.  Most of all our children.”

 

Roger:  Their pain and suffering just wasn’t significant?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  As compared to the others…. right!

 

Roger:   But, you found that it was significant?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Oh, yes!  Yes!  I think that getting away didn’t mean: “Okay, today I am leaving.  It’s not nice here anymore.  I don’t like Nazis.  I’ll pack my trunk and go!”  The difficulties were endless!

 

Background of Jews in Germany and Austria

 

Roger:   Let’s identify…. first of all, Jews were a very important part of the German culture!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Right!

 

Roger:   For hundreds of years, their family lineages go way back in German history!  They didn’t just come meandering into Germany six months before the war.  I think a lot of people don’t realize that these were German citizens, people who were Germans for generations!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Yes!  Jewish families lived in middle Europe since the sixteen hundreds.  Jewish population identified itself very much with their countries of birth, just like American Jews identify themselves with the United States.  I was born into a Jewish family, but there is not the slightest doubt that my country is the United States.  In the same way, most Austrian or German Jews thought of themselves as being Jewish by religion, but considered themselves Austrians or Germans from a patriotic point of view.  My father, for instance, fought for Austria in WW I, like every other healthy male Austrian citizen.  He even received a medal for bravery. At the time nobody questioned who was Jewish or who was not when a recruit entered the army.  My father was Austrian and fought for his country.

 

Jews mostly lived in ghettoes until around 1848.  At that time these were dissolved, particularly in Austria and Germany.  In fact, life in those two countries was much more open minded for Jews than life for instance in Poland or Russia where Jews continued to be targets of pogroms and were heavily discriminated against. Many Jews from eastern European countries sent their children to German-speaking schools or even directly to German or Austria to give them a more cultured chance in life.  Because the Nazis gained power in 1933, we sometimes forget that Germany previous to that time was a highly cultured country and often referred to as a country of “poets and philosophers.”  The Jewish population identified itself with that culture!

 

The Clouded Crystal ball

 

Roger:   I think that’s important because I’m not sure everybody understands that.   I didn’t until I read your book, to be honest.  I didn’t occur to me that these are people who have great family histories, incredible legacies of their own!  Yet, because of this hatred that was fomented under Hitler, the fascism and anti-Semitism, because of your book we know some left Germany!  People must have suspected that things were not going to stay the same!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  To anticipate what was going to happen was a great deal harder than one might think.  Do you remember during the “Cold War” there was actually the danger that the Russians might bomb New York or Washington DC.  Let me give you a picture about that, because actually it was very hard to gauge what was going to happen.  Take, for instance, during the Cold War, there was always the possible threat that there might be a nuclear bombardment by Russia!  But hardly anyone packed their trunks and left!  Very few people said: “I am going to uproot myself.  Leave my job, my friends, my family and move to the Midwest because I might die in a bombardment.”  And that would have been a whole lot easier than fighting the Nazis to leave a Nazi occupied country.  Everybody is entrenched and a false feeling of confidence prevents one from making an enormous, emotionally costly move.

 

Let me describe very briefly the atmosphere in both German and Austria before Adolf  Hitler assumed the chancellorship.  You also have to consider the atmosphere before all this started.   Let me make clear the difference between Germany and Austria.  In 1933 after World War I, Germany was a defeated nation in a deep depression.  The government was almost dysfunctional.  Through brutal means by Hitler’s storm troopers and by political maneuvering, Hitler managed to have himself elected Chancellor.  Soon after that, he engineered to have the Reichstag (the parliament) burned down and his dictatorship began.

 

When Hitler took over in 1933, several other governments had preceded him, the last one being the Weimar Republic.  They had come and gone and it was general thought that this Hitler, this rabble-rouser was not going to last either.  England and France thought that too.  They did not want someone like Hitler in their backyard.  The feeling was that Hitler was just a passing fancy, as the other governments had been that had not lasted long, before him had been.  Even the Allies felt that Hitler was not a particular threat and would soon disappear.

 

But Hitler played his cards very craftily by instilling fear, combining violence and brutality with a hypocritical smooth front to the powerful and moneyed classes.  He started off with burning of books that were written by Jews or presented a philosophy contrary to fascism.  Fear began to spread.  People began to comfort themselves with the thought that the Nazis were just rabble and the world would never accept a culture that burned books.  But dread raised its head – what if it did last?

 

The Jews saw that their rights were being taken away.  They were being driven out of government jobs.  If they were employed in any government capacity, be it civil servant, bureaucrat, physician, etc. they were fired.  Non-Jews were advised not to buy anything from Jews and not to have any social contacts with them.  Jewish children were thrown out of public schools.  Arbitrary arrests began.  But, the Jews thought they might be able to survive by changing their way of life.  They reasoned: “ Maybe we can go into business for ourselves and just deal with each other.  Maybe if we are doctors or lawyers we can go into private practice.  Maybe we will re-establish ourselves on a narrower basis.  It can’t get any worse than it is now!  This is about the worst thing that has ever happened in Europe.  We will always survive.  We will make our society a little narrower, just deal with each other, and in that way we will prevail.”

 

But laws were slowly being passed one by one which would make prevailing impossible.  First the Nürnberg were passed which took away the rights of Jews as citizen. Different parts of Germany enforced the laws to a different degree of cruelty.  Strangely enough, Berlin was a little better. Nürnberg, where the Nazi rallies were being held, was ruthless!  Some Jewish people thought: “There are degrees of cruelty.  Maybe we can live in those pockets where conditions are better!”  It took some time for the true impact to emerge.  The Wahnsee Conference was held in 1942.  This was the place and the moment the decision was made to murder all the Jews.  No one could foresee such a plan.  It had never happened before in a civilized country.

 

Did you ever hear about the frog?  If you put a frog in hot water and heat the water slowly, the frog will not be aware that he is being boiled to death and won’t jump out of the pot.

 

Roger:    Gradualism or incrementalism.

 

Anti-Semitism in Austria

 

Dr. Whiteman: Right! Many Jews saw the situation for what it was.  But many thought optimistically: “Okay, we are living in a catastrophic situation; but, we can survive.”  Now in Austria the sequence was different.  Do you want me to tell you about Austria?

 

Roger:  Oh, yes!  Absolutely!

 

Dr. Whiteman: I must say that as a child, I did not experience anti-Semitism in Austria.  That does not mean it wasn’t there.  It was hidden quite well much of the time, as anti-Semitism was disguised in many countries.

 

Roger:   Well, we’re talking about two of the most civilized societies in the world at that time too.

 

Dr. Whiteman: Right!  If you lived in a lower socio-economic or in a very rural area you would likely have encountered anti-Semitism.  But, 90% of the Jewish population lived in Vienna where it was less prevalent and much more disguised.  Of course, there were limitations and unofficial restrictions.  High government positions and top professorships at the University of Vienna were not open to Jews, but it must be remembered that that kind of discrimination was extant at the time in most European countries.  Even in the United States Jews were unlikely to receive a professorship at Harvard or even be admitted as students.  I recall that in the early 1950’s when my father was established again as a physician in New York, my parents wanted to join a summer club to use the facilities for swimming and relaxation. The admission officer told them straight forward   that the club where my parents applied did not admit Jews and they should try to find one that did.  A certain amount of anti-Semitism was prevalent all over the world.  As long as the Jewish population had an opportunity to be part of the cultural, professional and business life of Vienna, anti-Semitism, at least to a certain degree, was taken for granted.

 

The shadow of the Nazis fell over Austria for the first time in 1934. Hitler’s storm troopers invaded the chancellery in Vienna and killed the Austrian Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss.  Hitler had wanted to annex Austria but Mussolini, the dictator of Italy was fearful of having Hitler so close by.  He threatened Hitler that if the latter marched into Austria from the North, Mussolini would invade Austria from the South.  Hitler was not yet ready to start a war and thus withdrew back to Germany.  The situation was saved, but no one knew for how long.

 

Austria at the time was ruled by a dictator –  Dr. Kurt Schuschnigg.  His party was the Christian Socialist party on the right and opposition was not permitted.  On the other hand, he was not a cruel dictator.  Those who obeyed his laws were not molested and he did not imprison or intern people in concentration camps at will.  Jews could live under his regime like the rest of the citizens.  In fact the Jewish population played an important part in every aspect of Austrian life. Proportionately, a large percentage of Jews were physicians and lawyers.  The Jews also contributed strongly to the famed Austrian musical life as musicians, composers and conductors. In the world of the theater they functioned as producers, directors and actors.  They worked as writers, critics and journalists.  In short, they formed an extremely active part of the Viennese cultural scene!

 

While the changes in Germany developed slowly from 1933 to 1938, the metamorphosis of Austria into a German fascist state took place practically overnight.  On March 13th 1938 Hitler announced that because both Austrians and Germans speak the same language, they should be one nation and therefore he was going to annex Austria.  Paralyzing fear spread throughout Vienna.  Night fell.  The streets had been filled during the day with people opposing the annexation.  They had tossed pamphlets expressing their aversion to the Nazis into the air and the wind carried them throughout the city.  With dreadful anticipation the populace now withdrew into their homes.  Chancellor Schuschnigg went on the air warning the people: “Do not offer any resistance. God Bless Austria.”  This was followed by a noise as if somebody was pulling his chair away from the microphone by force.  We knew that was the end of independent Austria.

 

Everyone stayed inside, waiting, waiting for the sound of the goose steps.  The Jewish population had no illusion that they were facing the darkest of futures.  But no one could foresee the nightmares that were to come because even what had happened so far in Germany was only a pale preface of what was to come.  I do recall that my parents and my sister ate dinner barely speaking.  Dark foreboding hung over the room.  A little while after we had finished the meal, my father, a physician, declared that the meat had been a  spoiled and we needed to take a pill.  Actually, he was giving us children a sleeping pill. He was so afraid that there would be fighting and he did not want us to hear it.

 

That night the German troops marched into Vienna.  The radio announced that everyone was to stay at home – a rule that was to be strictly enforced.  My father was in a quandary.  He had a dying patient and he felt it was his duty to aid him during his last hours.  He decided to walk out alone into the very dangerous night.  The only footsteps echoing through the dark night came from the invading Nazi soldiers.  He reached the patient’s house who lingered through the night.  At one point my father heard a crashing noise and looking out through the window saw a German truck loaded with German troops driving to the store right across the street. In a flash of a second they smashed the door in, pulled out all the goods, loaded them onto the truck, repeated the same thing in the next store and within minutes they were gone.  It was a horrible symbol of what was to take place in the future!  It happened in a fraction of a second but, it was an omen of what was to follow!

 

Roger:  Okay, Dr. Whiteman, we’ve got to take a break!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   All right, ladies and gentlemen!  Welcome back!  This is Part 4 of our ongoing series, The Holocaust: We Must Remember.  Our guest this evening is Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman.  Her book is, “The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy,” about the people who escaped before The Final Solution.

 

We’re back with Dr. Whiteman.  It’s 1938.  Her father is standing there in that window watching the Nazis cruise through and take the goods from stores.  What’s going through his mind, Doctor?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  I think the thing that went through he mind was, “How am I going to save my family?”  The next morning this issue became quite clear.

 

 

The Nazis annex Austria

 

Let me tell you a little what it is like living under a totalitarian regime.  The next morning Vienna seemed to have changed 100%!  The streets were filled with thousands of people, either in Nazi uniforms or with swastikas on their lapels.  Most of them were the people who had been “Illegals,” namely those who had been secret Nazis who had kept their Nazi sympathies as well as their uniforms well hidden.  Some did it out of conviction, some gambled that if Hitler took over Austria, they would be in the “in crowd” and earn all the spoils that victors garnish and some were simply followers.  They had silently and greedily collected lists of addresses of Jews in order to take over their businesses, rob them of their possessions once the Nazis arrived or to aid the Gestapo in arresting them.  Others besides Jews were on the list as well, such as journalists and known anti-Nazis.  Having acquired these lists, the Nazis immediately began the arrests.  Here is a real life scenario:  A Jewish business owner entered his office the day after the Nazis occupied Vienna.  He found a strange man sitting behind his desk.  He asked the man: “Who are you?”  The man at the business owner’s desk replied” “I’m the new owner!  Get out of here!” And that was the end of the Jewish man’s business!

 

The round up of Jews started immediately.  Trucks cruised the streets and picked up Jewish men right and left.  At the beginning they targeted mostly men.  Soon women were included as well.  After some time even children were added to the list. To humiliate Jews, they were made to scrub sidewalks, frequently with toothbrushes. It served to entertain the public who stood around the elderly people, laughing and jeering.    I remember coming home, and seeing a crowd of people across the street from my house.  I realized they were taunting elderly Jewish people who were being made to scrub the sidewalk.  I remember being very frightened and running into my house!  On every street corner, specially printed newspaper were mounted on the wall which showed what were purported to be Jews with huge noses, filthy clothes and dirty finger nails lusting or raping beautiful, blond German girls.

 

All through the city and on the radio Hitler’s voice and those of the Nazi bigwigs were being broadcast night and day.  Threats about the new world order and the promised dreadful fate of the Jews echoed throughout the city. Living in a country without the protection of the law is a most fearsome condition.  It was clear to every Jewish person that there was no safety inside one’s house or outside.  The Gestapo could enter one’s home at will and arrest the owners without even pretending that there was a reason.  Neighbors, competitors or business associates who desired a Jew’s property only needed to denounce him to the Gestapo on any pretext to satisfy their envious desires and immediately, whatever they coveted, was theirs.  Walking down the street promised the possibility, even the likelihood, of being swept up in the next round up.  Children were no longer allowed to go to school.  They were afraid to leave their home because of the fear that upon their return their parents might have disappeared.  Adults came home and their friends and relatives were gone, never to be seen again.

 

A family described to me the day their eighteen year old son went out on an errant and disappeared.  This was a very common occurrence and they feared the worst.  Two or three weeks later they received a coffin with the instruction not to open it.  A note explained that the body inside was their son who had been shot while trying to escape.  The unofficial reason for nailing the coffin shut was that the slain person was usually so disfigured by torture or beatings that the Gestapo did not wish anyone to see it.  But because everything had to be done “legally,” the family was asked to sign a receipt that the body they received was in good condition.  When a business was requisitioned or even when Eichmann demanded an apartment from a Jewish family for himself, he asked them to sign that they were releasing their flat “willingly”.  It was striking, this need to have everything appear “legal.”

 

Attempting to leave the German Reich

 

One might think that since the Nazis despised the Jews, they would be eager for them to   leave.  Actually, the opposite was true.  The Nazis used every possible outlandish, torturous, sadistic barrier to prevent the Jews from emigrating.  It began with the Reichsfluchtsteuer, a tax imposed as a punishment for leaving the country.  It was a colossal tax, 25% on everything the person not only owned, but had ever owned.  There were innumerable other taxes, such as local taxes, water taxes, taxes on taxes and even a dog tax whether you owned a dog or not.  And if a petitioner was actually able to pay all these taxes, every obstacle was put in his way to prevent him from obtaining the document confirming that he no longer owed any money.  This made it impossible for him to pass through the official check points at railroad stations and airports.

 

How was such an enormous amount of money to be raised?  By this time most Jews were unemployed. If they had been employed, they had been fired.  If they had had businesses, these had been appropriated by Nazi officials or one of their followers.  Jews could not raise money by selling their possessions since anybody could walk into their homes and help themselves to whatever they desired.  Why then bother to buy it?

 

One of the most dangerous and tortuous barriers to leaving were the physical dangers the Jewish population faced when going into the streets to obtain the documents which had to be accumulated and presented to the authorities to get the desired exit visa.  Obtaining them meant lining up in front of government offices which opened and closed at undisclosed and variable hours.  What seemed like endless queues of Jews formed before dawn in the hope of being admitted, while the official might decide to come midday, close after an hour or two or not come at all.  The waiting was made more agonizing by the SA, an official arm of Hitler cohorts, which habitually drove by at intervals and yanked people out of line, beating them mercilessly and frequently arresting them which at times led to their death.  Even if the petitioner finally entered the office, he was subject to the mood of the expressionless official, who, sitting in a kind of wire cage could decide whether to release the desired document or under some pretense require the supplicant to return and repeat the procedure.

 

All these documents had to be acquired in a certain sequence with specific deadlines.  If one, even one, document expired after time-consuming attempts to get the additional ones, all the previous ones were declared null and void and all the efforts had to start from the beginning.

 

Usually my mother labored to obtain the documents by herself.  Since at that time men were more frequently arrested than women, she went by herself to protect my father.  My parents tried to shield their children but for the last document our presence was mandated.  I recall a dark building with peeling paint.  A circular staircase wound up several flights of stairs.  On each step stood one family, advancing one step each time a petitioner was dismissed from the office on top of the stairs.  They descended looking either jubilantly relieved or deadly crushed.  For hours, we mounted one step at a time in the dark building.  No one spoke.  An icy, fearsome silence pervaded the staircase.  Would we receive the document that could save our lives or would we be dismissed which could cause our death?  When we finally reached the cage, I saw stark fear on my parents’ face.  Since they were very strong people who as a rule did not show their anxieties to their children in order to protect them, I had never viewed such expressions before.  It frightened me.  After we received the necessary papers and reached the sidewalk again, I began to run as if I were running away from this nightmarish event.

 

Roger:   There’s one little paragraph in your book I’d like to read.  It’s where I ended up in the book that just shocked me!  It’s on Page 91.  I’ll just read two quick paragraphs.

 

” One morning my father called me into his study.  From the tense look on his face I knew something important was about to happen.  He started by saying he thought it would never be necessary to bring up the subject but circumstances now made it essential. “You were given birth by an American mother in Vienna and we adopted you when you were six weeks old.”  Slowly he added, “We don’t know what may happen to mother and myself; but, we can save you.  I’ve been told by the United States Embassy that you will soon be issued an American passport.”  He paused and studied the effect of this startling news.  I was and American citizen!  That made me feel more secure.  That I was adopted did not have much impact on be.  As far as I was concerned, I had a loving father and mother!

 

The first time the Brownshirts of the S.A. came it was evening.  They came like wolves!  While we watched helplessly, they tore the fixtures from the wall, the mantle piece from the fireplace and stripped the apartment bare!  Before they left, they gave us a receipt for everything taken.  That made everything legal.”

 

That shocked me when I read that!  I thought, boy, I can cite instances of modern society in America where they do this kind of thing in smaller proportions; but that must be frightening!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Well, in the beginning before the death camps were built, it was sometimes possible for a prisoner to be released from a concentration camp.  At that point prisoners were compelled to sign that they had been treated well and that they had had no complaints.  The Nazis always insisted on the appearance of legality.

 

I want to give you an example of how much pleasure the Nazis took in torturing and killing people. After World War II I was once in Yugoslavia and I passed by what had been formerly a jail where the Nazis imprisoned local Yugoslavs.  The prison was located   on the main highway with the barred windows facing the street. When the prisoners were tortured the local residents could clearly hear their screams.  This was arranged on purpose.  The photographs taken by the SS of prisoners, men, women and children were proudly mounted on the walls.  This was their way of showing how efficient they had been and as a warning to the population as to what would happen to them if they did not obey.  There was a photo of a young man about to be shot tied to a stake.  His eyes looked into the distance but they had a triumphant look as if he were saying: “You can kill me, but in the end we will win.”  The pole had hundreds of bullet holes in it, demonstrating how many people had been shot while tied to it.  Another photograph of children was a heartbreaker.  They looked confused, as if they did not know what was expected of them.  Some smiled hesitatingly as they were wont to do when being photographed.  At the same time they looked extremely frightened.  Apparently some SS took pride in his arrest of children and wanted it remembered by taking this picture.  A large book with a hard cover, the kind of huge accounting book used in Dickens’ time, was displayed on a small table.  The dates of the prisoners’ entry into the prison were recorded as was the dates of their execution.  Lines, completely parallel were drawn through each name after their demise.  The neatness of the book was striking.  As long as things were accurately recorded, they were considered legal.

 

Roger:  I hate to cut in, but we have to take a break.  “The Uprooted: A Hitler Legacy” by Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman, an incredible combination of stories from 190 people who escaped The Final Solution and the trauma they incurred during and after the war. …. Relax, folks, we’ll be right back!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

INTERVIEW IN PROGRESS…

 

Overpowering difficulties in finding a country of safety.

 

Roger:   …made your escape. is that right?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  It made it possible for us to leave, yes.

 

Roger:  So, what was the process like?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  The process was very harrowing because, as I explained before, you needed a great many papers, permits and documents to leave.  But it was not only difficult to get out of the German Reich.  It was just as difficult to find a place to which escapees could go.

 

Every country required the immigrants to have a visa.  However, these visas were almost impossible to obtain.  No country on any continent wanted to be burdened with people who were paupers, devoid of any possessions, unable to speak the local language.  Many people reacted to the newcomers with a certain amount of xenophobia.  The fact that this group was practically one hundred percent Jewish certainly influenced the lack of welcome.  People with manual skills sometimes found a niche in some countries, but professionals like teachers, doctors, artists, lawyers were definitely seen as totally useless.

 

Let me correct my statement.  There were actually two places in the world that did not require visas. One was Tibet; but there was no access – no roads, no transportation.  The other was Shanghai.  At the time Shanghai seemed as removed as the moon.  It was terra incognita.  Passage took months and very few ships sailed there.  They other route was through Mongolia followed by a ship route to Japan from where another ship cold be taken to Shanghai.  Still, people desperately tried to raise money for the fare – a round trip ticket was required though the travel agency knew well that none of the Jews were planning to return.  But after a while, ships ceased to go to China and that route was cut off.

 

Our problem was solved in a strange way.  We hoped to get to the U.S. but had been unable to obtain an American visa.  My parents realized that it could take several years to do so which meant certain death if we were forced to remain in Vienna.  We needed a harbor until we could obtain that visa.   My mother learned that if she took the job of a chambermaid in England, she would be able to obtain an English visa for the whole family.  As a result, my mother, who was the owner and directress of a school and who has recently been honored for being one of the first women to receive a doctor degree in Chemistry at the University of Vienna, applied and managed to obtain a job as a maid.  We were thrilled.  Finally, a little light on the horizon!

 

Still, many obstacles remained of which I will mention two.  My parents lacked a certain stamp for our passports that was vital and no chance of obtaining.  The only hope in such a situation was the black market.  My parents hesitatingly gave our four passports to the usual source, somebody everyone knew had connections on the black market.  It was a wrenching decision.  What if the man sold the passports to someone for more money than my parents could pay him?  Many people had paid their last penny to such traders and had been betrayed.  If we lost the passports, we were lost because we could never obtain new ones.  But if my parents retrieved the passports, how would we get that essential stamp?  My mother woke up in the middle of the night and sobbed: “Oh, my God, he’s going to sell the passports!” My father went out into the dark streets searching in coffee houses for him where he was referred to a house of prostitution.  The man was willing to return the passports.  I do not know how my parents finally obtained the vital stamp.  These crises were daily events.

 

Another plight concerned our quota number for entering the United States. However our number was never called.  People who had registered much later and thus had much higher numbers passed us by.  Everyday my father went to the consulate and asked, “Please, what’s happened?  Can you check?  Our file must be misplaced!”  He was always told rather brusquely that he had to wait his turn.  But he knew we would not survive if our number failed to come up soon.

 

Roger:  All right.  I don’t want to pass over this point without asking you, when you say you knew you wouldn’t survive, you were afraid you were going to be killed.  Is that what you’re saying?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Right.

 

Roger:  This is long before the Holocaust, really.

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Right.  Many people were killed just by going down the street, being arrested and never coming back!  Or by being beaten to death!  But regarding our quandary at the consulate, by good luck, my father had a patient who worked at the consulate.  She looked for our family’s file and found it in the wrong filing cabinet!  She took it from the wrong cabinet and put it into the right cabinet, and very soon after, we were called.  It was on little things like that your life depended on.  Other people tried just as hard but didn’t have the good fortune.

 

Roger:  Do you know how many people, about this time, were able to get out of the countries of Germany and….

 

Dr. Whiteman:  I don’t know the numbers about Germany; but in Austria about 80,000 made it.

 

Roger:  About half of the people?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Less than half.

 

Roger:   Now when you were doing all these interviews, it must have taken a whole lot of time with 190 stories to tell, did the majority of those folks come out of Austria or Germany?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  They came out of Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia.

 

Roger:  You’re talking about being in Austria.  What must this have been like in Nürnberg or Berlin?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  After Kristallnacht, it was the same everywhere.  Kristallnacht was a night in which the Nazis decided to burn all the synagogues and smash the Jewish apartment and shops. But ot was also a night in which they killed many Jews, arrested thousands more and sent them off to concentration camps.  They claimed it was a spontaneous outburst of the populace who were angry at the Jews and therefore, burned down their temples, went into their apartments and smashed them up.  Kristallnacht means “the night of the broken crystal”.

 

Actually, one of the people I interviewed for The Uprooted who at that time was already at the Buchenwald concentration camp told that for several weeks before Kristallnacht the prisoners were forced to prepare for the arrival of 20,000 new inmates.  Clearly, the event had been planned and was not spontaneous.  In great part it was done by the Nazis to enrich themselves at the cost of the Jews.  For instance, after Kristallnacht, Göering was very angry.  He commented to his underlings: “You smashed up all the stores and apartments.  You should have killed the Jews!  I want their things!  I could use what was in their apartments and I could use what was in the stores!  It would be much easier just to kill them!  Why did you bother to smash everything up?”  In Vienna alone, 70,000 apartments obtained by throwing Jews out of their homes were immediately given to Nazi members.  So, that was the atmosphere that prevailed.

 

The Kindertransports

 

I don’t know whether you want to hear about the Kindertransport?

 

Roger:  Absolutely!

 

Dr. Whiteman: By 1939 it became evident that war sooner or later war would break out and it was likely to be sooner.  It was also clear that those Jews who had not been able to leave the German Reich by then would be hopelessly lost.  There were hundred of thousands of Jews still left and among them   were thousands of children.  For instance, 35,000 children were still left in Germany.  The number does not include the children in Austria and Czechoslovakia.  It will be to Britain’s everlasting honor that they attempted to rescue some of these.  In the time left the number amounted only to about 10,000 children.  Not an enormous amount but more than any other country was willing to do.

 

The organizers of these Kindertransports worked ceaselessly against a fearsome deadline.  First Eichmann had to be approached to give his consent, a dangerous venture in itself.  He gave it because the leaders convinced that since he despised Jewish children, would it not be wise to get rid of them.  He decided that the first transport had to be ready to leave four days hence which fell on a Saturday.  This was typical of his sadistic scheming since he did not think that it would be possible to make arrangements for 600 children in so brief a time.  In addition, the departing date fell on a Saturday.  Eichmann knew that traveling on a Saturday would make the departure of the children even more painful to the orthodox parents.

 

The question arose how to locate 600 children so quickly.  It proved to be no problem. Word of mouth communicated the news so fast that within a few hours long lines formed of parents bringing children to register. The parents’ desperation can be gauged by the fact that they were surrendering their children without knowing where or to whom their children were going.  In addition, the parents sensed quite clearly that they were unlikely to ever see their children again.  They knew the parting was likely forever.  But their desire to save their children’s lives was their paramount thought and guide to action.

 

The parents were given the following directions:  The children had to be less than 16 years old.  This meant that siblings were split up with the older ones remaining in their homes and the younger ones leaving.  The children could only bring a very few pieces of clothes in a small overnight case that they were able to carry themselves.  The parents were not permitted on the train.  The children could not take any valuables or anything that could be sold overseas.  There would be only a very few adults on the train whose families served as hostages against their return.

 

The parents then took their children home and with whatever money they had left bought them fresh clothes which they hoped would last them a few years.  Most tried to remain cheerful and explained to their children that they hoped they would be reunited.  Some of the older children did not grasp the full extent of the situation and felt that being on the train was something like going to summer camp.  The younger children frequently did not really understand and tried to adjust to the whirlwind around them.  Some of babies were only a few months old and the parents had to purchase wicker baskets to load them on the train.  The parents tried to give their children some last minute advice.  Some urged the children to be “good” in their new homes, so that the new parents will love them.

 

Picture this situation.  The children on these trains were anywhere from a few months to sixteen years old.  The parents knew that the children were going to England but had no idea whether a family would receive them or whether they would be placed in an orphanage.  Particularly the smaller children who could not write letters would be entirely cut off from their families.  Different parents stressed different aspect of the coming journey.  For instance, one father took his little girl for a walk and explained that England was a democracy.  “You will be happy there,” he said, “and if something should happen to us, do not grieve for us because you will have a happy life.’   A mother took her daughter aside and in order to protect her, explained the “facts of life” to her.  She was afraid that when the child reached maturity, there would be no one there to enlighten her.

 

The setting for departure was ominous and ghostly.  The children were brought to a large railroad station as ordered at midnight.  The Nazis planned the late hour in order to avoid having the general population observe the children’s departure, which might arouse sympathy for the Jews.  While the station was dark, it was festooned with large flags emblazoned with swastikas.  Tall SS men in their black uniforms and tall black boots strode ominously up and down the platform and watched that no parent entered the train.

 

Some of the children who of course are adults now, remember the forced smiles on their parents’ faces, which the latter assumed in order not to upset their children.  One woman recalls her grandmother slipping behind a pole to hide her tears.  A man still has a clear picture of his mother smiling but seeing her faint just as the train began to pull out.  One agonized father could not bear to let his child leave and in the last minute, as the train started to move, pulled her out through the window.  Tragically they both ended up in concentration camps.  A boy describes his father climbing up on the side of the train to kiss him good by.  He remembers his father’s agonized face through the window.  That was the last time he ever saw his father!  Another of the older boys had at first taken the departure lightheartedly as an adventure, as if he were going on a holiday.  Suddenly, the insight struck him with despair: “ We’ll never see our parents again!  This is the end!”

 

The train made its way to the border of Holland where the SS searched the children who were terrified.  It then entered Holland and most children remember to this day the overpowering elation they felt at being out of the Nazis’ and of the eager reception by Dutch women who met them with motherly warmth as well as with treats.  They crossed the channel in stormy waters, which made them all sick and arrived exhausted and full of trepidations in England.  Most of them did not see their parents again.  In fact, most of the parents perished

 

Roger:   I can’t even imagine handing over any one of my children!

 

Dr. Whiteman: Can you imagine having to make such a decision?  Many of these children once they were adults realized what enormous love their parents bore them to make such an enormous sacrifice.  Particularly once they had their own children, they looked at their two year or four old and imagined handing them over to an unknown stranger in a far away land.  Many told me about the depth of their gratitude to their parents for their immense relinquishment and that they aimed to lead decent lives to make their parents’ sacrifice worthwhile.

