Q & A's.
Throughout the 15 years of Oskar speaking about his experiences in the Holocaust, students have asked multiple follow-up questions after his presentations.
Oskar has written answers to all of them as he wanted to keep students engaged and let them know their questions are what keep the importance of Holocaust education alive. Below is a large sample of the questions and answers for you to explore.
Before the Holocaust
Q: Where were you born in Germany?
A: I was born in 1925 and lived in Leipzig (Saxony), Germany until my family and I moved to Krakow, Poland in 1936.
Q: Did you have a normal childhood before the war started?
A: Up until the age of 7 my childhood was great and seemed like a promising bright future. Then for 4 years my family and I lost all that is considered normal because we went from happiness to emptiness. From mid-1936 through August 30, 1939, I was able to experience a normal childhood but only to lose it once more. The following 6 years robbed me and other survivors of our childhood and teenage years. However, we were the lucky ones as a million and a half Jewish children were murdered during World War II.
Q: Did you have many friends when you were younger that were not Jewish?
A: Almost all my friends were non-Jews before the war. We all appreciated each other and were good friends. Our different religions never came into question.
Q: Do you remember who your best childhood friend was?
A: My best friend was Zbigniew Mankewicz and we became friends at 11 years old. He came from a strict Catholic family and we were in the same classes while attending school in Kraków, Poland. Our friendship ended abruptly when my family and I were forced to move to the Ghetto in March 1941. I never saw Zbigniew again.
Q: What was your favorite sport as a child?
A: While growing up in Leipzig, Germany I was a member of a soccer team. My teammates were great and the coaches liked me. I was a good soccer player and loved the days we practiced and played until one day I was told I could no longer play because I was a “dirty” Jew. The week prior they invited us all in with open arms as they did for years. Hitler was a master manipulator and ruled by fear, repetition of lies, and a never-ending need of power.
Q: As a child, did you ever imagine anything like the Holocaust would happen?
A: As children, growing up in Leipzig Germany, my family as well as all Jewish people could not have imagined such a monumental murderous calamity like the Holocaust happening. We were happy, accepted, and “clean”. I add the word “clean” because Hitler and his goons spread lies that all Jews were “dirty” and evil. As if all people from one race are always dirty.
Q: How old were you when things began to change?
A: In 1932 I was 7 years old and the situation regarding Jews slowly started to change. The word “Jew” suddenly was being referenced very rudely in a way that I had not heard before. It continued into 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. After that, life for the Jewish people in Germany became intolerable.
During the Holocaust
Q: Did any of your friends turn on you?
A: Yes, Gunter, my next-door neighbor, turned on me, and so did all my classmates in Leipzig, Germany. Most of my friends were not Jewish, so yes, our friendships ended. They were not allowed to be my friend and it was disappointing and painful not to have friends anymore. That is what Nazi brainwashing did to children and adults.
Q: How did it feel to be suddenly turned on by people who were close to you?
A: At first, it was unbelievable, and then I became sad and depressed because it was as if the whole world rejected my family and me.
Q: How did it feel to be hated by so many people for no reason at all?
A: Well, the Nazis and followers' reason was that Jews were dirty, liars, evil, thieves…you name the negative trait or character, and somehow all of us Jews were guilty whether you were one year old or 99 years old. I had wonderful friends and neighbors, we had known for years, turn on us. We had just as nice clothes and showed respect to our elders and friends, but somehow we turned into the “dirty Jews” in only 1 week. To know that these were all lies was very uncomfortable and very scary because there was no legitimate reason to hate us.
Q: How did Jewish people in Germany earn money since they all were fired from their jobs?
A: Immediately after the Nazis seized power in 1933, discrimination and violence against Jews were rampant. The government encouraged Jews to leave the country, so by the start of World War II, in 1939, some 250,000 of Germany's 440,000 Jews emigrated. For the remaining German Jews, life became a nightmare. They not only lost their jobs and businesses but also were stripped of their German citizenship. To survive, Jews had to sell most of their personal possessions. Many Jewish families saved money and hid their savings at home rather than keep in a bank which was an excellent idea. Eventually, the Nazis froze and then confiscated all Jewish bank accounts. However, it didn’t matter by then because the remaining German Jews who had not already been killed were in concentration or sub-camps waiting for the “final solution,” which was to annihilate the Jewish people.
Q: How did the anti-Jewish laws affect you?
A: In 1933, the Nazi government issued new anti-Jewish laws bi-weekly. We tried to adapt as fast as we could, but more and more laws kept coming at an alarming rate, and eventually, it became too difficult to know what was allowed and what wasn’t allowed. When Jews were finally declared “Sub-Human” by the Nazi Government, all those laws didn’t matter any longer because, at that point, the blanket law was that Jews no longer had freedom or rights to anything. We endured 3 years of our daily existence being a constant struggle until the day we left Leipzig, Germany, in 1936 to move to Krakow, Poland.
Q: How did they figure out you were Jewish?
A: It was not difficult at all to identify Jews. Every citizen had a birth certificate with vital information that included his or her religion. Soon after Hitler became Chancellor, every Jew in Germany had their ID stamped with a huge letter J, so if stopped, there would be no mistaking who was a Jew and who was not. We were forced to wear the Star of David armbands in Poland, making life even harder because an armband is in plain sight. It was a big red target for harassment as I was bullied harshly by both children and adults simply walking down the street. If you were caught not wearing an armband, a Nazi could shoot you on site.
Q: Were there any other Jewish students in your class?
A: In Leipzig, Germany, I was the only Jewish student in my class. In Krakow, Poland, 3 of us were Jewish out of 29 students.
Q: Why were there only some Jews at your school? Were any other schools available with more Jewish students? If so, why didn’t you go?
A: Leipzig, Germany, where we lived before moving to Poland, was a huge metropolitan city. Schools did not provide any transportation for students, so you attended the school within walking distance from your house. There were a few Jewish families in our neighborhood and only a handful of Jewish students in my school. Even if we had gone to another school with more Jewish students, it would not have made any difference. The treatment would have been the same.
Q: Why did the Nazi Party teach your classmates lies?
A: The “National Socialist Party,” better known as the “Nazi Party,” insisted on teaching all school children lies about the Jews through a new curriculum created by The Nazi Department of Education, called “The Jewish Question in Education.” Their goal was to implant hate deep into the hearts of their youth. Using “Hate the Jews” propaganda, the Nazis prevailed successfully for twelve years.
Q: How did you react and feel when the schoolbook taught students how to hate Jews was handed out at school? Did the teachers read it out loud to the students?
A: It was shocking and frustrating. The teacher would read first, followed by students reading out loud. I sat in the back of the room and had to listen to this book full of lies. As a student who was not allowed to participate in school activities, I had no right to complain or react since no one would listen to my complaints. When my parents complained, the teachers told them that we shouldn't return if they didn’t like how we were being treated. That was when we lost all hope, and we chose to stay home for our safety. I was sad as I loved learning and going to school.
Q: Why did you not go back to school?
A: Every child should be allowed to go to school without exception. Our parents hoped that perhaps the severe rules imposed by the Nazis, including all Jews sitting in the back of the room and not participating, would be overturned. Still, it never did, and we had to stay home eventually for our safety. When the war ended, I was 19 and had missed junior high and high school. I needed to support myself and help my family, so I began working as soon as possible.
Q: Were there any non-Jewish friends that remained friendly with you after the teachers taught lessons about hating Jews.
A: Unfortunately, no, as they joined the Hitler Youth and were not allowed to associate with Jews.
Q: Why were you targeted as someone to kill in the Holocaust?
A: Being Jewish automatically made me a target in the Holocaust. Hitler and the German Nazi Party hated Jews, and their ultimate plan was to exterminate Jews worldwide. The Nazis succeeded in murdering six million Jews, of which one and a half million were children.
Q: What type of places were you banned from?
A: Nazi Germany made it very clear to the Jewish population that they did not want us anywhere. Most stores, if not all, had signs that said, “Jews Stay Out” and “Entry to Jews Forbidden.” But it did not end at stores. We were banned from restaurants, movie theaters, parks, and Jews had to sit in the back when using public transportation until eventually, we were all rounded up to be put in camps. When I moved from Canada to St. Augustine, FL, in the 1950s, I saw many of these “forbidden” signs against the African American community. It made me very angry, and I did all that I could to advocate and befriend this community. Being an UPSTANDER to those in need is how we bring empowerment and love to one another.
Q: What were some of the names people called you?
A: Most of the time, I was called “dirty Jew,” but I remember “You are the devil’s cousin,” “You Jew thief,” and many more explicit names that I will not mention.
Q: Why did the Nazis think you and your family were monsters?
A: Most German people did not think Jews were monsters until the Nazi Party came to power. The Nazis began a poisonous campaign against the Jews. Inventing outrageous lies and accusing the Jews of Germany's and the world's misfortunes. They accused the Jews of every possible crime and told the German people that the Jews would pay for all this with their lives! They repeated all those lies until the German citizens believed what the Nazi party was telling them. It was all PROPAGANDA!
Q: Why didn't your family and all Jews move to another country or run away when they could have after realizing the Nazis and Hitler were taking over?
A: Those are excellent questions that need to be explained. To start, each European country had its borders very closely watched. To move from one country to another, a person needed an exit visa to leave the country and needed an entry visa into the country they wanted to go to. Visas were issued by a yearly quota and were extremely hard to come by as not many were approved. Additionally, visas could sometimes take a year or more to receive. The applicants were often denied visas, especially if they were Jewish, so leaving Germany was almost impossible. As for just running away in the night, a person or a family would have to arrange for a place to hide. Very few non-Jews were willing to give shelter and risk the lives of themselves and family because if caught, they would all be killed. All options to leave were either difficult or impossible to do, making it easier for the Nazis to find, capture, and kill all Jews, which was their “final solution.”
Q: Do you know what happened to Gunter (a childhood friend who turned on you and joined the Nazi youth)?
A: No, I do not know what happened to Gunter.
Q: How did your friends react when you started wearing the Star of David?
