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Witness: Voices from the Holocaust

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Overview

A Living Testimony
Fifty-five years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust continues to cast a dark shadow. For the past two decades, the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University has sought to preserve the human side of this inhuman era by videotaping testimonies from those who lived through the Nazi regime, a project that has led to an acclaimed documentary film and this extraordinary book.
The Wall Street Journal called the ...

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Overview

A Living Testimony
Fifty-five years after the end of World War II, the Holocaust continues to cast a dark shadow. For the past two decades, the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University has sought to preserve the human side of this inhuman era by videotaping testimonies from those who lived through the Nazi regime, a project that has led to an acclaimed documentary film and this extraordinary book.
The Wall Street Journal called the documentary "eloquent and unsparing," and Daily Variety said it was "a staggeringly powerful record." The Washington Times said that Witness "gives new meaning to the term documentary. [It is] as pure a document as I have ever seen on television."
In Witness: Voices from the Holocaust, Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar weave a single and compelling narrative from the first-person accounts of twenty-seven witnesses, including camp survivors, American military personnel, a member of the Hitler Youth, a Jesuit priest, and resistance fighters. The vivid and detailed memories of these witnesses testify to the continuing impact of this human catastrophe, and their impassioned words lend immediacy to events that resonate to this day.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Chaim Potok A work of extraordinary power.

Walter Reich Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of International Affairs, Ethics, and Human Behavior at George Washington University; former Director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum This is the finest compendium of Holocaust memory I know.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Textbooks and historical accounts can provide a broad view of the Holocaust, but nothing can come close to the power of the testimony of those who were there. As Holocaust scholar Lawrence Langer writes in his introduction to this collage of first-hand accounts, "Without survivor testimony, the human dimension of the catastrophe would remain a subject of speculation." For more than two decades, the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University has been videotaping the oral histories of Holocaust survivors and eyewitnesses. This extraordinary project has resulted in a documentary that will air on PBS in April and in this companion book. Editors Greene, a filmmaker, and Kumar, a scholar specializing in ethics and morality in global TV production, have woven together the testimonies of 27 individuals into an unforgettable narrative of the Holocaust: starting with pre-WWII Jewish life, they go on to describe the war's outbreak, ghettos, resistance and hiding, death camps, death marches, liberation and life after the Holocaust. Through careful selection and sequencing, the editors have succeeded in their goal: "to edit without editorializing." These painfully sad testimonies speak for themselves, providing the horrific details of people's experiences. The common link among these speakers is the eternal scars they bear. One survivor concludes his remarks with the haunting words: "I can't tell you everything in an interview. I couldn't even describe one day in the ghetto. I don't want to live with that pain, but it's there. It's there. It forms its own entity and it surfaces whenever it wants to." These voices bring us a step closer to comprehending the lasting anguish of the Nazi genocide. Photos. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
From The Critics
The twenty-seven people who provide these riveting eyewitness accounts of Holocaust atrocities represent disparate voices—Jewish survivors, American soldiers, a Hitler Youth member, and a Jesuit priest. Their stories individualize the catastrophic genocide of six million Jews and five million others. Illustrated with haunting photographs, the narrative poignantly describes life before, during, and after the Holocaust. Among the many insights about the Nazis' crimes against humanity is the survivors' incomprehensible struggle to 'simply stay alive,' which often took precedence over their desire to obey common morality, and frequently, resulted in animal-like behavior. Edited from more than 4,000 oral narratives preserved from the Yale's Frotunoff Video Archive for Holocaust testimonies, Witness ends with one survivor's desperate plea, "But did we really learn anything?" Perhaps, after this read, the answer is "Never again." Genre: Holocaust 2000, The Free Press, 270p
Library Journal
A companion volume to both a PBS documentary (scheduled to air in April 2000) and Yale's Fortunoff Archive (www. library.yale.edu/testimonies), this print compilation of the remembrances of 27 Holocaust witnesses is an excellent addition to the literature. The "voices" here range from the Jewish experience to that of non-Jews, American POWs, and resistance fighters. Editors Greene, an award-winning film producer, and Kumar, who teaches graduate seminars on ethics and morality, have wisely chosen to group the narratives chronologically and to edit them only minimally. The results are cohesive and compelling firsthand stories that begin in the 1930s and end with the still very painful memories of today. Many of the individuals in Witness lay bare their emotions, having never before discussed their experiences; hence, this work contrasts with other Holocaust memoirs in which the writers have had time for introspection and editing. Recommended for public and academic library Holocaust collections.--Maria C. Bagshaw, Lake Erie Coll., Painesville, OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684865263
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1 TOUCHSTO
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 824,295
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Joshua M. Greene produces books and films of personal narrative. His award-winning films have aired on PBS, HBO, the Disney Channel, and stations in twenty countries. He lives in Old Westbury, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 8: "Lost, Without Words"

Liberation

As the German defeat became evident, so did awareness of the enormity of the catastrophe unleashed by Nazi Germany. Allied soldiers, stunned by huge mounds of corpses and living skeletons, were among the first to confront the atrocities in the camps they liberated. Germans from all walks of life, former citizens of Hitler's Thousand Year Reich, were compelled by Allied forces to view the unprecedented mass murder that had been carried out in their name in nearby camps. Those still alive among the victimized had to redefine the meaning of freedom in a world where their families, their homes, and their towns, villages, and religious communities had been destroyed forever.

For most of those who survived the camps and death marches, "liberation" offered little solace. Most were alone. They were ill, weak, and malnourished, facing a bleak and uncertain future. Those of us who today celebrate the "triumph of survival" overlook the burden of survivors' painful memories and their sense at liberation that "I'm not alive, I'm dead" and "I'm alive, but so what?"

Some camp survivors recall responding to the entrance of American or British soldiers with elation, scarcely believing that their ordeal had come to an end. The elation soon gave way to recurring nightmares and painful memories.

Those who returned to their homes in Poland, hoping to find family, reclaim property, and resume their lives often encountered hostility, indifference, and violence. Many therefore chose to leave their former homes and traveled to displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy, where they spent months — sometimes years — before being allowed to settle in other countries.

Colonel Edmund M.