 

Arrival in England

 

On arrival, the tired, anxious, slightly disoriented children debarked and one by one were picked up by strangers to whom they had been assigned. People out of the goodness of their hearts had declared themselves willing to take strange children into their homes. Placement was arbitrary.  A very mixed fate awaited them.   Some children were placed into loving homes.  Some were not so lucky.  Some landed with wealthy parents, some found refuge in marginal homes. Some foster parents encouraged the education of the little escapees.  Some insisted that they leave school at fourteen and go to work.   The war broke out shortly after their arrival and since contact was then broken with their home countries, the parents found that they had adopted children they had never planned to adopt. Many complications arose.  For instance, after the bombing of England by the German Luftwaffe started, many mothers moved with their children to towns, which were more likely to be safe.  With their husbands in the service, the burden of an additional child was not easy to handle.  In addition, some of these children had, besides the normal problems of growing up, additional problems caused by separation from their parents, realizing that their parents were in mortal danger, lacking a knowledge of English which prevented them from being accepted by their peers and adjusting to all kinds of different customs.

 

Roger:   How about rejection, isolation?

 

Dr. Whiteman: Isolation?

 

Roger:     Did they feel isolated?  Did they feel rejected when they went to these new countries?

 

Dr. Whiteman: Totally different cultures

 

For instance, when I came to England I received a scholarship from a boarding school.  I did not know one word of English and nobody knew one word of German.  I was at the dinner table and there was a girl sitting across from me.  She must have felt sorry for my isolation and so she winked at me!  You know, with one eye closed, she gave me a friendly wink!  But, I had never seen anybody wink before because nobody did this in Austria!

 

Roger:     Ha, ha, ha! (chuckles in amusement)

 

Dr. Whiteman: I thought she had a nervous tick so I tactfully looked away.   After I learned differently, I often wonder if she thought I was being unfriendly.  When you first arrive and for a long times after, you have such different habits that you are not like everybody else.

 

Problems of all kinds arose.  Sometimes the children whose home it was became jealous of the newcomers and did not want to accept them.  At other times serious illness occurred or a divorce was the offing and what to do with the strange child?  Sometimes a foster parent died or became impoverished. There were also people who had the goodness of heart to accept children into their homes but were simply not good at parenting.  These adults received very little help.  It was wartime.  Little transportation was available and all hands were working in the war effort.  There were no or very few social workers to spare to visit their children or advise the parents.  Everybody in England was just trying to survive.

 

But the majority of foster parents were extremely dedicated and did their best. Many of the relationships were kept for years even after the foster children had moved or even emigrated to other countries.  They kept in touch and even traveled to visit each other.  But still, even an excellent home did not necessarily feel like a real home.

 

To give you one example: Peter related to me that he was in an excellent home where he was treated almost like one of the family.  At first, it was hard to get used to it because he found English habits quite different.  Austrians tend to more relaxed, more spontaneous that the English who are more restrained.  But after a while, Peter got used to it.  He felt reasonably happy.  He also appreciated that the foster family paid for his education at a university so that he actually qualified as an officer in the English army during the war – a very rare occurrence. But something happened the day he was discharged that threw an entirely different light on the way he viewed his future.  The process of discharging him and his fellow soldiers took so many hours that it was not completed until two o’clock in the morning.  The moment it was finished, all the other soldiers stormed out of the building to find some way to get home.  But not Peter.  He reflected that he would not get to Oxford where he lived until about three AM.   It was not appropriate, not polite for him to barge into the house in the middle of the night and disturb the whole family.  And with that thought he realized that his home was not really a home even though he thought of it as home.  A home is a place where you can come any without any hesitation.  As a result he became aware that even though he had been treated like a son, he would have to build a home of his own.  I think many of the children experienced something of that nature.

 

The question of guilt

 

Roger:    As you tracked down all these folks.  You have some amazing stories in the book, doctor.  These folks, did they suffer from guilt because they survived this?  Is that ……

 

Dr. Whiteman: You know, it is kind of interesting that when I was working on the book, people very frequently commented:  “’I know what you will find in your  research.  You are going to find that all those who survived have “survivor syndrome.”  By that they meant that they believed the escapees would be filled with guilt for having survived.  This has generally been the assumption therefore I wanted to explore this question.  I asked many questions on this topic but surprisingly found that the great majority did not feel guilty.

 

The escapees feel deep grief about the loss of their families. After all, many lost the bulk of their relations, – old and young, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends.  This leaves a feeling of sadness and desolation that will probably extent throughout their lives.  But there is a difference between a feeling of sadness and a feeling of guilt.  The escapees did everything they could to rescue their families.  Once the children were settle in England, some even went from door to door in their new neighborhoods asking if anyone needed a maid in the hope of saving their mothers.  But they were young themselves!  They had no connections.  They had no language.  They had no money.  When I asked them whether they feel guilty. the reply went along the following lines: “I don’t feel guilty.  Those who could help but did not should feel guilty!  The Nazis should feel guilty!  I feel devastated; but, I don’t feel guilty!”  What they do feel is represented by what one woman remarked: “I have to live a life which will mean that the sacrifice she made by sending me away, was not in vain.”

 

Roger:   It meant something!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Yes!  It meant an enormous amount!  It expresses itself in the fact that many escapees, once they grew up became involved in altruistic or humanitarian causes.  They tend to give money to charities.  They frequently do volunteer work.  They are very conscientious about voting.  They feel compelled that whenever there is some disaster to extend aid in some way.  Many feel that if there had not been someone somewhere to help them they would not have survived.  Their conscience also says: “I survived.  I owe it to those who were not as lucky, to pay back.”   I think that is one reason the escapees tend not to feel guilty.

 

 

Roger:   Doctor, we’ve got to take a break and then I want to open up the phone line for the listeners’ questions.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Questions and Answers

 

Roger:      Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  We’re back with Dr. Whiteman!  Hello, Dorit!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Hi, there!

 

Roger:   Are you ready?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Yes, I am!

 

Roger:  Here it comes!  We’re going to start with Laura out in St. Louis, Missouri.  Hello, Laura!

 

Caller-Laura:   Roger, I love your show!  This particular one is really heartwarming!  Dr. Whiteman, this is just bringing back a flood of memories!  I grew up in South Africa.  I wonder if you know what a profound effect the German Jewish immigrants had in South Africa, in the countries of South Africa and Rhodesia?  I wish somebody would write a history about that.  They contributed enormously to the musical and art life in both countries.  I’m reminded of a friend whose mother was actually what you could consider a mail-order bride.  She was saved from Auschwitz!  She was brought out to Rhodesia by a man she never knew, never had met.  They married and are now celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary and have three wonderful children.  I just wish you could persuade someone to write a history about the German Jews who went to southern Africa because I think it’s a fascinating as those came to this country.

 

Dr. Whiteman:  It sounds like a good idea and I’ll certainly give it some thought.

 

Caller-Laura:   I know some Whitemans in South Africa and I wonder if you’re related?  They’re musicians!

 

Dr. Whiteman: I don’t think so because my husband was born in New York and my name, Whiteman, comes from the American side.

 

Caller-Laura:  Well, it’s just wonderful listening to you.  I’ll hang up so you can talk lots more!

 

Roger:  Thank you, Laura.  Gene in Eugene, Oregon is on the line.

 

Caller-Gene:  I’d like to ask Dr. Whiteman and take my answer off the air.  Doctor, do you see anything in our society now that would raise flags?  Do you ever look around…. you know how people say that it couldn’t happen here?  Can you look around and see that it may be starting to happen here, especially with Christians and so forth?  I’ll take my answer off the air.  Thank you.

 

Roger:   All right, Gene.  Go ahead Dr. Whiteman:

 

Dr. Whiteman: Let me put it this way: Personally, I don’t think it will ever happen here because there is a free press and a democratic tradition.  As a result when something goes too far down a negative route, there is always the ability to call it back.  I think it means we have to be alert at all times, that when we look at the skin heads, for instance, we can’t just say: “Oh well, forget about them because they’re just rabble-rousers.”  One can never drop one’s vigilance; but, personally, I have too much faith in the democratic system to think it would really happen.

 

Roger:  We see little tentacles in our society.  Do you know what civil forfeiture is, Dr. Whiteman?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  What?

 

Roger:  Are you aware of civil forfeiture laws?  The government now has what they call civil forfeiture laws where they can come in and take everything you own.  Then you have to sue them to get it back.  And, they don’t have to have a reason!  Then you have the IRS who come in with all these guys in ninja suits and take everything without ever having due process or going to court; but, they give you a receipt!  So, I see these things and think, ‘you don’t think it can happen’; but, in small scale these tendencies of government to absorb power and authority, you always have to be alert!  You’re right!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Yes, you always have to be alert!  Fortunately, we can write letters to the editor, we can complain and make ourselves heard.

 

Roger:    But, your message of hope is so powerful because we do live in a different kind of country where if the people don’t like what’s happening, they can fix it.  That’s really the difference.  David in Grants Pass, Oregon, hello David!

 

Caller-David:  Hello, Dr. Whiteman and Roger!  I’m enjoying the show a lot.  I have a question.  I’ve always wondered…. I’ve heard a lot of the Jewish people got the heck out of Germany at the time they saw things were going to happen and a lot of them didn’t seem to have the wisdom to leave.  Was that really the case?  Was it that obvious that it was time to leave or were the people walking around in ignorance?

 

Dr. Whiteman: I think that for a long time it was not obvious that Hitler was going to last.  Once it became obvious, it was extremely difficult to leave.  As I mentioned before, even if it was possible to get out, you couldn’t get into other countries because most borders were closed.  Most countries did not want to accept immigrants.

 

I think that there is somewhat of a different feeling now.  Countries do seem to feel responsible if something ghastly is happening some place else.  At that time, the idea tended to be that you care only about what goes on in your country and you need not extend yourself for anyone in other countries.  By the time the situation was obvious, most people were unable to get out.  Most of those who did not survive made the same efforts than those who got out, but they just were not as lucky.

 

Caller-David:    I see.  Thank you very much!

 

Roger:  Thank you, David!   People need to realize that one day you were going to vote in Austria, the next day the vote was canceled and the next day the troops were there!  You didn’t have a lot of time to think it through!  Let’s go to Rita in Weed, California.
Hello, Rita!

 

Caller-Rita:   Hi!  I’m enjoying the show very much!  I have a question.  I didn’t quite understand… the people that lived there for generations and thought of themselves as Germans, not Jews?  Am I understanding that correctly?  Like I am an American; but, my heritage is Italian so I would be considered an Italian?  Is that what you meant?

 

Dr. Whiteman: Well, I meant that you, are American and, I don’t know how you personally feel…..

 

Caller-Rita:  No, I mean what the Jewish people, at that time, in Nazi Germany, felt.

 

Dr. Whiteman: Before the Nazis took over, the middle European Jews felt as patriotic about their country as we feel about America now, living here.  The feeling was: I am Jewish..  (Some were more observant, some were less observant.  There’s always a range to the extent to which people are religious.)  But the Jews considered themselves German citizens or Austrian citizens and they were as involved in the fate of their country as we are involved in America..

 

Caller-Rita:   So, you never felt threatened?

 

Dr. Whiteman: No, not threatened before Hitler.  Not feeling that something terrible would happen to us.

 

Roger:     These were patriotic German citizens for generations and generations!  Just like we are here in America.

 

Caller-Rita:   Right!  Oh, this is fascinating!  Thank you very much!

 

Roger:  We’ve got another caller, Kurt in Springfield, Illinois.  How are you?

 

Caller-Kurt:   I’m fine Roger!  It’s an excellent program.  Dr. Whiteman, I couldn’t help but get emotional listening to you tell the story of the parents giving up their children.  I was wondering if you would explain, how were with Germans, the Nazis I should say, able to demonize Jewish people in Austria and Germany?  How were they able to do that and get such willing compliance, if not compliance, at least no resistance on the part of the ethnic Germans… to rescue and save or assist Jews when they were being mistreated in such a way after they had given so much to those countries in terms of intelligence, intellect and talent?  Could you explain that to me please?  The other listeners and I would be fascinated with you answer.     And, God bless you for the work that you have done in keeping the holocaust memory alive in the hearts and minds of people!

 

Roger:    Thank you, Kurt!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  Thank you!  It’s an excellent question.   I think it is a question I cannot answer entirely.  Just to give you a picture: The day after Hitler came to Vienna, I was in elementary school and I had a teacher that I particularly loved.  We had a great deal of respect for our teachers.  These teachers had been with us year after year. Yet when the teachers came back to school after the Nazis took over  Vienna, they treated us with such hatred and contempt! For instance, they ordered all Jewish children to sit in the back rows and did not interfere if a non-Jewish boy beat up a Jewish girl.  It was totally astounding!  We couldn’t understand how they could possibly have been our friends, our role models, and then treat us in this terrible way.  In one day they changed.  The very people on the block, or in the stores we had frequented for years, put up signs saying:  “No Jews Allowed” and would not serve us any longer.

 

Part of the motivation, I’m afraid, was a very strong financial one because the non-Jews were at liberty to go into Jewish homes and businesses and steal whatever they wanted.  They could get rid of their competitors if the latter were Jewish.  If your boss or director was a Jew and you could denounce him, perhaps you could get his job.  There was a great deal to gain.  But many really believed the Nazi propaganda.  For instance, the Nazis always pictured Jews as being rapists, greedy extortionists with long noses and dirty grasping hands out to debase non Jewish girls!  But many of their neighbors who were Jewish were blond and blue-eyed and lived next door from them for years.  They had friendly, even social relations with them.  So how could they possible believe that all Jews looked and acted as the Nazis pictured them?

 

Roger:   Well, it was great propaganda.   Hold on just a moment, doctor.  We’ve got to take a break and we’ll be right back!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   We’re back, ladies and gentlemen!  Dr. Dorit Bader-Whiteman is our guest this evening!  We’re going to take a call from Jerry in Santa Maria, California.  Hello, Jerry!

 

Caller-Jerry:   Hello!  First of all let me say, Dr. Whiteman, that what happened in the Holocaust was a true tragedy.  I was wondering if you’ve ever read books by Saul Bellow or Phillip Roth?  Phillip Roth’s “Goodbye Columbus”, in particular?  He basically says that in a sense a lot of Jews bring problems upon themselves because they think of themselves as Jews first and Americans second.  You can kind of see how a lot of main stream America is getting a short fuse with black Americans in the same manner because a lot of African Americans think of themselves as blacks first and Americans second.  If this separatism continues, a lot of people say the spirit of assimilation is lost.  What are your thoughts on this?

 

Dr. Whiteman:  I feel very strongly that the group that I am talking about, the escapees, consider themselves American first and foremost.  My parents and I, the moment we learned to speak English, we spoke English in our home and we did not speak German anymore.  The first year we learned about Thanksgiving; it is not a European holiday—we  celebrated Thanksgiving.  When we became citizens it was one of the best days of our lives!  We all got dressed up and went down to be sworn in and then we celebrated!  I don’t have the feeling that I am Austrian or that I am Jewish.  I am an American!  I am also Jewish.  Basically I feel the melting pot was a wonderful idea!  When I first came here I had to take American history.  It was an eye-opener for me.  I think it should be required for every new American because it’s about democracy.  I didn’t learn about kings and when they had reigned, I learned about democracy!  I learned about the whole American system.  My feeling was just the way you are describing it, my identification was with my new country and I couldn’t have been prouder of it.  All people I knew felt the same way because being an American was just about the best….

 

Roger:   And this is why Dr. Whiteman, I wanted to make the point earlier, the folks in Germany and Austria did not think of themselves as Jews, they thought of themselves as Germans and Austrians.  That’s what is so bizarre about this very complex issue.    Doc in Roseburg, Oregon, you’re on the radio!

 

Caller-Doc:  I take very strong exception to this caller who thinks Jewish Americans don’t think of themselves as Americans first!  My uncle flew 54 missions in a B-24 in WW II!  I would like to take a strong exception to Dr. Bader-Whiteman’s presentation that it can’t happen here.  My uncle and my aunt, and my aunt held every single elected office in Hadassah except for one, said that absolutely it can happen in America!  America has a very violent history from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the Jayhawkers and to the constant riots in the cities to this day.  It was definitely, definitely taught to me that it can happen here!  There’s no doubt about it—that many Americans are possibly at risk in this country.  I was taught this as a child in the 1950s.

 

Roger:    It might happen to a different group.

 

Caller-Doc:    Of course!  This country has a very violent past.  Look at what’s happening in the cities!  Look at the terrible separation of all the groups.  I was always taught it could happen here.  Thank you very much!

 

Dr. Whiteman: I’d like to say this.  I can’t guarantee that it won’t happen here.  I hope I turn out to be right.  The big difference from Austria and Germany was the governments there were totally intent on repressing groups.  There was no way to talk back.  There was no newspaper.  There was no free speech.  My feeling is that as long as we have free speech, somebody may try to do similar things but they’re much less likely to succeed.

 

Roger:   It’s not going to be an easy task, that’s for sure!  William in Red Bluff, California, you’re on the radio!  Hello!

 

Caller-William: Roger, I’m a veteran of WW II.  I have a question that’s bothered me ever since the war which I haven’t had a satisfactory answer on.

 

Roger:  Let’s hear your question, William.

 

Caller-William:   When the war started, Britain and France declared war on Hitler.  Two weeks later when Poland was almost finished, Russia moved in and claimed half of Poland.  Why didn’t France and Britain declare war on Russia then?

 

Roger:    Boy, that’s a good question, William!  I don’t think anybody that could answer that!

 

Dr. Whiteman:  The only thing I could say is that I was in England at the time, and England was totally unarmed.  I remember seeing the soldiers in Hyde Park walking around with sticks, practicing with sticks because there were no guns in the country.  I don’t that they were in a position to declare war on anyone.

 

Roger:     That may very well be true.

 

Dr. Whiteman: If Hitler had tried to cross the channel at that point, he would have had no trouble invading, because England had no way of defending itself.

 

Roger:   Dr. Whiteman, we’ve run out of time.  I just want to thank you very, very much for being here!  Your book is an absolute creation inspired, I think, by The Creator Himself!  God Bless you so much!  I hope you continue your work.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be back tomorrow evening!  God bless you all, God bless America!  Good night America!

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton. Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

AFTER THE DELUGE: The Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp Letters of Major Irving Heymont

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

2-25-1998 Eighteenth Program in Series

 

Guest: Colonel Irving Heymont

 

Book:  AFTER THE DELUGE: The Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp

Letters of Major Irving Heymont

also known as

“AMONG THE SURVIVORS OF THE HOLOCAUST-1945: The Landsberg D.P. Camp Letters of Major Irving Heymont, United States Army”

 

ISBN-10:  0809504057 and ISBN-13: 978- 0809504053

 

 

Roger:    Welcome, ladies and gentlemen!  It’s a great pleasure to continue this series.  We’re running close to the end of it now.  I don’t know quite how much is left.  Phew!  What a learning experience!

 

Our guest this hour was a 27 year old major in the United States army sent to Germany to do a job.  Of course, he wrote a number of letters home.  Those letters have become quite an interesting point in history.  “AMONG THE SURVIVORS OF THE HOLOCAUST-1945: The Landsberg D.P. Camp Letters of Major Irving Heymont, United States Army”.  

 

Colonel Heymont, welcome to the program, sir!

 

Col. Heymont:  Thank you.

 

Roger:  It’s a pleasure to have you here!  What were the circumstances that sent you to Germany, and more specifically, Landsberg?

 

Col. Heymont:  Well, going to Germany, the reason was very simple!  There was a war going on.  I was an infantry officer in an infantry regiment, in an infantry division and we were deployed overseas.  We went to Europe and we fought in France and Germany.  The war ended for us in Austria when we met the Russians.  Then we went back to Germany and I was stationed in Augsburg.  I was on leave for a short period in England and came back.  By that time, I was commanding the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Infantry.  To my utter amazement, I found that in my absence my battalion had been moved from Augsburg to Landsberg, Germany!

 

Roger:  So, you ended up going there?  What was that, some kind of camp, I take it?

 

Col. Heymont:  Well, I arrived there about 3:00 in the morning.  My battalion had moved there about two days earlier.  The next morning I woke for breakfast, I’ll spare you some of the details; but, anyway, the Assistant Division Commander arrived, General Onslow Rolfe.  He told me there was a D.P. Camp in town and the German concern.  There was a lot of controversy over it.  My job was to get the camp cleaned up; but, to be certain I did not get any adverse publicity.  If I did anything that would cause adverse publicity for the army it would be the end of my career!  I was a professional army officer.  What amazed me was that he told me that in all matters relating to the camp I would take orders from him and not from my regimental commander!  This was a very awkward and unusual position!

 

Roger:  When you arrived at the camp, what did you discover?

 

Col. Heymont:  Well, he and I went to the camp together to see what it was like.  He had not been there before.  We were both shocked!  My battalion took over precisely as they found it left by the previous battalion.  To my utter amazement, I found there were American soldiers on guard at the entrance to the camp and the people in the camp were not allowed out unless they had a special pass!  The camp was in the walls of this concern, a German military post with barbed wire on the top!  It seemed filthy and littered, with people walking back and forth aimlessly, staring out watching the Germans on the street walking by freely!

 

Roger:  This was after the liberation?

 

Col. Heymont:  This was early September, 1945.

 

Roger:  So, why were the people being held in a camp?  I mean, it was a repartriation movement ongoing, I suppose; but….?

 

Col. Heymont:    I can speak now from things I learned subsequently.  The Americans were deeply involved in repatriation.  Germany was a mix of everybody in Europe!  As I found out later, most of the Jews did not want to go back home where they had been mistreated.  They no longer considered themselves to be Poles or Russians or Hungarians.  They considered themselves to be Jews and that Europe did not want them anymore!  Many of them who had gone back, I am told, found their possessions had been taken over and they were resented for coming back!  They were being mistreated and some were even killed!

 

Roger:  After the war was over?

 

Col. Heymont:  Yes.

 

Roger:  So, as I understand it, I read a letter from Harrison to Truman in your book, that talked about the fact that the Germans thought that the Allied Forces had actually just taken over for the Germans, that there was some confusion about why they were there?

 

Col. Heymont:  Well, at first many of the people in the camp told me that we had just taken over from the Germans!  The only thing different was that we didn’t kill them, we merely kept them behind barbed wire and we fed them better than the Germans did, and we didn’t work them to death!  They were cynical.  Basically, from their viewpoint, I could see they were right.

 

Roger:  In other words, they were still captive; but, they weren’t being killed?

 

Col. Heymont:  That’s the way many of them felt.

 

Roger:  But, that really wasn’t the case, was it?

 

Col. Heymont:   I soon realized that a number of things had to be done.  I told General Rolfe that the Number One thing we ought to do first was to move all the non-Jews out.  It was roughly about 80% Jews and the other 20% were mostly people from the Baltic countries who I personally think were volunteer laborers for Germany.  I said that if we kept the camp as one kind of camp, if we simplify, we’d have only one problem to deal with.  He agreed and arrangements were made for all of the people of the camp who were non-Jews to be moved out.   They went to Augsburg and other places.

I also told him that it was a disgrace for us to keep them under guard like that!

 

To make a long story short, he said I should do what I thought was right.  I won’t go into the details; but, I had the American guards still kept at the camp, this time their instructions were to keep unauthorized Germans out!  The people of the camp could come and go as they pleased.  I had the people of the camp take down the barbed wire!  I told them we did not come fight the war so we could stand guard over Jews!  Can I add something to that?

 

Roger:  Yes!  You can add as much as you want, Irving!

 

Col. Heymont:  I learned a good deal more about this many years later.  The Harrison Report that came out—-the first I knew about it was when I read about it in the Stars and Stripes later on—castigated the army for the way it treated the Jewish D.P.s.  I subsequently learned that General Eisenhower, in mid or late August, had issued orders to the 3rd Army that the Jews were to be kept in camps by themselves and they were not to be kept under guard!  Those orders had not been carried out under General Patton in the 3rd Army area.

 

I thought I was really very powerful, very persuasive when General Rolfe agreed, “Sure, we’ll move the non-Jews out!  Sure!  Go right ahead and change the policy about letting them out of the camp!”  I didn’t realize until many years later that Eisenhower had ordered these things but they had not been carried out by General Patton!

 

I later read General Patton’s letters and found that he had a tremendous, almost pathological, personal hatred of Jewish D.P.s!  I wouldn’t say that he was anti-semitic and hated Jews because I know there were many Jewish officers on his staff; but, he couldn’t stand the sight of Jewish D.P.s!  He considered them vermin! I’m not making this up –it’s in his letters!  When he was with them he had to go home and take a bath!  So, I’m sure that’s one of the reasons that contributed to the terrible situation that I found.

 

Roger:  The descriptions by survivors were that they had lost their humanity.  Their identities were squashed and they really were treated as nothing more than caged animals!  Did you find that carried over into the psyche and personalities of the people in those camps?

 

Col. Heymont:  No, it changed rapidly.  I’m not a trained pyschologist and I’m speaking now over 50 years later; but, I have thought a good deal about it.  Their attitude was that they felt they should have special treatment.  From their viewpoint, I can understand why they should.  From an American army viewpoint, I can understand that we were limited to what we could do.

 

Personally, I think we could have done more; but, after awhile their major thrust within the camp was that they didn’t want to be wards of the U.S. Army.  They wanted to take over complete responsibility for the camp themselves.  Of course, I couldn’t do that!  I couldn’t let them run the camp.  I kept telling them once they got the camp cleaned up to the proper standards, then we could talk about moral authority.

 

I also found out they had a camp committee, a really most unusual group of men, brilliant men!  It was a sort of self-elected camp committee and they were sort of running the camp and acting spokesmen, although they were divided among themselves.  The army pressed me and I finally did arrange to have a free election of a new camp committee.  That was quite an experience, too!  But, we did hold an election  and the same camp committee was re-elected.  I think the motivation of the army was that they did not want to be accused of putting people in authority and not giving the people an option themselves.

 

Roger:   So, what was your job basically?  I mean, what was your goal?

 

Col. Heymont:  My goal?  In what respect?

 

Roger:   Well, you were sent to this camp, a kind of surprise assignment, so there you are.  You’ve got this real situation with unsanitary condition and all these people who’ve been severely tormented by the Nazis who now believe that they’re free, but maybe not quite free.  You want to repatriate them; but, you can’t repatriate them because they don’t want to go home because they don’t identify with the homeland, they identify with their Jewishness.  I mean, this seems like a helluva problem for a career army soldier to me!

 

Col. Heymont:  I must say, I don’t think I was quite fully prepared for it.  I was 27 years old.  I’d been in the army since the very beginning in 1940,  an infantry officer.  Before that I was a metallurgical chemist for two years from the time was graduated from college and went into the service.   I served in Panama.   Here I was commanding an infantry; but, I’d been a regimental operations officer during combat, a battalion commander and suddenly I have this sociological problem with a chain of command that’s all screwed up, abnormal!  Every day there were more generals looking over my shoulder!

 

My goal was to do what I was told to do!  Get the camp cleaned up.  Get the camp running.  Try to help these people as best as I could with the facilities I had.  And above all, avoid any adverse publicity!  That was kind of skittish!

 

Roger:  Colonel, you were raised in a Jewish family and you’re a Jew.

 

Col. Heymont:  Yes

 

Roger:   And like all young men, you were maybe not as closely connected to your Jewish faith or whatever….

 

Col. Heymont:   That’s a master understatement!

 

Roger:   Ha, ha!   But, you arrive there and these are Jewish people!  These are your people!  How long did it take you to identify with that, or did you immediately?

 

Col. Heymont:   I went out of my way to make sure that they did not know I was Jewish.  Some of them may have suspected it.  Even within the army I wasn’t particularly well known as Jewish.  I didn’t profess it.  Anyway, I did not want them to know that I was Jewish for fear they would impose on me and expect me to do things that I couldn’t do.

 

In many respects, from a personal viewpoint, Landsberg brought me back to being a Jew again.  After I came back from Europe in 1947 I started to study again Jewish religion and Jewish history.  I was damned if I was going to let Hitler win by having people like me drift away!  I don’t believe an anthropomorphic God; but, I do believe in the Jewish peoplehood and I respect their religion even though I may not practice it in detail.  I don’t know if I’ve answered your question.

 

Roger:  Well, like all good military men, you give us the facts, and just the facts!  What I want to know is about the emotion.  I want to know what then-Major Irving Heymont was really thinking when you were sitting there at night at your writing table writing letters home, which we’ll talk about in a minute.  What were you really thinking?

 

Col. Heymont:   I was really thinking, “What is it I have to get done?  How can I get it done?” Here it is late at night.  People have knocked off and they’re not around to answer my questions or take orders from me and I have to wait till the morning.

 

Roger:  This wasn’t a little camp with 30 or 40 people, we’re talking about 6,000 people!

 

Col. Heymont:  It varied.  My best guesstimate would be between  5,000 to 7,000.   Towards the end there were quite a few women and children.

 

Roger:  At the time that you arrived there, did the totality of this incredible hell, this horrible hell on earth, did you understand that when you were at Landsberg?  What really happened there?

 

Col. Heymont:  Oh, yes!  During the course of the war, in Austria we over-ran a subcamp of Althausen called Gunskirchen.  See, all these big name concentration camps had many subcamps.  For example, Landsberg-Kaufering, that area originally had about 10 little subcamps of Dachau.  But, unlike the Dachau camps, the Landsberg-Kaufering camps were work-to-death camps.  About 30,000 people went through there and about 15,000 of them died there.  The remnants of those people formed the basis for the D.P. Camp.

 

When we over-ran Gunskirchen we found about 2,000 dead.  I was there only for about 5 minutes and I’ll never forget the stench!  Also, what I still recall and I believe this with full faith, one of the first men into the place told me they were so overwhelmed that he offered the man a cigarette —that’s all he had on him— and the man started to eat the cigarette!  I didn’t see that; but, I believe that…..

 

Roger:  That hungry, huh!  So, you also had Germans as prisoners at this time, did you not?

 

Col. Heymont:   Oh, yes!  I had a few other headaches!  One company had… we had a company that had a POW camp with SS prisoners.  For a short time I had a little camp I inherited with 60 to 70 German generals and admirals until I finally managed to get rid of them!  They were quite a bunch, too!   They were all headaches; but, the big headache was the D.P. Camp and the sanitation.  See, there were many inspecting officers; but, particularly as I found out later as a result of the pressure on Eisenhower from the Harrison Report.

 

I’d be inspected and many of them were very sympathetic  ; but, down deep they thought that all these people should live like soldiers do – clean, sanitary, 40 square feet per person — forgetting that many of the things that these people wanted to do was totally unlike barracks life!