A: Jews in occupied Poland were ordered to wear the Star of David as early as 1940. The German law required Jews to be identified from the rest of the Polish population but did not specifically forbid Polish non-Jew citizens from associating with Jews. However, the law enforced the rule that helping Jews in any way would be punishable by death or banishment to a concentration camp, so this made most Polish non-Jewish citizens want to stay away from us. The behavior of all my friends was different as some were embarrassed or scared to be seen with me while others didn't care.
Q: Did you make any friends during the war?
A: Yes, his name was Szymeck. We met at the farm I worked at during the war, and we also worked together in the sub-camp, Pomorska. After the war, he emigrated to Australia.
Q: Did Hitler kill and give all Nazi soldiers approval to kill children?
A: Yes, Hitler’s soldiers killed all children, from Jewish babies to young teenagers, as well as every age above. Hitler and the Nazis wanted all Jews eliminated because, remember, the Nazis spread lies that all Jews were “dirty and criminals.” How people can believe one or two negative aspects define a whole race is beyond me. Sadly, children could not do the work the Nazis needed and thus were considered useless, so the children were killed. The only reason some Jews were allowed to live was to work as slave laborers.
Q: How old was Hitler when this happened?
A: Hitler was 49 years old in 1939 when World War II started. Frankly, I wish he had never been born.
Q: Did you ever hear Hitler give a speech?
A: It was almost impossible not to hear him speak. His speeches, as a rule, were compelling and long. Speeches given by Hitler or any other Nazi of importance were transmitted through amplified speakers to be heard by all German citizens.
Q: Did you ever meet or see Hitler?
A: No, but my sister did. Soon after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, a situation happened which brought my sister Ilse face to face with him. While Ilse was recuperating from a foot operation, Hitler, surrounded by an entourage of other Nazi party members, visited the hospital ward. Ilse told us he went from bed to bed, extending his hand as he read each girl’s posted identification information. He shook hands and smiled as he moved from patient to patient. He came toward Ilse with his hand extended, but he suddenly pulled his hand away as he read her identification card. His face reddened, and he became furious, demanding she be removed at once from the ward and hospital. He screamed at the doctors and staff for allowing a “Jew” to contaminate the “purity” of Germany’s future womanhood! Ilse was instantly wheeled out to the street and left alone in front of the hospital, where she sat, waiting for my parents to pick her up. Also, because of Hitler’s reaction and demand for her removal, the doctors had terminated Ilse’s foot therapy to help her through her post-surgery and recovery period.
Q: Did you hate the Nazis and their German followers?
A: During the war, I hated them. Now, after a lifetime of reflection, I have decided to take the word “hate” out of my vocabulary because it is what started the war. I present my story so the Holocaust never happens again. Also, I focus on the love and support I have from family and friends and find reasons to smile and laugh every day because that is what life is all about. Happiness is and always will be a stronger emotion than hate.
Q: Did you ever see a copy of Mein Kampf's (My Struggle) Hitler’s bible?
A: First of all, it was not a bible. Hitler’s supporters would buy his book, Mein Kampf, and like a bible, they would leave it lying about in the parlor/living room just as they did with their religious bibles. It was a book filled with outrageous lies.
Q: Did you ever lose hope when everything seemed to be falling apart? What did you do to keep from breaking down all the time?
A: Yes, it was easy to lose hope, and it happened frequently. Our parents always assured us by saying, “Perhaps today was a bad day, but tomorrow will be a much better day.” Those few words were always very encouraging, even if tomorrow was not the promised “good day.” I have learned that with a little prayer and believing in yourself, anything is possible.
Q: Did your life depend on your actions?
A: Most of us have been taught to be accountable for the actions we take. I strongly believe this to be valuable advice. Keeping this advice in mind, it is wise to look before you leap by choosing your decisions and actions carefully to make the right choices. When one is in a life-threatening situation, whether you live or die does depend on the actions you take and the surrounding circumstances. Your actions, attitude, inner strength, courage, respect, and luck were all parts of my survival. It is essential to assess the circumstance and then act accordingly using the right tools. Remember, you are always accountable for your actions. Don’t forget, words do matter.
Q: How did you find hope in a time of extreme despair and anxiety?
A: In desperate times, our human nature always looks for help. In my case, the constant support, spiritual guidance, and assurance of my parents and siblings, as well as strangers who supported me in dire times, were priceless.
Q: How did you let out what you felt? Did you keep a Journal?
A: The dire situation we Jews found ourselves in was bleak and hopeless. The frustrations we vented all fell on deaf ears. I could not bring myself to believe that my short life would come to a sudden end and that no one would ever know that I was once a member of this human race. Our parents taught us the importance of hope, courage, tolerance, and respect and how these words can make a difference when confronted in a demanding situation. So instead of voicing discontent and anger, it was by far more beneficial to believe in courage and hope.
Q: How did your attitude change in World War II?
A: At dawn on September 1, 1939, World War II started with a bang that woke up all of Krakow. I was fourteen years old. Four weeks later, Germany occupied Poland, and from that day until our liberation, our lives as human beings ceased to exist. On January 18, 1945, my siblings and I were liberated by the Soviet Army in Krakow, Poland. We suddenly realized that we had no home to go to or a country to stay in. Our dad had been murdered months before our liberation, and we did not know the whereabouts of our mother. Finally, in June 1945, we were reunited with our mother in Krakow to find her skin and bones. I emerged out of the Holocaust, completely equipped with all the tools I needed to build my new life. The main tools I used to achieve my goals were respect, tolerance, love, and hope expressed with optimism and clarity, and I tried to maintain a positive attitude in my daily life. These tools can help anyone succeed with one more important ingredient, which is EDUCATION. I saw firsthand what hate could do, so I got rid of hate, negativity, and intolerance. I also recognized that lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories could be horrible weapons. Being on the receiving end of bullying, I knew I would never bully anyone, and if I saw someone being bullied, I would be an UPSTANDER, not a bystander. As I began to rebuild my new life, I realized that I couldn’t do it by myself. This is very important if you want to succeed in your goals. Sometimes it will be strangers who give you a hand, so I always continue to get along with people, accept them, befriend them, and find that my work was much easier to accomplish. Someone once said, “Only together we can achieve the impossible.” It’s so true!
Q: How were you able to endure so much pain?
A: A human body can withstand a great deal of physical and mental abuse. When one is exposed to a situation where your life becomes a disposable commodity, it quickly engages the survivor’s instinct. I was determined not to forfeit the precious gift of life. I shut out the daily misery and pain and forced myself to start thinking positively. My mom’s words, “tomorrow will be a better day,” and my dad’s words, “stay strong,” echoed in my head throughout the war. I learned to live one day at a time and never to lose sight of hope.
Q: What made you strive to live?
A: I was a member of a race of people condemned to exist by a Government that ruled with absolute power. I could not fight because there were no weapons, and I could not speak out because I was a Jew with no rights. I strived to live because I had done nothing wrong. My crime, according to the Nazis, was being born a Jew. I felt I had just as many rights as my former friend Gunter, who joined the Nazi youth, to grow up and have a future. The Nazi ideology was insane, and I was determined to do whatever it took to live. I realized that the only allies I could rely on were my family and myself. Advice from my parents, which all of us remembered, kept us alive. We needed to listen to our inner voices, analyze the situation, stay calm, and show no fear. If engaged in a dialog, say as little as possible and show respect.
Q: Would you have treated the Germans differently if the Jewish people had been in power?
A: People, regardless of what nationalities, should be treated with respect and dignity. So, whether or not the Jewish people would have been in power, I would have treated the Germans with dignity, respect, and tolerance because that is how our parents raised us to be and act.
Q: Were you scared when you had to go to Poland?
A: No, I was not scared. In fact, I was looking forward to starting a new adventure full of freedom. Sadly, in just a few years, World War II would follow us when Germany invaded and occupied Poland.
Q: How old were you when you moved to Poland?
A: I was 11 years old.
Q: Did you play any sports in Poland?
A: In Krakow, Poland, I played soccer for my school team.
Q: When Hitler came to Poland, why didn’t you leave too as you did when Hitler invaded Germany?
A: This would have been a good idea. Most Jews would have left Poland and all of the other European countries that Hitler invaded, but there was one huge problem as to where to go. To immigrate to another country, a person had to get an official document called an “entry visa.” Most countries worldwide did not want to issue those papers, especially to Jewish people, and without that entry, visa immigration was impossible, which is why we could not leave Poland.
Q: How did it feel not to have freedom?
A: The Nuremberg Laws issued by Nazi Germany were systematically introduced into our daily lives. As soon as we got used to one strict order that created a miserable existence, a new and usually more severe order would be served. It continued relentlessly, each time squeezing a little more out of us. We had to adjust and cope with it. I was angry but realized quickly that anger became a counterproductive liability, so we all learned to cope with not having freedom.
Q: How did you feel when you heard the planes flying overhead? What did you do?
A: It was terrifying! German bombers flew over our rooftops, releasing bombs, and our apartment house would shake from the vibration of the explosions around us. One time we went to the bomb shelter built several months before because the Polish government mandated each family to do this in anticipation of a German attack. After several days of bombings, my family headed east with thousands of other Polish citizens in hopes to outrun the invading German Army.
Q: If you were not Jewish, would you have stood up for a Jewish citizen?
A: The implication of such a confrontation would have resulted in instant death for both the accused and the defender. However, if I wanted to protect and help my friend, I would have used other more effective means. For example, finding hiding places or providing new ID’s which in many cases were quite successful.
Q: What was your biggest fear of being a Jew?
A: Hitler and his Nazi party sentenced all European Jews to death. The killing of the Jews was progressing with each day as we were losing family members and friends. My biggest fear was asking myself, “When will it be my and my family's turn to die?” I lived with this thought in my head every second of every minute of every day for the entire war.
Q: Would you have moved to a different country other than Poland if you could go back?
A: No, my parents moved us to Poland for a reason. When the Nazis told us to leave, my father moved us to Poland because he was a Polish citizen. We also had relatives living in Poland, which made our move a good choice. At this point and time, no one knew how bad things would get for Jews in all European countries.
Q: Would the Germans kill Hispanic people too?
