HOLOCAUST STORIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was born in New York City in 1949, just a few years after the end of WWII. My parents and grandparents, all Jewish, lived through WWII hearing horror stories about Jewish persecution and the concentration camps. They genuinely feared that if Germany won the war, a distinct possibility for much of the war, the ‘final solution’ for the Jews would spread all around the Nazi-controlled world. It was a scary time for everyone, but particularly for Jews, even in America.

My grandmother’s sister, Rachel had stayed in Russia, with one other sister, while her siblings and eventually her parents emigrated to the United States. They lived close to the western border, so when Hitler broke his pact with Russia and invaded, their town was one of the first to be taken. This was before the Russian army had even begun to mobilize. The Jews in their town were rounded up and put in the synagogue. The building was set on fire and anyone who tried to escape was shot.

Rachel’s oldest son was in school in Moscow at the time his family was murdered. After the war, organizations were formed all over the world to help Jews locate relatives and friends who were missing after the war. My grandmother spent years searching for her nephew, but no trace of him was ever found.

My grandmother as a young child (between her parents) with her siblings

My mother and grandmother were obsessed with the Holocaust when I was growing up. They read everything they could find on the persecution of Jews, and particularly about the concentration camps. I was given graphic books about the camps at around nine or ten years of age. Way too young, in my opinion.

But I also learned about the camps in another, more personal way. Two Czechoslovakian, identical twin sisters named Irina and Elena were good friends of my parents. They told us lots of stories about their time in concentration and work camps, including Auschwitz.

They were sixteen years old when they and their parents were put in overcrowded cattle cars, squashed together with other terrified Jews, and shipped to Auschwitz. They had no food, water or bathrooms for several days. People were crying and screaming. People got sick and died. The smells were unbearable. They arrived at the camp in horrible shape, physically as well as emotionally.

There was a line of Jews being processed into the camp. Dr. Joseph Mengele was at the front of the line with a whip which he used to indicate if a person should go to the left into the camp, or to the right, directly into the gas chambers.

He also picked people out of the line to be subjected to his horrible, sadistic ‘medical’ experiments – all done without anesthesia.

Dr. Josef Mengele, also called “The Angel of Death”

Irina and Elena tell how their lives were saved by a camp guard. The guard recognized that the girls were twins. He also knew that Dr. Mengele loved to do experiments on twins. This guard’s wife was also a twin so he took pity on the girls. He whispered to them that they should say that they were a year apart in age. Bewildered, the girls did as they were told and were sent to the camp, saving their lives. They also threw away their eyeglasses so they would be judged healthy and ready to work, thus avoiding the gas chamber.

I don’t remember all their stories about the camps. I remember that they were separated from their parents and didn’t know if they were even still alive till the end of the war. I also remember that a good friend of theirs, also a teenager, got sick. They tried to nurse her back to health. They even gave her part of their meager rations of food. But she died anyway and they were crushed.

They told us that they tried very hard to preserve some of their Jewish traditions – a reminder of life outside the camps. They feel this helped preserve their sanity and gave them the strength to survive. They and a few other friends would save up pieces of their daily bread so they could sneak off and have secret Shabbat ‘dinners’ and celebrate Passover at a makeshift Seder. They managed to find something to use as a tablecloth and maybe a candle, to make these celebrations as real as possible.

They were liberated by the Americans and the British at the end of the war. Miraculously, their parents survived (they had also been separated in the camp) and they were reunited. They were emaciated and weak and their heads had all been shaven. They went back to Czechoslovakia and began to recuperate and start a new life. Their hair began to grow back, which was a huge deal for the still young twins.

Tragically, Elena’s new life was cut short in 1948. She was arrested for being a communist, turned in by a ‘friend’. The Czech authorities shaved her head again and threw her into prison for another year. She had emotionally survived the camps but this was too much for her to handle. She had a complete mental breakdown in prison. She was mentally very fragile for the rest of her life. She went up and down emotionally and had many periods of serious meltdowns and crises. Her sister was at her side through all her problem periods, even when they lived in different parts of the world. They remained close the rest of their lives.