 

They were motivated first, to try to find family.  They traveled all over Europe searching for family.  I was told cemeteries were a sort of post office.  They’d leave notes in cemeteries.  The other thing; the few that did live, would try to reconstitute a family life.  To them, that meant eating together.  So they had little cook stoves in their barracks.  That contributed tremendously to the sanitary problem!  To solve that, I started a central mess with waitresses and so forth.  It opened up with great fanfare, hoping that would cut it back.  But, down deep, I think many of them came there, got the rations and went back to their rooms to eat it like a family unit.

 

Roger:  It was probably really important to figure out a way to get some normalcy back in their lives at that time.  What were these German prisoners like?

 

Col. Heymont:  We had one camp full of SS prisoners.  Immediately after the war we immediately started to discharge the Wehrmacht prisoners.  We wanted to get them out of our hair!  But, the SS were being kept until after the Nuremburg trials.  So, I had one company, I think it was F Company, guarding the SS camp and I’d have to go up there about once every week or so to inspect.  I practiced my Germany there and it was very amusing.  The German SS officers would practice their English on me and I’d try to practice my German on them!  They’d always tell me everything we did wrong in fighting the war.  I finally reached a point where I said to them, “You’re absolutely right!  I agree with you; but, excuse me, who is guarding who?”  They shut up on that score!

 

Roger:  You even talk at one point about they’re complaining about their rations in one of your letters.

 

Col Heymont:  Oh, yes!  I still have that note from some grand admiral!  This was a little prisoner of war cage I had at a castle near Egling.  I finally got rid of them.  They went off to a bigger camp.  They resented it because I had a sergeant in charge.   I had very few officers.  People were going in and out; as they accumulated points they were going home.  One of them presented me with a note when I went to see them; how they were not being furnished enough grease, fat in their ration.  The other one also wanted a Russian-German dictionary because he was studying Russian and according to some provisions of the Geneva Convention which he pointed out to me, the captive country is supposed to provide the prisoners with educational materials.  I failed to carry that out.  I was deficient!

 

Roger:   You did say that you increased the toilet paper because you didn’t want to be that cruel!  Ha, ha!

 

Col. Heymont:  Well, yeah, I did do that.  Ha, ha!

 

Roger:   Your letters are kind of unique.  Now, who were you writing all these letters to?

 

Col. Heymont:   My wife.

 

Roger:   You were writing letters to your wife.  Did you write a letter every day or….?

 

Col. Heymont:   Almost every night.  I’d be so frustrated at the end of the day; everyone would lock up shop and I’d be all pent up, so I’d pour everything out in letters to my wife.  When I got home, to my surprise, she had saved them all!   I must confess, she wrote to me almost every day, too; but, I didn’t save her letters.

 

Roger:  Ha, ha!  Did you ever think when you were writing those letters that they would become such an important part of history regarding…?

 

Col. Heymont:   Oh, no!  I never had any thoughts about that!  As a matter of fact, as it turned out later, under pressure I finally turned the letters over to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.  But, I  made them promise that certain parts of the letters will never be released to anyone because they contain a lot of personal comments about army people, non-friend army people, that I don’t ever want made known.
Roger:   Right!  Whether you like or dislike, personal things like that to your wife, things like that, just leave that out!

 

Col. Heymont:  Yes, yes!

 

Roger:   So, the body of the letters, the content simply reflects what you were seeing as you were going through…

 

Col. Heymont:  They were published later in a book, where these comments were, of course, omitted.   But, they are in the original letters and the Holocaust Museum does have the letters.  I find that sort of restricts me to the stories I can tell!

 

Roger:  Ha, ha!

 

Col. Heymont:  I can’t embellish!  I can’t magnify because somebody can always say, “Look buddy, this is what you wrote in 1945!”

 

Roger:  You’re locked into the truth you created!  Colonel, I’ve got to take a break, here.  Just hang on here and we’ll continue our discussion.  I’d also like to open phone lines if you don’t have an objection to that.  We’ll see if we’ve got some listeners who might like to ask questions about your experiences as a U.S. Army officer dealing with the aftermath of the holocaust.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Retired U.S. Army Colonel Irving Heymont, is with us this evening talking about his experiences as he marched across Europe into Germany, with one of the major forces in WW II winning victory for the Allied Forces and ending up with responsibility for the Displaced Person Camps, especially Landsberg DP Camp.  The letters he wrote home became a very important part of history.   Colonel, we’re back, my friend! How long were you actually there?

 

Col. Heymont:  In Landsberg?

 

Roger:   Yes.

 

Col. Heymont:  It was the longest four months of my life!

 

Roger:  It must have seemed like years.  So, you wrote letters home nearly every day.

 

Col. Heymont:  Not quite, almost every day.

 

Roger:  While you were there you said you rediscovered your Jewishness.

 

Col. Heymont:  Not rediscovered, became aware.

 

Roger:  Became aware — and what was it that caused that?

 

Col. Heymont:  The realization of what happened and that I didn’t want Hitler to triumph by different means, by just letting Jews assimilate—getting rid of them that way instead of by killing them.  I am presenting it in an utterly simplistic way.  It’s a little more complex than that.  I’d just rather not go into it too deeply.

 

Roger:  Were you able to make friends there?

 

Col. Heymont:  Oh, yes!  I’m still friends with some of them, except they’ve practically all passed away.  I’ve made many German friends I still keep up with.

 

Roger:  What ever happened to the German soldiers that you one time held captive.

 

Col. Heymont:  Oh, they were all released finally.  They were all discharged.

 

Roger:  So, in the Nuremburg trials just certain people were tried?

 

Col. Heymont:  Oh, yes!  Most of the war criminals that were tried and executed by the Americans were executed at Landsberg.  I was one of the official eyewitnesses at the first executions.  The major ones, the top Nazis were executed at Nuremburg; but, the other minor ones, relatively speaking, were all tried at Dachau.  In German it was known as the Dachau Trials.  Landsberg was the big Bavarian state prison.  Hitler had been in jail there in 1922-1923.  That’s where he supposedly wrote “Mein Kampf.”  So, the Americans took that over and it was known as W.P. 1, War Prison Number 1.  That’s where the executions took place, about 200 were executed there and they’re buried in the prison cemetery.

 

Roger:  Was there any protest by the German people after the trials?

 

Col. Heymont:  Not in my time.

 

Roger:   Those former soldiers didn’t come back to rescue their leaders, huh?  Ha, ha, ha!

 

Col. Heymont:  Oh, no!  These were all in jail, guarded by an American MP Unit.

 

Roger:  Alright, listen!  We  have a phone call.  Folks, if you’d like to call in and ask Colonel Heymont about his experiences in  Landsberg, Germany after the liberation, please feel free to call in.  Lisa in Sparks, Nevada, hello!

 

Caller-Lisa:  First of all, I want to say this is wonderful what you’re doing, promoting awareness about this.  I’m in my second semester in college and I’m doing a report on the Spanish Inquisition.  I was listening to your show and I realized, in speaking with my friends about my paper, not many of us realized that the Inquisition itself was primarily a persecution of Jews and Jews converted to Christianity.  I was amazed and that led me into further research and throughout history, how the Jews have been persecuted and how little my generation knows about it!  I’m considered part of Generation X.

 

I have two questions for the Colonel.  What I want to know is, has he had that same experience of people in the younger generation not realizing what has gone on?

 

My second question is not related to the topic.  Did the German prisoners he had at the camps, did they in any way try to rationalize what they had done?  Did they try to explain why they were persecuting the Jews?  Did they have a reason?

 

Col. Heymont:  You’ll have to forgive me.  Between age and war wounds, I’m a little hard of hearing.  I think one was: Were the Germans aware of what they had done?

 

Caller-Lisa:  Did the German prisoners ever try to rationalize to you why they done that?

 

Col. Heymont:  Did the German prisoners I had in my custody try to rationalize what had happened?  I have no knowledge of anything like that.  I never carried on any discussions with them like that.

What was the first question?

 

Caller-Lisa:  The first question was, have you, in everyday life, come across people in their 20s-30s, who are not even aware of the atrocities that have been perpetrated on the Jewish people?

 

Col. Heymont:  Do you mean American or German?

 

Caller-Lisa:  American, in present day life?

 

Col. Heymont:  I’m in no position to answer that.  I’m afraid my contacts with Americans about 20 years old are very limited.  My friends are practically all my age, all people who served in the army.  All my nieces and nephews are fully aware of what happened.  I’m just not in a position to answer that with any degree of knowledge.

 

Roger:  Now, when you went over there you had original orders?  I mean, there was a certain goal and objective which we’ve talked about.  Did that change over time?  Was there a change in thinking about how all this was coming together and the realization of the fact that people didn’t want to be repatriated?  What kind of problem did that create for the army?

 

Col. Heymont:  It created a great deal of a problem!  There we were with these thousands of people who could not be repatriated!  That’s why there was the Bartley Crum Commission (Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry on Palestine-1945) and others.  Even in the United States there was some opposition to letting them in initially.  It was only until the State of Israel was created that the camps were finally emptied.

 

Roger:   So, up to that point were we just providing foods and housing.

 

Col Heymont:  Sheltering.

 

Roger:  Essentially protecting them?

 

Col. Heymont:  Yes.

 

Roger:  But, after the war there didn’t seem to be any desire by the Germans or other European people to come after Jews.  I mean, that kind of died after the war, right?

 

Col. Heymont:  Again, you’re asking me for……  I’m in no position to comment.  All I know is historically there were many riots, pogroms, massacres when Jews went back.  The most famous one was in 1946 in Poland.   That happened in many other towns on a much smaller scale.  I heard many horror stories of people who went back to their hometowns and were driven out again.   Some were killed there.  This is even in late 1945.  But, overall generalizations, I’m in no position…

 

Roger:  Now, how about records?  There must have been a lot of records that needed to be gone through and organized and put together which we now see as the official record of history.

 

Col.  Heymont:  Records of what?

 

Roger:  Well, records of the camps and the imprisonments….

 

Col. Heymont:  Oh, yes!

 

Roger:  Did you have to deal with that at all?

 

Col. Heymont:  Well, for example, in 1995 there were big commemorations.  There are a number of institutes in Germany…. a year or so ago there was a big conference in Munich on the Jewish DP problem.  The Fritz Bauer Institute out of Frankfurt just published the papers that were delivered at that conference.  I attended that conference.  It included papers that were expanded from that conference and covered various aspects.  The organization within the camps, the reactions of government with the camps, the reaction of the local people in the camps.

 

Roger:  Was it your observation, Colonel, that the Germans were pretty good record keepers?

 

Col. Heymont:  Oh, yes!  We had a standing joke!  You know, we found the entire Nazi Party Membership List!  You can see them here in Washington DC in the National Archives!  The joke we had at that time was that at the end of the war the Nazi Party issued orders that all party records were to be destroyed, and they did it!  But, before they did it, they made copies!

 

Roger:   Ha, ha, ha!  Very efficient!

 

Col. Heymont:  Ha, ha!  Well, you can see all the party records here in the National Archives!

 

Roger:  Well, let me tell you why I asked that question when we come back on the other side of this break.   Ladies and gentlemen, Retired Colonel Irving Heymont, US Army is with us!  He was one of the people on the front lines over there in Germany for the liberation and after the fact, the aftermath and the attempts to repatriate and clean up the camps and get people re-situated and on with their lives.  Quite an incredible story!  We’d love to hear from you and will take calls right after the break!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Colonel, going back to what I asked about the records, and I bring this up for a reason, we continue to get people who call here, good ole boys from southern Texas or whatever, and they’ll tell us that the holocaust didn’t happen.  Now, you were there, Colonel!  Tell me that the holocaust didn’t happen!

 

Col. Heymont:  Well, either they’re ignorant or they’re vicious!  It did happen!  Not only, do you remember what you saw; but, you can never forget the smell!

 

Roger:  Were there a lot of bodies when you got there?

 

Col. Heymont:  My particular regiment liberated a small subcamp of Malhausen.  We found about  2, 000 dead scattered around the woods.  There’d been no water, no food for several days.  The Division, commanded by General Wyman, later a four star general, put out a pamphlet describing what we saw when we got there.

 

Roger:  How many stories like that did you hear throughout Europe?

 

Col. Heymont:   Well, if you go to the Holocaust Museums you see the flags of all of the Divisions that over-ran these concentration camps.  General Eisenhower wrote this famous letter of what he saw.  He wrote that letter because he didn’t want anybody to say later on that it never happened!

 

Roger:  Well, they’re saying it, Colonel.  That’s why you’re here.  I want people to be real clear about what happened over there!   Let’s go to BK in Austin, Texas.  You’re on with Colonel Heymont.

 

Caller-BK:  Yeah, Roger!  Goodness gracious, last time I called you I fussed at you!  Everything was going great and it was a great show until you had to start bad mouthin’ good ole boys from Texas!

 

Roger:  I was kidding because I knew you were on the line!   Ha, ha!  It was a joke!

 

Caller-BK:  Ha, ha!  Hey, let me congratulate and thank the Colonel for his service to our country.  I’ve got two brief questions.  After spending 26 years in the Army myself, the first question is in the executions; were they electric chair, were they hung or were they shot?

 

Col. Heymont:  They were all hung.  The ones in the Landsberg prison were all hung.

 

Caller-BK:  Okay.  The second question, did you ever run across a Colonel John K. Webber?

 

Col. Heymont:  I’ve run across a Colonel Webber.  The name is familiar, but, I can’t go beyond that.

Forgive me, I’ll be 80 shortly and sometimes I’m only sure of my name and social security number!

 

Caller-BK:  Ha, ha!  No problem!  John K. Webber was from San Antonio, Texas.  My father was in ROTC and John K. talked my Dad into going into the service.  Later on John K. was supposedly instrumental in helping to set up the Nuremburg trials.  I got to meet him once when my Dad came to San Antonio.  I only met him once and he was a fantastic old gentleman, long retired, back then.  He’d be older than my Dad.  Thank you again!  Roger, it’s a great show!

 

Roger:  Alright, BK!  I’m just picking on you guys in Texas for fun, it was all in fun!  Robert in California, you’re on the radio!

 

Caller-Robert:  Hello, Roger!  How are you guys doing tonight?

 

Roger:  Good!

 

Caller-Robert:  My question, sir, is for your guest.  Do you see any similarities in America of what was going on in Nazi Germany, such as gun control, gun confiscation and some of the things that happened before Hitler rose to power?

 

Col. Heymont:  No, I don’t see anything whatsoever similar.  The situation is totally different!

 

Roger:  We have a lot of people here who actually believe they’re free, Colonel.

 

Col. Heymont:  What?

 

Roger:  We have a lot of people in America who actually believe they’re free.  Ha, ha!  I don’t think you could do in America what happened in Nazi Germany.  I mean, the people would not….

 

Col. Heymont:  No.  We’ve done terrible things here.  We’ve lynched blacks.  We’ve been anti-Irish.  We’ve been anti-German.  We’ve been anti-Jews.  But, we’ve never deliberately set out to say all the people of a certain group don’t deserve to live, that we’ll round them up and kill them, or work them to death.  That’s what the Nazis did!

 

Roger:  As an army officer, an infantry officer, what were the lessons learned from the holocaust?

 

Col. Heymont:  I never knew that a people could sink as low as I’d seen them.  Then, of course, I had my own personal reaction as being a Jew.  But, that’s not the point!  I never thought I could see people as low as what I saw, who could treat people the way I saw people treated.  To see living skeletons!  The other thing it made me aware of; the spirit of the human body is incredible!  I’ve seen living skeletons and years later see vibrant people!  I never knew the human body could take so much, as well as the human spirit!

 

Roger:  Well, let’s hope that history won’t repeat itself, that we won’t have to go through anything like this again.  Colonel, it’s been a real pleasure to meet you, sir!  I thank you for staying up late this evening, Eastern Time is pretty late for you.  I just really appreciate you having been here!

Is your book out of print now or can people get it?

 

Col. Heymont:  As far as I know, it’s out of print.  There was an outfit that was going to publish it again, but they never did get to it.

 

Roger:  Well, the letters were wonderful.  I read through several of them today.  It took a lot of courage for you to put them forward.  I’m sure forever you’ll be appreciated for it, sir.  Good Bless!

 

Col. Heymont:  I’d like to see it republished; but, that’s beyond me!

 

Roger:  Well, maybe it will happen.  We’ve given it a little publicity here tonight!   “Among the Survivors of the Holocaust-1945: The Landsberg D.P. Camp Letters of Major Irving Heymont”

 

Colonel, God Bless, Godspeed, take care!

 

Col. Heymont:  Thank you and good night!

 

Roger:  Good night, sir!  Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for patiently going through this grinding subject with us once again.  We really do appreciate your support and we’re encouraged by it.  God bless you all and God bless America!

 

 

 

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

THE AFTERMATH: LIVING WITH THE HOLOCAUST

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

2-25-1998 Seventeenth Program in Series

 

Guest: Dr. Aaron Hass

 

Books:  THE AFTERMATH:  LIVING WITH THE HOLOCAUST

 

ISBN-10:  0521574595 and ISBN-13: 978- 0521574594

 

IN THE SHADOW OF THE HOLOCAUST: THE SECOND GENERATION

 

ISBN-10:     and ISBN-13:

 

 

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Once again, we are continuing our series.  We’re near the end of the series on the holocaust.  It’s been an enjoyable and educational experience for me and I hope it has been for you, as well.  It’s been one of those series of events that leave a person kind of, I don’t know any better definition than to say “down in the dumps.”  It’s tough, tough subjects like this that just kind of carry on with you days after you hear the story, and we’ve heard a number of them on the series and we’ll hear a few more.  But, I’m enjoying it and I hope you are.

 

Tonight we’re going to talk about two books written by Aaron Hass, “The Aftermath: Living with the Holocaust” and “In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation.”   In that book we’ll be talking about what it’s like to grow up in a world where you hear about what happened to your parents in the holocaust.  Quite interesting!  Not only what happens to the survivors; but, to their children beyond that.  There is a life after the death of the holocaust, so to speak!

 

I want to bring on Dr. Hass and introduce him, let him tell us a little bit about who he is.  Aaron, welcome to the program!

 

Dr. Hass:   Thanks very much, Roger.

 

Roger:  Could you tell us just a little bit about yourself, Aaron?

 

Dr. Hass:   Well, as you intimated before, I am a child of holocaust survivors.  I grew up in the shadow of the holocaust.  Presently, I’m a professor of psychology at California State University at Domingos Hills and Assistant Clinic Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine.

 

But, most important, certainly in terms of your show this evening, my formative years were spent in the shadow of the holocaust, hearing the stories, being acutely aware of the absences.

 

Roger:  What do you mean by absences?

 

Dr. Hass:   Well, the fact that I was the only one of my friends who didn’t have grandparents.  That’s no small matter!  It’s the kind of thing that continually makes you aware, not only that you’re different; but, more importantly, that something catastrophic happened to your family!

 

Roger:  And it absolutely did!   Now, in your book, “The Aftermath,” you deal with the holocaust?

 

Dr. Hass:  Well, “The Aftermath,” deals with the post-war adjustment of the holocaust survivors; how they handled the after-affects.

 

Roger:  Let’s talk about that because with you being in the psychiatric business, you obviously lean toward the psychoanalysis of individuals who survived that, in kind of a broad way.  I mean you’re looking at how this affected people and how they lived the rest of their lives.

 

Dr. Hass:  Absolutely!  How they coped with their experience!  How they coped with that kind of devastating trauma.

 

Roger:  So, let’s talk about that.  Let’s go back to the very moment that the holocaust, so to speak, ended; not that it every really did for those folks.  The time that they were liberated.  What was going on in their minds?  What happened after that?

 

Dr. Hass:   Many of them still held out some hope that perhaps a loved one might still be alive.  So, typically, they went back to their hometown, whether that might be in Poland or Hungary or in the Ukraine.  Of course, they met with evidence that, indeed, no one had survived.  Keep in mind also that most holocaust survivors came from very large families.  We’re talking about a person who typically lost not only his parents; but, perhaps  4, 5, 6, 7 siblings as well!  So, he goes back to his hometown, discovers that his hopes are dashed, once again!

 

As you may know from previous programs, he also encounters the anti-semitic hostility of his neighbors!  He’s met with taunts such as “We thought they’d gotten all of you!” or “How dare you come back!”  The Polish neighbors, the Ukrainian neighbors, the Latvian neighbors had in many cases taken over the Jewish homes and business and were quite unhappy to see the few Jews straggle back to their homes in the hopes of reclaiming something.

 

So, they quickly realized they had to flee those areas; but, getting back westward was no easy feat in those days.   The eastern part of Europe was occupied by the Soviets and one had to go through some rather backhanded means to get across the border into the west, as well.  So, there were a lot of difficulties and privations that confronted holocaust survivors, even after they were liberated.

 

Roger:   A lot of survivors ended  up leaving Europe.  Some stayed.  Was this in part because of anti-semitism that was prevalent  throughout eastern Europe, that so many left?

 

Dr. Hass:   The great majority of holocaust survivors left.  Approximately half went to North America and half went to Palestine, later Israel.  The left because of the historical anti-semitism  and because of the memories, the very recent memories of what had taken place on that soil.  One of the holocaust survivors I interviewed for, “The Aftermath,” mentioned that he was on a boat embarking from Germany heading to North America and the boat sailing was delayed for an hour.  He describes how he was so anxious to get away from Europe that he felt like going back onto the dock and literally pushing the boat away!

 

Roger:  Ha, ha!  I can imagine that!  What was it like for people to get visas and legal papers to leave and come to America?

 

Dr. Hass:  Of course, America was a different story than Palestine.  We can get into Palestine which is a whole different issue of having to run the illegal blockade.  But, coming to America was relatively easy if you could find someone, usually a distant relative, to sponsor you so you would not be a burden on the U.S. Government.  Also, keep in mind that coming here for holocaust survivors meant coming to a new country without the language, without any resources available to them that they would have brought from Europe, bereft of immediate family.  The remarkable story about holocaust survivors, despite all the emotional distress is how quickly they rose to American respectability and American middle class life!

 

Roger:   That’s true!  Of course, the ethic in the homes of the Jewish people that I know, with regard to education and personal prosperity is quite different than in a lot of other homes.

 

Dr. Hass:  This went even further for holocaust survivors because for holocaust survivors, working hard which is mostly what they did, also was designed to keep their minds off their recent past.

 

Roger:  Yes; but, is that what it was about—trying to forget?  A lot of Jewish families have acquired great wealth, coming to America with nothing in their pockets!

 

Dr. Hass:  Certainly, as you say, Jewish families, in general, have not only a work ethic; but, an education ethic, an intellectual ethic – that kind of tradition that goes back for many, many hundreds of years, thousands of years, if you will!  But, there was that additional element on the part of holocaust survivors, their tremendous desire to move forward with life, not to be  held back by their recent experience.

 

Roger:  How were they received?  And, maybe you could dwell on anti-semitism from a psychological perspective.  What that is?  I mean, is it hatred?  Is it brainwashing?  What is it that causes anti-semitism and how much of it did they face when they came to America?

 

Dr. Hass:  Those are two very different questions!  The first is difficult for me to answer in a brief period of time.  I mean, I teach an entire course about the psychology of anti-semitism.

 

Let us just say that the bedrock of anti-semitism was laid with Christian teachings, specifically with the teaching of contempt – that the Jews killed Christ.  That was really the foundation of all later anti-semitism.  What made it unique when it came to Hitler was that he transformed a theological anti-semitism into a racial one.  Before Hitler, if you were a Jew and you agreed to convert to Christianity and accept Jesus Christ as your savior, then you would be accepted into society.  Perhaps, not fully; but, nevertheless no longer persecuted.  During the Nazi era, of course, there was no longer that out!  Your “jewishness” was not defined by your beliefs, but by your bloodline.  As defined by the Nazis, if you had a Jewish grandparent, then you were doomed even if you were a practicing Catholic at the moment.

 

 

Getting back to your second question, how much anti-semitism did they encounter in America.  That also depended on where they chose to live.  If they chose to live in New York City their experience might be very different than if they lived down south.

 

More importantly, let me mention the response to these new holocaust survivors on the part of the Jewish community.  Unfortunately, while they often provided some material support, their emotional support was almost completely lacking!  In fact, just to give you one example, survivors were frequently met by the question, “how did you survive?’  The implication was always that you had done something really terrible — really untoward — really unseemly to make it through when so many others did not survive! One survivor I interviewed for , “The Aftermath,” even told me that she and her husband played cards with this couple for many, many years and after knowing this American Jewish couple for many years; once she and her female counterpart were in the kitchen preparing coffee and cake during the bridge break and this woman turned to her and said, “Now tell me, Sophie, I haven’t wanted to ask you all these years; but, did you have to sleep with a lot of Germans in order to survive?”

 

Roger:  Oh, my!  So, there was a lot of confusion about how to respond to these people?

 

Dr. Hass:  It was more than confusion!  On the one hand, it was indictment, in a way!  The other way they responded that was so hurtful, I’m talking about American Jews, were the facile comparisons that were made.  That is, when holocaust survivors would attempt to speak about their experiences they were met with, “oh, yes, yes, yes — you don’t have to describe it to me!  We had it really tough in this country, too!  Did you know that during the war, my mother couldn’t get a pair of nylon stockings for two years!” or “Did you know that during the war we had gas rationing in this country?”  The response not only indicated a complete lack of understanding of what the holocaust really was; but, the response tormented the survivors by belittling their experience!

 

Roger:  When I talk to survivors I find the common thread that is really, really sad.  It’s guilt.

 

Dr. Hass:  Again, I devote an entire chapter in, “The Aftermath,” to the issue of what we call “survivor guilt.”  Not all holocaust survivors, and perhaps not even most; but, many holocaust survivors have been left with this uneasy sense of “why me?”  Why was I fortunate enough to survive when others who were better than I—- that’s a key phrase — “who were better than I” did not survive?

 

For example, many of the survivors I interviewed for, “The Aftermath,” would tell me something like, “Well, you know, my brother Sam, he was an angel –he did whatever my parents told him to do – he went to school and Jewish School afterwards –he was a sensitive kid!  My sister, Miriam, she was an angel – she was an artist – she was a pianist –she had so much to offer in life!  And me, I was the bad kid who wouldn’t go to school– I was the kid who spoke back to his parents – I was the kid who wasn’t going to amount to anything!”  So, there’s often this agonizing comparison of who was more valued.  The individual is simply left with “why me?”

 

Roger:  While the events were ongoing, when the death camps were running at full steam, people didn’t have much time to mourn their losses.  Was their a mourning that came after?

 

Dr. Hass:  In general, survivors have never mourned their losses for various reasons.  One of them you just mentioned.  After they were liberated there were still a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to make it to some relative safety.  So, there was no opportunity for an emotional  let down or emotional vulnerability.  After they emigrated, say to the United States, they were so focused on making it in America, so focused on developing a new family—raising a new family of their own, giving some rebirth to the Jewish people, that they didn’t allow themselves the luxury of mourning.

 

There is one other more subtle reason that they haven’t mourned.  One very interesting aspect about holocaust survivors that differentiates them from other trauma victims; most trauma victims need to resolve the trauma, need to forget about it and move on.  But, holocaust survivors, because they are so committed to remembering the holocaust, can never fully grieve, can never fully mourn, can never fully resolve that trauma.

 

Roger:   I’ve learned through this experience of doing this series, Aaron, that it’s almost beyond comprehension, the average person’s comprehension, what really happened there.  I think because the horror of it was so intense, that maybe no one can really explain what it must have been like.  I’m reminded of stories about a gentleman, with one of his relatives or friend, in one of the camps who had horrible nightmares and he was often tempted to arouse him and waken him from this tormented, horrible nightmare; then thought, “what am I waking him to?”  “Let him have the nightmare, it’s got to be better than this!” was the message, you know?  I thought, my goodness!  How could people live through that?  And they did, and went on to build lives.

 

The lessons I thought we’ve learned, I have discovered we didn’t learn.  I’m wondering what should we learn from this?

 

Dr. Hass:   Well, it depends on what you think the lesson is.  As you know, there’s that famous Santyana dictum, “Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.”  But, the Hutus had heard about the holocaust, the Serbians had heard about the holocaust, the Cambodians – some of them- must have heard about the holocaust; so the issue is not knowing about a previous genocide as a way of preventing future genocides.  Obviously, that doesn’t occur.

 

For me, the lessons of the holocaust are the evils of which we are capable, the cruelties of which we are capable of inflicting upon our fellow human beings with impugnity!  Those last two words are the key.  I could say, as well, with a clear conscience!  For me, those are the lessons of the holocaust.  As a psychologist, I am particularly interested in how people go out and commit mass murder and consider themselves good, and at times even noble human beings!

 

Roger:  You must be aware that anti-semitism is thriving in America today.

 

Dr. Hass:   You could say that, and I’ve certainly never been accused of being a pollyanna or an excessive optimist; but, just as we would say that there is racism between whites and blacks in America, and certainly we can say that; but, we also have to acknowledge that things are much better than they were 30 or 40 years ago.  I think, I know that the same is true with anti-semitism.

 

I happened to live in the south for a few years during the 1950s.  I remember seeing those signs, not just NO NIGGERS ALLOWED; BUT, NO JEWS ALLOWED!   You won’t see those signs anymore today in America.  So, at the same time it’s important to recognize that there is still anti-semitism in

 

America, I also think it’s important to recognize that things have gotten much better in the past decade.

 

Roger:  I think it’s gone underground.  I say that because being a conservative talk radio host, I’ve been contacted through the years by people that you wouldn’t normally see surfacing in the general public.  I know there are people out their who train people into this thinking.  It’s like there’s some weird religion out there.  They pull these people, draw them in with patriotic, pro-American concepts and then work them until they get them to understand that “the Jews aren’t really the Jews!  Have you ever read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?”   Before you know it, these people will denounce the Holy Bible, even if they’re Christians, if they think it was written by somebody who had Jewish taint, and changed the wording!  What we get in talk radio, there are people who will call in today, 1998, and say, “The holocaust didn’t happen!  Did you ever read that Lector Report?  You know, them Jews aren’t really the Jews!”  I mean, it’s insanity and there’s a lot more of it than people realize.

 

Dr. Hass:   First of all, there’s a lot of people in America who don’t know any Jews.  What they know about Jews is purely the stereotypes they’ve heard about Jews.  That, of course, is a danger because most of the stereotypes are negative in nature.  I must tell you that those, what I would call crackpots, who may call you show and say, “that holocaust is all Jewish propaganda.  It never happened.”