A: While occupying Europe during World War II, the Germans were killing Poles, Checks, French, Dutch, Romanians, Yugoslavians, Russians, Hungarians, Greeks, and their own German citizens by the thousands and millions, and of course, the Germans succeeded in killing 6 million Jews. I suspect they would have conquered and killed Mexican people as well if they had gotten as far as South America.
Q: Did the Jews know what was going to happen when they entered the Ghetto?
A: Not at first, but after a few weeks, it became evident that the Germans would eliminate the Jewish population in one way or another. Be it by working them to total exhaustion, starving them to death, shooting and gassing until all Jews were gone.
Q: Did you have any breaks when you worked in the Ghetto?
A: Yes, sometimes, if we got a break, it was always on a Sunday.
Q: How long were you in the Ghetto? How old were you when you went to the Ghetto?
A: I was almost 15 years old when my family and I were forced to leave our home to live in the Ghetto for two years. The Krakow Ghetto was established on March 20, 1941, and was liquidated on March 13, 1943. During those two years, I spent about six months on Sondermann's farm. After the Ghettos liquidation, I spent the rest of the war at sub-camp Pomorska in Krakow. On January 17, 1945, my sister, brother, and I escaped from Pomorska and were liberated by the Soviets on January 18, 1945.
Q: How many families lived in the Ghetto apartment?
A: We lived with two other families in a small three-bedroom apartment, one family in each bedroom for a total of 12 people.
Q: How many men did you work with at the trash location?
A: We were assigned five to one wagon, six countings Jasiek the horse handler.
Q: Is the Ghetto you lived in still there?
A: It is not a Ghetto anymore. After Poland regained their territories, they removed the 9-foot-tall walls, refurbished the buildings over the years, and Polish citizens slowly moved back to that section.
Q: Was it hard for you to be in the Ghetto?
A: Yes, it was! Jewish citizens were ordered and forced to live in close quarters and threatened that Nazis would shoot them immediately if they didn't comply with the orders. Also, the Ghetto conditions were deplorable.
Q: Were the rooms in the Ghetto tiny?
A: Housing construction in old Europe was based on minimizing square footage per room, making rooms small. The average room size in ghetto dwellings was about 10x10 to 10x12 feet.
Q: Were you ever caught not having the Star of David on your arm?
A: I took a chance not wearing it once and was caught. I was fortunate to have gotten away without punishment. It is a long story which I tell about in my book, “A Boy’s Story A Man’s” Memory Surviving the Holocaust 1933-1945.
Q: What kind of work would the Nazis make you do in the Ghetto?
A: The Germans established workshops in the Ghetto where Jews were forced to work as tailors to sew uniforms, boot and shoemakers, carpenters, and workers to make pots and pans. The health and sanitation department removed garbage and swept the Ghetto's streets. I was one of many who worked loading garbage onto horse-drawn wagons. All this work was forced labor for which we did not get paid.
Q: Were you skinny when you came out of the ghetto?
A: There was very little food to eat, and I had grown taller, so yes, I was skinny.
Q: What did you do in the Ghetto other than work? Did you have any friends?
A: Work in the Ghetto was hard, long, and every day of the week. Frankly, we were too tired to do anything but rest. However, we made friends in the first month or two, which was nice, but it was painful and sad when those friends suddenly kept disappearing during mass deportations to concentration or death camps. We simply stopped getting close to people.
Q: In your opinion, do you think the Nazis made a smart choice by putting you in the Ghetto?
A: Depending on whose point of view. The Jewish people certainly did not want to be forced to live in the Ghetto. However, the Nazi regime made this choice to achieve some of its objectives. First, by separating the Jews from the Polish population, they proved their propaganda of dirty Jews to be true, which one would believe since we were made to live like animals. Second, since the Jews were in such a small area, they had a constant inventory of every man, woman, and child. Third, Jewish labor was free, so it was effortless for the Germans to come at any time and take Ghetto dwellers to do work for them. Lastly, The Ghetto provided easy access for the Nazis to transport Jews to death camps. So, yes, for the Germans, it was a smart choice to create Jewish Ghettos.
Q: What kinds of work were you forced to do off and on?
A: Each day was different. I helped with loading and unloading railroad boxcars, worked for German military bases or installations, swept streets in the summer, and cleared the streets of snow and ice in the winter with shovels. I worked in factories, hospitals, and on farms. I was transported by army trucks that the Nazis always guarded. In the beginning, I had so many different jobs in different places that it would be impossible to list all of them. Eventually, I was assigned to the garbage removal detail in the Ghetto. After the final Ghetto liquidation, the Nazis sent me to Pomorska Gestapo headquarters, where I spent the next year and ten months working until my liberation.
Q: What was the Ghetto like?
A: A Prison! The Krakow Ghetto was established in a small area that about 3,500 Polish citizens occupied. The Ghetto consisted of about 300 buildings. Once the Ghetto was deemed ready, over 20,000 Jews were forced to live there in the same 300 buildings! The Nazis built a brick wall around the Ghetto, and the top edges looked like tombstones. We were not allowed to exit the Ghetto unless our work was outside the walls. When leaving, we had to wear the Star of David on our arm and show ID. Our family of five was given one room to live in. The Nazis put ghetto dwellers on a starvation diet of 480 calories a day. You were forced to report to work every day if you were 14 and older. Needless to say, after a day’s work, we were too tired to do anything but rest and go to sleep. We were hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and hungry all the time.
Q: What were the living arrangements like in the Ghetto?
A: Each family was given one room to live in. Our family of five congregated, slept, and ate in one small room. Our parents slept on the bed that was in our room, and we removed a chair and dresser so that my brother, sister, and I would have room to sleep on the floor. We had no mattresses, pillows, or blankets. It was horrible as the floors were hard and the winter nights were freezing.
Q: What were your thoughts when you left the Ghetto? Did you ever return? If so, what were your thoughts then?
A: When we had to leave the Ghetto, I knew that we would never return. Each time we were resettled, it was a step closer to our extermination. My siblings and I were liberated by the Soviet Army on January 18, 1945, in Krakow, Poland. The next day of our freedom, we went back to see the Ghetto, which was an eerie experience. There was total silence, and it was void of people. All we heard was the freezing wind whistling through littered streets and broken windows and doors. Fifty years later, I returned once more to Krakow. This time it looked different. Buildings were being restored, trees had matured, and new tenants had moved in. The misery, pain, suffering, foul stench, and death had been replaced as if by magic with new life. My only thought was, why?
Q: What would you do if you met the boy that gave you a loaf of bread many times while you were in the Ghetto?
A: I would thank him for risking his life to help my family and me. I would hope we could be great friends, and if he or his family needed support, I would help them.
Q: Who was the man that helped you with the bread? Did he ever get caught? Was he a Nazi or just a citizen?
A: The man's name was Jasiek. He was a Polish citizen who stood up for what he believed to be the right thing to do. Also, he was a very devoted Catholic. Thank God Jasiek was never caught for doing his good deeds.THANK YOU, JASIEK!
Q: Did any soldier ever attempt to hurt you in any way? Shoot you?
A: Yes, I was walking on a street in Krakow wearing my Star of David armband when a soldier stopped me. He put his pistol to my head and asked,” Jew, what kind of the bullet do you want?” Realizing that the next few seconds might be the last ones for me on this earth, I came to a split-second conclusion. I knew that the gun pointed at my head had a brass bullet in it. If I was going to be shot, then I wanted something more expensive than brass, gold, or silver, so with my eyes closed, I answered,” a platinum bullet.” I don't know what his face looked like when I answered, but he put his pistol back in his holster and said,” You lucky Jew, I don't have a platinum bullet,” and he walked away.
Q: Did people still try to lie about their possessions, knowing the consequences of getting caught?
A: Yes, concealing their most valuable possessions such as jewelry, gold coins, and money could at some point pay for fake IDs and/or be used as bribes to prolong someone’s life. There were not many people with such wealth to be able to do this.
Q: Did the Polish man, Jasiek, ever get caught?
A: Thank God, he did not! I looked for him after I was liberated, but I was not able to locate him. After World War II, Poland was in turmoil, so communications, whether by transportation or by telephone, were extremely hampered. I only knew Jasiek's first name, and there were thousands of farms on the map, so finding him was impossible.
Q: Did you ever get food poisoning?
A: As I recall, I never got food poisoning.
Q: Did you ever get used to eating only 480 calories?
A: It was very hard at first until my stomach started to shrink a little. However, no human who must work hard every day can survive for too long on such a meager diet. Certain events that developed in our favor helped secure some extra food items, which helped us get through the day.
Q: Did you ever stand up to the Nazis?
A: During the Holocaust, it was difficult and frankly useless. However, if I were to hear Neo-Nazis now, I will certainly make a point to speak up and make myself heard.
Q: Did you feel that others of your age would have felt in terms of emotion if they were in different circumstances?
A: I am sure that I speak for my ex-peers when I say that we all were terrified. We felt abandoned, powerless, and without hope. Most of those my age and younger were exterminated, and those who survived asked the question, “ Why did we survive?” Was it our behavior, smarts, wits, courage, hope, or was it pure luck? Perhaps a little bit of everything.
Q: Did you have to save food? Did you run out of food?
A: Food definitely was a grave issue. Our parents managed the distribution of the little food we had among us very wisely. By doing so, we always had a few extra nibbles.
Q: Did you hide or run from a Nazi?
A: I never hid, but I did run once. It was the day of an aktion/round-up of Jews for deportation in the Ghetto for transport to the Belzec death camp that took place on our street. As the SS officer entered the building we were living in, he started to shoot his weapon, at which point I started to run through the long hallway toward the backyard. He kept running after me shooting and missing me. I was quicker than he was and managed to outrun him.
Q: Did you try to protest when people said you couldn’t do something because you were a Jew?
A: Yes, but protesting turned out to be useless, and protesters were severely punished and or executed.
Q: Do you think you are lucky because you got extra bread and didn't get sent away?
A: The extra bread Jasiek was bringing to me helped us tremendously. Also, I considered myself lucky on the day of the Aktion when the Nazi Gestapo Officer, Eckert, saved me from the transport to concentration camp Mauthausen. Additionally, there were many more instances involving other UPSTANDERS who made our existence somewhat better with their help during World War II. I would say that all this culminated into what you call “luck.”
Q: How did you feel about people not calling you by your name?