Born Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1919

First Lieutenant, Sixty-fifth U.S. Infantry

I was in my, I guess, mid-twenties [and] I was an infantry officer in General Patton's Third Army. We had fought our way through most of Germany, and a few days before the liberation of this camp we had fought our way into Austria. My particular unit was one of the first units to gain entrance into Nazi-occupied Austria at that time. So at that time, we were waiting — by "we" I am referring to my specific unit — we were told to stop and wait for the advance of the Soviet army that was coming from the east, from Vienna, that they had recently captured, and approaching us. The Soviet army was approximately a hundred, a hundred and ten miles away farther to the east.

This was the spring of 1945. It was beautiful. The country was picturesque. We were admiring the flowers. Things were now more relaxed. Two or three tanks then stumbled upon Mauthausen concentration camp. There was no prior knowledge, as far as we knew, to the existence of this major concentration camp. The effect, I think, was pure chance that our American tanks found these. So quickly, then, the airwaves were filled with the radio messages going in all directions about this particular camp having been found. I jumped out of the jeep to head in towards the main gate. Even though it was a beautiful day, [a] very, very beautiful day, I felt a brief chill. I don't know what caused the chill. Perhaps a premonition of what we were about to see.

Werner R.

Age 18, Mauthausen

The trouble was that the American troops advanced from one side and the Russian troops advanced from the other side, and they had an agreement that "This area is yours and this area is ours," and everything was fine and dandy. Unfortunately, nobody counted that the Russian forces would be held up in Vienna. So the whole thing got delayed. And in the meantime, while the squeeze was going on, there was no food in the camp. I mean, it was sort of a — a concentration camp at its worst. The camp was overcrowded. There were maybe in one of these bunks four or six people sitting, crouched together. They were giving us a spoonful, tablespoon-full of moldy bread per day. Sometimes twice a day.

I'll never forget. There was a huge pile of corpses — huge pile of corpses, which were moving. They were still alive and breathing, but they were just piled up there. And this pile was actually moving, this whole pile. You know, the moment somebody sort of fainted or passed out, you simply used to drag them and put them on there. There were cases of cannibalism in the camp at that time. There was a little bit of grass, or some stuff like that growing out — it was all eaten up. There was nothing there. People were getting diseases. You name it, a disease, within about two or three days, gone. Things were totally hopeless. If somebody died next to you, you were lucky. What you could do is ask the food for this person who is dead, and then you took it. But there was just so long that you could keep a corpse next to you. It was a bad time.

Arnold C.

Age 12, Mauthausen

I remember I used to pick grass to nourish myself. The portions of bread that they used to give us — if you just blew on it, it just disintegrated. It was all mold. There were big tents where we were kept. I wanted to leave my tent and go to a different one because most of my friends were there. It was about six or seven o'clock in the evening. I walked out, and as I was walking toward that tent a[n] SS officer saw me. He says, "Where are you going?" I knew I was not supposed to be outside of my tent. I just turned around and started running. He pulled out his pistol and he emptied his pistol after me. And he missed me. I made it back into my tent, and I said, "The SS is after me!" So I dropped down on the ground and some kids threw a blanket over me. And he came looking for me. There were many people in that particular tent. Thousands probably. He couldn't find me. That night, I remained in that tent. That same night there was an air raid. The planes dropped bombs all over the place — and one of the bombs landed in the tent where I [had] wanted to be. Many of the children were killed. In the morning, there were arms and legs hanging all over the place. I must admit, it was the first and only place where I saw cannibalism. I saw two people take a piece of meat from a body and try to make a fire and cook it. The German officer who walked by, who saw it, shot them immediately.

From there, again a forced march, another camp. We were taken to Gunskirchen in Austria. I slept on the outside. There were too many dead bodies inside the barracks infested with lice. I had decided to run away. I made arrangements to escape from that camp. On the night that I was supposed to escape, the Germans disappeared and saved me the escape. The following morning I saw the first American troops. They drove in with the jeeps. We marched out of the camp — and we just walked!

Christa M.

We were preparing, you know. Then we heard always the artillery coming in, and we expected all kinds of horrendous things. There's a jeep, and two Chinese Americans in it. We didn't know what an American was. So on my own I got up and go across. "Oh, you're Chinese?" They were furious. That was my first lesson because they said, "No, we are Americans." Only two? That's it? We were expecting — the propaganda was dreadful! "The Americans are coming in! All the women are going to be raped! And we're going to get shot!" Two lovely guys are offering you a stick of chewing gum.

Edith P.

Salzwedel

That morning, it was the fourteenth of April 1945, early in the morning. Evidently the Americans broke through and broke the water lines and we had no water. And he [the Nazi boss] wanted to shave or needed water. He said to me, "Come here, Edith. You are going to go with this [woman] officer and with two pails and one mile, you are going to bring some water from the well. We need water." So I did. And when I came back, the water was very heavy, so I just put it down. So she slapped me. This woman knew that the Americans — it's only minutes, only hours that the Americans, their enemy, will be here. But she still had the control over me. She slapped me. She says, "Don't you dare put this down! Let's go, fast!" So I did, and I brought in the water. And he came to me and he said, "Now you know I was a good boss to you, wasn't I?" Oh, sure. How else? Of course! "So, you see? You survived. The armies" — he called the Americans "armies" — "I know the armies are here," he said, "and within one hour they are going to be and I'm going to stay here." He did, because there was nowhere for them to go. Not because he was so brave. As soon as he saw the first American he started to run.

Werner R.

On May 5, a couple of American tanks rolled into Mauthausen accidentally. They didn't even know there was a camp there. And suddenly they find themselves with this huge camp of starved and uncontrollable people there.

Col. Edmund M.

Mauthausen

I jumped out of the jeep and then proceeded into the camp, looking around at this horrifying picture of stone, barbed wire, machine guns that encircled the whole camp. It was a very, well, frightful thing to look at. Just the appearance of the place, not just an open field with barbed wire around it. Far from it. [There was] a very, very large wooden gate that undoubtedly would require many men just to push open. There were guard towers every perhaps seventy-five feet or so that had machine guns in them facing the inmates. Scary, to say the least. The SS at this time — many of them had disappeared, put on civilian clothes and disappeared, whereas some SS were still in hiding within the place.

