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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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 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.
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:
- The actions of individuals and groups in defense of their own lives and human dignity.
- Participation, as I did, participation in partisan war was waged on Polish and Soviet soil against the Nazis.
- Underground activities in cities and ghettos. We had many, many varied underground activities.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
- He killed 12,000,000 in the concentration camps and they weren’t all Jews!
- 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!
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.”
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!
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?
Roger: You’d be speaking German today, Brian!
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!
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!
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
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!
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
- Hatred: By that he means bigotry or prejudice. It could be religious, political or social. Hate propaganda.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.