A: It was horrible and made me feel worthless and unwanted.
Q: How did you feel being an outcast?
A: It is an empty feeling. Most people were losing their self-respect, and with that, they lost all hope. Our family stayed strong, and we believe in ourselves. At times it looked as if we were losing the battle, and everything was caving in on us. The words from our dad, “stay strong, stay strong,” always kept our hope alive.
Q: How did you survive the bullying?
A: It was not easy. After being constantly bullied physically and verbally, I tried to plead with my accusers that they were wrong, but this usually fell on deaf ears. So when nothing helped, I finally said loud and clear to those bullies, “I am proud to be a Jew”! This certainly was not what the bullies expected me to say, and they were surprised. I did this a few times, and before I knew it, the bullying stopped.
Q: If someone became friends with a Jew, would the Nazis also kill that person?
A: When the Germans came into Poland or occupied any other European country, they made it clear to the population that anyone helping a Jew or openly being friendly to Jews would be severely punished, possibly resulting in death.
Q: If you did not wear the Star of David, would you have gotten into much trouble?
A: To wear the Star of David was mandatory by law. If caught without it, yes, you would have been punished. It could have resulted in jail time or, worse, death.
Q: Why would they kill you or punish you if you were not wearing a Jewish armband?
A: The German authorities implemented the armband wearing to separate the Jews from the Polish Christian population for racial and religious profiling purposes. The order of wearing an armband with the Star of David on it was a law that had to be obeyed. Until the law to wear the Star of David was initiated, I was not a marked person, so no one knew that I was Jewish, and I was able to walk down the street without being harassed. Once it became the law that I had to wear the armband, I was easily identified, became a target, and everything changed rapidly overnight. Any disobedience of not wearing the armband would result in severe punishment and or possible death.
Q: Did the Nazis kill any Jew at any time?
A: Yes, the Nazis were killing people out of the blue and killed Jewish people, including children and babies, systematically through round-ups, firing squads, and the most systematic, concentration camps.
Q: Did you ever encounter a nice soldier or one that helped you?
A: As a matter of fact, I encountered not just one but four Nazi soldiers that helped me. Herr Eckert was a member of the Gestapo/Secret Police and the SS, Hans Fritsche was a Gestapo member, Lieutenant Schondorf was a member of the German Army, and Herr Sondermann was a Volksdeutsche/German & Polish. All four men were in one way or another responsible for my and my sibling’s survival in the last year and a half of World War ll.
Q: Did you ever return to your home in Germany and Poland?
A: The homes that I knew did not exist after the war ended. On our return home to Poland, we found our former dwelling occupied by other people. We had to start a brand new life somewhere else. I took a trip back to both Germany and Poland in 1996. While in each country, I stood looking at my childhood homes and remembered all the wonderful times my family and I had together. I did not let the ugly and bad memories enter my mind!
Q: Did you ever try to escape?
A: No, there was nowhere to go and hide, and the German Nazi Secret Police (Gestapo) were very efficient at catching Jews who were on the run or hiding.
Q: Did you get information about the war?
A: Not at first but by the middle of 1943, I was able to secure a radio and listen to the British Broadcasting Corporation/BBC. I had to be very careful because if I had been caught, I would have been in serious trouble.
Q: Did you have any special talents that the Nazis needed?
A: Yes, I spoke both German and Polish, which meant I could translate, which is a huge reason, I believe, for my survival. Also, respect should be considered a special talent because this also kept me alive.
Q: Did you witness a death?”
A: Yes, my brother and I had to remove bodies of Polish prisoners from interrogating rooms at sub-camp Pomorska.
Q: Do you think the Nazi soldier, Eckert, who saved your life, was on the Nazi side?
A: The Gestapo man, Eckert, was a Nazi. He became friendly after the situation in which I showed respect when he was conversing with another officer. I did not interrupt their conversation, but he was shocked to hear me speak fluent German when I finally spoke. I strongly believe showing respect and being able to communicate with one another changed his attitude towards me. So, for almost one and a half years, Herr Eckert was a “humane Nazi.” He was friendly but still a foe.
Q: Were you sent to an extermination camp?
A: No, I was fortunate, although the sub-camps were horrible as well. If you were a Jew, slave labor, torture and death were your present and future.
Q: How did you feel when the German saved your life?
A: It felt like a dream come true!
Q: How did you make a meaningful friendship with the German and Polish Nazis, and why do you think they helped you?
A: I strongly believe that our relationships developed because I was bilingual in both German and Polish. 95% of the Polish population did not speak German, and the Germans did not speak Polish, so the Nazis needed my talent. I believe that being able to have a dialog with friends or, in my case, with foes was extremely helpful and important. Also, I always showed a positive attitude in the presence of Nazi soldiers. I carried my work assignments out in an orderly manner, and I never showed fear. I didn’t fit the description of the Nazi propaganda that was spreading. After having us work for them, they knew that their Government was lying to them about the Jews and their behavior. Some of the Nazis had been members of the Nazi party since 1923, which means they were party members two years before I was born. Yes, they started with hate because that is how they were taught. So, what changed their minds? In my opinion, it was respect, dialogue, and a positive attitude.
Q: How did your family react when your name was called to be transported to a death camp?
A: Frantic, my dad and brother were holding me back.
Q: How far did you go to find the families of the Nazi officers that helped and saved you?
A: I had searched and traveled for weeks without finding a trace—specifically, Eckert as he was, after all, an officer in the dreaded Gestapo. Ex-Gestapo men usually went into hiding and even changed their names for fear that they might be discovered. After months of trying, I let it rest. All I wanted was to find him or his family and say thank you.
Q: How long were you forced to work for the Nazis?
A: All Jews 14 or older were forced to work for the duration of the war.
Q: How long were you in the sub-camp?
A: I was in sub-camp Pomorska for one year and 10 months.
Q: I wonder why the Nazi Gestapo Officer, Eckert, told you his life story? He didn't seem to like you before you talked to him.
A: “Herr Eckert” was 45 years old and a member of the Gestapo. I was a little over 17 years old. Another officer brought me to Gestapo Headquarters. While Herr Eckert was conversing with the officer about the building we were in, I stood silently, listening and understanding every word they said. I was born in Germany, and even though we had moved to Poland when I was 11, my German was still perfect. I truly believe that because I showed respect and courtesy, Eckert realized that I, the Jew, did not fit the description of the Nazi doctrine. I showed respect to him and the other officer by not speaking before being spoken to. Herr Eckert’s attitude towards me changed for the better in an instant. Through our many conversations, he told me about his son who was older than me.
Q: If that German officer hadn’t given you a job, do you think you would be here now?
A: Most likely, I would not have survived the Holocaust.
Q: What camp did you go to?
A: I was with my dad, sister, and brother in sub-camp Pomorska (headquarters for the Gestapo) in Krakow, Poland.
Q: What condition were you in when you escaped from the sub-camp Pomorska?
A: While escaping from the sub-camp, my siblings and I were in fairly good shape.
Q: What did it feel like to be free for the first time after you escaped?
A: At first, it felt like a wonderful dream and as if we were reborn. We soon realized that our freedom was bittersweet because it felt empty. My sister, brother, and I were thinking of our dad, who was murdered six months earlier. Our dad made the escape plans, so not having him with us when we escaped was disheartening. We didn't know where or if our mom was still alive, and we wondered about the fate of extended family members.
Q: What did you do in the boiler room?
A: Most heating in Europe was done with coal. All commercial buildings, homes, or businesses depended on steam heat that coal-fired furnaces would provide. The Gestapo headquarters was no exception. Five enormous furnaces had to be kept burning around the clock with tons of coal. To get the necessary steam, I had to shovel coal into the furnaces constantly. At the same time, I had to make sure that I maintained the pressure and temperatures of those furnaces.
Q: What did you learn working for the Gestapo?
A: The Gestapo was the most dreaded governmental department during Nazi rule. The Gestapo were Secret Government Police, and just the mention of Gestapo would turn people’s faces pale. Their members were scrupulous and devious murderers. I learned to mind my manners if I wanted to stay alive. When we first started to work at their headquarters, we were petrified. My job required me to fix or change steam heat valves or adjust the heat in their offices and living quarters. While reporting to their call, the majority would tell me to work fast and then get out. Only a small minority would engage in conversation with me. Also, I learned working in the lion’s den that not all those animals were “hungry beasts”; some Nazis had a bit of civility and tolerance hidden within them.
Q: What happened to the German Officer?
A: He and his high-ranking Gestapo friend left headquarters a week before the Soviet army liberated Krakow.
Q: What is an example of your meals for the day?
A: Breakfast consisted of one slice of dry bread and a cup of black, cold coffee. For lunch, we got lukewarm watery soup with a small piece or two of horse meat, turnips, and of course, a dozen or so of dead flies floating on top. Dinner was a slice of dry bread again. This went on for a few months until I befriended a young Polish girl working in the officer’s kitchen. Sofia would sneak me food after she fed all the officers. I had become so thin that getting this extra food was a Godsend!
Q: What kind of stuff were you thinking of during the war?
A: Freedom, family, life, and to be accepted as a human again.
Q: What was the scariest time of the Holocaust for you?
A: There were many scary times, the worst two being when the Nazis separated us from our mom and when we found out that our dad had been murdered by a Gestapo man from the sub-camp where we worked.
Q: What was the worst thing you saw?
A: One of the worst things I saw were the dead bodies of Polish men who were tortured and badly beaten during interrogations. My brother and I were assigned to search through the pockets of these men, carry the bodies downstairs, and put them on a wagon with a pile of other dead bodies.
Q: What were the rules of the sub-camp?
A: The place where we slept was an extension of a prison complex. Therefore, we were locked in at all times except when we were escorted to work. We worked Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, we had to attend to our hygiene and clean our living quarters. We rested if there was any time left after our workday was done and lights were out by 7:30 PM.
Q: Were you ever injured during the war?
A: I was very lucky and fortunate not to have been injured throughout the war. Although one day, on the way back from the sub-camp to our quarters, our driver, a German SS man, overturned the truck with twenty of us on board. He was drunk and was trying to negotiate a curve which he failed to do. Nobody except the driver was injured.