 

As someone who is obviously very sensitive to these issues, extremely sensitive to these issues, those people don’t disturb me that much!  People who disturb me more are the individuals who might call your show and say, “Don’t you think they’re exaggerating a little bit?”  See, those people are much more dangerous because when you put it that way, a lot more people can resonate to that.

A lot more people can have sympathy for that and say, “Well, maybe they are exaggerating a little bit!  Maybe it wasn’t quite so bad.”  So, it’s that form of denial that’s much more troubling to me.

 

Roger:   Why?

 

Dr. Hass:   Because it’s much more seductive, much more attractive!  I don’t think there are that many people out there who resonate to the message of “the holocaust never occurred!”  I really don’t!  I think there are many more people who resonate to the message of, “Don’t you think those Jews are crybabies?  Don’t you think they’re really playing this for all it’s worth?”

 

Roger:   Well, there’s a whole movement out there called the Christian Identity Movement.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or not.

 

Dr. Hass:  Yes, I have heard of it.

 

Roger:   They draw people in with these patriotic Christian things and then subtly and gently over a period of time, they have what I guess you would call “coaches” come in to coax these people into a belief that I think is very, very dangerous!  I studied it fairly intensely for quite a while because I was trying to understand where these people were coming from!  I don’t know that I ever figured it out, to be honest with you!  But, I found them to be a very dangerous lot of folks, I mean, people who would literally denounce the Bible if that’s what it meant to hold onto their racist views.  So, all of this is wrapped in the veil of Christianity which makes Christians look bad because Christians, generally are not anti-semitic.  I think they have been in history; but, I think in today’s world that Christians are anti-semitic.  It taints a whole segment of people so that when the media comes out and demonizes this extremist fringe, that taint rubs off on a lot of people who arent’ guilty of anything.  That demonization leads to the same kinds of things that caused the holocaust!  So that always worries me.

 

I’ve got to take a break here, Aaron.  Hang on because I want to transition a bit and talk about what it was like growing up and learning about the holocaust firsthand from people in your home who were there.  Okay?

 

Ladies and gentlemen, our guest is Dr. Aaron Hass.  His books are, “The Aftermath:  Living with the Holocaust” and “In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation.”   We’ll take some calls after the break if you’d like to participate in the program.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  The holocaust special continues on here!  Our guest this evening, Dr. Aaron Hass, author of, “In the Shadow of the Holocaust: The Second Generation.” We’re going to get to that in just a minute.

 

Aaron, we’ve got a cell phone caller here joining us in the discussion.  Vera in Corning, California, you’re on the radio!  Hello!

 

Caller-Vera:  Hi!  I just wanted to add the simple fact that if people don’t believe that the holocaust ever happened, they are quite close-minded people and they should take a trip over to Germany and look at the things that are there.  I mean the gas chambers and things still exist!  I don’t think there’s very many people who live over there who would challenge the notion that those things happened because they live there and they know they did.

 

Roger:  Yes.  I don’t understand the psychology of it at all, Vera.

 

Caller-Vera:  They don’t understand that the stuff does exist and they’ve never been outside of their own little world here in the United States.  My husband and I lived in France for awhile.  I know it’s a totally different feeling when you’re outside of the United States.  You get a whole different feeling for what home is, and for what things are like here, and for what we’re blessed with.

 

Roger:  Yes, and we are blessed!

 

Caller-Vera:  They don’t realize that those things do happen in the world!  There are some terrible places out there; but, they’ve never been there.  I traveled to Morocco which is near the tip of Spain for a little while.  It’s really very, very poor there.   I mean, it’s like Mexico but even worse!  I don’t think people have every traveled to those places to find out the things that do exist out there, other than what’s in our little world.

 

Roger:  Well, it’s easy to believe those faxes that have been duplicated a million times, that you can barely read in a dark room with a candle.  Vera, I appreciate your call!  Thank you very much!

 

Aaron, as a child growing up in a Jewish home—-I didn’t get the chance to read the whole book— did you interview a number of people for the book?

 

Dr. Hass:  For the book, “In the Shadow of the Holocaust,” yes, I interviewed many, many children of holocaust survivors.

 

Roger:  Did you find their stories were related to your experience?

 

Dr. Hass:  Well, there’s a lot of overlap.  Of course, every story is unique; but, there’s a lot of overlap.  For example, the most common feature in holocaust survivor homes was a tremendous protectiveness because holocaust survivors had lost so much.  They were extremely vigilant watching over their children.  As a result, many children of holocaust survivors grew up with excessive fears.  Many children of holocaust survivors grew up having some difficulty separating in the normal separation from their parents when they became adults.

 

Certainly there were some commonalities.  Let me just mention one that I was speaking with a friend about the other day.  Issues of entitlement; we spoke before about survivor guilt and holocaust survivors; but, there’s another form it takes in children of survivors frequently, that is, “why should I be entitled to such an easy life, given what my parents had to experience.”  Often times, unfortunately, that was reinforced by the survivors themselves!

 

One big issue in my home, again very common, always was about food; food—food—food!  You were never eating enough!  If you were eating twice your body weight, you still weren’t eating enough!  There were a lot of fights in my home about how much I ate or how much I didn’t eat.  Again, food is such a significant motif for holocaust survivors and one which they were out of control on with their own children!

 

Roger:  Because of the deprivation.

 

Dr. Hass:  Because of the depriviation, exactly!  Holocaust survivors, you know, many I interviewed for, “The Aftermath,” would admit to me that they know they’re irrational; but, you open up their refrigerator and there’s enough food in there for a couple of months!

 

Roger:  I’ve never left a Jewish home hungry!

 

Dr. Hass:  Well, again, it’s this notion of “what if it ever happened again?”  Holocaust survivors anticipate that it could happen again!

 

When I’ve spoken before Jewish audiences, just Jewish audiences, and I’ve asked them, “How many of you think that another holocaust can occur?”  From American Jews you’ll get about 20% who say “Yes”; but, if you speak to an audience of holocaust survivors, it would be flipped!  That is, 80% of holocaust survivors are sure that a holocaust could, indeed, occur again!

 

Roger:  Wow!  Let’s take a cell call from Dan who’s floating around the Arkansas-Missouri border somewhere.  How ya doing, Dan?

 

Caller-Dan:  How are you this evening?  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard your show!  I was driving home from work, trying to get my head on my own pillow with my own family, and I was listening to your conversation with great interest.  One of the comments already mentioned was the relationship between Christians and Jews in the past was pretty bad history.

 

I’m a product of the south.  I’m 40 years old.  I came in at the tail end of desegregation.  I remember when the first black kids came to our school.  My dad’s a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention.  One of the things I was raised with was a tremendous regard for the Jewish faith and the Jewish religion because, while not trying to sound insensitive to Jewish thought and belief, we feel as Christians, by the very name we are followers of Jesus Christ, it’s given birth —it’s a completion of what the Jewish faith started.  I don’t see how any person who supposedly is a Christian can look at the Jewish faith or look at the Jewish race and show disregard and disrespect for that!  In the holocaust— I’ve read the story of Dietrich Bonhoffer — when he was in one of the death camps, he was Christian pastor in Germany, he gave his life for several Jewish inmates within the death camp.

 

I heard you talking about some of the crazies that are out here.  Unfortunately, in the area where I live we have more than our share of survivalists.  Ha, ha!  I can’t see how you separate your belief in God and your belief in Jesus from the Bible and say, “I can’t believe the Bible because the Jews wrote it.”  Well, my friend, you can’t call yourself a Christian because Jesus was a Jew!  I’ve never met a holocaust survivor; but, in my mind, Never Again!  You know?

 

Roger:  We’re together on that!  Thank you Dan.

 

Dr. Hass:  There is a fly in the ointment though that I want to respond to you caller about.  That is there are still many Christians; however, and many Southern Baptist Christians who believe that until and unless Jews accept Jesus Christ as their savior, that they’re going to go to hell, or at least they’re not going to be saved.  As a Jew, that does not feel like a very accepting remark!

 

Roger:  Ha, ha, ha!  Well, Christians are kind of  “ex-clusive” I think, Aaron.  You know, this is an interesting topic and you touch on it in one of the chapters in your book, as I recall, “Jews and Gentiles” is the title?

 

Let me run this by you!  I don’t know if it’s related to the holocaust; but, I think it probably is.  I have a very good Jewish friend who married a gentile.  His mother hasn’t spoken to him for 8 years.  I have another Jewish friend who did become a Christian believer whose parents have nearly disowned him!  What’s with that?

 

Dr. Hass:  Well, let’s just talk about holocaust survivors for a moment.  Holocaust survivors feel a profound commitment to the continuity of the Jewish people.  Their children feel it as well.  The inter-marriage rate for Jews with non-Jews today is approaching 50%; but, in the holocaust survivor community and among children of holocaust survivors it’s a very small fraction of that.  Clearly, there is a sense that has been transmitted to children of holocaust survivors that they have a particular obligation to sustain the continuity of the Jewish people.

 

Roger:   So, marrying outside the Jewish realm is almost like sacrilege then?

 

Dr. Hass:  Particularly for holocaust survivors and their children.

 

Roger:  What about Jews who find Christ, become Christians?  Why are they outcast?

 

Dr. Hass:  They’re outcast because they’re seen as betrayers.  It’s very fundamental.  This is not simply a theological issue for most Jews.  It’s an issue of the continuity of the Jewish people.  We’re a small people.  If Christians lose a few to Judaism, it’s not really going to make a dent in the Christian population.  The Jewish population is very, very small!

 

While I say that I’m also reminded that most individuals vastly overestimate how many Jews there are!   Both in America and in the world, there is this perception that are countless millions of Jews because there is also this perception that Jews have an inordinate amount of power in the world.

 

Roger:  That comes from the conspiracy theories fostered by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other documents.

 

Dr. Hass:  It comes from that and it comes from even previous Christian teachings about how powerful Jews are because they’re the agents of Satan!

 

Roger:  Then, of course, we  have people who call the program occasionally and say, “The Jews control the media!”

 

Dr. Hass:  Right.

 

Roger:  Because, you know, a lot of Jewish people went to Hollywood!  Nobody else wanted it!  They’ve been very successful and so they’re more visible in the public eye many times because of the fact we all go to the movies and watch television and see a lot of Jewish names running by on the list of credits.   And people think, “oh, see!  Those Jews are controlling everything!”

 

We’ll be back in a minute ladies and gentlemen!  We’ll have lines open if you’d like to call in and comment or ask a question.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  We’re back!  We have Dr. Aaron Hass with us this evening, ladies and gentlemen.  He’s written two books, “The Aftermath: Living with the Holocaust” and “In the Shadow of the Holocaust: the Second Generation.”  He is the child of survivors and has very interesting views – are you a psychiatrist, is that…?

 

Dr. Hass:  I am a clinical psychologist.

 

Roger:  Now, what’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

 

Dr. Hass:  I did not go to medical school.  I got my Phd in clinical psychology.

 

Roger:  Alright.  I want to just go back and touch on this for a minute because you said that if a Jew becomes a Christian, it’s like…. I’m still missing something here.  Why is that so bad?  They’re still a Jew, right?

 

Dr.  Hass:  Well, actually, according to Jewish law, you are still a Jew.  If you’re born a Jew, you will always be a Jew even if you adopt another religion.  But again, there is this sense of betrayal of peoplehood.  Jews, as you know, are very historically-minded and there’s this tremendous — while most Jews are not religious, they’re not religiously observant — they still have a fundamental sense of peoplehood and history.

 

Roger:  Alright!  Aaron, before I forget, will you tell folks how they can get your books?

 

Dr. Hass:   They’re available at any large bookstore.  If they don’t have it, they can order it for you.  Both of them are published by Cambridge University Press.

 

Roger:  Okay!  Great!   Michael in Fort Smith, Arkansas, you’re on the radio!

 

Caller-Michael:  Good evening, Roger!  You brought that subject up… when I first started dating my wife, my father-in-law had absolutely no problem with the fact that I was a gentile and a Southern Baptist.  We got married and had a daughter.  Now my wife has converted to Southern Baptist Christianity as a denomination.  Both of my wife’s parents are deceased; but, her aunts and uncles still talk to her on the phone.  They still exchange letters.  There’s been no disowning or anything of that nature.

 

Roger:  Were her parents survivors?

 

Caller-Michael:  No.  Actually, her parents were born here in the United States just about 1910.  Her grandparents came over from the Ukraine about 1888-1889.

 

Roger:  Of course, you pointed out that disparity earlier.  I guess about 50% of American-born families are marrying gentiles.  But, with the holocaust survivor families it’s quite a bit narrower than that.  Do you know approximately what that percentage is?  Is it pretty small?

 

Dr. Hass:  I don’t; but, my guess is that it’s probably around 10% to 20%.

 

Roger:   Michael, thank you very much!   I also want to touch on something because this is important!  Some people have this image that Jews are powerful and numerous and taking over the world, running everything.  What is the population of Jews arcoss the world?  Do you know?

 

Dr. Hass:  I think it’s about 13 million.

 

Roger:  13 million is a real small drop in the bucket!

 

Dr. Hass:  Ha, ha!  A drop in the bucket!  There was a very interesting survey done in Germany where Germans were asked how many Jews were living in Germany.  This was done about 10 years ago.  At the time there were 30,000 Jews living in Germany.  The typical German response was that there were 3 million Jews living in Germany!  Again, there’s this incredible perception of Jewish power!

 

Roger:  Well, it’s an illusion!

 

Dr. Hass:  Of course.

 

Roger:  And it stems from a conspiracy, it really does!

 

Dr. Hass:  Well, certainly that’s what the Nazis believed.

 

Roger:  I believe there’s a conspiracy to make people think that.  There’s a lot of weird stuff out there!  I hope you’re never exposed to it, my friend.

 

Tom in St. Louis, Missouri, a new caller!  Hello!

 

Caller-Tom:  Yes, this is the first time I’ve called Roger.   I have a real short question for you before I make my serious comment.  Is the Ho-hum Valley like Lake Wobegon or is there really such a place?

 

Roger:  Well, there is now.  I named it that!  Ha, ha!

 

Caller-Tom:  Ha, ha!  Here’s my comment.  I know a caller called in earlier and said that people that denied the holocaust were people who’d been pretty well sheltered, never traveled much and don’t have much of an education.  However, I want to say that I know that’s not true!  I think there’s something very deep behind it and I don’t understand it!  I don’t see how anybody could think that the holocaust didn’t occur!

 

Dr. Hass:  Most holocaust deniers are definitely anti-semites.  They deny the holocaust because they want to deny the Jewish people any potential sympathy for the holocaust.

 

Caller-Tom:  Well, I agree with that.  I’m not sure that it’s that logical though, because I think there’s some emotions that are pretty deep there for some reason.  I do know somebody that very well traveled, has two degrees, is very intelligent, has very good judgment on many aspects of life and that person many years ago expressed an opinion very pointedly that he did not believe the holocaust occurred.

 

Dr. Hass:  There are university professors in this country and Canada who teach exactly that!  Again, just as you say, there are deep emotions underlying it!  The emotions have to do with a hatred of the Jews!

 

Roger:   Yes.  Let’s see if we can squeeze another call in the last few seconds.  Roy in Grants Pass, Oregon, you’re on to radio.

 

Caller-Roy:  Hi Roger!  The reason I called is  that I grew up in southern California in the Santa Monica border of Ocean Park which is primarily a Jewish area.  I think we were the only gentile family in that area.  Now, there were a lot of holocaust survivors in 1946, 1948 and 1948 in that area.  I had a paper route at that time.  The holocaust survivors treated me absolutely wonderfully.  I’m Germanic.  I grew up in a Mennonite German background; but, the American Jews in that area just treated me like dirt…

 

 

Roger:  We’ve run out of time!  Aaron Hass, it’s been a pleasure to meet you my friend!  I love your books!  I hope everybody goes out and gets a copy!  Please continue on!  We need to understand the psyche of these folks into the future.  It looks like you’re well on the way to understanding them better than anybody I’ve read yet.  Thank you so much for that!  God Bless you. Sir!

 

 

 

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER – THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES OF THE HOLOCAUST: Genocide and Moral Obligation

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

1-28-1998  Twelfth Program in Series

 

Guest: Dr.  David Gushee

 

Book:  THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES OF THE HOLOCAUST: Genocide and Moral Obligation

 

ISBN-10: 1557788219    and   ISBN-13: 978-1557788214

 

 

Roger:   Good evening, once again, it’s a pleasure to be here!  I’m very happy to have the opportunity to continue this series on the Holocaust.  We’re about halfway through now.  Boy, have we learned a lot!  Whew!  Man!  It’s been a wonderful, wonderful series.

 

Tonight we’re going in a little bit of a different direction than we’ve gone in the past.  We’ve got a very special guest.  He wrote a book, “The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust.”  Ladies and gentlemen, the gentiles, the Christian church, don’t speak out much about what other peoples’ roles were during this turmoiled time in the history of Europe.  Our guest, Dr. David Gushee, is going into some of that with us this evening.  I’d like to welcome him to the program.  David, hello!

 

Dr. Gushee:  How are you doing, Roger?

 

Roger:   I’m doing just fine.  It’s a pleasure to have you here, sir!

 

Dr. Gushee:  It’s good to be with you.  Thanks, for having me.

 

Roger:  “The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust,”  David, first tell my audience about who you are, where you come from and what you’re about.

 

Dr. Gushee:  Okay!  Currently I am a professor at Union University which is a Southern Baptist School in Jackson, Tennessee which is in the western part of Tennessee.  My training is in Christian Ethics.  I am a Christian thinker, scholar and actually an ordained minister.  So, that’s kind of a unique avenue of approach to this whole subject of the holocaust.  It’s pretty significant for the perspective that I have on it.

 

Roger:  Yes.  “The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust,” what does the title infer?

 

Dr. Gushee:  Well, I actually borrowed the phrase from the Jewish community.  The “righteous gentiles of the holocaust” is the English translation of the Hebrew term of what the State of Israel calls gentiles who rescued Jews during the holocaust.  The term has been used primarily in the Jewish community for a couple of decades at least.  So, I decided to use the term.  It actually carries a lot of implications.  It means there were, in fact, gentiles, non-Jews, Christians, most of them, who acted in heroic ways to rescue Jews during the holocaust.  I think it also, even by implication, means there were a whole lot of “un-righteous gentiles” during the holocaust, too!

Roger:  What I’d like to do, David, is just kind of walk through your book with you a little bit, just to get a feel of what you’re trying to communicate from the Christian perspective on the whole subject of the holocaust.  You talk about Christian Ethics and the Righteous Gentiles.  Maybe you can start there and tell us the story of your book, what you’re trying to communicate.

 

Dr. Gushee:   Okay.  Maybe I can give a little background on how I got into the subject which is something I talk about in the opening part of the book.  I’m one of those people who, though I don’t have any family connections to Jewish people, I have always been appalled and horrified by the holocaust.  In various points in my pilgrimage as a scholar and a Christian, as a student, I  revisited the subject of the holocaust.  At the doctoral stage, I just zeroed in on this subject of how Christians, primarily Christians, in Europe acted during the holocaust.

 

I attended a conference where I heard a Jewish scholar who was focused on this area basically say to the Christians who were present, “Where are you in the study of the holocaust?  In particular, where are you in the study of rescuers?  Most of these people were Christians; some were deeply committed Christians.  None of you are paying any attention to these people  who we think can help us understand who these people were, what they did, especially the question of why they did it.  In a sense, they are your brothers and sisters, they are your people.  Help us understand why they did it.”

 

He also had a challenge in there.  He said, “I suspect that the reason why Christians have not paid any attention to the rescuers is because if you did, you’d have to pay a whole lot of attention to the great majority of their neighbors who were not rescuers.  Maybe you don’t want to look too closely at that.”

 

So, in the opening chapter of the book I talk about how the discipline of Christian Ethics, which is an academic discipline that studies how Christians behave in this world and how we ought to behave, does not pay attention to the righteous gentiles, not too much attention to the holocaust generally, and how the church needs to attend to this whole subject as well.  That’s basically where the book begins.

 

Roger:  Why do you conclude that the church needs to pay more attention to this subject?

 

Dr. Gushee:  Well, my basic conclusion is that the holocaust represents one of the worst moral failures in the history of Christianity.  Now, immediately upon saying that, I have to say what I mean and what I don’t mean.  What I don’t mean is that Hitler was some kind of a Christian zealot who killed Jews because he was a committed Christian or any of that!  We are not dealing with the medieval period here.  So, I am not making that leap because it would be a mistake.

 

What I am saying is a couple of things: The holocaust is inconceivable apart from hundreds and hundreds of years of Christian hostility towards the Jewish people, much of it theologically rooted in it’s origins.  The holocaust, as it worked out in Europe, is inconceivable apart from the apathy, the complacency, and in many cases the outright hostility of Christians towards Jews when the Nazis were going after them.  For those two reasons, this ought to be a matter of concern to Christians.

 

I guess, Roger, more broadly, Christian people, like any other community of faith, ought to want to be their best; ought to want to live out what they say they believe.  I would hope that would be true for every religious community.

I find the holocaust to be a case study of how Christian people, at least Christian in name, how Christian people actually behaved during a historical crisis.  It’s a microscope.  The church is under a microscope and you can look and see how people acted.  What you see is actually a dramatic,  in many cases tragic, horrible; but, in some cases wonderfully profound and heroic range of behavior.  I think that’s worth studying!

 

Roger:   Well, you have so many dynamics there!  I mean, it would be very difficult to consolidate those groups.  Well, maybe you could make individual comparisons.  Give me an example.  The average German at the time was Christian in their basic theology?

 

Dr. Gushee:  Yes.  Now, this is also complicated.  By mid-century in Europe, the Christian church was eroding in it’s influence.  Of course, fifty years later it has eroded a whole lot more!  So, Christianity is not nearly as strong today in Europe as it was even then!  But, if you look at studies of what people said that they were in their religious orientation, the great majority in one study I cite in the book is that 95% of the people when asked “What is your religious orientation?” 95% say they are Christian.  If you probe a little further and ask how serious they were about this, the numbers begin to drop.  But, this was a Christian culture.  To the extent these people were religious at all, on the whole, Christianity was the religion that they professed, other than the small religious minorities like, for example, the Jews who were the target.

 

Roger:  Was it the theology of Christianity itself that contributed to the holocaust?

 

Dr. Gushee:  This is an extremely controversial issue.  I would say, it is impossible to understand the holocaust apart from that background.

 

Roger:  Fill in the gaps for me.

 

Dr. Gushee:  There was hostility to the Jews in the ancient world, even before there was Christianity.  We need to be clear about that.  Anti-semitism can come from a number of different sources;    there’s Muslim anti-semitism, there’s anti-semitism that is secular and philosophical and economic and all kinds of other things.  But, I think we have to understand that Christianity merged—-we have Jesus, the Messiah – Christians believe He is the Messiah of the Jewish people; but, the Jewish people of the 1st Century obviously did not agree.  The Church began as a splinter movement within Judaism.  Ultimately there is a kind of schism between the Church and the Jewish people.  The Church becomes a predominately Gentile movement within a century.  From that point forward, even in the midst of that you have what is called a sibling rivalry.  As most of us know, sibling rivalries are often the most intense.  You have the Church, in it’s origin, believing that Jesus was the Messiah, the Promised One of the Jewish people.  Yet, inconceivably, the Jewish people did not agree, on the whole.  The Church has been trying to make sense of that for 2,000 years.  A variety of approaches have been taken.  You have a basic theological conflict in it’s origin.  The conflict is over who Jesus was.   Then you have conflicts over a number of other smaller issues as well.

 

So, you trace through the history.  In the first three or four centuries of the Christian Era, you’ve got the Church as small embattled minority in the pagan Roman Empire and you’ve got the Jews as a small embattled minority in the pagan Roman Empire.  When Christianity triumphs with the Emperor Constantine, the situation changes.  You’ve still got the Jews as an embattled minority; but, now the Church is in the seat of power.  Over the course of the next 1,200 years, the Church, at various times and various places, legislated or promoted legislation that was harshly discriminatory against Jews.  You also have a whole culture of literature, art and tradition that is strongly anti-Jewish.  Again, it’s not uniform.  There are different nuances here and there.  As you come into the modern period you have over 1,000 years of institutionalized hatred and contempt for the Jewish people.

 

With the Enlightenment and the Modern Era, many are hoping that this would be a thing of the past; that modern thinking would transcend it. What actually happened was that both religious anti-semitism survived the modern period and the secular forms of anti-semitism took root that kind of twisted it in new directions.   That’s the way I interpret racial Hitler-type anti-semitism.  It takes a phenomenon that is already there, deeply rooted in the culture, and twists it, mainly deals with it in racial categories.  Now the reason to hate the Jewish people is not that they rejected Christ; but, that they are racially inferior.

 

I think is was Raul Hillberg, the Jewish scholar, who said, “The church provided the target.  The target was already there.”  The Nazis changed the way you talked about why the target was the target; but, the target was already there.

 

Roger:   So fundamentally, at the core of all this, was this longstanding rivalry between Christianity and Judaism.  So, Hitler didn’t create this, he just capitalized on it.

 

Dr. Gushee:   That’s right!  This is one reason why this is really important to understand; that was in many ways and international rivalry.  It was an international rivalry!  This is why anti-semitism was strong throughout the territories that the Nazis occupied; but, especially it was strong in eastern Europe; Poland, the Ukraine, the western Soviet Union and the Baltic states.  Their anti-semitism with a religious flavor was extremely strong.  Less so in the west, it was not quite as strong and tended to be a bit more secular in its orientation.  When Hitler and his armies spread all across Europe, they found plenty of latent or even wide-open anti-semitism that was right there ready to draw on.

 

Roger:   Which might explain Poles standing alongside the road clapping and cheering as Jews were hauled off to be shot!

 

Dr. Gushee:  Right!  As I talk about in some of the stories in this book, that’s right!  That didn’t come out of nowhere!  Country by country, there are particular reasons for this, historical episodes and rivalries, economic competition and political developments.

 

Perhaps I’m biased because of the religious orientation, but, I don’t think so.  The religious dimension is documentable and has been documented.

 

I tell the story in the book about a Polish Catholic who was involved in rescuing some Jews because he believed it was the right thing to do.  But,  he’d go to church on Sunday and he would hear raving anti-semitic sermons from his Catholic priest who said, “Anybody who rescues Jews is violating the will of God.  Don’t do it!”  So, he would come home — this was on the report of the Jewish survivor who was there with him— he would come home and be tormented because his conscience told him to rescue Jews, his church says don’t rescue Jews.  That doesn’t come out of nowhere!  There’s a long history there!

Roger:  Were there a lot of Christians who rescued Jews?  Tell me some of the stories about some of these people you discovered in your research.

 

Dr. Gushee:   Numerically, there was a surprising number.  The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Research Center in Jerusalem has an office that is solely devoted to documenting rescue.  It’s called the Department of the Righteous.  What they do there is collect stories of rescue and seek to document them and honor the rescuers if they can.  The last count I saw, they had managed to document by name around 13,000 people.

 

When I talked — it’s been five years or more now— when I talked with the director of that department as to how many rescuers he thought there were, he estimated between 100,000 and 250,000.  They define rescue as, basically, knowingly risking your life without doing so on the basis of material reward, you’re not doing it for money; but, because you believe it’s the right thing to do.  They’re very strict with those criteria.  He estimated between 100,000 and 250,000.  That’s a lot of people; but, it is also a very small percentage of the overall population.

 

There are great stories–marvelous stories– inspiring stories from all over Europe!  We’re familiar with some of the most famous rescuers now; people like Oskar Schindler who had a movie made about him.  Schindler is in many ways one of the most morally ambiguous of the rescuers because he was in occupied Poland trying to make money off of Jewish slave labor; but, somehow in the midst of what he was witnessing, something snapped!  Something changed and he became involved in furious efforts trying to rescue the people who were working for him, and others, ultimately saving 1,100 people.

 

There are hundreds of stories of the local farmer in France or Poland, dirt poor in a very anti-semitic environment, especially in eastern Europe.  One day a Jewish mother and baby or a Jewish family knocks on the door and pleads for help.  Despite the tremendous risks involved, this farmer takes them in for a night or a week, sometimes for the duration of the war, at tremendous personal risk.

 

One of my favorite rescuers was a woman, I don’t know if I’m saying her name right; but, she was a Lithuanian woman named Ona  Simaite.  She was a librarian in the City of Vilna, now called Vilnius in Lithuania.  What happened was when the Nazis poured all the Jews of that area into a ghetto where they were crammed in until they were ultimately killed, she convinced the Nazis that it was necessary, that she could help them by going in and collecting overdue library books! ( So classically Nazi-like!)  So she had a license to go into the ghetto and when she got in she did everything she could to help these people; she smuggle food in, she passed messages back and forth, she even smuggled weapons in when they were preparing for a revolt.  The stories about her from a couple different testimonies — she got some kids out of the ghetto, got them safer places to be — she was caught, tortured and ultimately ended up in a concentration camp and survived the war, and never had a moment’s regret that she had done the right thing.  People like that are fascinating to try to catch a glimpse of who they were and why they did what they did!

Roger:  Were people in spiritual conflict when they knew in their heart what was going on was wrong; but, because society accepted it, they had to go along with it?

Dr. Gushee:  There were many that were conflicted, exactly what you’re saying.  This could have a religious base as well.  Your listeners may or may not be familiar with the Biblical passage in the New Testament, in Romans that says, “Be subject to the governing authorities because they are ordained of God.”  More than once I ran across stories of deeply committed Christian people who were deeply troubled, outraged by what they were witnessing; but, they believed it was wrong to attempt to resist what was happening because of this Biblical teaching and others like it.  So, they didn’t do anything for that reason.

I would say others were hesitant to get involved, maybe from a tradition that says, we don’t get involved in politics and this is a political matter, or“we don’t defy the government, or just that this is where society is right now and there’s nothing we can do.

There were any number of things that prevented people from stepping in.

Roger:  David, we’ve got to take a short break here.  We’ll come back and pick this up on the other side.  Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening is Dr. David Gushee.  His book is, “The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust,” and he’s talking about the role Christians played in rescue, and maybe ignoring what was going on around them at the time of the holocaust.  We’ll return and discuss this in just a minute!  I will entertain phone calls, if you have any questions for Dr. Gushee, we’ll take them after the break.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  Dr. David Gushee is our guest this evening, talking about his book, The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust.”   This is a continuation of our Holocaust Series.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you do have any questions, you’re certainly welcome to call in and ask them.  We’re talking about the Christian response in Germany and beyond during Hitler’s reign and the holocaust specifically.