Edith P.

We heard lots of commotion all over. It was tremendous pressure all over. The gates were closed. I want to emphasize that Salzwedel did not have only Jewish prisoners. We have been with a lot of Danish and Dutch prisoners, and Gypsies. The gates were closed and everybody was standing in the yard like one man. And about eleven o'clock we heard a tank, stopping at the gate. Two shots fired and the gates opened. And as we ran, there was a white and a black American [crying] standing side-by-side in the tank. It's the first time I saw a black man. I loved him for it all my life. And he stood there erect, maybe because he understood. And the [Nazi] boss was running and he [the American] shot him. I still see him lying there, with his beautiful shiny boots that I was shining an hour before. And I had no pity on him. And we were liberated and he said, "Everybody goes!" And everybody went crazy. Crazy!

Martin S.

Age 12, Buchenwald

It was April eleventh, four o'clock in the afternoon. I remember this clear as a bell. I remember the Americans coming in. I remember we almost killed one of them because we kept throwing him up in the air and he just couldn't take it — his body couldn't take it. But first there was that — "Is this really an American soldier?" Don't forget, we heard the front coming up. You hear the bombardment and you hear the heavy cannon fire in the distance. So we knew they were coming. And when you see the skeleton crew, you begin to realize something is happening. You walk around and you just say to yourself, "Is this really happening?" It's a feeling that is elation, but at the same time you say, "Don't get carried away because it might be a letdown." So you don't know if you want to jump or whether you want to be happy or not. When they finally came in and you saw the jeeps roll in, you saw the different uniforms, you realized it's over. Tremendous, tremendous high. As a matter of fact, I don't even remember being hungry!

Rene'e H.

Age 11, Bergen-Belsen

One of the saddest things in my life has been that I have no recollection of the liberation because I was totally ill with the typhus. I have no recollection of what happened when the English came to Bergen-Belsen, none of the things that people told me afterwards about the joy and the sense of being moved from where I was to what was converted into a hospital which was outside — right in the place where the Germans themselves were billeted. One of the men who was liberating us was a Dr. Collis, and he told me later on that I was very near death. Had I had to wait another two days for the English, I would not have survived.

Perla K.

Age 17, Dachau

In Dachau, I tell you the truth, I don't know too many things because I start to be very — They put me to one room. I think was the death room, laid in the floor and I don't remember nothing. I was almost dead, you know. The only thing that I remember somebody picked me up, you know, in his hand. The American, in his hand, and put me to the car — ambulance and took me to the hospital.

Colonel Edmund M.

The thing that impressed I think all of us almost immediately was the horrible physical condition of most of the inmates whom we saw. Some of them undoubtedly looked in fairly good health, but these were in the minority. Most of them were in very, very bad shape. Some of them actually looked almost like living skeletons. I took a look at some, and I would estimate the average weight probably might have been eighty, ninety pounds or so.

I walked into one of the barracks, and the first thing that almost literally startled me was the terrific stench of the barracks. It was just unbelievable. The odor of excretions, et cetera, that were in there, that the inmates could not help over a period of time. It was just so much so, that I first just wanted to grab my breath and maybe walk out immediately without going any farther. But I took a deep breath and went in a bit farther and looked around. The bunks were roughly about, I'd say about six feet long, probably about three and a half or four feet wide. And they were triple-tiered, sort of like young children would be having, except one would be sleeping in them. Here we had three to four inmates sleeping in each of these bunks, just squeezed together, literally, like almost sardines. A few of them were lucky enough to have some straw.

Many inmates, including some whom I met later, were in very bad situations physically from diseases. Typhus, for example. I would estimate that the majority of the inmates within this camp had typhus. In addition to typhus there was diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, diphtheria — you have it, any — almost any disease mentionable.

Abraham P.

Age 21, Theresienstadt

I had diarrhea there. I had typhus, and I was put into a hospital. I had, I lost — I was eighty pounds. I couldn't sit down. I lost my hair. I just couldn't walk. I couldn't sit down. I was just bone. Period. There was not even a piece of flesh.

Helen K.

Age 21, Auschwitz

I weighed maybe fifty, sixty pounds when I was liberated. You'd be surprised how much a human being can take. It's just amazing. I think it had more to do with your mental ability to survive than with the physical.

Colonel Edmund M.

One problem that we had there with the inmates immediately, it was brought to our attention by the medical personnel, was that because of the very incapacitated physical condition of the inmates, that they would be unable to tolerate any large amount of food, particularly rich food. They had to be very, very careful that they did not eat too much food at once. Otherwise, it could kill them. It was difficult, I'm sure, for the inmates, having been on starvation diets, not to want all the food that they could get. This was understandable. It was also difficult, I am quite sure, for many of the American soldiers there not to want to give them food, seeing their suffering.

Werner R.

Age 18, Mauthausen

So they bring up these K-Rations — a can of chopped ham in it, you know, and a couple of biscuits and three Chesterfields with a little can opener — and they distributed it throughout the camp. Now this produced a tremendous death rate, instantly. People were eating that stuff and got diarrhea, and there was nothing in the world to stop it. I mean, you know, it was like poison. So I don't know how many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people just died right there from that food which was given to them.

Martin S.

Age 12, Buchenwald

They cooked a lot of pork. They made pork soups. And I remember there were doctors in camp, prisoners [who] kept going around saying, "Don't eat this! Your bodies can't take it." I don't remember whether I paid much heed, but I know I overdid it. Thank God I didn't die, but oh, I was sick, I was deathly sick because our systems were not used to it. Now I understand it.

Robert S.

Former Hitler Youth

As I went into those postwar years, day after day, everything remained the same from what I could see. I didn't come across people who said to me, "Do you realize what we have done?" No. There were former Nazis whom I had known who were standing in line to be "denazifiziert" [denazified]. Okay, and that was it! Once you were "denazifiziert," then everything was really, "Well, Hitler wasn't all that bad, you know. He had bad advisers." This was the first wave of rationalization that came. I can't tell you — I don't know what I expected people to do. I really do not know what I thought should happen. I just thought things couldn't go on the way they had been, and the way they were going on. I couldn't look at people of my father's age and not say, "Why didn't you talk to me when there was time? Why did you — were you silent?" And I could say the same thing about my mother, and she never said anything about that. It was as if it didn't happen.