Q: Were you ever pushed around by the Nazis?
A: Yes, I was pushed around by the Nazis too many times.
Q: Were you ever scared of being sent away?
A: The possibility of being sent to a concentration camp, or worse, a death camp, was a constant fear. It could have happened at any point during the Holocaust, and it was on everyone’s mind at all times. It could happen any minute, hour, or day.
Q: When did you become free from the Nazis?
A: The Soviet army liberated my siblings and me on January 18, 1945, in Krakow, Poland.
Q: Why and how did you escape from Pomorska?
A: With the war going badly for the Germans, we felt destiny was surely in our hands. We knew at some point that to survive, we would have no choice but try to escape. We knew the Gestapo would never set us free, so we planned our escape knowing the timing would be critical. Escape too soon, and we would be discovered or too late, and we would be transported to a concentration camp in Germany. However, unlikely events made our escape possible. I was ordered to unload a truck filled with used military backpacks. As I was carrying some of them up to the third floor in one of the Pomorska buildings (the Nazis turned this floor into a warehouse), one fell and ripped open, spilling its contents. To my surprise, a small-caliber handgun was one of the items on the floor. I knew the pack had no current owner because someone had killed him in action, so I made a hasty decision to keep the gun. We now had something to fight back with if needed during our escape. Also, I became friends with Eckstein, the jeweler who made jewelry for the SS soldier’s wifes and girlfriends. Eckstein allowed me to come to his shop just before midnight to secretly listen to the BBC broadcast from London so I could follow the course of the war. It was uplifting to know the war was not going well for the German army and that the Soviet army was moving steadily toward Krakow. Kurt Schondorf, the Wehrmacht officer, became an unlikely ally as he pre-arranged to give us a key to his apartment as a place to hide after our escape. We had obtained a map of Krakow to locate Schondorf’s apartment at UL. Krasinskiego 47. His wife had already left Krakow, and he would soon leave for Berlin. My brother timed the sentry patrolling the inside perimeter that led to the exit door at Pomorska so we could know when the coast was clear. The details for our escape plan were set. On January 16, 1945, Pomorska was very busy and the atmosphere somewhat chaotic. With the sounds of heavy artillery nearing, we knew the Soviet Army was getting very close to Krakow. We realized that our time to escape was at hand. Tragically our escape would not include our father, who did not return from a work assignment murdered by an SS officer some months earlier. And so, on January 17, 1945, at 5:26 PM, excited but scared, we made our escape. I go into further detail in my book.
Q: Why did the Nazi Gestapo Officer, Eckert, take a liking to you?
A: I believe certain factors might have been instrumental for this extraordinary tolerance Herr Eckert showed toward me. I didn’t fit the image of “the dirty Jew.” I spoke German, carried my work orders out to the fullest, didn't complain or show fear at any time, and showed respect to Herr Eckert and other Nazi officers. Herr Eckert had to see that this Jew (me) was different. There was one more thing, Eckert, in one of our conversations, told me that he had a son. Was this perhaps the reason that he showed favoritism to me and no one else? The bottom line is this, by German Nazi law, he should have hated and treated me like any other Jew, but he didn't. It is possible that Eckerd realized by socializing with me that perhaps he was lied to by the Nazi party, and maybe he realized that it was ALL a big lie! I am sure that he was not the only one who suddenly realized that Jews were normal decent people.
Q: Why did you show respect to the Germans?
A: Our parents taught us that respect has many meanings. To be respectful means to be polite, attending, courteous, and considerate. Our parents told us to apply those characteristics in our daily lives to family, friends, and enemies alike.
Q: Why didn't you escape from Pomorska earlier than you did?
A: There were many reasons for not escaping. There was literally no place to go. Most Polish citizens would not risk their lives to hide you and would more than likely alert the SS. There were four of us, which would have made it even more difficult. Escaping on my own and leaving family behind could have meant having them murdered on the spot or sent to a death camp. We had no food, water, or money, and we were surrounded by the German military police no matter where we were. Escape did not seem like the right thing to do if you wanted you and your family to live.
Q: Why do you think the Gestapo allowed you to work for them?
A: Polish and German people had been arch enemies for a long time. When Hitler’s Germany invaded Poland, that hate intensified tremendously, and consequently, the Germans did not trust or communicate with the Poles. For security reasons, the Gestapo didn’t want too many Polish people working at their headquarters. So, the Gestapo’s only choice was the Jews. It was a win, win situation for them, free labor, the best craftsmen, and above all, they didn’t have to fear the Jews.
Q: Why do you think the Nazi Gestapo Officer, Eckert, that befriended you saved you?
A: Throughout the years, I have asked myself many times over and over, why did he? Many possible reasons might have prompted Herr Eckert. As I recall the day Fritsche talked to Eckert, I stood silently looking straight between the two of them as if they were not there. Occasionally I would look down at the floor but never at the two men, and when Max (he was Jewish and was the fourth man of the work detail at Pomorska) told me in Polish that he would put me to the test of strength, I nodded my head to indicate okay. Of course, I understood what Eckert told him. Throughout this whole encounter, I didn't say one word. Finally, Eckert told Adam (a non-Jewish Polish worker) who entered the room that I would be working with him. In desperation, Adam turned to me and asked, "What the hell did he say?” At that point, breaking my silence, I translated Eckert’s request to Adam. I looked at Herr Eckert. He looked at me at the same time with a puzzled expression and shouted, “There you were listening and understanding everything I was saying, trying to make those two understand, and you didn't open your damn mouth!” I answered Herr Eckert with a perfect Saxon dialect. “Our parents taught us never to speak unless spoken to, and you, sir, did not speak to me until now.” I still can see the smiling, surprised expression on his face! I suppose Eckert realized that since I spoke fluent German, he would converse with me at any time.
Q: Why do you think the Nazis needed to torture people and not just leave them be?
A: Throughout recorded history, people who ruled with absolute power always tortured their subjects and enemies. Those sadistic people and their countless followers got gratification from hurting people and enjoyed seeing people in pain and agony before the final kill. The Nazis were scrupulous and merciless in their actions, and they enjoyed carrying out those horrible acts to the limit.
Q: Why were you sent to a sub-camp?
A: Every Jew in occupied Europe ended up in a camp sooner or later. It was not a matter of choice or free will as we were forced. The majority of Jews were transported to large concentration camps, of which there were dozens throughout Germany and occupied territories. There were over 42,000 sub-camps with inmates of 500 or more. My dad, sister, brother, and I were in a sub-camp. Unfortunately, my father was murdered 6 months before we were liberated on January 18, 1945.
CONCENTRATION AND SUB-CAMPS:
Q: Did people in concentration camps get treated if they were sick, or did the soldiers just let them die?
A: To die was the very reason the Nazis sent people to concentration camps, so the Nazis did not treat those sick. The sick were considered useless since they could not work, so the Nazis left them to die.
Q: Did the Nazis really use people in hospitals as test subjects?
A: Yes, the Nazis used people of all ages as test subjects in concentration camps, sanatoriums, and hospitals. Most of the camps were of mixed inmates, but a handful of death camps were primarily designed for Jews.
Q: Did they have a specific camp for doctors?
A: The Nazis didn't need Jewish doctors, and most would not admit to the Germans that they were physicians as these doctors knew they quite often were the first victims.
Q: Did you ever go to a concentration camp?
A: My mom was taken from us and sent to the concentration camp, Plaszow, which is on the outskirts of Krakow. The Nazis sent my dad, sister, brother, and me to Pomorska, located in Krakow, Poland.
Q: Did you know anyone who went to the concentration camp Auschwitz?
A: Yes. Most of my uncles, aunts, and cousins all perished in Auschwitz except my cousin Rose. Auschwitz was known as a notorious killing factory since the Nazis exterminated close to 1.5 million Jews in that camp. With that, we cannot, and we should not forget, the many other concentration camps and the over 42 thousand sub-camps built to kill all Jews in locations spread out all over the territories that Germany occupied during World War II.
Q: Do you know if the Nazis provided education to prisoners in the concentration or sub-camps?
A: While we were in the ghetto, some conducted unofficial education of children. It was primitive because of educational tools that were not available, and some Jews did it without the knowledge of the German authorities. I don't believe the concentration camps had education for the prisoners to the best of my knowledge.
Q: Do you have a tattooed number?
A: No, and just for the record, the only camp that tattooed their inmates was Auschwitz.
Q: Have you been to an extermination camp?
A: No, but the Nazis took my mother to one. My father, sister, brother, and I were in the Pormorska sub-camp (an extension of a concentration camp). My father was murdered in this sub-camp.
Q: How did you feel when you saw your mom and didn't realize it was her?
A: I looked at my mom but didn’t recognize her and was about to leave when I heard a faint voice say “Oskar,” it was gut-wrenching! Some of the women who had been with my mom working in the ammunition factory told me that her health condition started to deteriorate rapidly months before the Soviets liberated them. As I walked my mom slowly out of the dimly lit room that I found her, I was consumed with hate and anger. If a German National had crossed my path at that moment, I think I would have killed them in a blink of an eye. After a few days of recuperation, my mom began to gain some color back in her cheeks and eventually walk with a steady stride. Before long, she regained her beautiful smile. I realized then that hate was not the answer, and getting even was not the right thing. We had our mom back, and that was a miracle!
Q: How old were you when the Holocaust started?
A: I was 14 years old when World War II started.
Q: How old were you when the war ended, and you were free?
A: I was 19 years old. I was born on November 27th, 1925, and liberated on January 18, 1945.
Q: I would like to know if you ever became ill?
A: I was extremely lucky throughout the war years having only slight colds except once when I ran a high fever and had to stay at our sleeping quarters for the day. The Nazis didn’t care if a person was sick, they would still be required to work, so on that particular day, I prepared a bucket of water, soap, and scrub brush and placed it on the floor next to my bunk bed. I was resting when suddenly I heard footsteps coming down the hall. Periodically a guard would check all the rooms for inmates and if someone was found they would be shot. As I heard the guard approaching, I slipped down to the floor and started to scrub the wooden floor, the guard stopped at the doorway, looked in the room, and kept on walking. After a while when I heard the main door slam shut, I returned back to my bunk bed and rested peacefully for the remainder of the day. The following day I felt much better and went back to work.