David, in the time of the holocaust, with so many Christians being in Germany, what were some of the obstacles that Christians faced that might have kept them from following their heart to helping people who were obviously going to be slaughtered?

Dr. Gushee:   Well, there were a lot of them.  A couple that I try to point out in the book, and I really try to be fair…. I’ll prelude this by saying that it’s really easy 50 years later to say, why didn’t you do better? I really try to avoid that tone in the book.

I think the obstacles to rescue were profound.  It was wartime, I’m thinking especially once war begins in 1939.  It was wartime and war, especially that particular war, is chaos and mayhem.  Everybody’s  afraid for their lives and there’s a lot of population movements, that kind of thing.  So, that is really important to understand.  The Nazis exploited the ethnic tensions that were already there and I think most would understand that in situations in confusion and chaos of war, ethnic tensions and other kinds of social tensions are much easier to exploit.  So, Nazi propaganda was masterful at doing this, as well as their policies.

I think it’s important to name the economic motives.  One of the things that was most sobering to me about this whole study was the Nazis, not only did they kill as many Jews as they could, they first stripped them of their place in society, of their jobs, of their possessions, even down to the gold fillings in their teeth after they were gassed.  We’re talking of millions and millions and millions of dollars of property!  The Nazis tried to use and successfully did use access to some of this stuff as an inducement.  You know, “Work with us and we’ll cut you in on some of this stuff.  Work against us and we’ll make you pay!”

 

Ultimately, the greatest obstacle, the Nazis made it perfectly clear that if you resisted their policies against the Jews, you would be classified just like a Jew.  In fact, they put up placards, especially in eastern Europe, that said essentially that very thing, “He who helps a Jew will be treated as a Jew”  It was a slogan.

So, fear, was the greatest obstacle!

Roger:  But, if you’re a Christian and you believe in eternal life through Christ, then why would you surrender that belief and take the fleshly…. ?  I mean I’m having a hard time understanding how you could be a Christian and watch these people marched off to their death.  It just fascinates me!

Dr. Gushee:   Yes, it’s fascinating and troubling!

Roger:  What were the Biblical and spiritual obligations these folks clearly didn’t meet… I don’t think the standard?  If this were to happen again in a country where Christians go through something like this, what are we supposed to do?

Dr. Gushee:  Well, again, it’s easy to say in retrospect, from my perspective and more authoritatively from the perspective of Christian rescuers themselves, the obligation was to do what could be done on behalf of a neighbor whose life is at risk.

Roger:  Aren’t we obliged by God’s law to take our own life and put it on the table in order to help these people.

Dr. Gushee:  Yes, I think so.  But, the reality is that when push comes to shove, even for people who know that, fear is a powerful force.  The whole burden of the book is to say that it shouldn’t be.  Look at  the people who overcame it.  But, I want to be realistic about how hard it is at times to live out what you know is the right thing to do when it might cost you your life.  It is not an easy thing to do.  But, yes, that was the obligation.

Roger:  My belief is based on faith and I believe that God will protect me.  If I do God’s work, He will protect me or He won’t and I’ll be gone to heaven, right?

Dr. Gushee:  That was exactly how some of these people were able to bear the pressure.  You have many testimonies from the rescuers who would say either one of those two: “either God’s going to protect me in this” and I’ve got stories in the book about this, “God is protecting me!”  So, some of them were serenely confident, I mean remarkably confident!  They’d walk through the average day dealing with risks that would, you know, drive most people crazy!  But, they’d say “God’s protecting me.  I’m doing His work!)

On the other hand, you had people who thought, “God may or may not protect me here; but, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do AND if I die, He will welcome me on the other side, so I’m not scared.”  That is the way it’s supposed to be!  It’s very impressive!

Roger:  I’m reminded of stories of Christ’s disciples in the Bible and the torment, you know most of them died hideous deaths because of their faith in Christ.  So, I’m compelled to believe that ultimately, if that is God’s plan for me, then so be it!  If I see that going on in my country, I’m not supposed to say, “Gosh, I might lose my house, my car, my reputation, my boss won’t like it and I might get thrown in jail or killed so I just won’t do it!”  You can’t, I don’t think, really and honestly be a Christian and think like that!

Dr. Gushee:   I like the way you think, Roger!  I wish more people not only thought that way; but, lived that way.

Roger:   Well, we’d have a much better country because I think most people today hide from controversy rather than have faith that God will carry them through.  They try to do it themselves!

Dr. Gushee:  One thing I’ll also say on that last note, it’s important to recognize—that kind of courage generally requires a network of support to sustain it.  I document this in the book and I think it’s one of the more original conclusions that I draw.

The honoring of the rescuers has tended to be done individually; this person rescued this many people and, therefore, they are to be honored for their individual courage.  There is truth to that; but, my findings were that many, probably the majority of rescuers, definitely the majority of rescuers, had a network of support.  They had families, they had friends, they had co-workers, they had an underground resistance network.  I think we generally cannot be our best selves without a community of support that will hold us accountable and will also be inspiring to us.  So, I think there’s a lesson there too.

Roger:  But, now you’re talking about co-dependency.  My whole concept of Christ’s message is self-governance.  That you’re an independent, rugged individualist, that you have faith in God and you lead your family if you’re the male of the household, that you’re the spiritual leader of your family and you take those responsibilities based on faith.  Why would you need a co-dependent realm to dwell in if you truly have faith in God?  He should be the only person you need to lean on!

Dr. Gushee:  I don’t know that I read it that way.  I think the rugged individualism …. there are times that we have to totally rise or fall, just me and God.  You know, me before the authority…they’re only asking me the question, “ did you rescue Jews?” and you say YES or NO or whatever.

I think the reason there is the church in the New Testament is not just as a kind of aggregate of rugged individualists; but, a community of mutual support and accountability and strength.  The image of the body of Christ.  I don’t see that as co-dependency there, I see it as strength through mutual commitment to the same God and the same goals.

Roger:  Let’s entertain a call or two here.  Let’s go to Mike in Bozeman, Montana.  Hello, Mike!

Caller-Mike:  Good evening.  Doctor, I’m curious.  In our modern culture, in the US as it is right now, we have a great many Caucasian liberals– some number of whom I know are Jewish— who, as a liberal element in our society, work to create guilt among the Caucasians in our culture about Black slavery. I am curious if there’s any effort on your part, in your book, in addition to creating an awareness among us who are descendents of previous Christians who may not have been as helpful as they could have been to the Jews in Europe, is there any attempt you might be trying to embarrass us or make us ashamed, similar to the others I previously mentioned?

Roger:  In other words (what Mike is asking is), are you trying to lay a guilt trip on the Christians for not helping the Jews, Dr. Gushee?

Dr. Gushee:  No, no!  I reject the premise of the question if it means that,if we look back on our lives, individually or corporately, and we see things that are not right, that it’s somehow wrong to name that and say, “We shouldn’t have done that.  We should have done better!”

Roger:  Alright, we’ve got to take a break!  Dr. David Gushee is our guest, ladies and gentlemen.  His book is, “The Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust.”   We’ll be right back.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Roger:  David, how do people order your book if they want a copy of it?

Dr. Gushee:  Well, it’s available on Amazon.com.   It’s published by Fortress Press of Minneapolis.  I believe I have memorized the phone number 612-330-3300

Roger:  Let’s go to Henry in Ashland, Oregon!  Henry, how are you tonight?

Caller-Henry:  Hello, Roger and hello, Dr. Gushee!  I’d like to ask you, sir, you commented about the principle in Romans 13; that Christians are supposed to submit to the government.  Today, in too many churches submission to government is taught.  I don’t think that is correct.  Certainly, when a government is committing genocide against a race of people, Christians are to resist that!  Would you not agree?

Dr. Gushee:  I absolutely agree!  I think that unlimited submission is a misreading of Romans 13.

Caller-Henry:  I do too!  It’s refreshing to  hear you say that, sir, because the founder of this country were clearly biblical-believing Christians and at some point they decided to rebel against the tyranny that King George of England was imposing upon the American colonies.

Dr. Gushee:  Yes!  We have a strong political heritage recognizing there is a place for rebellion.  There is also a strong theological heritage; whereas, somebody like Martin Luther was much more for unlimited submission in his approach while someone like John Calvin was….. Basically, the way Calvin interpreted Romans 13 was that when government is doing what it’s God-given mandate is, you submit happily.  When government is fundamentally subverting its God-given mandate, then you have to talk about forms of resistance that are appropriate.

Caller-Henry:  Yes, I believe that William Tyndale who wrote the English Bible, the first one, said that “resistance to tyrants is a glory to God”.

Dr. Gushee:  That’s the man who died for translating the Bible!

Caller-Henry:  Dr. Gushee, one more question, if I may?  There are many groups of people in this country, albeit small; but, very vocal,  that say the holocaust is a hoax — 6 million Jews never perished!  What would you say to these people?

Dr. Gushee:  I think it’s absurd!  I’d like to introduce them to the dozens of Holocaust survivors that I’ve met with the numbers tattooed on the arms, to take them to the gas chambers I visited at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the remains of Birkenau. This is the most well-documented crime in history, as far as I know!  It’s just hard to even know how to conversation with somebody—it’s kind of like denying that the American Revolution happened!  I mean, how do you talk to somebody rationally about that?  I think Holocaust Denial is generally just another form of anti-semitism and needs to be dealt with as such.

Caller-Henry:  Dr. Gushee, God bless you!  Thank you for your wonderful book!  I intend to get it and read it!

Roger:  Henry, thank you very much!  We run into that in talk radio, Dr. Gushee.  There are folks out there that have somehow come into these incredible brainstorms, miraculous new findings of information  that’s all nonsense and say there’s no evidence the ovens existed, the gas chambers….

You know, I had a sonderkommando on this program, Dr. Gushee.  You want to talk about a gut-wrenching discussion?  Listen to someone describe going into the entanglement of thousands of bodies, being forced to disentangle them with staffs, shaving off  the remaining hair and removing gold teeth, and then putting the bodies on the conveyor to send them up to the crematorium.  You know, there were a lot of people who were there who witnessed this!

To have people tell you, out of blatant ignorance, using recreated Nazi propaganda and things of that nature… To have them use that as some source in denouncing the holocaust is really frightening!  It’s frightening that people will not accept credible sources and will take these incredulous sources and raise them to the level of credibility the do!  It’s frightening!

Dr. Gushee:  One of the things that contributes to that is that we’ve got this information overload, especially now with the internet.  We have to teach our young people how to sift information to determine what is credible and what isn’t.  I think it’s getting harder and harder to do.

Roger:  Yes, “reality vs unreality” is quite interesting on the internet! As we look at the incident with TWA Flight 800 and Pierre Salinger taken by a falsified report on the internet, not that he might have other evidence.  I don’t know.  No one yet has committed to knowledge about what happened to that airplane.  But, the point is, you can create any kind of document that you want, make it appear official as you want, and people will believe it!  That should scare the living daylights out of people!  I know there have been attempts to do that with the Bible and God’s word!

You just have to hope that your faith is strong enough that you can survive whatever comes your way.  There aren’t too many books out there, David, on what Christians did during the holocaust.  I guess I’m disappointed they didn’t do more.  I suppose when you’re cast in that environment and you’re faced with life or death situations, there’s not much else you could do.

Dr. Gushee:  There were some people who made a conscious decision, that their moral obligation to their family was of higher significance than their moral obligation to strangers.  I think that’s a defensible decision.  I don’t agree with it! I don’t believe it is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

At least I can understand where something like that is coming from.  I have no understanding of people who saw the Jewish plight as an opportunity to pile on and make them suffer more.  There were a lot of folks who acted that way as well.

Roger:  There’s some real meanness in man, isn’t there?

Dr. Gushee:  There sure is!

Roger:  Almost so diabolical you can’t describe it!

Dr. Gushee:  Yes.

Roger:  Dr. Gushee, I appreciate having you here this evening.  Your book, “The Righetous Gentiles of the Holocaust” is available on Amazon.com or a bookstore.  Thank you very, very much!  You’ve made a wonderful contribution to humanity and I hope you’ll continue to do research!

Dr. Gushee:  Thank you so much!

Roger:  Alright, ladies and gentlemen, that’s the conclusion of this week’s presentation in The Holocaust series.  I hope you enjoyed it.  It’s fascinating to come at it from a different angle, looking at how Christians reacted.  Of course, it’s hard to get to all the details in an hour; but, we do the best we can here, folks!

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER – THE HOLOCAUST ODYSSEY OF DANIEL BENNEHMIAS- SONDERKOMMANDO

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

1-14-1998  Ninth Program in Series

 

Guest: Rebecca Fromer, Co-founder of the Judah Magnes Memorial Museum

 

Author of the Books:

 

THE HOLOCAUST ODYSSEY OF DANIEL BENNEHMIAS- SONDERKOMMANDO

 

ISBN-10: 0817350411  and ISBN-13: 978-0817350413

 

THE HOUSE BY THE SEA: A Portrait of the Holocaust in Greece

 

ISBN-10: 1562791052  and ISBN-13: 978-1562791056

 

Roger:   Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!  Welcome back to our continuing saga her, the 9th program in the ongoing series.  I spent the afternoon holding back tears and anger and frustration as I read through our guest’s book.  It never fails that each week as we continue uncovering some of these almost unbelievable stories, it seems harder and harder to just choke back the tears. Man’s inhumanity to man is the worst thing you can imagine, especially as it relates to the holocaust.

 

Tonight we’re going to speak with Dr. Rebecca Fromer.  She’s the co-founder of the Judah Magnes Memorial Museum.  The book of hers I am reading that  has me so intrigued is,  “The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennehmias: Sonderkommando”.  I’d like to bring Dr. Fromer up and just get started right away!  Dr. Fromer, how are you?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Good evening!  Thank you, I am fine!

 

Roger:  Would you mind giving the audience a little biographical about yourself and who you are?  The Reader’s Digest version?

 

Dr. Fromer:  The Reader’s Digest version is that I am a person who takes an interest in the quality of life that we have.  I have been a teacher.  I love teaching!  I have done many things and the museum is one of them.

 

At a certain juncture I began to write about the holocaust because I felt certain stories were really important and I was in a position to get to know many survivors.  Spme of the stories were particularly poignant and of tremendous historical significance.  With a lot of patience — and it did take a lot of patience, many years of patience  – it was possible to get Danny’s stories and his experience as a sonderkommando in Birkenau,  I felt it was obligatory, once I knew these individuals and Danny in particular, to bring forward a story that was really not meant to ever get out.  I’m quite sure that the Germans hoped they would have been victorious and that none of what eventually became known would have been public knowledge.  As long as their victory was not total and I had this opportunity, I went ahead.

 

Roger:   You start out talking about Danny being taken from Greece.  What you maybe could do because it dovetails with your other book, “The House by the Sea,” is tell us a little bit about Greece.  When was it taken under the power of the Nazis?  Were the Jews in Greece Sephardic Jews?

 

Dr. Fromer:  That’s right, yes!

 

Roger:   Were they seen as similar to all the other Jews of Hitler’s…?

 

Dr. Fromer:  I’m so afraid that they were!  I’m afraid that every Jew, no matter where he come from, what his education was, whether he was rich or poor, a peasant or a pious individual, a child, a woman, a girl, an elderly person, a sage….. it didn’t really matter.  There were many games that were played, many deceptive steps that were taken to keep people calm.  Very many euphemisms were used to cover up the actual intent of the holocaust.  All of these were just staggering the process of the annihilation.  So, yes, outwardly it might seem that the focus was on Polish Jews or the focus was on Lithuanian Jews or the Jews of Germany or France or whatever; but, the purpose was truly genocidal.  There was a maniacal stress toward gathering them from wherever they were in hiding or where they sought refuge and annihilating them as quickly as possible, up to the very last days of the war!  This had tremendous priority in the German mentality!

 

Roger:  Greece was quite at the extreme tentacle of Hitler’s regime at that time.  It wasn’t his primary consideration, was it?

 

Dr. Fromer:  I don’t know what the German intention was!  I had assumed they wanted to conquer the world and they were very well on their way to doing that.  I don’t think Greece was any less or any more of a target.  Salonika was the main city in Greece and it had many resources which they began to strip with great methodical talent.

 

Roger:  They knew how to find things of value, didn’t they?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Well, they used many means of doing that!  They confiscated things.  They had a system, whether it was in Salonika or Athens or elsewhere, across any nation that they conquered, capturing by different kinds of raids vulnerable people who could be put to some kind of slave labor.  Then they tried to extort the community for everything it could possibly raise so that they could free these so-called incarcerated individuals.  Instead of ransoming them, they were actually shipped out.  Anything was a means to strip the individual of  lifesavings or businesses or goods, his home, his apartment, his furniture, his job, his capacity to work.  His associations with others had to be curtailed.  The purpose seemed to have been the exploitation of all the resources of the individuals who were meant to be their victims and then they were to be disposed of!

 

Roger:   Yes….

 

Dr. Fromer:   But, not simply to be disposed of!  Once you took all of the goods that they had worked so hard to accumulate, that really constituted their life; their little apartment,  their home, whatever it was, their tiny little grocery store or shop, they then transported them to various concentration camps if they weren’t killed outright.  There they were starved and exploited through slave labor.  So, the process what not just to kill them!  The process was to squeeze everything, every ounce of energy out of them to work for the war industries as well.

 

Roger:   So, you just drain them completely and then kill them?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Yes, that’s right!

 

Roger:   Boy, that really….

 

Dr. Fromer:   And sometimes, you see, they chose what were called “capos”, individuals that were taken out of the prison who were known for their brutality; murderers and sadists, they chose these individuals specifically to be guards over the Jews.  We are primarily talking about Jews although there were other cultural and ethnic groups that were involved.  They were chosen for their cruelty and their baseness.  This was a sadistic turn in the genocidal motif!  It wasn’t just — we’ve decided this is the genocidal mode and we’re going to go ahead with it— it was extorting, draining, exploiting everything.

 

Roger:  In other words, rather than recharge people with nourishment and proper care, let them work themselves completely to death…

 

Dr. Fromer:   Absolutely!

 

Roger:  Because there’s another trainload coming, right?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Thank you!  You’ve go the message right!

 

Roger:   There’s another trainload coming so we don’t need to recharge this group!  Just completely drain them of everything, throw them in the gas chamber and bring on the next trainload!  We’ll work them until they’re going and there’s another trainload to take they place!

 

Dr. Fromer:  That’s right!  The German motif was even more diabolical than this because immediately the old, the young, the young mothers with children were all—- not all, but generally, all of these vulnerable types were immediately put into the gas chambers, if we’re talking about Birkenau.

 

Roger:   Those that couldn’t produce!

 

Dr. Fromer:  That’s right!

 

Roger:   It would be wasting a lot of food and water!  Oh, boy!  So, in your book, “The Holocaust Odyssey” Danny shows up.  His parents were immediately terminated?

 

Dr. Fromer:   Yes, right.  They were transported for many, many days.  I think the transport was about eleven days.  I think there were possible about 80 persons in this railroad car.  That was very typical conduct.  There was only one little window with bars in it.  There was a slop pail and that was it!  They had no water, no amenities, they were crushed together in the car.

Roger:   How did people survive eleven days without water?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Not all of them survived.  There were quite a few who died on the train.  The will to live is extraordinary!  This is one of the inexplicable, in the category of miracles, that the will to live could survive that kind of ordeal.

 

Roger:   Only the strong survived.  I suppose it was just a sorting method to the Germans.

 

Dr. Fromer:  Oh, who knows!

 

Roger:   I mean, I don’t know; but, hey!  The people that lived through this are still alive, so just give them some water and bread and put them to work!  I don’t know!  So, Danny survived this because he was young and strong and able to work?

 

Dr. Fromer:   Well, actually he was on the verge of death when he was liberated by the Allied troops, but that’s way at the end of the story.

 

Roger:  What I want to talk about is, when the train ride is over and they were at Auschwitz?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Auschwitz, yes.  The Greek Jews primarily went to Auschwitz.  I think that since the crematoria were functioning at optimum capacity, they went directly into the most up-to-date  mechanism up to this point.

 

About 95% of the Jews of Salonika were killed and overall about 89% of all the Jews of Greece were exterminated by this means.  The first transports began in 1943.  There were 19 transports that virtually cleared Greece of all it’s Jews.  I think perhaps there were about 1,900 Jews left after the war.  It was a catastrophic event!

 

Roger:  Genocide!

 

Dr. Fromer:   Yes, well, yes!  Of very beautiful people!  I’m not saying that individuals who were gypsies or homosexuals or ministers and people who spoke out against the regime were not beautiful people; but, there was beauty in every one of the individuals who was exterminated.

 

In terms of the Sephardic culture it was a particular debacle because they weren’t as numerous as the Ashkenazic Jews of eastern and central Europe so when you think of 95% of the Jews of Salonika and 89% of Jews overall of Sephardic individuals, that’s a very heavy toll!

 

You come to understand that approximately 60% of the French Jews were Sephardic and 40% of the Dutch Jews were Sephardic and about 50-60% of the Italian Jews were Sephardic and 40% of the Yugoslavian Jews were Sephardic and you come to see that the attrition is major, very major!

 

Roger:  Where does the term “Sephardic” come from, Rebecca?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Sephardic comes from the Hebrew word, Sepharad,  which means Spain.  These individuals had a history that took them from Israel or Palestine from antiquity to Spain.  And over the course of the years they lived amicably with Christians and Muslims; but, particularly bonded with Muslims.  They were philosophers in Spain.  They were physicians, navigators, lion tamers, cavaliers.  They were poets!  Women were bankers in some cases.  There were military people.  There was a lot of diversity.  They did not live in the kind of situation that was known in eastern or central Europe.  They had no shtetls or anything like that.  They lived basically…

 

Roger:  In harmony?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Well, yes and no.  There were episodes from 1391 to 1492 where there were extensive massacres by various Catholic regimes.  When we’re looking for who the Sephardim are, they are the Jews of Spain who chose to remain Jews when there were forced conversions under Ferdinand and Isabella and they were pronounced under the Edict of Expulsion.  Many went to Portugal for a period of about five years until about 1497 when Portugal instituted it’s own inquisition and forced conversions.  So, you had many people who did not want to convert or who converted for the moment and strove to reclaim their identity as Jews started to find ways to make their exit from Spain.

 

These are the ones which we call the Sephardim.  They went to the Ottoman Empire.  They were welcomed by the Sultan.  The Sultan was very  wise  from the point of understanding that Spain’s loss was going to be a very big gain for him and for the empire.  And he was correct!  They brought a vibrant lifestyle and a lot activity there.  So, they retained the language of the Sephardim, the language of 15th Century Spain which is called Ladino.  They retained the ballads of Spain.  They retained a lot of the stories that emanated out of Spain.  Even though they were expelled, the connection with Spain was very, very strong.  These are the people who we call the Sephardim.

So, whether they lived in Yugoslavia, or Bulgaria, or France, or Morrocco, or Egypt, or Italy, or Greece, they all spoke Ladino in addition to whatever their national language was.
Roger:  You talk i, “The House by the Sea” about the language and how they had a distinct accent so they could be recognized as different than the other Greeks even though they lived quite a bit around the Ottoman Turks or people who were in the Turkish Empire.

 

Dr. Fromer:   Well, what happened…. In Salonika there were different periods; between one half and one third of the population were so comfortable with Ladino and the Ottoman Empire was so accepting, that by degrees, Ladino became the language in which you did commerce.  So, everybody really knew Ladino.  It was a very fascinating thing to see that!  But, the fact of the matter is that the Jews of Salonika also knew Turkish, they knew French, they knew Italian!  It wasn’t just a one-sided thing.

 

Roger:   But, they still were distinguishable from the others….

 

Dr. Fromer:   They were, if they were from Salonika.  The answer is both “yes” and “no”.  If they were from Salonika, they were distinguishable from other Jews who were also Greek Jews with a Sephardic background because Ladino is a very soft language, very much like Italian.  But, if they came from the villages where the opportunity to speak Ladino was not so pronounced, and most of their neighbors were Greek Orthodox as distinct from Greek Jews, then their accents were not to be distinguished from the other Greek people.

 

So, you have a situation where in small towns the Sephardic Jews spoke Greek as any other Greek person; but, in Salonika where you had such a large Sephardic population, that’s where the Ladino inflections dominated and they were recognized very easily by how they spoke.  You can recognize a Texan, can’t you?

 

Roger:  Absolutely!

 

Dr. Fromer:  That’s the idea!

 

Roger:   So, these folks were rounded up when the Germans came in.  Now, did the people of Greece, were they conquered by Hitler or did they surrender to Hitler?  How did the Greeks….?

 

Dr. Fromer:   They were attacked by the Italians first.  Yes, they were conquered by Germany!  Sure!  In very little time!

 

The Italians were waging a war in Albania a little bit before 1940; but, they were losing that war.  Then they began to venture forward rather than retreat.  They decided to attack Greece from the Albanian border.  In five months they proceeded to lose that war as well; but, by that time, Mussolini were Axis powers and allies, so Hitler made a deal with the Bulgarians who very land hungry.  The Bulgarians were non-combatants.  They decided that if they could get part of Yugoslavia and Macedonia, part of Crete and part of  eastern Thrace; why, they would just let the German armies go through their country.  That’s precisely what happened!  Part of Hitler’s aim was to extricate the Italians who were in a mess and also to attack Greece.  With Bulgaria as the access point, on April 6, 1941, Monastere, Yugoslavia and Salonika were attacked.

 

Roger:   Yes.  We’ve got to take a quick break.  Dr. Rebecca Fromer is our guest, talking about her books, “The Holocaust Odyssey” about Sonderkommandos and, “The House by the Sea”, very informative!  We’ll be right back, please stay tuned!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Our special Holocaust series continues.  Our guest, Dr. Rebecca Fromer, is with us this evening.  We were talking about Hitler finally taking Greece…

 

Dr. Fromer:  Yes, he did that in three days!  On April 6, 1941 he attacked Salonika and on April 9th Salonika fell.

 

Roger:  You describe in your book, the Italian rush first.  Now, the Italians essentially just went in and surrendered…

 

Dr. Fromer:  They surrendered in 1943, September of 1943.  So, yes, the Italians really did not have a  heart for killing.  They really did not.  Mussolini had the ambition to instill the discipline of the German into the Italian.  He had great aspirations and it was his primary motive for linking with Hitler; but, the Italian people are not this kind of people.  Just listen to their music and you’ll know that’s so!  They not only did not want to fight, they detested the Germans!  They had contempt for the Germans!  The Germans had contempt for the Italians.

 

The Italians, in every way, tried to sabotage what the Germans were doing to the Jews.  It’s amazing; but, a very credible story that I am proud to convey to you in terms of the morality of the Italians during this episode.  Although they were in every way technically allied with the Nazis and the Germans, they did everything in their power to save the Jews!  They went to great lengths, not just in Greece; but, wherever any Italian troops were, whether in France or Italy or elsewhere, they did their best to extricate the Jew with passports, actually shipping them out of harms way, protecting them in every way, feigning ineptitude so they would not have to deliver the Jews to the Germans because they knew very well what the Germans would do to these human beings.

 

Roger:   That’s right.  It’s hard for me to remember which book; but, I think it was “The House by the Sea,” where you describe they would give fake I.D.s.

 

Dr. Fromer:   Oh, sure!  Not only that, there’s a terrific story about Captain Mercy who was in the Diplomatic Corps in Salonika who not only saw to it that various individuals escaped; but, in one instance, one of the survivors was actually present when he collared a Greek and told him to absolutely give these individuals asylum, and if he did not, he would kill this individual himself!  He didn’t want the Jews he was turning over to him to be turned over to the Germans, he didn’t want them to be extorted for the privilege of being safe for a little while.  This is the kind of mentality that the Italians had.  They went to great lengths.  They didn’t have to do it, but they did it!  It was the only nation that actually used it’s own army to help protect Jews.  So, on the surface there was this link with Hitler and world conquest, but underneath, they played the role of the fool.  They canceled meetings and did everything in their power to send subordinates to very top level meetings which Germans considered an effrontery; but, it also stole the actual deportation of thousands of Jews!

 

Roger:   Now, in “The House by the Sea,” you actually have the text of a radio propaganda piece…

 

Dr. Fromer:  That’s right!

 

Roger:   ….where they are recruiting Greek men to come to Germany?  Did I understand that they wanted them to come to Germany?

 

Dr. Fromer:   Oh, no!  The ruse, if I remember the ad which you are referring to, the ruse was to let them know what a wonderful life they would have if they would only volunteer for work in the “east.”  That was a euphemism.

 

Roger:   So, it was a recruitment thing?  Recruiting Greek men into the cause, so to speak?

 

Dr. Fromer:   Well, yes; but, it was just one of many games.  You know, they had this dialogue where you’re going to be well-fed, you’re going to have a good job, everything’s going to be hunky-dory, we have playgrounds and you’ll be taken care of.  We know from Thereseinstadt that they carried this face to great extent.

 

Roger:   What was Thereseinstadt?

 

Dr. Fromer:   That was a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia where they had a model camp so whenever the Red Cross or other individuals came to see what was going, they would find beautiful shops and music, vegetables growing in the ground, children at play.  This was just like a puppet show because everyone was under penalty of death if they didn’t do this.  So, you know, to various institutions the presentation of safety in Theresinstadt was in place.  But, the moment the officials left, all of that was dismantled.

 

Roger:  So, they actually went to that extent?  They actually put up a theatrical set to show the world that their concentration camps were safe and secure, that nobody was being harmed….

 

Dr. Fromer:  …they had their own library, they were playing the violin…..

 

Roger:   Oh, my God!  Masters of deception!

 

Dr. Fromer:  Rocking in a rocking chair at leisure…. it was pure theater!

 

Roger:    I’ve heard of Theresinstadt in reading; but, I didn’t realize that was going on!

 

Dr. Fromer:   That was their “model camp”.  Of course, the whole idea was to prevents the others from exploring the other camps.

 

Roger:   It makes now.  Boy!

 

Dr. Fromer:   It really does depend!  Westerbork was also a “model camp.”  There was no slave labor done in Westerbork which was in Holland; but, these people never really knew what was happening.  Every Wednesday the trains would come and take hosts of people away; but, it wasn’t too clear where they were going for the longest time.  Meanwhile, the kommandant who loved theater would encourage all the artists to make their own plays or operettas, their own stage settings, costumes, etc.  They had a symphony.  They had a hospital.  They had just incredible performances, incredible medical staff.  So, in these two areas, the SS and the Nazis from across the globe would come either to the theater or to have their medical problems tended to.