I made sure that my children understood the Holocaust, but in an age-appropriate way. When my daughter, Sarah, was around seven, we were in Germany and we visited the Dachau Concentration Camp, which is now a museum to the Holocaust. We answered any questions she had but didn’t push too much information on her. She came across a photo that got to her on a visceral level. It showed a child being torn away from its mother and the mother and child were frantically reaching for each other. Sarah was horrified when she realized that children were being separated from their parents. That’s what she could relate to at her age and it made an indelible impression on her.

Dachau Concentration Camp as a museum today

Both my children are adults now and know a lot about the Holocaust and World War II. Hopefully, they will make sure that their children never forget.

Hopefully, no one will forget.

HOLOCAUST EDUCATION – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Today is Tisha B’Av — a good day on which to talk about The Holocaust. Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning which commemorates the many tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people. It began yesterday evening and continues through today.


The Holocaust was a big deal in my house when I was growing up. I was born in 1949, just a few years after WWII ended. The Holocaust was fresh in Jewish people’s minds. Friends and relatives were still searching for people dislocated and lost in the chaos of the war. My grandmother still had hopes of finding a nephew who was at college in Moscow while the rest of the family was wiped out by the Nazis back home in Minsk.

Survivors of the camps were still being relocated and were just acclimating to normal life again. The State of Israel had just been created in 1948, which was a needed refuge for displaced Jews from all over the world.

I was lucky. Most of my family from Russia (on both sides) had already moved to the States when the war broke out. My grandmother’s sister and her family were the only ones in the immediate family who stayed in the old country. They, and all the other Jews that the Nazis could round-up, were locked in the local synagogue. It was set on fire. Anyone who ran out, was shot.

None of my immediate family were in concentration camps. But we knew people who were. Every Jew knew someone who knew someone. Two twin friends of the family, Irena and Elena, were from Czechoslovakia. They were fifteen when they entered Auschwitz and seventeen when they were liberated. Auschwitz was known for its inhuman medical experiments and tests on twins were one of their specialties. A camp guard saved our friends. He took pity on them because his wife was a twin. When they were being checked into the camp, he whispered to them to lie and say that they were a year apart in age. That spared them from a certain and gruesome death in the camp ‘laboratory.’

My mother and grandmother believed in “There but for the Grace of God go I”. They brought me up to feel that it was sheer luck that it was my grandmother who left Russia when she did. It could easily have been my branch of the family in that burning synagogue or in a concentration camp.

Armband Jews had to wear in Nazi occupied territory

Many Jews, even in America, didn’t feel totally safe, even after the war. Antisemitism was still rampant, all over the world. America had refused Jewish refugees during the war. America had also waited to enter the war after they learned about the extermination programs and the camps and refused to bomb the camps when they could have done so early in the war.

So my mother exposed me to Holocaust stories from an early age. When I was eleven, she considered me old enough to handle a graphic book on life in the concentration camps. So I knew all about families being separated. I knew about the cattle cars that transported people to the camps. I knew about the initial selection process – camp or gas chamber. I knew about the medical experiments and other forms of torture used on inmates on a daily basis. I knew about the daily possibility of random death that could come in many different forms. I knew about the starvation, the disease, the beatings. All this before I was twelve.

Concentration camp uniform with identification number

I used to lie in bed and plan what I would take with me if the knock came at the door in the middle of the night, to cart me away. I wondered if I would be the type of inmate who shared my food and tried to help others, or the selfish kind bent only on self-preservation.

I think my mother should have waited until I was older to burden me with the reality of man’s inhumanity to man. I think all this exacerbated my existing anxieties. I think it made me more fearful and left some serious scars to my psyche. I don’t recommend exposing young children to real life brutality. I didn’t let my young children watch horror movies or any kind of graphic violence. I didn’t even let them watch Bambi since I was traumatized when I saw that movie.