Colonel Edmund M.

Well, of course they [the nearby civilians] all denied knowing anything about it. The town itself is about roughly little less than two miles, maybe a mile and a half, mile and three quarters from the camp, down at the bottom of a hill. We talked with some of these civilians. What they in effect were saying was that up at the top of the hill where the camp was, that this to them was just a training area for the German troops. They admitted no knowledge whatsoever of the concentration camp. They just basically lied to us because when one analyzes the records of what had actually gone on at that place — [prisoners] had come down into the town, come off trains there, or come in by trucks there, and then had to walk up the little less than two miles up — the people could not help but know that the camp was there.

Golly D.

Age 23, escaped from death march

We walked along the path and from a distance saw a young woman approaching us with a little girl on her hand. The first thing we said to each other, "Don't forget, we're Germans." So we met each other, we came close to the woman, and the first thing I said to her, "We are Germans! We escaped from the east!" She took my hand. She was all shaken up. She says, "You don't have to tell me anything. I just passed that column." She couldn't believe what she had seen, but she realized right away that we belonged — we belonged to them. She said, "Listen to me. The American[s] are twenty kilometers" — about fifteen, seventeen miles — "away from here. You just spend the days, try to stay in this area and wait till they come, so they will be able to help you." Next she says, "Up the hill, on the other side of the road is a little chapel. When after it gets dark, go up there and you will find some food." She never gave us her name. I have no idea. But she must have been — she was a lifesaver. We stayed in the area and every night we went up to the chapel for about three or four nights, and the fourth night we again found some food, and on top of the food was a little bunch of forget-me-nots.

In the meantime, we heard the artillery shots, and we knew from her this can only be the approaching American army. So we walked toward the sound of artillery. Again we passed a little larger village, from which each and every German had escaped into the woods. They were so frightened of the Americans, thought that the Americans would do to them what they did to us. Nonetheless, they were so frightened that they sometimes forgot even to lock the door, so fast they ran into the woods.

We passed, Heidi and I, a nice-looking house with an open door. Naturally, we walk in. Cabinets full of clothes and sacks full of food. The farmers had everything. So in our craze, what we did — the first thing we did, we ripped off all of our lice-infested clothes. We took clothes out of the closet. Each of us put on three or four dresses one on top of the other. Then the Germans have shopping bags with zippers on top and two handles. We each took one or two bags and we put in rice and sugar and whatnot — everything we did was crazy, but that's what we did. Then we went into the adjoining kitchen. The kitchen was off the hall. And Heidi was still in a little bit better shape — as it turned out later, after we were weighed, I weighed seventy pounds and she weighed eighty pounds, which means she was still a little bit better shape, strong enough, I suppose, to busy herself at the oven. Whatever she could find she cooked together: eggs with carrots, with whatnot, whatever she could find.

Suddenly, while we were in this situation, the door was jammed open with force. And two American soldiers walk into the kitchen. Now, fortunately, first of all, we were prepared more or less that the Americans were approaching. Secondly, we recognized at that point by their language — and fortunately both of us knew English also. So first thing we told to them, in our fear they shouldn't think we are Germans, we told them, "We are Jewish girls from concentration camp." And he said. "We have liberated so many concentration camps," he says, "You don't have any explaining to do." He said, "Stay in this house. I will give order further back to the officers, and you wait here until the officers come here. In the meantime," he said, "EVERYTHING IN THIS HOUSE IS YOURS!" He had such a warm heart. He didn't know what to do, so he wanted to console us and said everything in that house belonged to us! Sure enough, about an hour and half or so later two very distinguished-looking young American officers walked in. They didn't say much. One of them literally took me in his arms, carried me in his arms. The other one carried Heidi on his arms, and carried us into their quarters. So, typical Americans, I mean they meant so well, but they couldn't also fathom what was really going on with us. So one asked, "Would you like a whiskey?"

Arnold C.

We went to the first town, a German, Austrian town. We went into a home. We demanded food. There was a group of us. They gave us all the food we could eat. I was never so sick in all my life afterwards. We were allocated by the U.S. army, barracks expropriated from German troops.

One day a group of Jewish soldiers from the Jewish Brigade showed up and they said, "Do you want to go to Palestine?" Yes, I wanted to go to Palestine, but I was thinking of where do I find my parents. I found an American soldier. He was a black man and I asked him if he could write a letter to 1819 Wesley Avenue in Evanston. He did. I then decided to go with the Jewish soldiers. They took us to Italy in trucks. Then there was a correspondent from Israel who came to interview the children. They asked me where I was from, I told them and so on. It was published. My mother happened to read that newspaper in Austria, that I did an interview in Italy, and I am alive. She came looking for me. And one day, I saw her coming on the street. I saw her from far. I was standing on top of a hill and I saw her coming. And I ran down the hill and she ran towards me, as we hugged and met each other.

Chaim E.

Escaped from Sobibo'r with his future wife

We saw in a field a stack of hay somewhere and we figured let's stay over there, because that's the only place we could find. And what happened, some kids came playing there and they crawled up and they saw us. So we had, the middle of the day, to go away. Some farmer with some horse and wagon came around, and I talked to him and he said, "Yah! Sure!" And I got suspicious, so I jumped off and I say Selma, "Jump off! It's not safe!" The way he talked or whatever. And we ran away. We always kept near to woods.

One farmer, we told him we'd give him everything he wants if he wants to keep us here. Just give us once a day to eat and keep or whatever. And one day we talk with him and he says, "Listen. I cannot do it because it is too obvious. I live crowded with people. But I have a brother what he lives very isolated. He might be willing to do it." [We] dressed up Selma as an old lady, and me put on the wagon, covered me with straw and brought us to his brother. Now that was a terrible dangerous thing to do because the Germans all over. His brother agreed. So we gave him everything we had. He put us in the barn, a cow barn, on the top, an attic on straw. He put us there, and once a day he brought us something to eat.