 

But, for the privilege of practicing physicians or the privilege of engaging in the life of the arts, they were supposed to go quietly to their deaths when they were called to the transports!  That was the one thing the kommandant would not tolerate!  He would not tolerate disrespect or ingratitude because he was so nice!  He wasn’t allowing them to be slave laborers, and for that they should be grateful when they went to their deaths, quietly!

 

Roger:   Oh, boy!  Listen, we’ve got to take a quick break here, Rebecca.   Just hang with us for a few minutes.  Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t think we’ll take any calls in this hour.  You might just write your questions down and we’ll open the lines up for calls later as the program progresses.  Our guest is  Dr. Rebecca Fromer.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Our guest this evening on The Holocaust Special is Dr. Rebecca Fromer talking about her books, “The Holocaust Oydssey” and “The House by the Sea” focusing on the Sephardic Jews and their demise, 89% of them in all of Europe were eliminated during the Holocaust.    Dr. Fromer, something you may be best suited to help me with, when you see modern day depictions of Auschwitz and the other camps, you don’t see much.  Auschwitz was quite a bit bigger!  I thought what you might do is describe Auschwitz for us.

 

Dr. Fromer:  Good!  There are quite a few misconceptions and I’m very happy to tell you about this.  It was a very vast complex.  Most people think it was one camp.  It was not.  There was a main camp and it was actually called either the Main Camp or Auschwitz I.  Here you had the Gestapo headquarters, you had the political wing which kept the records of all those who were killed in the camp; but, not a record of those who went straight to the gas chambers.

 

In the Main Camp you had Mengele’s so-called hospital where he did some of the most brutal experiments on humans known to man.  You had a prison, you had various torture wings and you had a core of slave laborers.  That was the Main Camp.  It did have one crematorium; but, it was not to scientifically designed and it became rather malfunctioning early in the game.  It was certainly not suitable for the ambition of the Nazis.  That is the first camp, Auschwitz I.

 

Roger:  How big was that?  I mean, territorially, how many people, what concentration of population?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Well, it changed a lot because you had transports coming in and out all the time.  I could not be accurate about how many….

 

Roger:  As big as a small city?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Oh, for sure!  I can give you an idea on one of the camps in just a moment.

 

You have Auschwitz II which is Birkenau.  That was the killing center.  That was actually in three divisions; you have a Womens’ Camp, you have a Mens’ Camp, you have a Gypsy Camp, you have a Czechoslovakian Family Camp.  Then you have the area that was the actual killing center where there were four crematoria and five huge pits for burning people alive in many cases!

 

Then there is Auschwitz III which was in Monowitz.  The distance from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II was two miles.  The distance from Auschwitz II to Auschwitz III was about five miles.

 

You ask about how many?  Auschwitz III at Monowitz had 60,000 slave laborers.  That’s more than a little town!

 

Roger:  That’s the size of the community I live in.

 

Dr. Fromer:  You had hundreds of thousands in Birkenau!  But, I don’t know too much about the complements of Auschwitz I because there was so much of the Administrative Department was in that particular encampment.  We have to be talking about hundreds of thousands of people!

 

Further, what most people don’t realize is that each one of these camps had approximately 300 satellites.  These satellites were like slave labor industries.  So, the individuals in the Main Camp, or in Birkenau, or in Monowitz, not only did slave labor work in those camps or work designed to humiliate and torment and decimate the soul in these camps; but, were also exploited in these slave labor sub-camps where there were many war industries.

 

We’re really talking about what might have been, between the three camps, a fifteen mile to twenty mile complex.

 

Roger:  So, this was like a huge city with hundreds of thousands of people with a robust industry!  They were making leather goods, uniforms, boots, and hats, and coats, and gloves, and weapons….

 

Dr. Fromer:  Not only that, you see, the statism here was very manifest because when ambition grew greater and the genocidal impulse became more than a passion; but, an obsession… what you have to is actually make those who can do roofing, those who can do architectural work, and so on…. you have them building Birkenau which will exterminate them as soon as they’re finished!  So, have the Jews who are the victims creating the buildings and the edifices that will facilitate their own demise.  The Germans, of course, were very cynical here.  They worked these people to death and then they killed them!  They had very little choice because they were under machine guns at all times.  Protest was impossible because you were machine gunned or, in desperation,  you threw yourself on electrically charged wires!  This was not the easiest kind of thing to survive.  Anyone who survived did so because of enormous moral strength combined with the circumstances, pure chance!

 

Roger:  We’ve got to take a top of the hour newsbreak, Rebecca.  When we come back we’ll talk about Danny’s story and the sonderkommandos.  Okay?  Ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening is Dr. Rebecca Fromer talking about her books, “The Holocaust Odyssey of Daniel Bennehmias: Sonderkommando and “The House by the Sea: A Portrait of the Holocaust in Greece.”  Facsinating stuff!  Please stay tuned.  We’ll come back and tell you about the sonderkommandos.  This will absolutely blow your mind!  I don’t think you should even have children in the room for the next segment!   We’ll be back.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  It really is quite an honor, ladies and gentlemen, to be able to take all these historically relevant stories and bring them to you here on the radio.  I know that many of you appreciate it.  I get your letters and emails.  Thank you very much for the encouragement and support!

 

Our guest this evening is Dr. Rebecca Fromer.  Her book, “The Holocaust Odyssey” about the sonderkommando, Daniel Bennehmias— Rebecca, how do you say that name?

 

Dr. Fromer:  BEN-NAH-MI-AS

 

Roger:  I think what we should do now, since we’ve talked about Greece, and the different kinds of Jews, and the size and dimension and the incredible events of Auschwitz, I’d like you to just tell Danny’s story.

 

Dr. Fromer:   Well, he was a very young man when the war broke out in 1941.  There’s a little bit of explanation we have to give here because up until 1922, Salonika was part of the Ottoman Empire.  There was a transfer of population at that time and Salonika reverted back to the Greeks who had been jurisdiction prior to 1453.  When, in 1922, the Greeks reclaimed, through one of many of the Balkan wars, their former city of Salonika, they gave the option to remain a Turkish citizen or retain Spanish citizenship which some did have, or Italian citizenship which some did have.  Some immediately became Greek citizens, some retained their Turkish citizenship and some retained Italian citizenship because they had sojourned in Italy some 150 or 200 years earlier and never relinquished that citizenship.

 

Danny was of this last group where the retention of Italian citizenship was what the family had opted for.  They felt close to Italy.  They didn’t particularly mind reregistering every year as foreign nationals.  It was a little ludicrous, but, that’s what they had to do.  Most of the family officially Greek citizens as a result of the new government and Danny’s was Italian.

 

He went to an Italian school and he spoke Italian.  He spoke Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), he spoke French, he spoke Turkish and he spoke Italian.  He was very interested in science. He was very interested in music.  He loved music!  It was a revelation to him that Beethoven’s music had the grandeur that it had.  All of that was a tremendous experience for him so he was growing culturally as he grew into young manhood.

 

When the war broke in 1941, as a person with Italian citizenship, he did not come under the same kind of category that the rest of his family came under as Greek citizens.  The Greeks in his family— you must understand everybody was born in Greece; but, this is now technical.

 

Roger:   Right!

 

Dr. Fromer:  The Greeks in his family were considered enemies of the state.  The Italians were considered allies.  So he and his father and mother were not among the first to be incarcerated.  They were considered allies and were not privvy to a lot of the things that were happening to the rest of the family.

 

The rest of the family, and actually the rest of the Jews in Salonika, were being ransacked!  They were subject to relinquishing their homes, their apartments, their little shops, their groceries.  They were not allowed to transact business.  They couldn’t go on trolleys.  They couldn’t have intercourse with other individuals in the normal course of the day.  They could not have telephones.  There were many, many restrictions.

 

The first call for labor was in July, 1942.  After the first pressures to ransack the nation, of the Greek Jews particularly, there was a period of quiet.  At some point, the Greek strength was so much stronger than the German strength in certain areas, so the Italian citizenship was of no avail.  He and his father were taken to what was supposed to be some kind of a detention camp.  But, instead of a camp, it was under guard of Greeks who were very generous and good.  They were housed in a hotel.  They paid for their own imprisonment.  They couldn’t even make sense of their imprisonment because they had a very easygoing kind of existence for about six months.  Then they were released and they went back to Salonika.

 

Very soon the situation changed radically.  The family made every effort to get out of Salonika, out of the way of the Germans.  They realized that the so-called technicality of their Italian citizenship was of very little use and they made their way to Athens, which was under the jurisdiction of the Italians.  There they were able to live very openly as Jews among Christians.  The situation was entirely different.  The Italians were far more relaxed.  There was no persecution of Jews under the Italian administration of the southern part of the mainland.  That’s the way it was!

They rented a little apartment, and when it got too costly, they rented a room.  In that room Danny and his father and mother were in the same room with his aunt and uncle. His aunt and uncle had a daughter and a three year-old child.  The daughter was about fifteen.  They separated the children just in case things got worse.  Each child was in a different household.  They supported themselves and they supported the children, always thinking of the children’s safety.

 

While they had a room in this household of Greek Christians, they were able to invite their friends.  Other Christian neighbors knew that they were Jewish, knew they were more or less hiding, because even though the Italians were in control, there was certainly a German presence in southern Greece.  So, the family had a reasonably okay existence as long as the Italians were in control of that region.

 

When the Italians capitulated, everything changed radically!  There was a Jewish collaborator who turned in the family, found out where the two children were in their separate hiding places, and the two children were also rounded up!  Danny and his family were incarcerated by the Gestapo for several days.  Danny was beaten severely.  The purpose was to help him reveal other Jews in hiding.  Of course, he would not do such a thing!  From this torment — five of them were locked in the bathroom for about three days—so, that was a very difficult thing; but, he alone was beaten.

 

From this prison in the bathroom kind of incarceration, they were sent to Haidari which was a concentration camp.  There was an overseer who was know by the name of Napoleon who would be rather kind.  He would bring from the mother’s side of the encampment—whatever food she salvaged  from her own diet and used Napoleon as a courier to give it to her son and husband.  She always worried if they had enough food and gave of her ration to them.  Napoleon was not German, obviously!

 

The German overseers in Haidari were quite brutal and Danny began to see his father being tormented.  His father was made to do all kinds of very, very arduous physical labor and brutalized because he could not be forthcoming on the level of expectation of the Germans.

 

For about a month this is the way it was in Haidari, then the transport to Auschwitz took place. That was an approximately nine to eleven day journey.  I don’t remember which; but, arduous enough!  The last two days were the most horrendous of all because his mother was terribly afraid of death.  She wasn’t afraid of dying; but, death itself was something that traumatized her.  Whenever anyone in her family died or whenever she learned of anyone who had died,  she would light the house full of candles and burn the lights so there would be no shadow, no dark space in the house.  It was almost as if she had this light chasing away the darkness of death.  Unfortunately, on the train transport, they were so locked in place that if one person moved, everyone had to move.  They were jammed together!  The woman next to his mother died.  She died pressed against  his mother’s chest!  So, for the last two days, this woman’s putrefying body was next to her chest!  His mother never moved.  Those last two days she turned her head to the side and never moved!  His father and he could say nothing to her… and these were the last two days of her life!  He never did forget that!

 

When they disported at Auschwitz, his parents were taken off in trucks.  Within 2 hours they were dead!  They were dead!  That was it!  He was immediately put in confinement.

 

You have to understand that the Greek Jews were from a sunny country, a warm country, it’s people played tennis, they danced the tango, they swam, they sailed little sailboats, they worked, they studied.  They had a physical life.  They had a cultural life.  They went to the theater.  They loved music.  They were healthy, they ate vegetables. They had lots of sun!  They were quite strong!

 

So, he and quite a few of the younger men were placed in quarantine for about a six week period.  At the end of that six week period, which was rather tortuous– they were doing meaningless tasks, very hard tasks, stupid tasks– moving bricks from one corner to another corner, repairing one thing then disassembling what they repaired so they could repair it again– really totally empty kinds of work!   Of course, they detested it and thought it was the worst possible existence.

 

Then by design, in this area of quarantine, very deliberate design, there was a rumor that there was going to be a really good job where they’d be able to have better food— a permanent job for them!  That was the first ray of hope for these young men.  Not all of them were Sephardim; but, there was a handful of Sephardim involved, maybe fifteen.  One day Mengele came with two other SS men inspecting these young men and Danny was one of them, never knowing that he had been selected, and I use that word loosely, used by the Germans to be a sonderkommando.  From there on in began the greatest nightmare of, not only his lifetime; but, in all of known mankind!  I hope that your listening audience heeds you very much when you warn them not to have their children nearby if we’re going into this further.

 

Roger:  I think they listened to me.

 

Dr. Fromer:  I hope so!

 

Roger:  Why don’t you go ahead and describe Danny’s first walk down the corridor?

 

Dr. Fromer:   Well, that was early on in his experience in this special detail.  The music that had meant so much to him— he had been introduced to Beethoven through the 2nd Symphony and that started his passion for Beethoven.  One day, in the midst of the hell that he saw all about him, literally the inferno, out of one of the rooms of a Gestapo individual came the strains of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony came to him and he doubled over!  The juxtaposition between what was happening there and the reminder of a life that included music and beauty and freedom just about devastated him. It was very hard!

 

But, there was something else that happened that was even more extraordinary because at one time Danny was working near the ovens themselves.  The area always needed to be cleaned.  One of the SS individuals recognized a woman who came up the gurney… There were two processes that were practiced.  When a transport came in, everyone was gassed at the same time.  But, there were always individuals who were hunted down specifically.  These people would be shot, not gassed.  They wouldn’t waste the gas for one or two individuals.  They preferred to use the chamber for 3,000 individuals.  One day, as Danny was near the crematoria, he sees a woman comes up the list.  She’s a very beautiful woman!  The SS man who was guarding them recognized her and he said, “Aren’t you So & So, the opera singer?”  She said, “Yes, I am.”  Danny heard the SS man say, “I’ve heard you perform.  I love your singing.  It’s just wonderful and I enjoyed how you depicted this character!”  He sat her down by the bench that was right in front of the ovens and spoke to her about the life of culture.  When he was finished, he shot her!  And that was that!  These were the kinds of things that were everyday occurrence!

 

Roger:   Wow!   We’re going to have to take a break here.  When we come back I want you to give a detailed description of what a sonderkommando is, what their job is.  I want to remind the folks out there that they won’t want to have little ones  listen to this.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be back with Dr. Rebecca Fromer in just a minute.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back!  Our guest this evening is Dr. Rebecca Fromer talking about the Sephardic Jews and the odyssey of one gentleman, Danny, about his life as a sonderkommando.   Rebecca, Danny’s new permanent job, describe it for us, will you please?

 

Dr. Fromer:  He and the other crew that was selected by Mengele had no preparation.  They had been instilled with this rumor of a good job waiting for them.  That encouraged them because in quarantine they thought they were in hell, and they experienced it as hell.  So, they were very relieved moving away from quarantine into this new job situation, which turned out to be, of course, another manipulative ploy.

 

They had almost no introduction!  They were brought to a particular area in Birkenau which was  behind double electrically wired fences, closed off from the rest of the camp.   There’s no way of escaping unless they throw themselves on the electrically charged wires.  They’re given a crust of bread and, perhaps two hours later, they are gathered together.  They are brought into a room that is filled with clothing; shoes, clothing, prosthetic limbs, arms and legs. Everything was in turmoil!  One of the SS officers said, “You can take whatever you want,” but, nobody touches anything.  They are brought before this huge black door and told to grab a cane and begin extricating the individuals who were contorted in the death thoes of the gas chamber.  This was their first introduction to their “good job”.  Then they realized what the clothing, shoes and prosthetic limbs were all about.  Danny fainted some five or six times.

 

Roger:   Describe the room, Rebecca.

 

Dr. Fromer:  The dressing room was very, very long and narrow.  On either side there were hooks for clothing; but, there was so much clothing that it was in heaps all around the room.  To one side was the gas chamber, to the left of the dressing room.

 

Roger:   Which was behind the black door?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Yes.

 

Roger:   So, what did they see when they went beyond the black door?

 

Dr. Fromer:   Well, the first thing they saw were the bodies because the room was filled.

 

Roger:   Filled with people who had just been gassed?

 

Dr. Fromer:   Oh, yes! They had just been gassed!  They did not know this then; but, the previous sonderkommando group had been executed.  They soon learned this was the ritual, that every crew of the sonderkommando unit would be killed periodically so that no word of what this work was, what the genocide was, would ever make it to the outside world.

 

Roger:  When they opened the door, were there hundreds of bodies?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Thousands!  3,000!

 

Roger:   What did they do with those bodies?

 

Dr. Fromer:   They had to use the canes or belt straps and disentangle them.  After they disentangled them, some were asssigned to shave the hair from the heads or pubic areas.  Some were assigned to pull out gold teeth and some were assigned to drag them to the lift that would take the bodies up to the next level where the crematoria were.

 

Roger:   What did they shave the hair for?

 

Dr. Fromer:   The hair was used for several purposes.  I learned that one of the purposes was that for certain munitions, the filaments of the hair was very useful. They used hair for matting in pillows and things like that; but, also used as filaments …. I’m not sure if it was bullets or things like that, or what kind of armaments it was; but, it was for mechanism of destruction that required the hair as a filament.

 

Roger:    When Danny walks in and see these thousands of bodies and begins untangling them and shaving them and taking out the gold teeth….

 

Dr. Fromer:   He doesn’t do all of those things….

 

Roger:   No, I mean the group he was with, the sonderkommandos!

 

Dr. Fromer:   That’s right!  The unit has to do this!  He fainted six times.  The man who was in charge, the Jewish guy who was the labor leader; but, he was the senior living Jew there, was a very kind person.  He only knew Polish and they only knew Greek and French and Italian.  He tried very hard to grab hold of Danny, to beg him to stand on his feet or he would be shot immediately!  He gestured with his finger from ear to ear and kept saying, “Kaput!  Kaput!”  Finally Danny got the idea that he was a goner unless he could pull himself together.  Of course, from that time on he could never pull himself together!  His life was a nightmare!

 

Roger:   So, although he thought it was hell doing these menial and empty tasks in quarantine, that was just designed to get him mentally ready to do some of the worst work….

 

Dr. Fromer:   You can never be mentally ready to do what the sonderkommandos had to do.  There is no such thing!  As a matter of fact, in time he became, along with others, a large contingent of the Sephardim were definitely part of the individuals in the sonderkommandos who tried to do everything in their power to try to destroy the crematoria.  They wanted to blow them up!  There were two attempts at revolt.  The first attempt had to be canceled because a huge group of German troops came to Auschwitz and it would have been counterproductive.  The second was abortive; but, many, many hundreds of sonderkommandos were killed in that!

 

Roger:   How many sonderkommandos were there?  How many people were shaving heads and pulling gold teeth from all these dead bodies and then sending them up to the crematorium?

 

Dr. Fromer:   They varied.  First of all, you have to understand that there were four crematoria.  Between One/Two and Three/Four was the Birkenau forest.  That’s where Birkenau gets it’s name, from the forest.  Each crematorium could handle 10,000 bodies a day.  They would cram them, 12-15 bodies at a time, to a given oven.  There were approximately, though it varied from time to time, there were between 1,200 to 1,500 men in the sonderkommando unit.

 

Roger:   It took a lot of people to handle all those bodies, didn’t it?  We’ve got to take a quick break, Rebecca.  Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to ask any questions, we’ll open the lines up.  We just have time for a few questions.  We’ll be right back.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, folks!  Rebecca Fromer is our guest.  We’re going right to phones, are you ready?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Sure!

 

Roger:  We’re going to start with a sixteen-year-old in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Hello, Andy!

 

Caller-Andy:  I have some questions for Rebecca regarding the Italian situation in WW II.  I came on in the middle of the program and you were talking about how the Italians used military forces to rescue Jewish populations.  Is that true?

 

Dr. Fromer:  Yes, that’s true.  They used military personnel.

 

Caller-Andy:  Another thing I want to add is that I think it’s great you’re doing the story about Danny because I think it’s really important to add the personalization factor about the holocaust.  Most people hear 5.4 million Jews or 6 million Jews or whatever, it doesn’t really hit home.

 

Dr. Fromer:  I’m so proud of you!  I’m really proud of you because putting a face on it is exactly what my purpose was.  It’s very hard!  Six million is an abstraction, in fact, it’s not even an accurate count.  There were more than that.  Thank you for making this observation because you are totally correct.

 

Roger:  Andy, thank you very much.    We’ve got Owen in Culver City, California.  Hello, Owen!

 

Caller-Owen:  I’m fascinated at hearing the details of this.  It reminds me of Nicaragua in South America.  I heard that when the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua the first thing they did was drive the Jews out of Managua and burn down the Jewish temple.  Rebecca, do you know anything about that?

 

Dr. Fromer:  No, I don’t know anything about that particular period because at the time I was doing my research.  I’m not surprised.  In order to generate a certain amount of cohesion for tyranny, you’ve got to pick your target and in many cases it’s the Jew, in other cases it’s the Black or the Italian.  We have to really be careful.  We have to really watch out for this phenomenon.

 

Roger:   I think it’s not necessarily well-known; but, we let these things go on in the world today.  I mean, we would think that as sophisticated and modern and cultured as we’ve become, especially Americans…. you’d think that things like what  happened in Rwanda,or the multiple  years of devastation in the Balkans might not happen in today’s world after what we learned in WW II!

 

Dr. Fromer:  Well, we’re not doing a good job of learning, are we!

 

Roger:   Yes!

 

Dr. Fromer:  We’re not!  I’m terribly afraid, as we get more and more technological, that we’re going to lose the faces, lose the personalization that this young sixteen-year-old made as a very keen observation.  We really have to somehow remember how vulnerable each person is!  How each of us is a minority of one and extend ourselves to the beauty of our diversity instead of being threatened by it.

 

Roger:   Yes.  Robert in Jackson, Mississippi is an eighteen-year-old.  It’s great we’re hearing from young people tonight!  Robert, hello!

 

Caller-Robert:  I wanted to ask you, after all the time you spent in the camps, did you ever see any German guards who against what was going on?

 

Dr. Fromer:  First of all, I was never in the camp.  But, there were German guards in the camps, of course!  The guards were in control.  They patrolled.  They shot helpless people with machine guns!

 

Caller-Robert:  What I’m trying to ask you is, were they ever against, you know, treating them like lower human beings or anything?

 

Roger:  In other words, did the guards ever stand up for the Jews?

 

Dr. Fromer:   No, not at all!  They didn’t treat them as human beings.  They thought they were “things”!  They were very sadistic!  They would punish them!  They would have them at a roll call, standing still practically naked in 60 Below Zero weather and kill them if they twitched or moved.  No!  They were very sadistic.

 

Roger:   You know, you say that and it reminds me, I talked to a survivor who described it somewhat this way, he said, “you get a can of soda and you suck all the good out of the can, then you crush the can.”  He said that’s how he felt; that once they sucked all the good out of him, then he was just an empty vessel to be destroyed!

 

Dr. Fromer:   It’s interesting and a paradox; the emptying took place and also something remarkable took place, they did not forget.  By and large, they did not lose sight of their humanity and they did try to help one another and help other victims as well.  So, even thought they were victims, they tried so hard to help one another.  In order to do that, they had to forget their passed lives.  They had to forget there was such a thing as a mother cooking, a father…. they would never see them again!  They knew that!  Rhey had to forget that you could read a book, you could listen to music, that you could walk the streets freely!  They had to forget their classes at the universities.

 

Roger:   Rebecca, we’ve run out of time.  How do people get your books?

 

Dr. Fromer:  They can get, “The Holocaust Odyssey” from the University Distribution Center.  That number is 1-800-621-2736 or their bookstores.  “The House by the Sea” will be coming out in bookstores in March or April, 1998.

 

Roger:   Rebecca, God bless!  It’s been a wonderful couple of hours of radio.  I’ve really enjoyed it!  Keep doing the research!

 

Dr. Fromer:  Thank you!  I’ll try!

 

Roger:   Good night folks! God bless you all and God bless America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER – BEARING WITNESS: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

2-4-1998  Thirteenth Program in Series

 

Guest: Dr.  Henry Feingold

 

Book:  BEARING WITNESS: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust

 

ISBN-10: 0815626703   and   ISBN-13: 978-0815626701

 

 

Roger:   Welcome, ladies and gentlemen!  It’s a pleasure to be here once again to continue our series.  I still have a very difficult time, each evening when we endure this topic, I find myself more and more emotionally disturbed about the truth with regard to history.  When you hear from the mouths of the people who lived through the holocaust it’s just an entirely different picture that is drawn from what many of us got in our public school system.  Fascinating stories we’ve heard!  Tonight’s I’m sure will be no different.

 

Our guest this evening is Dr. Henry Feingold.  His book is,“Bearing Witness: How American and It’s Jews Responded to the Holocaust’.”  He’s a professor of history at Baruch College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York and we want to welcome him here.  Professor, hello!

 

Dr. Feingold:  Hi, how’re you doing?

 

Roger:  Just fine!  It’s nice to have you here, Dr. Feingold, it’s really a privilege!  I’ve had the opportunity to thumb through your book over the last couple of days.  What a piece!

 

Dr. Feingold:  Thank you very much.  I like to write.

 

Roger:  Henry, what other things have you written?  You’ve written quite a bit over the years.

 

Dr. Feingold:  A Five volume history of American Jewry I edited called, “The Jewish People in America.”  I wrote Volume Four: “A Time for Searching: Entering the Mainstream 1920-1945”, is probably now the definitive work on the American Jewish experience.  I’ve done “Zion in America:the Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present,” .I’ve also written a “Midrash on American Jewish History” and four books on the Holocaust.  You wouldn’t want to know what other things!  Ha, ha!

 

Roger:  Ha, ha, ha!  You must enjoy it to be that prolific!

 

Dr. Feingold:  Well, some people like to write and it’s one of the things I like to do.  It’s what I do. It’s how I invent myself.

 

 

Roger:  Henry, you’re the first guest I’ve had on with regard to taking this subject on from the American Jew’s point of view.  That’s an interesting subject, it really is!  First of all, with all your discovery over the years, you talk about the “uniqueness of the holocaust.”  I’d like you to tell me exactly what you mean by that.

 

Dr. Feingold:  That’s such a difficult subject.  I’m sometimes scared, there’s something very dangerous there, because my approach is Judeo-centric and not everyone buys it.  There are various people; some people think it’s unique because of the unique intentionality.  Some people think it’s unique because it shows modernity in its full scale; that brilliant European railroad grid, that chemistry in the Zyklon-B gas, that almost mundane familiarity of bringing the raw materiel to death factories, the tolling of the dead by managers—so many units per hour —boasting between those who died in Treblinka and Auschwitz, whose camp was more efficient!  That has a kind of almost boring familiarity to it!  IT IS OUR INDUSTRIAL PROCESS!  Some people think it’s that!

 

I think the holocaust is unique because the Jews of Europe were unique.  I don’t unique because of “covenantal choseness”, after all, every group does feel unique.  That’s why they are a group!  I mean unique in the role that they played in the development of the European idea; that the Vienna-Berlin-Budapest axis that gave us Einstein, Freud and Kafka —unique in forming a universalizing elite!

 

I say it’s dangerous because Hitler also believed that the Jews were unique.  He believed they were uniquely demonic!  It’s kind of suspicious that a historian of Jewish history, who happens to be Jewish, should claim that there is a unique quality here.  By unique I mean, valance, I mean weight, I mean importance!  Unfortunately, in this particular process of the holocaust, you don’t have to rely on the words of the historian or the researcher.  You can, in fact, wait for subsequent events.

 

If the French Revolution was unique or if it had a certain valence, a certain weight and subsequent history should have a resonance, it should change.  Not everything in history is important; the discovery of the wheel is more important than the discovery of the toothpick.  So, that we should be seeing a change in European history and a change in that other historical canvas which I am interested in, Jewish history.  I must say, I go to Europe very often and I don’t really see much of a change.  Europe does not miss it’s Jews and it has gone on as a prosperous area.

 

Then there is this thing you talked about in your introduction, you can’t pick up a newspaper today without reading something about the holocaust.  I’ve heard that 6% of our literature today, our published books, have some impingement on it.  You could say it’s a Jewish conspiracy, which it isn’t!  It is the fact that we are listening to the sound of an extraordinary event, cracking into history, making that noise!  Otherwise I see very little in European history that is unique.

 

It is on the Jewish historical canvas; however, that an extraordinary change has taken place; a people that was originally organized only in time, is once again organized in space.  It has re-entered history.  In that intractability of the Middle East Conflict, there is a linkage to the holocaust.  The Arab world does not feel that it participated in the holocaust, yet it feels it is paying the price.  We sometimes hear that argument in Arab propaganda.  So there is almost… when I listen to the news about Iraq and our intention to bomb it, I sometimes feel almost eerie that there is something here that is happening, that had a line to it.  So, on the Jewish historical canvas, it’s an enormous change!

 

 

An ideational change in the European historical canvas is that somehow everyone is trying to break their teeth on the holocaust idea.  We don’t have very good art about it yet or very good theater; but, it doesn’t seem to go away!  I don’t think it’s merely a conspiracy to make noise, to earn what one sociologist says, “ a psychic income to make points through the income of victimization.”

 

I think it’s a very interesting thing we are watching.  Of course, I’m interested in it!  I think we are dealing with a fantastic “something” that I have not quite been able to explain to myself; but, it is an event of enormous valence!  I can’t even think of a historical word; I have to go to chemistry to explain it.  We will see.  The next 50 years will tell us.  It is now 50 years after the holocaust and rather than this event getting softer and becoming contextualized and disappearing in history, perhaps overshadowed by other events, it is in fact getting louder every year!  Even as the survivors disappear.  So, we are dealing with something very special here.

 

Roger:  Well, I’ve heard the term about silence being deafening?  That’s kind of an oxymoron; but, I think it applies to what you are trying to communicate, that it’s almost impossible to explain.

 

Dr. Feingold:  Yes.

 

Roger: The semantics that surround the issue have for 50 years now dominated many cultures.   It’s a fascinating topic.  Henry, we’ve got to take a short break here.  Please hang on and we’ll be right back.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:   We have Henry Feingold as our guest this evening.  We’re talking about his book, “Bearing Witness: How America and It’s Jews Responded to the Holocaust,”  Henry, welcome back!

 

You know, I want to move into America during the time of the holcaust.  I’d like you to describe for me what you discovered about how Jewish America responded to the holocaust.

 

Dr. Feingold:  That, again, is a very, very touchy subject for survivors who are living in America today.  Enough was not done.  Of course, we who were here know that enough could never have been done!  So, we’re in an endless problem which leads to constant flagelation that we did not do enough.  After all, 6 million Jews are evidence to show that not enough was done!