Q: How did you form a relationship with the soldiers? How did your relationship with Nazi soldiers and prisoners help you escape death?
A: I was born and raised in Germany up to the age of eleven. The following two key elements I'm sure played a major role in forming a good relationship with some of the Nazi soldiers. German children were taught to “respect” themselves and to respect each and every person around them including a would-be enemy. Learning a second “language”, Polish, turned out to be very important. I was able to communicate and translate for the Germans and polish workers which most people could not. My language skills helped me and I in turn was able to help my co-workers in sub-camp Permorska.
Q: How many people survived, and how many died in World War II?
A: Six million Jews were murdered, and some 400,000 survived the concentration and sub-camps.
Q: If you had been tattooed, would you have gotten it removed or covered it after the war.
A: If I had a tattoo on my arm, I would have left it where it was.
Q: Did the Nazis target certain Jews to be killed first?
A: The Nazis targeted Jews who had finished their higher education and were professionals in their field. This included lawyers, doctors, engineers, professors, teachers, and artists. The Nazis believed that removing the professionals would prevent an uprising and disorder in the Ghettos.
Q: There have been other extermination and separation camps in the past. In your opinion, do you think the Jewish concentration and sub-camps were the worst?
A: Any camp that separates and promotes the abuse of its captives, innocent or not, is a horrible place to be as these camps are usually created by groups of racists in pursuit of ultimate power. Specifically, the Jewish concentration camps were built and populated with 98% of innocent people. People in the camps were from different religions, nationalities, and genders. The Nazis ran concentration and sub-camps to utilize and expose prisoners to long hours of work with very little food. They worked the prisoners until they died, and the Nazis marked Jewish prisoners for harsher treatment.
Q: Were only Jewish people in the sup-camps?
A: The sup-camp I was in only had Jewish workers, but in most of the other 42,000 sub-camps, the population was of mixed races and nationalities.
Q: Were you in a concentration camp?
A: I was in a sub-camp for 1 year and 10 months.
Q: What concentration camp did your mom go to?
A: The Nazis sent my mom to a concentration camp (Plaszow, near Krakow, Poland). After 1 year, she was moved to an ammunition factory in Skarszysko, Poland, and then moved a third time to another ammunition factory in Leipzig, Germany, where she was liberated in May 1945 by the Soviet Army.
Q: What were the concentration camps like?
A: Concentration camps were built with one purpose in mind, to kill the inmates in unimaginable ways, including starvation. My mother was in a concentration camp, and she told me it was a “living hell!” My mom became very weak for lack of food, so when there were roll-calls, my mom’s sister and niece would squeeze my mother between them to hold her up and would pinch her cheeks to give her color. They did this for my mom because once a prisoner was considered too weak to work, the Nazis would kill them.
Q: Why did the Nazis cut people’s hair off in the concentration camps?
A: Prisoners in Concentration Camps didn't have facilities for showering or baths, so the hair had to be cut off to control the spread of infectious disease caused by lice. However, the Nazi Officials overlooked the fact that there are more than one species of lice. Humans host both head lice and body lice. Head lice attach to hair and feed on the scalp. Body lice hide in clothing and feed on the host’s skin. Cutting the hair prevented head lice, but because prisoners couldn’t bathe regularly and had no change of clothing, the body lice were thriving and spreading terrible diseases and death throughout the camps.
Q: Why did the Nazis kill so many people?
A: The Nazi regime wanted to establish a “REICH” country that would last one thousand years, and there was only room for “Germanic” looking people. The majority of Jews had dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin, so they were the first to be exterminated. At the start of World War II, Europe's Jewish population was 11 million, but the Nazis managed to murder 6 million in 6 years. If the Nazis had won the war, they would have first killed the rest of the Jews in Europe and then all Jews throughout the world. After eradicating the Jews from the planet, they would have continued killing people who did not fit the “Germanic” profile. The Nazis believed true Germanic people should look “Aryan,” which has blond hair, blue eyes, and white skin.
Q: Why were you sent to a sub-camp?
A: Every Jew in occupied Europe was forced into a camp sooner or later. It was not a matter of choice or free will. The majority of Jews were transported to dozens of large concentration camps throughout Germany and occupied territories. There were over 42,000 sub-camps with prisoners of 500 or more. My dad, sister, brother, and I were in one of those sub-camps for 1 year and 10 months until our liberation by the Soviet Army in Krakow, Poland, on January 18, 1945.
Q: Why did the Nazis only have a few extermination/death camps?
A: The Nazis established 8 extermination camps in total: One in Germany, one in Czechoslovakia, and six in Poland. To give you a better idea, here is the breakdown of the major concentration camps and extermination camps:
POLAND GERMANY CZECHOSLOVAKIA
Belzec Dachau Theresienstadt
Besides these big-name concentration/death camps, there were dozens more notorious concentration camps and over 42,000 sub-camps sometimes referred to as satellite camps.
The following list is of the twelve most notorious of the concentration (labor) camps:
Sachsenhausen Neungamme Plaszow
Camps were established in every occupied European country, including greater Germany! Camps held up to five hundred or more prisoners at any one time. Treatment of prisoners in sub-camps was just as brutal, if not worse, as in any major concentration camp. As in any major concentration camp, life expectancy was no more than eight to ten months, and it was the same in sub-camps. To replace dead prisoners in a sub-camp was not a problem. All a commandant had to do was pick up the phone and request a new batch of prisoners from the nearest concentration camp. Basically, concentration camps were warehouses for slaves designed to work and starve inmates to death.
Q: Do you remember where you were when Hitler killed himself, and how did you feel?
A: My brother, sister, and I, were in Krakow, Poland, which had already been liberated. As heavy Soviet artillery shells demolished the Berlin Chancellery, Hitler was fifty-five feet underground in a bunker. He took poison and then shot himself with a service revolver. He defined the word, "coward", as someone who needed the power to make himself feel worthy rather than love who he was and accept all for who they are. When I share my story, I always promote the need to be proud of who you are and to focus on self-love, especially when life throws you curve balls. True self-love will conquer all because no one will have power over your thoughts and actions.
After the Holocaust
Q: How did Germany look after World War ll?
A: I traveled extensively throughout Germany after World War ll. I saw cities in partial ruins, and German citizens had an acute shortage of food, transportation, utilities, fuel, and housing. This new life of suffering was the price civilians had to pay for Nazi ideology and the big mistakes Hitler and his government made.
Q: What were the emotions you felt once you heard the war was over?
A: My brother and I were hiding in a cellar. We had escaped earlier that day, January 17, 1945, at 5:45 pm, and we knew that it was just a matter of hours before the Soviet Army would enter Krakow. We were listening to the sounds of explosions getting closer and closer. The thought that we might get killed by this ferocious fighting entered our mind, but we felt fantastic just the same! The story of our escape and liberation is quite remarkable. I talk about it in my book “A Boy’s Story a Man’s Memory.”
Q: How did you feel when the Germans lost the war?
A: Surprised, elated, happy, and extremely thankful!
Q: What did the Holocaust take from young people?
A: Life! Hitler killed over 1 million children, and for those that survived, life was horrible. Young children never had the opportunity for a normal childhood. Teenagers did not have a chance to experience the transition from childhood to adulthood. We were robbed of this beautiful part of growing up.
Q: Did any of your childhood neighbors survive, and are you still in contact with them?
A: To my recollection, my childhood neighbors in Germany were all Nazi members; whether or not they survived was not of any importance to me after the war. The same can be said about our neighbors in Poland. Our neighbors in Germany and Poland didn't care what was happening to us, so I didn’t waste my time finding out if any of them were alive.
Q: Did any of your friends die during the war? Do you know what happened to them?
A: It was challenging to keep track of people and their whereabouts. Sadly, a year after the war ended, none of my friends returned.
Q: Where did you go, and what did you do after the war?
A: I remained in Poland for several months and then embarked on a long journey that led me through Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Italy. I devoted a chapter in my book describing my adventures.
Q: What was the hardest thing to get over after the Holocaust ended?
A: My father being murdered and being separated from my mother for over 2 years.
Q: Did you ever want revenge?
A: No, I never considered revenge.
Q: How did you recover from the horrors you saw in World War II?
A: It wasn't easy at first, but after a few months of enjoying the freedom and thinking happy thoughts, life became brand-new for me.
Q: If you could describe the Holocaust in one word, what would it be?
A: I have two words “ULTIMATE HELL.”
Q: How did you feel when you went back and visited places where you were imprisoned?
A: I have been twice to visit Leipzig, Germany, the place of my birth, and Krakow, Poland, where I spent six long years during World War II. The first visit was in 1995, 50 years after the end of the war, followed by a second visit in 1998. The apartment building in Leipzig was still standing even though the British Air Force badly damaged it in air raids over the city in 1944. The school I and my siblings attended was still there. In Krakow, none of the houses and buildings were damaged by the war. The house we lived in, the school, famous landmarks, and the Gestapo Headquarters were still there. Somehow wherever I went and looked, everything seemed so small and old. It brought back bad memories of pain and suffering and so many lives lost, but I stood tall and proud to have eluded the Nazi killing machine.
Q: Have you visited Germany and Poland since leaving after the war?
A: I have been back to Germany and Poland 3 times, including 1995, 1998, and 2014. In Germany, I visited my hometown of Leipzig, where I visited the concentration camp, Dachau. In Poland, I visited the house I lived in, the school I attended, the Krakow Ghetto, where we were forced to live, and I took a sixty-mile trip west from Krakow to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Q: Did you have Jewish friends after the war?
A: Jewish friends that I had before the war in Krakow all perished. I made new friends during the war and in the DP (displaced persons) camp just after the war. One Jewish friend I made right after the war was Leo and we are still in touch as of now, the year is 2021.
Q: Did you start playing sports again after the war?
A: I did play soccer for a few months after the war while waiting in a DP (displaced persons) camp for our immigration papers to Canada. DP Camps were operated by the United Nations Relief Association (UNRA).
Q: When did you learn English?
A: Soon after I arrived in Toronto, Canada around June 1949, I immediately attended night school to learn the English language.
Q: Do you ever get married and have children?