He kept us there for quite some time till the Russians came — about six months. A few days before the Russians came, a little nephew from this farmer was chasing birds. And the birds happened to fly in the direction where we were there. And he saw us. So, it was a secret — no one in the family knew about, just he and his wife. So we were in danger already because probably he wouldn't want to keep us. So luckily, two or three days later, the Russians came and then we got freed. So that is really the end for us, the end of the war. So we was really very lucky that these people kept us — at least they didn't kill us. It was a rarity to have people like we met by accident. Very rare. Very rare.

Joseph K.

Liberated, age 19

We came across a group of Americans guarding German prisoners of war. And there was this American soldier who spoke Polish and he asked us who we were, and we explained it to him. He interpreted to the American boys, and one of them took off a submachine gun. He handed it to me, motioning to kill the German prisoners. I became very frightened and I gave it back to him. I just walked away.

I couldn't believe it, that the Americans were real. I couldn't believe it, that the Germans were actually defeated. It took a long time to understand that there was a stronger power than Germany. To us, they were the all-powerful and they brainwashed us [to] such an extent that we had no belief in ourselves. We had no understanding for right and wrong at that particular point in time.

Rene'e G.

Age 12, Soviet troops enter the area where she and her family were hiding

The biggest thrill was when we started hearing shooting and we knew that the Russians are approaching. One day, we saw planes coming overhead and we were rejoiced. We knew we could get killed again, because many of the barns were burning all around us. But as long as were being killed by the Russians, it wasn't so bad. The only thing we were afraid of [was] that the barn would start burning and we would have to run out into the fields and be killed by Germans, if they see us come out. Luckily, our barn was not hit and we saw German soldiers coming back. And what a joy to see German soldiers coming back depressed and just dragging back, instead of the ones we saw marching with full force and pride towards the east. Now they were really dragging back. On the road we saw them just moving back. We saw the Russian planes hitting the road. We still didn't know how soon all this was going to happen. And the next morning we heard a strange language outside. It was no longer German. We heard Russian spoken. And we said, "This is it! This is it!"

The farmer didn't want to let us out during the daylight. He was more afraid of his neighbors than the Germans themselves. So the next evening, when it was all clear and there was nobody around, he opened that gate and he said, "Walk out." So we walked to the highway and we waited. A Russian truck came by and asked us who we were. We told them we were Jews who were hiding out. They picked us up, took us to our town, let us in to our own homes, gave us food, and treated us very well. My father tried to get some of the goods back that he had before the war. There was a lot of resentment. The Polish peasants, some of them didn't want to give it back.

Herbert J.

American POW, Mauthausen

When we were taken prisoner, it wasn't known by anybody because the two halftracks just disappeared. That's all. Twenty-seven men. They [concluded] that something happened to us because they couldn't find us anywhere and we were reported as missing in action. Then they liberated the camp — it was my own outfit that liberated the camp, the Eleventh Armored — and when they liberated the camp and I was able to identify myself and those who were still alive, I was right back in my own outfit again. They said something about prisoner of war and whatnot, but, you know, I said I'd just as soon forget about it. That's about the way it ended up. The fact that I was in the camp was something that I wanted to forget at the time.

Joseph K.

For the longest time after liberation, I didn't want to live. I had nothing to live for. Somehow, in my deep recesses, I was hoping to live to see Germany destroyed. And I did live to see that. After that, there was nothing.

Rabbi Baruch G.

Age 22, Theresienstadt

Loneliness has various aspects to it. I remember after liberation, I suffered probably more from the loneliness and the isolation, more than during the Holocaust period. And I thought about it the other day, I suppose it has to do with the fact that after, life around you seems to be normal — but you are abnormal. Well, why? In concentration camps, in labor camps, there was a preoccupation with survival, a preoccupation with being thrown around and how I can make the next day. But then after what was called "liberation" — actually the realization of liberation was not vivid with me, was not real with me for a long time.

But I remember during the years '45, '46, '47, even up to '48, I would find myself crying, and quite frequently, feeling there's no one — there's no one around me that cares what I do and what I don't do. There are many other aspects to it that I suppose has to do with loneliness. Feeling of, yes, I'm alive, but that's it. The rest doesn't matter. No ambition. For what? For who? No initiative. If I am to stand, I'm standing. So I am standing. If you tell me to sit down, I'll sit down. That was real for a long time.

Perla K.

I remember one day General Eisenhower came in the hospital. He was walking, you know, in the hospital, walking every bed, and he stopped in my bed and he was talking with the doctor. And he was, you know [nodding] his head. After, the doctor told me, he say, "You'll be all right. You're going [to] Greece again." But I say to myself, "Going [to] Greece? To do what? Who is there? I don't know who is going to come back, I don't know anything."

Rabbi Baruch G.

Displaced persons camp

For shoes we were given those wooden clogs and they used to make loud noise when you walked. I was afraid that somebody, that I'll disturb somebody. I was so afraid for people. I was so much afraid to do any harm to anybody, to make anybody displeased with me. Terribly afraid. I remember we had to go to the kitchen to get my soup, you know, for the first few months. I would drag the shoes, not to lift them up, so they wouldn't make much noise. I remember at times going over to the place where I had my dish with a spoon. Take it — take it off the shelf and sitting down and going through the motions of eating, then catching myself — "What am I doing? There is no food there."

Joseph K.

When I went back to Poland after the war to find out if any of members of my family had survived, I was in a train of repatriates. As we left the Polish border, going towards Katowice, which was the next main town, I heard a group of Polish people talking amongst themselves, saying something to the effect, well, whatever Hitler did, at least we are grateful to him for having solved the Jewish problem for us. Now this is after the war. This is after what has happened to our people!

Martin S.

After liberation, after the war, we went back. We didn't even want to lay claim to anything. We just wanted to look for our families. We were in Kraków. In that two-week period we were there, there were two pogroms. It was so shattering. I cannot find the words to describe the feeling. The incredulousness! It is impossible to elucidate! Here I'm coming back from what I call hell, and I remember saying to myself, "You know, when we get back to Poland, they're going to feel sorry for us. They'll open the doors for us." And we arrive in Kraków and we're waiting in one of those holding areas for DPs and they're attacking with guns, knives. It was terrible. The Russians were protecting us.