 

Once you get behind that, you have to wonder about certain things. The power of American Jewry to really change government priorities during wartime has to be examined and we get into enormously difficult problems because as part of the anti-semitic imagination, the thing that is the common denominator to that imagination is the imagination that Jews have so much power.  So, the anti-semite feels the Jew have too much power and the Jew knows that he doesn’t have enough power.

 

When you compare American Jewry to other ethnic groups, the Irish-Americans or the German- Americans, we find there’s quite a different story.  The German-Americans who were the largest “hypenated” group here in 1914 were not able to stop America from going to war against it’s Father Land.   The Irish-Americans were trying to play the game called “Pushing the Lines,” too.

 

In the end they were not able to stop the Anglo-American alliance which dominated international relations in the 20th Century.

 

American Jewry, contrary to the imagination of Judeo-phobes, was not an organized group capable of conspiring in some way.  In fact, its hallmark was that it was extraordinarily divided and dis-united and highly dynamic.  It’s that way today.  We sometimes wish that American Jewry had been able to speak to the Roosevelt administration with one voice, something more might have happened; but, even if that were true, it probably wouldn’t have changed very much because we have very few historic examples where an ethnic group in America pulled public policy away from the national self-interest, or what was viewed as the national self-interest, in order to serve it’s own needs.  To give you an example, some people point to Greece and Turkey very recently.  But, I can think of very few examples where that happened.  So, the Jews of America during the holocaust are not noticeably different than other groups.  In fact, I would say they were probably slightly more effective in getting the American government to articulate the Jewish interest, not that much more; but, certainly some more.

 

The question we really are speaking about is the question of power.  How much power did the Jews have to change policy during a war, during a total war?  How do you measure that power?  What’s the difference between power and influence in America?  We do not have the exercise of direct power.  So, that’s one of the great problems we have.  The problem of measuring the activities of the witness; whether it is the Vatican, or Switzerland, or the International Red Cross or American Jewry is far more complex historically than trying to tell the narrative of what happened to victims or the perpetrators because the victim ostensibly had some kind of choice; he could have been indifferent, he could have been opposed to having any action or he could have simply been neutral.  When you have a choice you have an entree for the moral athlete, for moralism which is the bane of all good history.  Then you have the problem of trying to define what really happened.  So, this problem of American Jewry’s reaction, just as the problem of the Vatican’s reaction or Switzerland’s reaction is extraordinarily difficult to handle because it has a comparative aspect and it also has the problem of choice and it’s very much affected by morality in a post-hoc situation.  It’s true that nothing was done and that more could have always been done; but, once you get beyond that, what was really possible for a group that was divided, that had limited power, that was itself unable — it did not have any army or a sovereign legality to act on the national stage by itself– had to act through America, through the American government.  How much could such a group have done?  Are we assigning it a responsibility which it did not have the power to meet and then end up getting an endless whipping because not enough was done?  That’s not only true of the Jews, by the way, it’s true of every one of the witnesses of which we expected much more; but, we have never really imagined the power they had, especially before Stalingrad, before March 1943 when many of the witnesses themselves were on the edge of become victims!  It’s a hard problem!

 

Roger:  Yes; but, there’s this guilt factor and I’m not clear about the dynamics about the guilt thing.  American Jews are people who escaped the Final Solution, so to speak, those people feeling guilty that they didn’t suffer as much as others. I don’t understand that!

 

Dr. Feingold:  Ha, ha, ha!  Yes, it’s very true!  It is the defining act in American Jewry because while we, in the prosperity created by the war economy, were beginning to move to suburbia and sending our kids to the best schools, the brethren, our kin in Europe, were being baked!  The historical cookie crumbled in a terrible way!  In a sense, we were doing well while terrible things were happening to them!  The juxtaposition itself posed problems for us.  So, there is a feeling that not enough was done.  In many cases the escape into getting the house in the suburbs and finally getting that car, of coming out of the Depression — if you talk to American Jews today, very few really remember fully what was happening— that credibility problem.  It may very well be that they were preoccupied as most Americans were with day to day events.  After all, the Depression created enormous private events.  While the Jews were probably the most active group in the public sector, more politically astute, reading more newspaper, writing more Letters to the Editor more often, more engaged in the political process, they were not all involved in concern about their brethren.  It depended on the generation.

 

Jews like my own family who came here in 1939 had an immediate visceral link.  They understood it!  But, what about those Jews who came before World War I and whose links to kith and kin had become much more remote, much more removed?  It was much more difficult for them to imagine.  So we find, for example, the American Jewish Committee represented the uptown Jews, the native-born wealthy Jews.  In 1933 only 17% of the American Jewish population was still foreign born.  The older native-born had become much more American, far less conscious of their European families.  They had removed themselves from that and they reacted as other Americans would, who did not have blood-ties.

 

The American Jewish Congress, on the other hand, another national defense organization which had in its rank and file many of the children of people who stemmed from the eastern European immigrants which were suffering this terrible bloodletting, had a far more visceral response.  Yet, we find that these people did not know what to do.  They would have these huge rallies, crying in public, “do something!”  They sent rabbis to Washington D.C., they staged huge panoramas and plays and tried everything to get the public to understand what was happening.  It was a public, of course, that was preoccupied with other things.  The American people did not go to war singing, “Let’s Remember Auschwitz,” they went to war singing, “Let’s Remember Pearl Harbor.”

 

Roger:  Absolutely.  Professor, we’ve got to take a break.  Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Henry Feingold is our guest, discussing his book, “Bearing Witness:  How America’s Jews Responded to the Holocaust.”  We’ll come back and talk more about what America really knew.  That may shock you!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Thank you so much for joining us during these Holocaust specials.  It’s a real privilege and honor to be bringing these to you every week during this series.  I’m enjoying it and I hope you are as well.  Our guest this evening is Professor Henry Feingold.  His book is, “Bearing Witness: How America’s Jews Responded to the Holocaust.”

 

Alright, professor, we’re back!  We talked about what the Jews were trying to do.  I’m looking back in history – what could you do?  They had marches, they had demonstrations, they sent rabbis to Washington.  Then, of course, there was this preoccupation, obviously, with the assault on Pearl Harbor.  But, you had in office as the president at that time, Mr. Roosevelt.  What did he know?  I mean, the question reall comes down to this, I think, in its basic terms; if the United States broadly had known what was going on in Europe at the time with the Jews, would that have been enough to get us into the war?

Dr. Feingold:  No. The democratic system that you and I treasure so highly would have yielded a “No” response, a “No” even to the entrance of Jewish children and Jewish refugees into this country in the midst of the Depression.  That’s what the consensus was.  It would have required an enormous act of political courage for Roosevelt to have gone against such an opinion.  It would have cost him political points.  Roosevelt’s main objective between 1938 and 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred was to bring this divided, depressed nation into a war which it did not want to fight.  He never really did succeed in doing that.  He got as far as an undeclared naval war in the North Atlantic.  He had promised Britain all kinds of things with the Atlantic Charter that was signed in August of 1941.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in a sense did for Roosevelt what he could not do for himself.  Then the decision was made that the war in Europe would come first.  For many Americans that was insufficient, it was always the war against Japan, the war in Asia that came first.  It certainly was that way for General MacArthur.  So, in a sense, we never won that battle, this nation went to war to remember Pearl Harbor.

 

It’s Roosevelt’s great political genius, I think, to be able to hold this nation together and to do what he did.  We have to view what he did and did not do about the Jews, not even the admission of refugee children under the Wagner-Rogers Act that would have allowed 10,000 children to come here without visas.  He didn’t do that.  He probably knew that there were 120 professional anti-semitic organizations, there was Father Coughlin.  Jews were not winning any medals for popularity in the United States.  The anti-semitic imagination took to calling the Roosevelt administration not the New Deal; but, the “Jew Deal” ostensibly because Roosevelt, like Al Smith, had appointed more Jews to high places, more conspicuous high places, although today our tabulations indicate that Italian-Americans and Polish-Americans and Ukrainian-Americans were equally well treated.  Actually, Hoover appointed just as many Jews to the court system as Roosevelt, just as high by proportion.  But, it certainly looked that way!  Adlai Stevenson who later gained an adoration, not unlike Roosevelt did among Jews, complained that in Washington every senator had his Jew behind him.  They Jews did, in fact, make their presence in the national capital as advisors, as pundits, as journalists.

 

For the first time, Roosevelt’s New Deal resonated a certain part of Jewish political culture that was very important, the “benevolent state” doing good things.   So Jews, in a sense, had three worlds, we say in Yiddish, “ the world, that other world, and Roosevelt” (actual Yiddish words  are omitted by transcriber) .  The Jews gave Roosevelt the highest percentage of votes of any ethnic group.  They were the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency and, oddly enough, they did not switch to the Democratic Pary until 1928!  They were actually quite new arrivals! It was the other Roosevelt, the Teddy Roosevelt, that really brought Jews into politics.  His name was on their citizenship papers and they voted Republican in the 1920s.  In the 1930s they changed to this new urban ethnic coalition and became Roosevelt’s staunch supporters, even in the election of 1940 after other ethnic groups had sharply subsided in their concern and their love of Roosevelt.  The Jews actually raised their concern and that’s very interesting because they knew of his falling behind in their needs in the foreign policy area.  Nevertheless, who else was there?  There was Thomas Dewey who had a suspicious mustache and who represented that other camp!  They liked Wendell Wilkie; but, he too was a Republican.  So, the Jews had to depend on the less certain rewards for political loyalty because there was no Jewish leader on the scene like Stephen Wise, no Joseph Proskauer who could have threatened Roosevelt with the removal of the Jewish vote if he did not do what was part of the Jewish agenda.  I think that’s really were we really have to conclude that Roosevelt knew that he had

 

the Jews in his pocket.  So the normal political transaction of threatening the loss of votes was really not possible for the Jews.

 

Roger:  We’re entering a time in history, Henry, where many of the people who remember will no longer be with us.  Most of them are going to be gone in a very short time.  What then?

 

Dr. Feingold:  My own feeling is that while it’s true that the survivors were very instrumental in building the museum in Washington D.C.  and echoing what happened to them, and that some of the noise we hear that will pick up to a crescendo in April which is Holocaust Month; but, some of the noise may in fact stem from them.  My own sense is a little different.  I think what we’re hearing is really the resonance of an enormous event, and important event in history.  I’ve been teaching the Holocaust since 1968.  I was probably one of the first to do so.  It’s a very difficult subject to teach and it is easily mistaught.  My classes are not primarily Jewish.  They used to be; but, now everyone takes that course.  We opened up a class at my school this year and we usually get an enrollment of perhaps 20.  We’ve got 75 youngsters in there!  When I asked them why, it’s not because it’s in a certain good period.  It’s because they’ve seen Schindler’s List and because the holocaust has entered into their consciousness.  It really fits into our own paranoic dream that the world conspires against us.  In a sense, they’ve all become European Jews!  Life has become tougher, even though in terms of material wealth they’re doing quite well.  So, I think what we’re seeing here is a kind of resonance.

 

Those who argue that it is, in fact, the survivors who want to be remembered— of course they do!  But, I suggest that really it is not unseemly.  I’m kind of surprised that people react so adversely to some of it.  Perhaps there is a little bit too much noise.  But, when your neighbor’s house is on fire and you see it, you must make the warning.  Roosevelt said, “you must lend them your garden hose.”  I say you must make a warning.  The survivors have been to the abyss.  They’ve seen how thin the veneer of civilization is. They are the ones who have witnessed it.  They could be quiet.  They could say, “You did not do anything for us!  We will not warn you.”  But, in an age of massive affirmation, perhaps even innocence and hope, the very people that should be cynical and skeptical are the ones who are yelling, “The world is on fire!  The veneer is so thin.  Be careful!  This is what we have learned!” I think we should listen.  They do it even though some people condemn them for it.

 

Roger:  Hold right there, Henry!  We’ve got to take a short break and we’ll be right back.  Professor Henry Feingold is with us.  His book is, “Bearing Witness: How America’s Jews Responded to the Holocaust.”  It’s a great book and we’ll tell you how to get it.  Don’t go away!

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!  Professor Henry Feingold is with us for the Holocaust Special this evening.  “Bearing Witness: How America’s Jews Responded to the Holocaust.”  Henry, how do people get your book if they want to read it?

 

Dr. Feingold:  Well, I guess they go to Syracuse University Press or it’s in local bookstores.  Barnes and Noble has it.

 

Roger:  Amazon.com on the web?  Do you know if it’s there?

Dr. Feingold:  Yes!

 

Roger:  Okay, so we can find it pretty easily then.

 

Dr. Feingold:  Yes, it’s available.

 

Roger:  I want to just say that if there’s anyone out there that has a question or a comment before the hour ends, we’ll be glad to entertain those if you call in.

 

Henry, you talk about this shot across the bow, this warning from those who witnessed the holocaust, to the rest of us.  Yet, when I look across this landscape of this ever-shrinking globe of ours whether its Rwanda or Bosnia or even some of the tactics being used in our own country if you look at the Waco incident or the way the IRS goes in with SWAT teams to get the evil “tax non-filers”!  I’m just wondering, what is the message?  What are we supposed to be warned about?  What should we look out for?

 

Dr. Feingold:  I think what you need to look out for is self-commanding bureaucracy that doesn’t even have to be triggered, that is a machine that does not have a human dimension, that simply solves problems—any problems!  That’s really what we saw; the facelessness, the depersonalization, all the things that we were afraid of!

 

You know, it wasn’t only the Nazi bureaucracy that was guilty of murder during World War II.  One reads through the American documents and realizes the euphemistic vocabulary.  The Germans converted all victims into what they called “pieces.”  We speak not of “Jews” in our documents.  The Germans speak only of “Jews”.  We speak of “political refugees”   A euphemistic vocabulary!  In fact, the code word for the Final Solution which was originally “resettlement” was used much more in American documents and then picked up in German documents.  The bureaucracy’s heartlessness was the same;  the obtuseness, the inurement!  These were not people, these were so many units that had to be processed!

 

I think that when you speak of the IRS and you speak of the machine that we face process and to govern a massive large and numerous world, I always look for that kind of “Do Not Bend, Fold or Spindle,” mentality that makes us stand in line, that makes us faceless and makes us a problem.  Something happens in the inurement!  So, I think that’s a terrific question!  Where is the enemy?

 

I don’t want to sound paranoic and I know I’m not being too smart; but it is somehow in that bureaucracy, in that bureaucracy that can be told, “solve this problem” and ends up by killing people in large numbers!  We had that here, too.  Of course, much less so than other places in the world.  I see that in the Soviet Union.  I’ve just come back.  I’m sure in China, too.  The “facelessness” of the bureaucracy because you need a large bureaucracy when you have a totalitarian system that has something massive to do; to change the human being, to make the “New Nazi Man”, the “New Socialist Man”, to not let that human being alone!  That requires an enormous change, to social engineer it!  So, whenever I see it, I wonder about it.  I think that we in America have gotten away from it, not entirely of course, but it’s much less so here because of the nature of our people.  They just resist it automatically.  They have that sense that, “I am a worthwhile person.” You have to go sometimes to the Soviet Union, and even today, to see what happens when a heartless bureaucracy weighs so heavily on a people.  It destroys every civil institution; the church, everything — everything that could mediate between us and the power of government goes with such a bureaucracy!

 

Roger:    And you know, the reason I bring this up is because if the warning is received, if we hear the warning and we react to what we’re being told, then we will not have to deal with this ever again!  In other words, the holocaust will not only be remembered; but, the lessons will be remembered for all time!

 

When I look at a public school system that separates children from their parents, that denounces the traditions of American history, that really becomes without concern for people’s religious beliefs, that takes a parent’s rights and flushes them down the toilet!  Not that it’s extreme; but, the beginning emotions are there.  We see this ever increasing effort to take over the young people.  Those are things that I look at and I say to myself, “Stop!”  I hear the warning!  Stop that!  Don’t do that!  The government doesn’t need to have the power to reshape the consciousness of my child, to socially engineer the children of America for some auspicious future that may not even come in world events!  Just teach my children how to read and write and we’ll take care of the rest at home!

 

Dr. Feingold:  You’re absolutely right!

 

Roger:  And so, when I see those things, then I ask myself, “Is this how it starts?”  Shouldn’t we—, early in the game before it get’s so powerful that you can’t stop it — shouldn’t we be saying stop?

 

Dr. Feingold:  That’s right!  When you hear them say the next time how few voted in the last election, remember that one of things that saves us is that we still have private lives.  We can retreat to them, they have not been totally destroyed. There is a privateness and that’s where the freedom lies.  In a sense, what we have to do is take care of that private sphere.

 

Certainly, there’s a great deal to be done, but I’m certainly not an expert on how one prevents tyranny.  There is something aberrant about what happened in Germany, something special that is not yet fully understood.  It may be possible that there is such a thing as a demonic leader.  When one reads about the mesmerizing effect of this man who was nothing that we considered a man; he was not married, he did not drive a car, he did not go hunting, he didn’t play baseball— we would have considered him effete!  Yet, he won the hearts of the German people!  It’s not Hitler that’s interesting; it’s the relationship between Hitler and the German people that was so unbelievable strong.  The spell was not broken until the very last day of the war.  How did he get such a hold on the people?

 

Roger:  Questions will forever be asked about this.  Professor Henry Feingold has been our guest, ladies and gentlemen.   His book is “Bearing Witness.”   Thank you, sir!  God bless!  It was a wonderful interview!

 

Dr. Feingold:  Thank you for having me!

 

 

Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

THE HOLOCAUST: WE MUST REMEMBER – FROM ASHES TO LIFE: My Memories of the Holocaust

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg – Host

30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

1-7-1998  Eighth Program in Series

 

Guest: Lucille Eichengreen

 

Book:  FROM ASHES TO LIFE: My Memories of the Holocaust

 

ISBN-10: 1562790528 :    and ISBN-13: 978-1562790523

 

 

Roger:    Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen.  Imagine living through the experience, being dragged off in a cattle car against your will, put in a camp, having them shave your body hair, strip you of your dignity and send you on a number of tortuous journeys, malnourishment, cold winter nights!

 

Just trying to keep your mind on the business of survival, you would think might be enough; but, imagine having the strength of mind and character to remember the names and addresses of 42 of your assailants!  That’s exactly what Lucille Eichengreen did!  We have her book,  “FROM ASHES TO LIFE”.   Lucille, welcome aboard!

 

Lucille E:  Thank you very much!

 

Roger:   I was rather intrigued, Lucille, that you were able to remember the details against these SS officers who later came to trial as a result of what you remembered.  Is that true?

 

Lucille E:   I remembered their names.  I remembered their addresses.  The reason I remembered was that I worked for a short period in the camp office.  We did not have typewriters so we kept records on pads which were handwritten.  If you write it over daily, once or twice for a period of two or three months, you just keep remembering the names and addresses.

 

Roger:  I guess it would seem that with all the trauma, it would be hard to do that ;but, you managed that!  Tell the audience a bit of your experience, Lucille, where you came from and how you ended up in Auschwitz and other places.

 

Lucille E:   I was 8 years old when Hitler seized power in Germany.  My parents, my sister and I, were Polish nationals residing permanently in Germany.

 

I think it was in the summer of 1933 that I first heard the word “anti-semitism”.  I had never heard the word before and I still did not know exactly what it meant.  I found out only too soon.  I went to a private school, a parochial school.  It was a long way to school, a walk of roughly 40 minutes.  During the fall of 1933 the German children, none Jewish, would wait for us, they would spit at us.  Ultimately, they would beat us up!  For a child 8 years old, this was impossible to comprehend!

 

 

The neighbors that used to talk to us prior to the 1933 either ignored us or would pass us on the street and spit.  There was nothing but contempt and hate.  How does an 8 year old child cope with that?  I tried to talk to my parents about it, and like all the adults in the early years of that regime, their answer was, “It is a passing phase.  Things will return to normal.”  Life did not return to normal.  It got worse!

 

Jewish men and women lost their jobs at universities, at government agencies as civil servants.  Jews had to pay heavier taxes.  They ultimately had to hand over their jewelry; gold and silver.  Their property was taken, no compensation was granted.  And still, people believed that life would improve.

 

The last warning for us should have been November 9, 1938, the “Night of Broken Glass”, “Kristalnacht”.  I went to school the following morning.  I saw the synagogues burning.  I saw books burning.  Germans in uniform were laughing!

 

That same day the Germans rounded up most Jewish men from the age of 16 up to, I guess, 80.  The men were ultimately taken to a concentration camp not far from Berlin.  Over a period of 6 weeks to 6 months they were gradually released.  I remember vividly that the men that returned did not speak of their experience.  Their suits were rumpled.  The wrinkles would not disappear.  They were run through a disinfecting process and no amount of dry-cleaning or pressing would remove those wrinkles.  The men had missing front teeth.  They were very thin, very gaunt; but, they had one thing in common.  Most of them made an effort and managed, with very few exceptions, to leave Germany immediately.

 

It should have been a red flag for all of us.  Regrettably, the world did not make visa available.  Immigration quotas were so tight and so strict that you had years to wait before you could enter the United States or another European country or Great Britain.  Australia didn’t want any part of it.  So, we waited as best we could.

 

My grades in school dropped drastically from an A and B to C and D because I was afraid.  I could not concentrate.  My parents supplied tutors and the grades somewhat improved; but, I  don’t think that fear ever left me.  If you had asked me, in those days, “fear of what?”  I don’t think I could have told you.  It was just fear, an intrinsic feeling that I could not escape; that I was afraid.  Something was looming on the horizon.  I could not tell you what.

 

Germany, of course, took over parts of Alsace, France, Czechoslovakia, Austria.  On September 1, 1939 the German army invaded Poland without provocation of any sort.  Poland fought as best as they could.  It was a very small country.  Within a week the country was practically occupied.  There were pockets of resistance but it did not do any good.

 

We heard all this in Germany.  In the meantime, we were asked to move into furnished rooms.  We had to give up our apartments, our houses for a small room for four or five people.

 

We tried desperately to get papers for the U.S. But the quota number was tremendously high!  It would probably have taken three years. We tried to get a passport to Palestine.  The British wanted pound sterling to facilitate entry.   The irony was that you were not allowed to hold foreign currency.  In order to obtain the visa to Shanghai, you needed 400 US dollars.  Our accounts, our money was blocked.   We got a very small amount monthly; but, we had no access to any of our bank accounts, any real estate, nothing.  It was all confiscated by the main office in Berlin.  We petitioned; but, the petitions were all denied.

 

On September 1st, the day the Germans invaded Poland, the German secret police, called Gestapo, came to our door, asked for my father and arrested him as an enemy alien.  After roughly 10 days, there was no more Poland.  He was shipped from a regular prison to concentration camps near Berlin and ultimately to Dachau.

 

The communications we received from my father were one or two sentences: “I am fine. Take care of yourselves. I hope to see you.”  Nothing else!  You couldn’t write anything else because it was obviously censored.  My father survived Dachau for roughly two years which was quite a feat considering how people were treated in a concentration camp, the fact that they were neither fed nor clothed.

 

On January 31, 1941, the German secret police came to our house, dropped a cigar box tied with a rubber band on the kitchen table with the words, “Ashes- Benjamin Landau.”  I think it was one of the very few times that the Germans ever returned ashes.  We, of course, knew, and it was explained to us, that these were not my father’s ashes.  The Germans did not want to bother with individual cremations.  They cremated 50 or 100 bodies at a time and it was a handful of somebody’s ashes.  There was a burial, a stone was set with my father’s name.  It took me 50 years to go back.

 

We still lived in Germany.  The British were bombing parts of northern Germany.  In fall, October, 1941, we received notification to pack some belongings and we would be resettled.  Rumor had it that it would be in the east; but, no further information.  We each packed a suitcase, my mother, my little sister and I.  We were transported in sealed cars, 3rd class railroad cars, under guard, for three days and three nights.

 

When the doors were opened we faced a group of men who wore black uniforms.  Their hats had the Star of David.  On their coats, on the right side they wore a yellow star that said JEW –the same as we had to wear.  This was called Ghetto Police.  We were told that we were in the ghetto of the City of Litschmanstadt (sp?)— the Germans had renamed the former city of Lodz which was was eastern Europe’s Manchester with a lot of textile weaving and related professions.  We were told we would work and live there.

 

It was a two hour walk from the railroad siding into the center of the area which we were to occupy.  It was dirty.  It was dusty.  The road was not surfaced, it was just dirt.  It was warm and we looked around.  The houses were ramshackle shacks, they were not houses.  One of the policemen explained to us that this was the *BALOOT* section of the Lodz ghetto.  The *BALOOT* meaning the slum of a large industrial city.  Prior to the war it had been occupied by very poor people, by an element that was into illegal activities; Jewish as well as non-Jewish, Catholic.  It had a reputation of not being a very savory area.

 

The room we occupied in the ghetto, probably a 10 x 10 room, together with five other people, had just three wooden cots and a small metal stove, nothing else.  It had a small window which looked down on barbed wire and and sentry house.  Every two hours the sentries would change, the German guards would change and a new contingent of guards would take over.  We were stunned!  Coming from a middle class lifestyle into a place of this sort was incomprehensible!

 

It was late fall.  It started snowing.  It was unbelievably cold!  Probably not quite as cold as the state of Minnesota; but, not far from it.  We  had no proper clothing to protect us.  We had no coal to heat the oven.  The bucket of water in the room froze overnight.  We had no running water.  There was a pump in the courtyard.  There were no toilets.  There were no bathrooms.  There were no showers.  There were no bathtubs, just the pump of cold water in the yard.  We had to drag up a bucket at a time, up three flights of stairs.  The outhouses in the backyard defied description!  It was an unbelievable situation!

 

I was the only one in the family that ultimately found work as a clerk; first in one office and then in another office.  As a working member, you could get a watery soup at lunchtime.  The soup had no nourishment.  It was devoid of any kind of potatoes or starch.  It was just a watery mess; but, it was better than nothing at all.

 

I suffered most under the cold.  I could not tolerate the winds and the cold.  There were no buses.  There was no public transportation.  You walked!  My shoes soaked through.  I had frozen toes.  That first winter was a nightmare, not that that subsequent winters were any easier!

 

We had epidemics of dysentery, of typhus.  The ghetto now has a head count in the cemetery of roughly 60,000 to 70,000 dead!  That was not enough for the Germans.  Periodically, they would have the Jewish ghetto administration draw up lists of the very young ones, the very old ones, the recent arrivals, the infirm.  Those people, at irregular intervals, would be deported; sent away from the ghetto, supposedly to a different work camp.  We never heard from them again.  They were all killed.

 

In the ghetto we manufactured coats for the German army, hats for the ladies in Germany, metal gadgets for the army, straw boots for the Russian front, carpets for the ladies in Germany,  corsets for export to Germany.    We figured out the coal ration for the entire German population in Germany.  We did the clerical work and the forms were sent back to German.

 

The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire with sentry guards.

 

There were no sewers.  They were open sewers!  You had to jump over them to cross the street!

 

We had no contact with the outside.  There was an occasional radio; but, when the Germans found it, you paid with your life for it!  Even the radio would only tell us what the BBC would report, which was really not what we needed to know.  We needed to know if we could get help from anybody — would anybody smuggle anything into the ghetto — any guns, any food, anything?

 

I had friends in fairly high positions in the ghetto administration.  They had no information whatsoever!   We did not know what was going on half and hour away from the ghetto.  We did not know how close the Russians were to the ghetto and that they just stood there for six weeks and waited.  We did not know that the children they deported from the ghetto, including my sister, were gassed in portable gas vans an hour from the ghetto and buried in mass graves.  We did not know of the existence of Auschwitz, of Stutthof, of Bergen-Belsen.  We had never, never heard of it!

 

My mother died of hunger in July, 1942.  My sister was deported in September of that same year.  My mother is buried in the Lodz in the cemetery; but, there were no gravestones.  I left a little wooden marker.  The marker had disappeared after 50 years.  There are no records.

 

Roger:  Lucille, I’ve got to take a break here.  Ladies and gentlemen, Lucille Eichengreen is our guest.  Her book is, “From Ashes to Life” the story of her memories about the holocaust.  Quite compelling stuff!   We’ll continue right after the break.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back, folks!  “From Ashes to Life” is the book.  The author, Lucille Eichengreen joins us!

 

Lucille we’re back!  You were telling us of your mother buried in this graveyard.  Were you able later to find her grave?

 

Lucille E:   I went back after 50 years.  No.  Among 70,000 graves there are maybe two dozen stones remaining.  All the others are not to be identified.  It’s a grassy hill and you know you have 70,000 human beings buried there.  But, that is all.

 

Roger:  You were working as a clerk?

 

Lucille E:  Yes.

 

Roger:  So you were spared death because of that?

 

Lucille E:  Well, I was spared the deportation.  I worked in several offices.  Ultimately, I worked in the factory sewing leather gadgets for the German army.  My name did appear on a deportation list.  A friend of mine tried, through a friend of his, to have my name deleted from the list and he managed that on the last day.  I felt, and I was very young then–I was 18 years old — that  here I knew the horrors; but, to leave into new horrors would be worse.  So, I stayed.  The people that were deported were never heard from again.

 

The ghetto had roughly between 150,000 and 200,000 people at any one time.  It remained in existence until August, 1944 when the Germans ordered the systematic and fast liquidation of the ghetto.

 

We had to report to the railroad siding where we were pushed into cattle cars.  After two to three days we arrived at the platform in the early morning hours, about 4:00 a.m. –brightly lit — Germans in SS uniforms with guard dogs.  Before we even realized where we were or what this place was,  the men were separated from the women, the old ones from the young ones.  Within 10 minutes we were marched into different directions!

 

I, and friends of mine, were marched with the women who were still halfway young and halfway able to work.  As you mentioned before, we were stripped of all our belongings, all jewelry.  The worst part was that they shaved our heads!  I cannot begin to tell you what women look like with any hair, with bald heads!

I think I will skip over Auschwitz because Auschwitz was one place that people have heard most about; the gas chambers worked day and night!  The chimneys were smoking day and night!  It only took us hours to find out through the grapevine what this place was!

 

After a few weeks we had to run past a German inspection team.  One of the German officers was Dr. Mengele; but, we did not know that.  We had to carry our one rag, which was all the clothing we had, in our left hand.  He had separated the fit ones from the ones he deemed not so fit.

 

Those of us who looked a little younger and a little stronger were pushed into cattle cars.  We were given an additional garment and after three days we arrived at the outer harbor of the City of Hamburg, which had been badly bombed by the British and the Americans.  The place was called *DESSAWA-UFFA* .   We were put to work cleaning up the bomb damage in the outer harbor; glass, metal, bricks, you name it!  We were given no gloves, no protective clothing.  It was cold.  It was beginning to be winter.  It was raining.  We were coughing.  Most of us caught pneumonia; but, we worked!  There was really not other choice, if you didn’t work you were shot!