A: I did have a beautiful wife, Lila, but after fighting cancer for several years, she passed away at 58 years old in 1987. My youngest daughter, Tracy, passed away at 33 years old from breast cancer in 2001, and my son, Paul, passed away at 60 years old in 2015 from cancer as well. Currently, my oldest daughter, Linda, and her husband, Gary, live with me in Arizona currently, the year being 2021.
Q: How did your wife react when you told her your story?
A: She was very upset and emotional when I told her my stories. I was grateful she wanted to listen as it was important to talk about what happened, which in hindsight was a part of my healing process. My wife was born in the United States, but many members of her extended family who lived in Europe at the time lost their lives in the Holocaust.
Q: How many places did you move to throughout your life?
A: I have lived in 4 countries in order, Leipzig Germany, Krakow, Poland, Toronto, Canada, and the United States. In the US, I’ve lived in St Augustine, FL, Mahopac, NY, and currently Phoenix, AZ, where we moved to in 1970 with my oldest daughter, Linda, when she started attending Arizona State University.
Q: Do you keep in contact with any other Holocaust survivors?
A: Yes, I’m a board member of the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association. We meet once a month with most other survivors and their families for dinner usually held at the Jewish Community Center located in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Q: Do you think speaking German helped you throughout your life?
A: To speak languages other than your native one is a valuable asset to communicate with other people in the world. Speaking both German and Polish was extremely necessary for my survival during the Holocaust as I had a skill set the Nazis needed. For example, during a situation where I could have easily been sent to a concentration camp, I helped translate for two Nazi soldiers, and not only did that save me, but also one of the officers befriended me and would later take me out of a line-up to be sent to a concentration camp.
Q: If you could change one thing in your life that happened during the Holocaust, what would it be?
A: If I could change two things during the Holocaust, it would have been to save my father and not have our mom separated from us.
Q: Have you forgiven most who have wronged you in the past, and if so, how?
A: Many of those in the Nazi German Government who were responsible for initiating the “Final Solution” (extermination) were found guilty at the Nuremberg trial and sentenced to death. Thousands of Nazis were caught and shot by Soviet Union soldiers. I was in no position to find the Nazi soldier responsible for killing my father or those who made me suffer. I have forgiven but not forgotten.
Q: Have you ever thought about writing a book about your experience?
A: Yes, I wrote a book entitled “A Boy’s Story a Man’s Memory Surviving the Holocaust 1939-1945 that can be purchased on Amazon and found on my website, VoiceOfTolerance.com, and includes an excerpt from my book.
Q: Was it hard for you to start speaking about the Holocaust?
A: For many years, I was hesitant to speak about the experiences I endured during the Holocaust with people I did not know and even some I did know. However, years back, several Holocaust deniers challenged me, claiming the Holocaust never happened. Since that day, I have been very active in speaking to our youth and community about my experiences and the lessons learned so the Holocaust never happens again and never disappears from our history books. Sadly, the Holocaust isn’t a required subject in some schools. This was heart-wrenching to find out, but I and an amazing group of educators, politicians, and upstanders are currently presenting to the Senate and House a bill that would mandate teaching all students about the Holocaust. Also, a new curriculum called the Hope Chest was created from my book by educators that take students into my world during the Holocaust through resources, including a journal that students fill in using critical thinking skills. I am beyond honored to be a part of both causes. The Hope Chest curriculum can be found on my website at VoiceOfTolerance.com.
Q: What was your first experience of telling your story to students?
A: My first presentation was 26 years ago, in 1994. I spoke to my granddaughters’ class at Rhodes Jr. High school in Mesa, AZ. I was a bit terrified, having not spoken to strangers about my experiences, let alone young teenagers. However, I knew the importance, so I took a deep breath, started from the beginning, and went from there. My granddaughter, Jyll, then 14 years old and now 41 years old, still has friends from her class who say my story had an impact on their lives that brought light to dark times. Even some of these friend’s children I have met while presenting in classes in recent years.
Q: What were your motivations for speaking to different schools after your first presentation?
A: It is of utmost importance that I speak to students of all ages to teach them about the Holocaust, to warn them that such atrocities of painful suffering and the killing of six million Jews should not be repeated! They must learn that “hate” was the main ingredient for the Holocaust happening, and we must rid ourselves of this shameful, useless word. Instead, we must replace hate with love, respect, and tolerance so that we all can work together and live in peace!
Q: Is it hard to tell us about the Holocaust? Does it hurt to remember those horrible things?
A: It was a little emotional in the beginning, but time seems to heal all wounds. I know that I, a Holocaust survivor, am the best way to teach our youth and our communities how to prevent another Holocaust in the future. I have a responsibility as a survivor to share my story and teach the lessons learned from this horrible historic event. I take my role very seriously to promote respect, tolerance, and love for each other and ourselves.
Q: Why do you think it is important to remember the Holocaust? Why do you think people need to hear your message?
A: The Holocaust was the biggest crime committed against humanity in the history of mankind as it was a systematic killing of one race to eradicate them from the earth. This is why students need to hear and learn from my message so that a Holocaust will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.
Q: How old are you?
A: I think you mean how young am I? I turned 95 on November 27, 2020.
Q: Do you think the Holocaust could happen again?
A: Yes, I do think the Holocaust can happen again, whether it be hating Jews or another minority by crazy lunatics who want world domination. This is what Hitler wanted as his goal was to eliminate the whole race of Jews and be the world leader. It is hard to wrap your mind around such a concept when the only reason for his wanting to eliminate all Jews was because of the hate and lies he had been told that became a never-ending virus in his head. Then through master manipulation and strategy, he persuaded a nation to join him is his vision of a world without Jews.
Q: If you could go back in time, would you do anything differently?
A: Considering that I was only 14 years old at the onset of World War II any of my decisions would have been somewhat immature. If I would have acted offensively against a German or if I would have planned an escape, the chances of being caught could have ended in a death sentence. On the other hand, if I would have been successful in altering the dire situation I was confronted with, the outcome of my future most certainly would have been different and the possibility of the post-life I have been enjoying would not exist so that leads me to only one answer which is no, I would not have done anything differently.
Q: Have you read any realistic fiction books based on the Holocaust that you thought were accurate or inaccurate?
A: I have read “The Boy in Striped Pajama’s” which was an inaccurate story. Teachers are using this book in the classroom even though the author does state it is a “fable”. I have also read, “The Diary of Ann Frank” which is accurate.
Q: If you could say one thing to your parents today, what would it be?
A: I would say thank you for giving me life. Thank you for teaching me to be patient, understanding, and tolerant. Thank you for giving me and showing me so much love. Thank you for telling me how to respect others and for the wise words that “tomorrow will be a better day” and to “stay strong”. Lastly, I would tell them I miss and love them very much!
Q: Do you still dream of what happened?
A: No, but I do get flashbacks and speak about the terrible times that were inflicted upon us by the cold and heartless German Nazis. I recall places and faces of family members and friends that were murdered and I also see faces of people who helped us during those horrible times.
Q: Do you resent the Germans for what they did?
A: If I did, then I would have to resent many European countries that were occupied by Germany for collaborating with the German SS to exterminate the Jews. Those millions who were actively murdering the six million Jewish men, women, and children had to live with this guilt for the rest of their lives. I hold no hate or resentment for people who had “crippled minds.”
Q: Do you think this experience made you a better person?
A: I would think that I was a very good person before the war started and as far as I know I have remained a good person.
Q: How does it feel knowing that people risked their lives to save yours?
A: I give credit to all the good people who stood up for me when I was in dire need. These people who came from different walks of life, religion, and nationalities were there at the right place and right time. These “UPSTANDERS” exposed themselves and their families to eminent danger by doing the right thing. They gave me hope to believe in my fellow humans and I thank them for saving my life.
Q: How does surviving the Holocaust affect you today?
A: If anything, the Holocaust taught me to listen and observe carefully everything going on around me, and not to take daily life and freedom for granted. It also taught me to be even more respectful to my fellow humans. Above all, it conditioned me to have the moral courage to recognize evil and to stand up for what is right and good.
Q: How has the lack of respect you received affected you?
A: Germany achieved their objective to demoralize the Jewish people by treating them with total disrespect. I, my family, and all other Jews living around the world considered ourselves part of humanity but when the Nazis referred to Jews as “Subhuman”, any respect for Jews ended. In my book, I speak of how I showed respect to all people including my enemies! Respect has been and still is an important part of my life. I wish that everyone would learn to respect themselves and to give respect to others.
Q: How much better is it now than it was back then?
A: During World War II, we were considered lower than animals and we had no rights or freedom. We were forced to work with very little food. Every day we lived with the thought of, “when will it be our turn to die.” The Germans managed to kill 6 million Jewish men, women, and children. Today, all of the above mentioned horrors are no longer the case so life compared to then is great. But life would be even better than great if anti-Semitism would stop rearing its ugly head. It truly hurts and is uncomfortable to hear people talk negatively about Jews.
Q: If there was one thing you learned or took from your experience, what would it be?
A: Life is a gift that is one of a kind and each of us will encounter challenges that may have negative or positive impacts on our lifelong learning experiences. I have learned that a negative attitude cloud ones thinking and prevents making rational choices. Our parents taught us to always be positive in our everyday lives and to learn something new every day. Even as an adult it is important to always be learning. Also, my parents taught us to have moral courage and to stand up to what we believe is right for all mankind. Finally, we were told that if we follow their advice then perhaps it would make each of us a better person. I thank my parents every day for teaching me to be a righteous human.
Q: Is it hard to live with all those memories?
A: It was hard to live with those memories for a dozen or so years. However, time and reality eventually set in and it was time to focus on building a new life for myself and my family. I stored all memories in my mind and years later, with encouragement from my family, I was able to write it all down. The title of my book is, “A Boy’s Story A Man’s Memory Surviving the Holocaust 1933-1945” and it is available at voiceoftolerance.com
Q: What is your most clear memory?
A: Everything that happened to me throughout the Holocaust is very clear! All of my memories are bad except for one really good memory which was our liberation!
Q: Are you mad at the Germans?