Concentration Camp

But I did become a passionate advocate of “Never Again!” I made sure my kids, when they were older, understood what the Holocaust meant in human terms. They will tell their children about the atrocities perpetrated in WWII. I talk to my non-Jewish friends about it and make sure that they understand it on a visceral level. I live the saying, “Never Forget!” That is the first step towards “Never Again!”

There just may have been a better way to mold me – when I was old enough to handle it. If we are ever old enough to wrap our heads around the horror of the Holocaust.

COLLATERAL DAMAGE: D-DAY’S 72nd ANNIVERSARY

Memorial Day has come and gone. We brought out the barbecue and flipped a few burgers. Today, along with many other countries, we observe the anniversary of D-Day, a day to honor our military heroes, war veterans, and all soldiers living and dead.

War is more than battles, invasion, victories, and defeats. War is ultimately about destruction. The annihilation of nations. Laying waste to the lands where wars are fought. The slaughter of millions of civilians, young, old, and in between. All the war casualties who never wore a uniform and probably didn’t carry guns. There are no medals for them. No parades. No holidays. They’re just gone.

Most of these casualties — collateral damage — were people living uneventful lives until by ill fortune, they were caught in the backwash of war. Wrong place, wrong time. Wrong race, wrong religion. Believed the wrong stuff, belonged to the wrong political party. Espoused an unacceptable philosophy.

The demagogues who lead the wars usually escape its wrath. They are talkers, not fighters.

I honor our soldiers. It’s an ugly, dangerous, and often thankless job. But I think we need to remember the unlucky millions caught on a battlefield they called home.

The number of military and civilian casualties in World War I totaled more than 37 million including 16 million dead and 20 million wounded. It ranks among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Entente Powers (the Allies) lost close to 6 million soldiers. The Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million civilians died from disease. Six million went missing and are presumed dead. American military deaths total 53,402.

World War II fatality statistics vary depending on who and how they are being counted. The estimates of  total dead range from 50 million to more than 70 million, making it the deadliest war in world history in absolute terms —  total dead — but not in terms of deaths relative to the world population. Our American Civil War holds that distinction.

Civilians killed totaled from 40 to 52 million, including 13 to 20 million from war-related disease and famine. Total military dead range in estimate from 22 to 25 million. These numbers include deaths in military prison camps — about 5 million prisoners of war.

Death Camps

In addition to soldiers and collaterally killed civilians, between 3 and 4 million Jews were murdered in Nazi death camps. In the USSR, the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing groups slaughtered another 1.4 million Jews. Jewish deaths in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe total around 700,000. Yad Vashem has identified the names of four million Jewish Holocaust dead.

Not merely was European Jewry wiped out, but Jewish culture was utterly destroyed. The Nazis were very thorough and highly efficient. They set out to destroy the Jews and they succeeded.

Although the Holocaust specifically targeted Jews, it did not target only Jews.

Roma (Gypsies), handicapped person, political prisoners, intellectuals, ethnic Poles, and Slavs were slaughtered too, bringing the total number of Holocaust victims to between 11 and 17 million.

At least 1 million people died in wartime gulags or by deportation. Other wartime deaths resulted from malnutrition and disease. Both Stalin and Hitler were responsible for these deaths. The biggest mass murderers in human history may never have personally killed anyone. They had others to do the job for them.


Now that national demagoguery is back in vogue, are Americans going to be the next mass murderers? The kind of rhetoric I’m hearing cannot help remind me (and I’m sure lots of other people) of other murderous demagogues and the slaughters they perpetrated.

In tallying up the costs of war, soldiers are not the only casualties. “Collateral damage” sounds so benign, a kind of verbal cleansing. But no matter what you call it, the dead remain dead.

A PAINFULLY DIFFERENT HISTORY – POSTWAR, TONY JUDT –

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
by Tony Judt – Audiobook

Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort. This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had the beginning of a grip on the material.

Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretense of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is truly neutral. Every historian has an agenda, a point to make. Whether or not he or she puts it up front is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she feels strongly about it. All history is changed, shaped, slanted by the historians who write it.

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...

Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched antisemitism, xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.

After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of  the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.

Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.

If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European antisemitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach churning. Pretty lies are easier to handle than ugly reality.