 

From that camp we were put into a different camp which was called *ZAZEL-NOIMGUMA* 

It was an enormous camp.  It housed mainly French prisoners, male prisoners.  Ours was a subdivision of 500 women.  We had to build concrete houses out of concrete, not blocks;  but, plates, for the Germans that lost their houses in the bombing.  It was hard physical work!  Of course, food was at a premium and there was not much food.  At least, the place didn’t have a gas chamber!.

It was at that camp that I worked for a short time in the office and somehow managed to memorize the names and addresses of the guards.

 

From there we were shipped to another camp.  This camp was called Bergen-Belsen.  I remember walking through the gates.  On the right and on the left of the gates were huge mountains of shoes. No feet, no legs, no people—empty shoes!  Old ones, large ones, new ones—empty shoes!

 

We were housed in barracks in Bergen-Belsen which, at that time, spring of 1945, was totally diseased!  The bodies were no longer buried.  They were lying in the barracks, on the walkways in huge open pits!  Decaying bodies!

 

We were given sometimes some soup or some food.  More frequently than not, we were not given anything.

 

I don’t think anybody could have survived Bergen-Belsen for, at most, a month!  We were fortunate that on April 15th, the British army in their advance up the Elba to cut off the Russian army, stumbled across the camp!  The came with tanks up the camp avenue and they did not believe what they found!  They had no equipment, they had no medical help, they had no food, they were absolutely stunned!  Of course, they were afraid to let us out of the camp.  We were diseased.  We were lice infested.  Some of us were very, very angry and full of hate and there was nothing but revenge on our minds. The war wasn’t over yet.  It was April 15th .  The war didn’t end until six weeks later when Germany capitulated.

 

I was fortunate enough that I spoke English and I started working almost immediately for a British Major as an interpreter, a translator.

 

Eventually the British managed to get food into the camp; but, even after they had come, another 10,000 people died!  They could no longer be saved.  They were too far gone!

 

Roger:   Oh, Lord!

 

Lucille E:   The dead had to be buried with bulldozers!  There was no other way to bury them.

 

We were eventually housed in the former German army buildings.  Within weeks, the camp was burned down!  It was so infested and so beyond saving, that today there is nothing left of the camp!

 

As I worked for the Major, in a conversation once, the 42 SS guards  from the camp came up and he didn’t believe me.  I wrote down the names and addresses and he checked it out.   I went with the British army, with huge trucks and we picked up 40 of the former SS.  I asked to walk past the prison cells that housed them the following week, just to look at them.  All of them said, “We never did anything bad unless you deserved it.  We never did anything against the law.  We never did anything against humanity.  Please help us!”  I did not answer.  I did not argue.  I did not respond!

 

Shortly thereafter, I gave a deposition.  It was an English military court setting.  The Germans sat in the first row….

 

Roger:  Let me take this quick break, Lucille, and we’ll be right back!  Folks, if you’d like to ask Lucille a question, we’ll have time for a couple of calls.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:  Welcome back!  Lucille Eichengreen’s with us!  Her book, is “From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust.” Lucille managed to memorize the names and addresses of 42 SS officers and was there when they were rounded up…. by the way folks, you can call in!

 

Now, Lucille, you were at this court for the deposition?

 

Lucille E:  Right!  I remember most things fairly clearly; but, I don’t remember the questions.  I don’t remember my answers.  It lasted a couple of hours; but, I have no recollection!
I do recall that within the following week  I got several threats, handwritten notes under the door of the dormitory setting where I lived, threatening my life!  They were probably from the families of the Germans who had been arrested.   As a result, the British drove me to Paris because Paris was the only place in Europe that had an American embassy.

 

In March, 1946 I received a visa for the United States, thanks to the help of some friends in New York and a letter of commendation from the British War Crimes Department.   I arrived in New York at the end of March, 1946.

 

I did not go back to Europe, to Germany or to Poland until 50 years later.

 

Roger:  When the British military came, you worked for this Major, you said.  When they first saw the camp, had they seen anything like that up to that point?

Lucille E:  No, they had not!

 

Roger:   So, this came as a total shock to them?

 

Lucille E:   For this particular group of people, it was the first major camp that they encountered on their advance to Germany.

 

Roger:   Do you think that people just didn’t realize, I mean the people of the world; Great Britain, America and other countries, didn’t realize how bad, how traumatic this really was/

 

Lucille E:   No, I don’t believe that because Professor Kauski (SP?) came to the United States in 1942 after he’d been to Warsaw.  Professor Kauski (SP?) is not a Jew.  He told Washington how bad it was!  There are records now declassified in Washington that spells all this out.  There are also aerial photographs.  The allies bombed the oil fields near Krakow which is less than 10 miles from Auschwitz.  So, yes, the world knew!  The world did not care!

 

Roger:   But, the British troops rolled up to the camp.  I mean, it’s one thing for someone to tell you how bad it is, it’s quite another to witness it!

 

Lucille E:  Yes, I agree.

 

Roger:   The rap that I always think is fairly given to the governments of the world is that they didn’t respond hard enough and soon enough to this issue.  And, I don’t know why!  What bothers me is that even in modern times, although quite different; but similar in the sense there’s a lot of death and mayhem, in places like Rwanda…. it seems like the world doesn’t respond!

 

Lucille E:   Right!  Look at the former Yugoslavia!

 

Roger:  It takes a long time for people to respond to anything!

 

Lucille E:  Which is inexcusable.

 

Roger:  Is it the world’s responsibility to respond, do you think?

 

Lucille E:  If we want to call ourselves “human”, I would say yes.   We should care about our fellow human beings.  We should also learn from the past!  Have we learned from the past?  Regrettably, very little.  And that hurts!

 

Roger:  Why do you say that?

 

Lucille E:  Because of what you said.  You said, look at the world around us.

 

Roger:  Yes, yes!

 

Lucille E:  Okay!  Have we made any progress?  I’m not talking about scientific progress.  Human progress!  Do we care about our fellow human beings?  I mean, what has been going on and is going on in the former Yugoslavia is inexcusable!  This is the 21st Century!

Roger:  How do you know what to do in those circumstances, using Yugoslavia as an example.  They’ve been warring factions, the Muslims and the Christians, for a thousand years!

 

Lucille E:  Yes; but, that doesn’t mean you have to kill people by the millions!  And, the world stands by and watches.  I don’t think that is human!  I really don’t have the answer!  I’m not a politician.

 

Roger:  We’ve got a lot of young people listening out in the audience.  As a matter of fact, our phones are ringing with people wanting to order tapes of this program rather than going on the air!  But, what I’m curious about, is what message can you send to this next two or three generations of kids that might help them ensure that this doesn’t happen again?  I believe it can happen again!

 

Lucille E:  Yes, I believe the same!  If you see or hear of an injustice, speak up!  Do something about it!  You might pay a price for it; but, that is life.  Nothing comes cheaply!

 

Roger:  Yes!  Do you think there are signs of things happening, even in America today?

 

Lucille E:  I would hope not.  I would hope that this country is diverse enough in backgrounds that it would not happen; but, I don’t think it is totally impossible.

 

Roger:   I mean….

 

Lucille E:  History can repeat itself!

 

Roger:   The issue is, I think, most appropriately, that government, given too much power and authority over the people, can selectively destroy any people they want.

 

Lucille E:   Yes.  But on the other hand, if we live in a free country, we can elect or not elect representatives.  If we disagree seriously enough on any one issue, we can demonstrate.  And we’ve done so more than once!

 

Roger:  Yes!  Do you think that after the holocaust, at the Nurmeburg Trials, did the world act appropriately?  Did they respond appropriately?  Were the punishments doled out appropriately?

 

Lucille E:   No, definitely not!  The 42 SS received sentences between 3 years and 20 years.  They all were paroled very rapidly.  There was one death sentence.  The trial at Nuremburg was not nearly adequate.  It was a “show” for the world.  You still have war criminals around Europe, in France and Germany and other countries that  have never been punished!  Properties have never been returned to the full extent of which they were taken away!  If they took $100.00 away, they gave you $50.00 back!

 

Roger:   Not fair!   Lucille, we’ve run out of time.  I want to tell you it’s been a wonderful hour!  I’ve enjoyed it very much!  God bless you!

 

Lucille E:  Thank you very much!

 

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by Chey Simonton.

Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)

 

 

The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

THE HOLOCAUST:  WE MUST REMEMBER

Roger Fredinburg Host

 30-Hour Series of Interviews broadcast on the Roger Fredinburg Radio Program

 

10-27-1997  – First Program in Series

 

Guest:   Dr. Michael Berenbaum, author

 

The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

ISBN-10: 080188358X and ISBN-13: 978-0801883583

 

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

100 Raoul Wallenberg Place Southwest, Washington, DC, 20024

(202) 488-0400

 

 

Roger:       Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!  I am Roger Fredinburg, radio’s “regular guy and I’m  glad to have you here with us this evening.  First and foremost, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank my good friends, Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson, for their hard work and endurance in helping me put together what will become an approximately 20 week investigation and exploration of the whole subject of the Holocaust that we must not forget.

 

As I’ve been in talk radio these many, many years, one of the things I have learned, and it’s and unfortunate discovery,  is that the American people are totally and completely without knowledge on the subject; easily manipulated, easily dragged off into some of these so-called patriot camps which are nothing but Nazi cults, Hitler-loving groups.  You don’t know that going in.  It takes time to work you up  to that.  In my opinion, and I think many of you share the opinion, that ignorance is not good.

 

So we will set out on a journey over the next twenty weeks.  We’re going to talk with people who survived some of the most incredible atrocities man’s conceived.  We’re going to talk with people covering every aspect of this holocaust issue because We Must Remember.

 

Joining us this evening is Dr. Michael Berenbaum, one of the foremost authorities.  His book is, The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  It’s a wonderful book that takes you on a journey through everything!  You need to order this book and  I’ll explain later how to do that.  First, I’d like to welcome our guest.  Dr. Berenbaum, welcome!

 

Dr Berenbaum:   Thank you so much!  It’s a pleasure to be with you.

 

Roger:     It’s a pleasure to have you aboard, sir!  I know you are traveling and it’s not the most convenient circumstances for you.  You are, whether you know it or not, the first guest in a series of about twenty where the whole subject of the holocaust will be covered so that people won’t forget.

First of all, I’d like to ask about the Holocaust Museum.  What is the goal of the Holocaust Museum?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  Well, the goal of the Holocaust Museum was two-fold; one, to memorialize the victims; but, more importantly, to be a living memorial, to teach the current generation the story of the holocaust, to transmit the story to this generation and all future generations.  So it’s task was to commemorate the past, to educate and thereby transform the future.

 

Roger:     The message is clear,  that we must never forget.

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  That’s one of the messages.  What we deliberately did was not to be a propaganda machine; but, to literally tell you the story.  The remarkable thing is that once the story is told the messages are multiple to many people.  The remarkable  thing we found in the first years of the museum was that message was also deeply and profoundly American.  By that I mean that here was an account of an essentially European event that underscored the importance of fundamental American values; the idea that all persons are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that the state can’t take away, the notion that absolute rights and separation of powers and checks and balances which, after all, are the antitheses of dictatorship.  They are the guarantor of all these freedoms.

 

Roger:   I concur.  I want to ask you to help me with something because who knows how many listeners are in the audience this evening.  Many of them will never get to see the Holocaust Museum.  I thought what you might do, as best you can, is simply take us on a tour.  What will we see there?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:    Let us begin, first of all, with the setting.   The setting of the Holocaust Museum is adjacent to the National Monuments, adjacent to the National Mall.  One of the very interesting things is that we were asked, why did we put this museum in the center of the National Mall that celebrates all the great triumphs of American democracy and accomplishment in art,  literature and technology, the power of government.   The Holocaust represents what happens when the power of humanity is detached from moral responsibility.

 

Enter the museum and you will get an identification card of someone who went through the holocaust so you have a companion on your trip through the museum.  The companion will be a person whose life story is unfolding before you as you enter the ethical historical event.

 

You ride the elevator, and in the elevator you meet an American liberator who’ll say to you what he said then, ” we don’t know what  it is, people are dying, they’re starving everywhere.  People don’t do this to other people!”

 

Then the elevator doors open and you see what the American soldiers experienced on the day of liberation, the shock!  The catastrophe of all the dead bodies, piles of bodies and bones!  You begin there and then conclude at the little section from Dwight David Eisenhower who said, ” I made the visit (to these camps) deliberately  in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda.”    That section will conclude with a question which how could this happen?

 

The rest of the museum is literally an answer to that question…. not why, but how?

 

On the top floor we took you through the evolution of Nazi policy; through the rise of Hitler, to the beginning of terror, the creation of concentration camps, to the boycott of Jewish businesses. On May 10, 1933, literally Hitler’s 100th day in office, they burned books. You will read a statement by  Heinrich Heine who said, “a people who burn books, in the end, will burn people.”   The distance from book burning to people burning in the Holocaust was eight years!

 

You will then ask the question, “How did the nation of Goethe, Schiller, Bach and Beethoven become the worshiper of the mad corporal and would see the power of propaganda, would see the ideology of race and the science of race?   400 laws were passed  that isolated, segregated and stigmatized the Jews and removed them from the heart of society and made them a segregated minority.

 

Then we’d see the power of technology by seeing the granddaddy of the computer; the card sorter, showing the degree of technology that powered this regime.

 

We’d see the indifference of the world that is a form of antisemitism, then we’d go to a turning point in the holocaust which was called The Night of the Broken Glass, “Kristallnacht,” November 8, 1938.    On November 9, 1938 eleven hundred synagogues were burned in Germany and Austria,  7,000 stores were looted and 30,000 Jewish men and boys were arrested.  It would seem that was the end of German Jewry.

 

We’d continue on to see the Nazi assault against other victims.  We’d see the triumph of Hitler in which he not only created a Nazi state but a police society and the desperate attempt to convince the refugees to leave.

 

Finally, we’d see the beginning of killing, the beginning of war against the Polish nationals and the first mass murders which didn’t happen to the Jews; but, the first mass murders happened to the mentally retarded, to those who were an embarrassment to the myth of Aryan supremacy.

 

We’d cross a bridge and see what did America know and when did it know it?  What was the response of the United States between 1933 and 1939?

 

We’d descend a floor, and this is the floor that’s most difficult.  This is a floor of death!  As you move through  I can take you through to the ghetto, to all the killing units, all the mobile units that went out and shot Jews; 1,250,000 jews shot, one by one by one!

 

Roger:    Now what was the mobile killing unit?  What did it look like?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:    The mobile killing units consisted of a series of SS officers and personnel.  Their job was to come into a town and round up Jews, some gypsies and communists, bring them to the edge of a valley or a gulch and literally shoot them one by one by one.   They murder 90,000 people in the first four and a half to five weeks of duty!    How do we know that?  They sent back reports indicating the dates and the numbers of people they killed.  At Babyar they murdered 32,000 people within a three day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 1941, the High Holy Days!  It would seem that these were ordinary soldiers who acted as part of an extraordinary unit.  We’d look at their pictures and even see the films that they took!  When you look at the films they strike you, primarily, because even though you know what happened they seem surrealistic.  Your eyes can’t believe what they are seeing!

 

We go from there to the decision of killing.  The decision to kill was taken January 20, 1942.  It was taken at a beautiful villa on a lakeside area in Berlin.  It was taken by 15 men, what we of the Viet Nam  generation would call “The Best and the Brightest”.

 

We then see the ghetto resistance in Warsaw and we’d walk right to the railroad train that was used to transport Jews from Austria to Treblinka.   With the idea that the mobile killing units were the first stage of killing, the first state of killing was to take the killers to the victims.  But, that became too difficult; psychologically, they couldn’t kill all day long and still handle the rest of their humanity.  So they reversed the order; that is, if you can’t send the killers to the victims, you  have mobile victims and stationary killing centers.  The instrument of that was the railroad car.

 

If you were in the museum you’d learn that Auschwitz had 44 parallel railroad tracks.  I didn’t know what a parallel railroad track was but I’d once been trained as a journalist.  I called Amtrak and asked, “How many parallel railroad tracks do you have a Pennsylvania Station?”  Then I fell off my chair when the guy answered, 21!  I realized that Auschwitz was chosen because the infrastructure was in place;  44 parallel railroad tracks which meant they needed  intersecting railroad lines for this to work.  That’s why they created the death camps of Birkenau and Auschwitz.

 

Roger:    So the railroad provided the nucleus!

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  It was the nucleus of the transportation system.  The idea was to have stationary killing centers.  Therefore, you have places like Treblinka.  Here again, I can give you statistics; Treblinka 850,000 Jews were killed in about 18 months.  They were killed by a staff of 120 of whom 30 were SS and the rest were Ukrainians and Lithuanians.

 

Then you walk into the actual barracks of Auschwitz and see the unfolding of the world of the death camps.  Within the barracks you see the way people slept.  You see the medical experiments that were done.  You see the slave labor efforts.  Then you see the crematoria that was the epicenter; the undressing room, the gas chamber, the elevators, the dissecting rooms and the ovens.

 

Then you cross the bridge and walk face to face with death.  You’d see a room full of shoes, a room of human hair and tattoos.

 

Finally, you’d get to a room about three stories high in which you’d see about 1,800 faces of people who lived in the village that died one day.

 

Instead of presenting you with dead bodies, we present you with wonderful pictures of living people; kids on an outing, a father with his daughter, a grandfather with his grandchild, two lovers in bathing suits at a beach party, soccer practicing.  We show you the presence of the people and you begin to sense their absence.

 

We descend again and then you see people in difficult attempts at rescue; Denmark which saved their Jews,  Poles who tried to assist Jews.  We see resistance then we see liberation again.

 

Walk and then see on one side the ultimate crime;that  the  killers which were the children and on the opposite the side the attempt of the world to address this crime that involved the trials of Nazi war criminals, then see the struggles of the people to recover from this, their attempt to rebuild their lives in the United States and Israel.

 

Finally it concludes in a very incredible way, by listening to the voices of those who were there, who lived in that world and spoke to all the world.  We listen to a film of survivors talking with the idea that each fragment of memory is the embodiment of the total experience.

 

Roger:     How long does the tour take?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:    That’s a very interesting question.  It’s a self-guided experience.  We thought we were building the museum for a two hour visit.  We normally told our people we were building it for an hour and a half visit because our idea was that most people would only spend about 45 minutes in the museum.  When I left the museum about six months ago, the average stay was about 3 hour and 15 minutes.  One in 4 visitors spend six hours or more!  So in the experience of the museum they see something very deep and very profound and they’re willing to give what’s most valuable to them which is time.

 

Roger:  You mentioned earlier that there is a section about what did America know and when did she know it.  What did America know?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  I’m going to be pedantic for a second.  America had early and retrospectively accurate information about everything that was going on.  What historians know is that there is a difference between information and knowledge.  It’s only when information reaches a threshold of attention and enters your being that you begin to gain that as knowledge.

 

Let me give you examples of  non-historical information.  People reject bad information.  We all know very intelligent women who walk around for months  with lumps in their breasts and pretend not to know.  We all know smart men and smart women who have shooting pains up and down their arms and don’t take themselves to hospitals.  People dismiss bad information.

 

What is remarkable in retrospect is that we knew everything and we knew it early and accurately.  We had the information but it didn’t seep into the sense of being where it changed the way in which people perceived the world.  Let me give you a concrete example.

 

Roger: Okay,but first I’ve got to take a commercial break.   Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Berenbaum  will talk to us more about this incredible terrible tragedy.  We must never forget the holocaust.  As I said, we’re going to be spending the next number of weeks, one night a week, going into the subject with a number people, survivors.   So hang in there!

 

COMMERICAL BREAK

 

 

Roger:  Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen!   I’m Roger Fredinburg, radio’s regular guy!  Tonight Dr. Michael Berenbaum is with us.  He has a book, “The World Must Know” that you can order at any book store.  I highly recommend it as one of those additions to your library that will forever be there to remind you to remember the incredible atrocities, but more than that, a great expose’ of everything that happens at the Holocaust Museum.  Dr. Berenbaum, welcome back!

 

We were talking about the United States before we went to break.  As I recall, you were talking generally that we didn’t want to believe it maybe?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:   Not only that they didn’t want to believe it, they didn’t want to pay attention to it at a certain level.  I can give you example after example.  Let me try to give you a very interesting one.  There’s a man by the name of Dino Guccioni who is a photo analyst, one of the great photo analysts in American history.  He’s the man who in brought us the Cuban Missile Crisis because he’s the man who brought the photographs to the attention of his superiors when he was with the CIA.  That ultimately brought it to President Kennedy’s attention.  It was on the basis of his understanding of photographs that we understood exactly what was going into those silos.   Guccioni hypothesized that there were films of the concentration camps in the photos of that American intelligence took in 1944.  He proceeded to develop all those photos, albeit he developed with the technology of 1978, not of 1944.  What he found was remarkable!  Visually you could see the camps and visually you could see what was going on in the camps.  America never developed those films because it never paid attention to the camps.

 

Even when I show in other books of mine that we did know where they were located and what they were doing.  We had the accurate information but we never cared enough because we’d made a policy decision very early on in the war, a decision that we were going to win the war.  Once we’d won the war we’d worry about the current refugee problem.  The dilemma was that it became clear by 1942 and absolutely clear by 1943 that by the time the war was over there would be no refugees to worry about.  We never re-examined our policies as to whether we should do anything against the targeting of individuals, of Jews.  We never changed our policy because we set policy, we were going to win the war, then take care of refugees.  When it became clear there would be no refugees, nobody re-thought the policy.  Part of that is not caring enough.  Part of that is the old argument that human rights should not have a particular role in the creation of foreign policy.  Part of that is indifference and part of that is we could not fully comprehend what was happening even when we knew it was happening!

 

Roger:  Propaganda was the driving force behind Hitler’s success.

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  He was a master!

 

Roger:  What I would like you to do for this audience, because it’s so very important, is describe what types of propaganda,  what kinds of rumors were put out to convert people’s thinking that this was okay?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  Let’s go a little bit earlier than that.  Two politicians understood the power of radio.

 

We had a politician in the United States, President Roosevelt, who understood the power of radio and he used it in a fairly benign way and we had something that Roosevelt called “The Fireside Chat” in which the president spoke to the nation from the White House.  It was his means of contact with the American people.

 

 

Hitler changed radio use from 25% to 65% of all German households within the first couple of years that he was in power.  He created something called the “Volksradio” which was the equivalent of the Volkswagen, namely an affordable radio that everyone could have.  Those radios only transmitted German radio broadcasts.  He ultimately controlled all of the media.  There was no alternate media and he had the press and the radio on his side.  He was an enormously charismatic speaker.  Speer, who was his architect and minister in his government, once said, “I walked into a rally thinking he was a fool and I walked out thinking this man was the savior of Germany.  Everything I’d seen two hours before that looked foolish, then looked enormously impressive.”

 

Hitler targeted multiple people.  Some people were targeted for their political beliefs; trade unionists and political dissidents.  Some were targeted for what they refused to do.   Jehovah’s Witnesses wouldn’t swear allegiance to the state and say the words, ” Heil Hitler!”  Homosexuals were persecuted because of their sexuality.  Jews were persecuted because  Hitler felt they were “life unworthy of living” they were the enemy of humanity, they were a cancer on the body politic of Germany and what you had to do in order to save Germany was to cut out the tumor, to eliminate this group of people.  He ultimately convinced large parts of this nation, at least to go along with it, if not to support it.  He used all of the instrumentalities of propaganda; from films to radio broadcasts to print media, posters.  It’s virtually a tremendous study in the use of propaganda to understand precisely how he did it.

 

Roger:  What kinds of things would he say about the Jews that would eventually cause people to go along with his thinking?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  The most remarkable thing is that Hitler never lied in the sense that he told people what he was going to do.  They didn’t believe him.  Hitler believed Jews were to be eliminated from the face of the earth; that they were strangling, dominating and destroying German culture, that their destruction was essential to the creation of a secure German state, the Thousand Year Reich.

 

Roger:  What did he say the Jews were doing that caused him to believe that?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:   They were essentially preying on the economic life, destroying the foundation of values, destroying morality, that they were conniving, controlling, conspiratorial, destructive, cancerous.  I could go into every epithet imaginable in which he described Jews.

 

Roger:  Does anybody know, have any kind of feeling about what percentage of the population, at that time, actually openly and full-heartedly supported Hitler?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  You have to begin by saying, when you say “that time” you have to ask “when”?  In 1933 the Nazis received about 1/3 of the vote.  They were never elected by a majority.  Hitler, when he came to power, enjoyed a little greater support.  He then eliminated his enemies and gradually enjoyed the effective support of his nation.   Whether all these people wanted to go along with every iota and sign on to every aspect of his program, that’s doubtful.  But, they did not effectively resist the implementation.  He did have, not only a fanatical group of supporters;  but, you have to understand that he created instrumentalities that were the machinery of death.  Let me give you an very simple example.

 

He created something called mobile gas vans.  So, the original assignment to create mobile gas vans went to the motor pool in the army.  The motor pool in the army then went to a factory and said, “this is what we need and this is the way you need to re-design and re-configure the engines and the body of the gas vans.’  Gradually he had a whole team of engineers working on how to create effective mobile gas vans.  Were these guys originally Nazis?  Who knows?  Were they, in essence, the technological masterminds of the new modality of killing?  Absolutely!  These mobile gas vans were not  perfected technologically so they had to go to even  greater gas vans…the crematoria at Auschwitz,  designed by very sophisticated engineers, built by some of the great manufacturers of Germany, designed by very competent architects and engineers and guaranteed to last 25 years by one of the very most “respectable” companies in Germany!

 

So, by that time you’re not dealing with a small cadre of believers; but, you’re dealing with a wide circle of people who participated in the destruction process!  We’re not talking about thousands, we’re talking about everybody from engineers, to architects, to mechanics, to designers  and that’s only on the gas chamber aspect of it all.

 

Roger:     By controlling the flow of information to the people…. In my mind, I’m trying to rationalize,  how you could witness people being taken to the outskirts of the city to be killed, and not having outrage in the community?   I’ve got to take a break, Dr. Berenbaum.

 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

 

Roger:    Dr. Michael Berenbaum joins us this evening and, folks,  I would recommend that you go down to your local book store and get “The World Must Know,”.  I think you will find it to be a fascinating read.  Dr. Berenbaum, you are laying a foundation for a journey we’re embarking on over the next 20 weeks.  We’re going to talk to a lot of survivors.  I want these folks to have an opportunity to tell their story before it’s too late.

 

I wonder, as you look across the landscape of the world political scenarios as they develop, do you see any possibility that these kinds of conditions might recur?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  The holocaust was a singular event; but, events that are analogous, not equivalent but analogous, occur with frequency in the world.

 

I was in Rwanda the first couple of months right after what occurred, the genocide.  I had a sense of being the equivalent of an anthropologist because I had seen this event in terms of the way survivors of the holocaust behaved in the immediate aftermath.  In Rwanda I was able to see precisely what had happen; but, 50 years later.  Rwanda had an echo of it!  Bosnia had an echo of it!  Cambodia had an echo of it!

 

The problem in our world is that ethnic hatreds and rivalries, the struggle to accept the ideas of pluralism and tolerance, the multiplicity and diversity of cultures, this is going to be one of the formative issues of the 21st Century for humanity!   We live in a period of dislocation and every once in awhile charismatic figures come along who have the easy ability to scapegoat individuals.  Will that create The Holocaust?  Perhaps not; but, will they create events that are tyrannical and destructive, that are mass-murderous and genocidal?  There is that capacity.

 

I believe that in the United States, if we remain faithful to the core American values; the idea of the equality of humanity, the separation of powers, checks and balances, absolute rights….. then bad things can happen in America; but, not a holocaust.

 

Roger:  If you were to define three or four primary warning signs that something like this might be in the beginning stages, what would the warning signs be?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  The warnings would be the significant erosion of human rights and human liberties, the idea that societies pull against each other instead of toward each other.

 

You know, it’s a very interesting thing; between 1929 and 1932 America lost 40 % of Gross National Product, as did Germany. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to power and told the American people that we need to turn toward each other and work with each other to get out of this morass.    Adolf Hitler cam to power and said we can blame it all on one party, let’s get rid of them and everything will be alright.  In times of dislocation, if you turn toward each other you get a very different response than if you turn against each other.

 

Let me tell you about what I’ve done in my post-museum life because I think that will also be of interest in the journey that you and your listeners are about to make.  I work with the survivors for the Shoah Foundation.  What we are doing is taping the testimony of 50,000 Holocaust survivors.  We’re taking video testimony and making it accessible in repositories throughout the country and, indeed, throughout the world.   Thus far, we  have taken the testimonies of 36,500 people which is the equivalent of 8-1/2 years worth of testimony of Holocaust survivors with the idea that each and every one of them has a very important story to tell.  Only by hearing the stories do you begin to piece together the magnitude of the event.

 

Roger:  Those will be available when?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  They’ll be available within a year in Washington at the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, in Los  Angeles at the Simon Wisenthal Center, in New York at the Museum of Jewish Heritage , in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem, and at the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University in New Haven.

 

Roger:  Will they be catalogued in a way that people can select issues?

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  They’ll be catlogued in a way that you can even access them through natural language.  You can ask a question and get a variety of answers.

 

Roger:  That’s wonderful!

 

Dr. Berenbaum:    The idea is to take all of this testimony and make it into a living language by which we can educate future generations.

 

Roger:     Dr. Berenbaum, I want to thank you very much for sharing this hour with us!  It’s been quite informative and you’ve kicked off something that I hope will be very special to people in this country and I greatly appreciate it!  Have a safe trip, my friend, and God Bless!

 

Dr. Berenbaum:  Thank you!  Goodbye!

 

Roger:  Alright, folks, that was Dr. Michael Berenbaum!  You can get his book and I hope you will.  It’s a fascinating book that really dispels a lot of the rumors that are creeping up on you in these really weird political circles.  Don’t fall for propaganda, people!  Stick with the facts, you’ll always do better!

 

I want to thank again, Chey Simonton and Kelleigh Nelson, for all the hard work and effort that they put into helping us find the right people to bring on this program.  I want to thank the Holocaust Museum.  Stay tuned for this series.  I think you’ll find it fascinating!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Transcription is from MP3 file converted from original cassette with minimal editing by

Chey Simonton- Errors, if any, may be due to unintelligible sections of original 1997 audio technology.  Unknown/unintelligible words are spelled phonetically.)