After things settled down, quieted down, and they're standing there with machine guns, two other Russians walked by. And one holler[ed] up to one of them, "What are you doing up there?" He says, "Oh, I've got duty. I've got to watch these kikes." That jolt was another one to tell me, "There's no way, no place." After the two pogroms, plus this. It was worse than camp, those instances. The utter helplessness, the feeling of despair. Is there any place that I don't have to fear? Is there any place that I can feel comfortable?

Joseph K.

Some of the survivors came back — and they were killed by the Polish people. There's no excuse. They were not under the occupation by the Germans anymore. They were not forced to do it. The Russians did not tell them to do it. But obviously they felt that they had to help Hitler in the annihilation of our people. That is inexcusable, unforgivable. I will never forgive them. I can't. I don't have a right to forgive them.

I ask a question now, as a survivor. Why was a country like Denmark — Christians, with a Jewish people — Christians having taken upon themselves to save something like 95 percent or upward of that number of the Jewish population, and only a couple hundred kilometers to the east, Christians, too, were cooperating with the Germans to annihilate us? I may sound bitter. I am.

Jacob K.

Age 22, liberated from a death march

When I came back after the war to Poland, we were looked at — we don't belong there anymore. The Poles didn't want us. That's a fact of life. Whether it was just a number, whether or not every Pole was bad or not every German was bad — that's immaterial. Precisely the pain is even more [that] the few who followed Hitler — if all Germany says now, "We didn't know," or something, that not all Germans are bad and that's true. But the few who were bad — it makes the pain worse, because the few who are bad could do so much damage while the rest was standing by. That's what makes it so bad.

Hanna F.

Age 22, posing as a Polish non-Jew

What I felt when the liberation came? That I am alone in the whole world. I escaped from the transport. I ran away two weeks before, two and a half weeks before the liberation. I ran away in Czechoslovakia — [sigh] — I had no desire to live. I had no place to go. I had nobody to talk to. I was just simply lost, without words. I know that everybody is killed. It took me a while till I met my husband after the war. I still had my assumed name. And afterwards, I went back to my own name, to my own identity. And to my own Jewishness. And I am Jewish, all right. I had determined already to survive, and you know what? It wasn't luck. It was stupidity. There was no guts. There were just sheer stupidity.

Edith P.

I recall the same afternoon, I sat down on a big stone and said to myself, "And what's now? What's going to happen to us now? We're all free — are we really free? Where's the family? I'm a young person who had a sheltered, innocent life, and what am I going to do now? Who's going to take care of me?"

Copyright © 2000 by Joshua M. Greene Productions, Inc.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Foreword by Lawrence L. Langer

Editor's Introduction

Acknowledgments

Editor's Note

1 "A Way of Life": Europe, 1930s

Golly D.

Frank S.

Abraham P.

2 "I Grew Up Overnight": The Outbreak of War

Father John S.

Joseph W.

3 "A Whole Town Cried": Ghettos

Joseph K.

Rabbi Baruch G.

Renée G.

Renée H.

4 "A Ladder Made of Rope": Escape, Hiding, and Resistance

Celia K.

Jay M.

5 "Very Little Windows": Deportation and Arrival

Bessie K.

Edith P.

Arnold C.

6 "What My Eyes Have Seen": The Camps

Chaim E.

Hanna F.

Clara L.

Martin S.

Helen K.

Walter S.

Herbert J.

7 "Too Good a Fate": Death March

Werner R.

Christa M.

8 "Lost, Without Words": Liberation

Colonel Edmund M.

9 "It Started with Dreams": Aftermath

Perla K.

Jacob K.

Robert S.

About the Yale Archive

Video References

For Further Reading

Index

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First Chapter

Chapter 8: "Lost, Without Words"

Liberation

As the German defeat became evident, so did awareness of the enormity of the catastrophe unleashed by Nazi Germany. Allied soldiers, stunned by huge mounds of corpses and living skeletons, were among the first to confront the atrocities in the camps they liberated. Germans from all walks of life, former citizens of Hitler's Thousand Year Reich, were compelled by Allied forces to view the unprecedented mass murder that had been carried out in their name in nearby camps. Those still alive among the victimized had to redefine the meaning of freedom in a world where their families, their homes, and their towns, villages, and religious communities had been destroyed forever.

For most of those who survived the camps and death marches, "liberation" offered little solace. Most were alone. They were ill, weak, and malnourished, facing a bleak and uncertain future. Those of us who today celebrate the "triumph of survival" overlook the burden of survivors' painful memories and their sense at liberation that "I'm not alive, I'm dead" and "I'm alive, but so what?"

Some camp survivors recall responding to the entrance of American or British soldiers with elation, scarcely believing that their ordeal had come to an end. The elation soon gave way to recurring nightmares and painful memories.

Those who returned to their homes in Poland, hoping to find family, reclaim property, and resume their lives often encountered hostility, indifference, and violence. Many therefore chose to leave their former homes and traveled to displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy, where they spent months — sometimes years — before being allowed to settle in other countries.


Colonel Edmund M.
Born Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1919
First Lieutenant, Sixty-fifth U.S. Infantry

I was in my, I guess, mid-twenties [and] I was an infantry officer in General Patton's Third Army. We had fought our way through most of Germany, and a few days before the liberation of this camp we had fought our way into Austria. My particular unit was one of the first units to gain entrance into Nazi-occupied Austria at that time. So at that time, we were waiting — by "we" I am referring to my specific unit — we were told to stop and wait for the advance of the Soviet army that was coming from the east, from Vienna, that they had recently captured, and approaching us. The Soviet army was approximately a hundred, a hundred and ten miles away farther to the east.

This was the spring of 1945. It was beautiful. The country was picturesque. We were admiring the flowers. Things were now more relaxed. Two or three tanks then stumbled upon Mauthausen concentration camp. There was no prior knowledge, as far as we knew, to the existence of this major concentration camp. The effect, I think, was pure chance that our American tanks found these. So quickly, then, the airwaves were filled with the radio messages going in all directions about this particular camp having been found. I jumped out of the jeep to head in towards the main gate. Even though it was a beautiful day, [a] very, very beautiful day, I felt a brief chill. I don't know what caused the chill. Perhaps a premonition of what we were about to see.