A: While living under Nazi rule, yes, I was mad. I hated the German’s for what they were doing. However, I soon realized that hate would not improve the predicament I was in and hate was taking a lot of energy away from any positive thoughts had. I soon realized that it was more important to use available resources and energy to think about survival and the future my life might bring.
Q: Have you ever judged a certain race?
A: No, I have not and will not.
Q: Do you hate the Nazis?
A: The pain and sadistic torture inflicted upon Jews and the cold-blooded killing of 6 million innocent men, women, and children by the Nazis before and during the Holocaust cannot and must not be forgotten. The Nazi killing machine managed to exterminate almost 3/4 of the European Jewish population. After World War II, Nazis were brought to trial and sentenced to the gallows or were executed. The Nazi Party was held accountable for the millions of lives they ordered to be killed for which they had to pay with their own lives. So, did I hate the Nazis? One would say it is impossible for me to say no and that would be half true. What the Nazis did should be hated so that it never happens again. However, I cannot keep that hate in my heart or it will destroy the happiness that is now. I am an UPSTANDER so I speak up against the reemergence of the Nazi party and totalitarian governments that are operated by radicals. Speak up, act on your conviction for what is right and keep love in your heart. This is how we stop wars from starting.
Q: Did the people who saved you change your understanding of the world around you today?
A: Yes, very much so. I learned that there are good people in this world and that it is important that we work together to accomplish more. I learned that we humans are all made the same way, regardless of how we look, or what race or religion we are. We are one! We will never have peace if we don't learn to respect one another, work together, and stop hating each other! It is time that we all work and think together to build a new and better future for all mankind!
Q: Do you regret anything from your past?
A: I do not regret any of my actions because my decisions during the Holocaust kept me alive. I do wish certain things like my father being murdered and my mother being separated from us for years would not have happened but there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Beyond the Holocaust
Q: Do you believe that all people have good in them?
A: I do believe that people have good in them as we are not born with hate. Hate is learned, and if you are one of the unlucky ones who has been told lies, then it is up to you to find the truth. Let your compass point you towards tolerance and away from hate.
Q: Have you ever met anyone that is as positive as you?
A: I have met so many positive people in my life that bring me much joy and hope that the Holocaust will not happen again.
Q: What is one piece of advice that you feel everyone should know?
A: Actually, there is more than one. Strive to be a positive, truthful, and respectful person. Take the word “hate” out of your vocabulary and always give 110% in your education. Be an UPSTANDER and accept people for who they are regardless of their race, religion, or gender. We are ALL created equal!
Q: What is your favorite sport now?
A: My favorite sports are football and basketball.
Q: Do you think life was worse for those in the Holocaust or those who were slaves during the 1800s?
A: Any event that takes a race and defines it as sub-human is horrible. This event was the case for both the Holocaust and slavery. People, good people, are misused, alienated, disenfranchised, and most of all, they are given no freedom and rights. Mistreatment of ANY human is a sin and should not be tolerated by anyone. We and our future generations must stand up courageously against tyranny and slavery. We must get rid of hate and learn to work together. We must not allow the suffrage of a race because of radical ideas to happen anymore.
Q: Do you think the USA has done an excellent job of recognizing its gruesome history? Do you think the USA should be doing more to educate us on the failure of our country?
A: The USA is a beautiful and prosperous country, but our history has been poorly taught and explained in our learning institutions. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to teach broadly and truthfully the history of our country. After all, we must know and remember the past to shape the future.
Q: Do you think that Joe Arpaio (Former Maricopa County Sheriff) is similar to Hitler in any way?
A: I can compare no one to Hitler, who, with his followers, murdered over a third of the Jewish world population. He carried this out using total power and disregard for other people’s lives and suffering. As a ruthless, mighty ruler, he was responsible for killing tens of millions of European Christians during World War II, which Hitler started on September 1st, 1939. Throughout history, we have seen how power can seduce and corrupt. Joe Arpaio was elected Sheriff to carry out and enforce the law in the state of Arizona. To be a lawman is a challenging and very responsible job. We all know that we, the people, need to follow the rules and guidelines in our daily lives, and if we break the law, we must be held accountable for its infraction. Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his department did a good job; however, it seemed to change dramatically over the last few years. His department lost the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings and difficulties. Joe Arpaio should have used tolerance and respect in his job. Joe Arpaio is in no way similar to Hitler. We must not forget that we are adaptive creatures, for good or bad. It is human nature for some to misuse power. Systematic profiling, sloppy and indifferent police work, and disregard for minority rights by Federal, City, or County Officials should not be allowed. We ALL must learn to be TOLERANT and RESPECTFUL to one another!
Q: Have you heard of the Muslims whom the Chinese government has forced to live in concentration camps?
A: Yes, I have heard of those concentration camps. The Chinese government labeled those concentration camps as” Resettlement Centers,” which is a shame. The world must be swift and firm in denouncing the inhumane treatment of Muslims and freedom-loving people of China. If we don’t speak up, the reemergence of concentration camps in many countries, including the United States, is a real possibility. We have the lessons learned from the past to stop it from happening again. The question is, will there be enough people who speak up and do what is right?
Q: Why would people deny the Holocaust happened?
A: People who say the Holocaust didn't happen are trying to dismiss the record of Nazi violence carried out against people in Europe from 1933 to 1945, including the killing of 6 million Jewish people. The denial of Holocaust history is a form of anti-Semitism that grows from religious prejudice and not from factual research! There is evidence and proof the Holocaust was organized, and perpetrated by the Nazi government during the years 1933 to 1945 and is readily available to anyone in the world with a click of the mouse!
Some camps were not destroyed and are still there as they were found by the liberators. After liberation, allied forces took photos of camp buildings, crematoria/ovens, mountains of dead bodies, and of starved inmates left by SS officers and Nazi soldiers proving the existence of both labor and death camps! The Nazi government methodically recorded every detail such as names, places, transports, dates, executions, hangings, shootings, and gassings of Jewish people in all of occupied Europe. During the Nuremberg trials, prosecutors found evidence of atrocities and genocide, to which ex-Nazi leaders such as Hermann Goering, Rudolf Hoess, Hans Frank (Governor-General of Poland during WWII) Otto Ohlendorf (Commander of the Einsatzgruppe D), and Baldure Von Schirach (leader of the Hitler Youth), testified under oath about the persecution of European Jewry. They were shown photos of victims from 1933 to 1945.
All of this information is readily available in the German archives! Holocaust deniers don't want to hear or learn about the inconvenient truth! Holocaust denial is against the law and is considered to be a crime in Germany, Canada, and Israel. In the US because of our 1st amendment rights, (the freedom of speech) even if that speech is offensive or is pure propaganda is allowed. “Propaganda is a truly terrible weapon in the hands of an expert.”This quote is from “Mein Kampf”, a book written by Adolf Hitler in 1924 while serving jail time for treason. Hitler and his Nazi followers became experts at spreading propaganda about the Jews, and true to his quote the propaganda they spread did become a truly terrible weapon, the murders of 6 million Jews plus many more innocent people!
Thirty-two of the 6 million Jews murdered were members of my immediate and extended family. There were another twenty-one family members not accounted for, they were never seen again. A total of fifty-three members of my family vanished between 1939 and 1945. Family members who did survive knew the stories of their immediate family’s fate by witnessing or hearing from other people who witnessed their fate. In some cases, we have actual documents from the Nazis. My aunts, uncles, and cousins the youngest being only two years old and the oldest my grandfather were gone, never to be seen again! Jews endured over a decade of hate directed towards them starting before and during WWII, with a threat to Jews from Hitler that they would pay with their lives for being the cause of Germany’s troubles. I wonder what Hitler would think of these diners, after all, he was very proud of what he and his henchmen were doing. Nothing like the Holocaust had ever happened before in which a whole race/religion was to be eradicated from the earth! Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born writer and lawyer who escaped from Poland to the U.S. in 1941 heard a radio address in which Winston Churchill spoke of the horrors of WWII. Churchill said, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”Raphael created a new word to describe this crime. The new word was “Genocide” its definition - the destruction of a nation or an ethnic group. He created the word genocide by combining the Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing).
Q: Do you believe that a modern-day leader could possibly follow in Hitler's footsteps?
A: With today's modern technologies, media, Internet, etc., and an abundance of available weaponry, the emergence of a modern-day Hitler is a frightening possibility! Therefore it is important for our government to be able to monitor all activities of extremist groups in the United States and work with all governments in the world to prevent a would-be Hitler from coming to power.
Q: How do you feel about current events today, such as the Black Lives Matter protest and protests from the LGBTQ + community?
A: Fortunately, we still live in a democratic country where people have freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate if demonstrations are orderly and peaceful. The debate of “Black Lives Matter” is mind-boggling to me. People come back with “All Lives Matter,” which is correct. Still, when a group for generations has suppressed a race and then finally has a platform to voice the hardship of inequality, we must all listen and admit the truth of their suppression so that we can build on the platform of equality. I approve and encourage peaceful demonstrations that show respect for one another and promote being an UPSTANDER!
Q: Can you explain the fact that such a civilized nation destroyed human beings?
A: Germans were highly educated people and raised to respect one another, so indeed how can such a civilized nation get to the point of destroying 6 million-plus humans. Extremists such as the Nazis who organized themselves as a political party shortly after WWI are to blame. They advocated and spread hate throughout Germany using propaganda. They used freedom of speech or rather I should say they abused freedom of speech by spewing continuous lies, especially about the Jews, accusing them of everything that was wrong at the time in Germany. These lies were repeated continuously and over time instilled hate and rage against the Jews. Nazi propaganda eventually influenced the German people into accepting an ideology, which turned into the Holocaust. Yes, unfortunately, it is possible for a civilized nation to destroy human beings, and it could happen again in any country in the world. The lesson to be learned is this, people can be civilized and educated yet they are willing to follow blindly without finding the truth. In today’s society, we not only have propaganda being spread but we also have big lies, and conspiracy theories to contend with. At the end taking the time to find the truth could be the difference between life and death (another Holocaust).
Q: Do you have peace with everything now?
A: This is a good question. I made my peace with my past. I got rid of my hate, which I replaced with love, respect, and tolerance and I urge everyone to do the same so that we all, perhaps in time will be able to enjoy a peaceful world!