It’s easy to understand why so much of what we know is wrong. That’s they way we were taught. If we took the courses in school, we learned the “official version” of how the world was made.

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 cover

Even though I know more history than most civilians, I didn’t grasp the impact of these post WW 2 years — until Postwar.

I assumed, having lived these decades and followed news, that I knew what happened. I didn’t. What is reported by media barely scratches the surface.

The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of war to a modern European union is far more complex and far-reaching than I knew. These changes affect all of us directly and personally. I will never see the world the way I did before reading Postwar.

I read Postwar on paper, then listened to the audio version. It’s available from Audible.com. I recommend it to anyone with easily tired eyes because it is a very long book, no matter how you read it. The audio version has excellent narration. It a fine platform for the author’s conversational writing style.

Postwar is analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see our modern world the same way.

A different history — Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Tony Judt

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
by Tony Judt
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.29

Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort. This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had a grip on the material.

Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretence of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is really neutral. Every historian has an agenda. Whether or not he or she puts it out there for all to see is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she has an opinion about it. All history is slanted, changed by the historians who write it.

Mussolini (left) and Hitler sent their armies ...

Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched anti-Semitism, xenophobia and ethnocentricity.

Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.

After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of  the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.

Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.

If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European anti-Semitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach churning. Pretty lies are easier to deal with than ugly reality. It’s easy to understand why so much of what we know is wrong.

Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 cover

Even though I knew history, I didn’t grasp the impact of these years until Postwar made it real. I assumed, having lived these decades and followed the news, I knew what happened. I was wrong. What is reported by American media barely scratches the surface. The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of war to a modern European union is more extensive, complex and far-reaching than I knew. These changes affect all of us directly and personally. My understanding of current events is far better because of this book.

I read Postwar on paper, then listened to the audio version. Available from Audible.com, I recommend it to anyone with easily tired eyes. It has excellent narration and is a fine showcase for the author’s conversational writing style.

Postwar is analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, totally worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see Europe the same way.

– – –

The Porcelain Unicorn – A Miniature Movie

unicornThe back story (thanks to Sharla  at catnipoflife). Usually I reblog such posts, but posts with embedded video don’t reblog or scoop properly.

British film director Sir Ridley Scott created an international film making contest titled “Tell It Your Way.” More than 600 aspiring directors entered.

Release Date – August 2010
Genre – Historical / Drama
Awards – Grand prize winner of the Philips Parallel Lines ‘Tell It Your Way’ international competition.

Starring – Trevor Teichmann, Fiona Perry
Directed By – Keegan Wilcox
Screenplay By  – Keegan Wilcox
Produced By – Anselm Clinard

The requirements were that the  film could be a maximum 3 minutes long, contain no more than six lines of dialogue or narrative, and present a compelling story. The winner was  “Porcelain Unicorn” from American director Keegan Wilcox.

It presents a lyrical, touching story of an act of conscience and kindness of a boy  to a girl in a time a great peril … and their reunion many years later.

To me, it’s the story of how a single act of conscience can change the course of lives. If this little movie doesn’t touch your heart, I don’t know what will.

Collateral Damage

 

Another anniversary of D-Day just passed. In case you didn’t notice, it was June 6, just a couple of weeks ago. We celebrate battles, invasion and victories. We honor our fighting men, our veterans and our departed soldiers. War is not really about battle, nor even about the men who fight on the battlefields, living and dead. It’s about the destruction of nations, the loss of millions of civilians of all ages and both sexes. All the casualties of war who never wore a uniform and probably didn’t carry guns.

We don’t have a holiday for them. They’re just dead.

Most of these were ordinary people living uneventful lives until by bad luck or ill fortune, they were caught in the backwash of war. In the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong race, wrong religion. Believed the wrong stuff, belonged to the wrong political party. Espoused an unacceptable philosophy.

The elderly, mothers, and children whose lives were lost as cities were bombed or as warring factions took the high ground, conquered the city, laid siege to the castle are no less dead than the soldiers who fought.