Werner R.
Age 18, Mauthausen

The trouble was that the American troops advanced from one side and the Russian troops advanced from the other side, and they had an agreement that "This area is yours and this area is ours," and everything was fine and dandy. Unfortunately, nobody counted that the Russian forces would be held up in Vienna. So the whole thing got delayed. And in the meantime, while the squeeze was going on, there was no food in the camp. I mean, it was sort of a — a concentration camp at its worst. The camp was overcrowded. There were maybe in one of these bunks four or six people sitting, crouched together. They were giving us a spoonful, tablespoon-full of moldy bread per day. Sometimes twice a day.

I'll never forget. There was a huge pile of corpses — huge pile of corpses, which were moving. They were still alive and breathing, but they were just piled up there. And this pile was actually moving, this whole pile. You know, the moment somebody sort of fainted or passed out, you simply used to drag them and put them on there. There were cases of cannibalism in the camp at that time. There was a little bit of grass, or some stuff like that growing out — it was all eaten up. There was nothing there. People were getting diseases. You name it, a disease, within about two or three days, gone. Things were totally hopeless. If somebody died next to you, you were lucky. What you could do is ask the food for this person who is dead, and then you took it. But there was just so long that you could keep a corpse next to you. It was a bad time.


Arnold C.
Age 12, Mauthausen

I remember I used to pick grass to nourish myself. The portions of bread that they used to give us — if you just blew on it, it just disintegrated. It was all mold. There were big tents where we were kept. I wanted to leave my tent and go to a different one because most of my friends were there. It was about six or seven o'clock in the evening. I walked out, and as I was walking toward that tent a[n] SS officer saw me. He says, "Where are you going?" I knew I was not supposed to be outside of my tent. I just turned around and started running. He pulled out his pistol and he emptied his pistol after me. And he missed me. I made it back into my tent, and I said, "The SS is after me!" So I dropped down on the ground and some kids threw a blanket over me. And he came looking for me. There were many people in that particular tent. Thousands probably. He couldn't find me. That night, I remained in that tent. That same night there was an air raid. The planes dropped bombs all over the place — and one of the bombs landed in the tent where I [had] wanted to be. Many of the children were killed. In the morning, there were arms and legs hanging all over the place. I must admit, it was the first and only place where I saw cannibalism. I saw two people take a piece of meat from a body and try to make a fire and cook it. The German officer who walked by, who saw it, shot them immediately.

From there, again a forced march, another camp. We were taken to Gunskirchen in Austria. I slept on the outside. There were too many dead bodies inside the barracks infested with lice. I had decided to run away. I made arrangements to escape from that camp. On the night that I was supposed to escape, the Germans disappeared and saved me the escape. The following morning I saw the first American troops. They drove in with the jeeps. We marched out of the camp — and we just walked!


Christa M.

We were preparing, you know. Then we heard always the artillery coming in, and we expected all kinds of horrendous things. There's a jeep, and two Chinese Americans in it. We didn't know what an American was. So on my own I got up and go across. "Oh, you're Chinese?" They were furious. That was my first lesson because they said, "No, we are Americans." Only two? That's it? We were expecting — the propaganda was dreadful! "The Americans are coming in! All the women are going to be raped! And we're going to get shot!" Two lovely guys are offering you a stick of chewing gum.


Edith P.
Salzwedel

That morning, it was the fourteenth of April 1945, early in the morning. Evidently the Americans broke through and broke the water lines and we had no water. And he [the Nazi boss] wanted to shave or needed water. He said to me, "Come here, Edith. You are going to go with this [woman] officer and with two pails and one mile, you are going to bring some water from the well. We need water." So I did. And when I came back, the water was very heavy, so I just put it down. So she slapped me. This woman knew that the Americans — it's only minutes, only hours that the Americans, their enemy, will be here. But she still had the control over me. She slapped me. She says, "Don't you dare put this down! Let's go, fast!" So I did, and I brought in the water. And he came to me and he said, "Now you know I was a good boss to you, wasn't I?" Oh, sure. How else? Of course! "So, you see? You survived. The armies" — he called the Americans "armies" — "I know the armies are here," he said, "and within one hour they are going to be and I'm going to stay here." He did, because there was nowhere for them to go. Not because he was so brave. As soon as he saw the first American he started to run.


Werner R.

On May 5, a couple of American tanks rolled into Mauthausen accidentally. They didn't even know there was a camp there. And suddenly they find themselves with this huge camp of starved and uncontrollable people there.


Col. Edmund M.
Mauthausen

I jumped out of the jeep and then proceeded into the camp, looking around at this horrifying picture of stone, barbed wire, machine guns that encircled the whole camp. It was a very, well, frightful thing to look at. Just the appearance of the place, not just an open field with barbed wire around it. Far from it. [There was] a very, very large wooden gate that undoubtedly would require many men just to push open. There were guard towers every perhaps seventy-five feet or so that had machine guns in them facing the inmates. Scary, to say the least. The SS at this time — many of them had disappeared, put on civilian clothes and disappeared, whereas some SS were still in hiding within the place.


Edith P.

We heard lots of commotion all over. It was tremendous pressure all over. The gates were closed. I want to emphasize that Salzwedel did not have only Jewish prisoners. We have been with a lot of Danish and Dutch prisoners, and Gypsies. The gates were closed and everybody was standing in the yard like one man. And about eleven o'clock we heard a tank, stopping at the gate. Two shots fired and the gates opened. And as we ran, there was a white and a black American [crying] standing side-by-side in the tank. It's the first time I saw a black man. I loved him for it all my life. And he stood there erect, maybe because he understood. And the [Nazi] boss was running and he [the American] shot him. I still see him lying there, with his beautiful shiny boots that I was shining an hour before. And I had no pity on him. And we were liberated and he said, "Everybody goes!" And everybody went crazy. Crazy!