How ironic. The demagogues who lead us into wars manage to escape unscathed. Their job is to make pronouncement about the justness of the cause for which we are currently killing one another. God is on their side. Apparently God is on every side; every leader who takes his people to war says so. I don’t know that the dead would agree. What kind of god sanctions war?

I honor our soldiers. It’s an ugly, dangerous, and often thankless job. But I would also like to honor all the others, the people swept up in events beyond their control, caught in the midst of a battlefield that was once their home.

The Bottom Line

The number of military and civilian casualties in World War I totaled more than 37 million including 16 million dead and 20 million wounded. It ranks among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians. The Entente Powers (the Allies) lost close to 6 million soldiers. The Central Powers lost about 4 million. At least 2 million civilians died from disease. Six million went missing and are presumed dead.

American military deaths total 53,402.

World War II fatality statistics vary depending on who and how they are being counted. The estimates of  total dead range from 50 million to more than 70 million, making it the deadliest war in world history in absolute terms —  total dead — but not in terms of deaths relative to the world population. Our American Civil War holds that distinction.

Civilians killed totaled from 40 to 52 million, including 13 to 20 million from war-related disease and famine. Total military dead range in estimate from 22 to 25 million. These numbers include deaths in military prison camps — about 5 million prisoners of war.  American military deaths came to 291,55

Death Camps

 

In addition to soldiers and collaterally killed civilians, between 3 and 4 million Jews were murdered in Nazi death camps. In the USSR, the Einsatzgruppen mobile killing groups slaughtered another 1.4 million Jews. Jewish deaths in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe total around 700,000. Yad Vashem has identified the names of four million Jewish Holocaust dead.

Not merely was European Jewry wiped out, but Jewish culture was utterly destroyed. The Nazis were very thorough and highly efficient. They set out to destroy the Jews and they succeeded.

Although the Holocaust specifically targeted Jews, it did not target only Jews.

Roma (Gypsies), handicapped person, political prisoners, intellectuals, ethnic Poles, and Slavs were also slaughtered to the betterment of the Aryan races. This brings the total number of Holocaust victims to between 11 million and 17 million souls.

 

  • Roma: Most estimates of Roma (Gypsy) victims range from 130,000 to 500,000. It might easily be more, but Roma population records were incomplete.
  • Handicapped persons: 200,000 to 250,000 handicapped persons were victims of Nazi Euthanasia.  A 2003 report by the German Federal Archive put the total murdered during the Action T4 and “14f13” euthanasia programs at 200,000.
  • Prisoners of War: POW deaths in Nazi captivity totaled 3.1 million including 2.6 to 3 million Soviet prisoners of war.
  • Ethnic Poles: 1.8 to 1.9 million ethnic Polish civilians were victims during the German occupation. in Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles.
  • Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians: According to Nazi ideology, Slavs were useless and sub-human. As such, their leaders, the Soviet élite, were to be killed and the remainder of the population enslaved or expelled further eastward. As a result of these racist fantasies, millions of civilians in the Soviet Union were deliberately killed, starved, or worked to death. Civilian deaths in the Nazi occupied USSR are believed to total 13.7 million people, including 2 million Jews. An additional 2.6 million fatalities took place in the interior of the Soviet Union. The scope for error in this number is wide. It could be much higher, but is unlikely to be lower..

At least 1 million people died in wartime GULAGs or as a result of deportation. Other deaths took place during wartime evacuations from malnutrition and disease in the interior. Both Stalin and Hitler were responsible for these deaths. You don’t have to hold the gun and pull the trigger to kill someone.

The biggest mass murderers in human history may never have personally killed anyone. They did not have to bloody their hands. That was the job of others.

When I see people slinging the word “Nazi” around on Facebook and other social media, I wonder if they have any idea what they are talking about. I remember my entire family — except the lucky few who had emigrated to the US were murdered.

Every European family member disappeared. About 75 members of my extended family were in touch with American relatives before the war. None was ever seen or heard from after it.

In tallying up the costs of war, it’s good to remember that soldiers are not the only casualties. Maybe we need another holiday to remember the rest of the victims.