Martin S.
Age 12, Buchenwald

It was April eleventh, four o'clock in the afternoon. I remember this clear as a bell. I remember the Americans coming in. I remember we almost killed one of them because we kept throwing him up in the air and he just couldn't take it — his body couldn't take it. But first there was that — "Is this really an American soldier?" Don't forget, we heard the front coming up. You hear the bombardment and you hear the heavy cannon fire in the distance. So we knew they were coming. And when you see the skeleton crew, you begin to realize something is happening. You walk around and you just say to yourself, "Is this really happening?" It's a feeling that is elation, but at the same time you say, "Don't get carried away because it might be a letdown." So you don't know if you want to jump or whether you want to be happy or not. When they finally came in and you saw the jeeps roll in, you saw the different uniforms, you realized it's over. Tremendous, tremendous high. As a matter of fact, I don't even remember being hungry!


Rene'e H.
Age 11, Bergen-Belsen

One of the saddest things in my life has been that I have no recollection of the liberation because I was totally ill with the typhus. I have no recollection of what happened when the English came to Bergen-Belsen, none of the things that people told me afterwards about the joy and the sense of being moved from where I was to what was converted into a hospital which was outside — right in the place where the Germans themselves were billeted. One of the men who was liberating us was a Dr. Collis, and he told me later on that I was very near death. Had I had to wait another two days for the English, I would not have survived.


Perla K.
Age 17, Dachau

In Dachau, I tell you the truth, I don't know too many things because I start to be very — They put me to one room. I think was the death room, laid in the floor and I don't remember nothing. I was almost dead, you know. The only thing that I remember somebody picked me up, you know, in his hand. The American, in his hand, and put me to the car — ambulance and took me to the hospital.


Colonel Edmund M.

The thing that impressed I think all of us almost immediately was the horrible physical condition of most of the inmates whom we saw. Some of them undoubtedly looked in fairly good health, but these were in the minority. Most of them were in very, very bad shape. Some of them actually looked almost like living skeletons. I took a look at some, and I would estimate the average weight probably might have been eighty, ninety pounds or so.

I walked into one of the barracks, and the first thing that almost literally startled me was the terrific stench of the barracks. It was just unbelievable. The odor of excretions, et cetera, that were in there, that the inmates could not help over a period of time. It was just so much so, that I first just wanted to grab my breath and maybe walk out immediately without going any farther. But I took a deep breath and went in a bit farther and looked around. The bunks were roughly about, I'd say about six feet long, probably about three and a half or four feet wide. And they were triple-tiered, sort of like young children would be having, except one would be sleeping in them. Here we had three to four inmates sleeping in each of these bunks, just squeezed together, literally, like almost sardines. A few of them were lucky enough to have some straw.

Many inmates, including some whom I met later, were in very bad situations physically from diseases. Typhus, for example. I would estimate that the majority of the inmates within this camp had typhus. In addition to typhus there was diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, diphtheria — you have it, any — almost any disease mentionable.


Abraham P.
Age 21, Theresienstadt

I had diarrhea there. I had typhus, and I was put into a hospital. I had, I lost — I was eighty pounds. I couldn't sit down. I lost my hair. I just couldn't walk. I couldn't sit down. I was just bone. Period. There was not even a piece of flesh.


Helen K.
Age 21, Auschwitz

I weighed maybe fifty, sixty pounds when I was liberated. You'd be surprised how much a human being can take. It's just amazing. I think it had more to do with your mental ability to survive than with the physical.


Colonel Edmund M.

One problem that we had there with the inmates immediately, it was brought to our attention by the medical personnel, was that because of the very incapacitated physical condition of the inmates, that they would be unable to tolerate any large amount of food, particularly rich food. They had to be very, very careful that they did not eat too much food at once. Otherwise, it could kill them. It was difficult, I'm sure, for the inmates, having been on starvation diets, not to want all the food that they could get. This was understandable. It was also difficult, I am quite sure, for many of the American soldiers there not to want to give them food, seeing their suffering.


Werner R.
Age 18, Mauthausen

So they bring up these K-Rations — a can of chopped ham in it, you know, and a couple of biscuits and three Chesterfields with a little can opener — and they distributed it throughout the camp. Now this produced a tremendous death rate, instantly. People were eating that stuff and got diarrhea, and there was nothing in the world to stop it. I mean, you know, it was like poison. So I don't know how many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people just died right there from that food which was given to them.


Martin S.
Age 12, Buchenwald

They cooked a lot of pork. They made pork soups. And I remember there were doctors in camp, prisoners [who] kept going around saying, "Don't eat this! Your bodies can't take it." I don't remember whether I paid much heed, but I know I overdid it. Thank God I didn't die, but oh, I was sick, I was deathly sick because our systems were not used to it. Now I understand it.


Robert S.
Former Hitler Youth

As I went into those postwar years, day after day, everything remained the same from what I could see. I didn't come across people who said to me, "Do you realize what we have done?" No. There were former Nazis whom I had known who were standing in line to be "denazifiziert" [denazified]. Okay, and that was it! Once you were "denazifiziert," then everything was really, "Well, Hitler wasn't all that bad, you know. He had bad advisers." This was the first wave of rationalization that came. I can't tell you — I don't know what I expected people to do. I really do not know what I thought should happen. I just thought things couldn't go on the way they had been, and the way they were going on. I couldn't look at people of my father's age and not say, "Why didn't you talk to me when there was time? Why did you — were you silent?" And I could say the same thing about my mother, and she never said anything about that. It was as if it didn't happen.


Colonel Edmund M.

Well, of course they [the nearby civilians] all denied knowing anything about it. The town itself is about roughly little less than two miles, maybe a mile and a half, mile and three quarters from the camp, down at the bottom of a hill. We talked with some of these civilians. What they in effect were saying was that up at the top of the hill where the camp was, that this to them was just a training area for the German troops. They admitted no knowledge whatsoever of the concentration camp. They just basically lied to us because when one analyzes the records of what had actually gone on at that place — [prisoners] had come down into the town, come off trains there, or come in by trucks there, and then had to walk up the little less than two miles up — the people could not help but know that the camp was there.


Golly D.
Age 23, escaped from death march

We walked along the path and from a distance saw a young woman approaching us with a little girl on her hand. The first thing we said to each other, "Don't forget, we're Germans." So we met each other, we came close to the woman, and the first thing I said to her, "We are Germans! We escaped from the east!" She took my hand. She was all shaken up. She says, "You don't have to tell me anything. I just passed that column." She couldn't believe what she had seen, but she realized right away that we belonged — we belonged to them. She said, "Listen to me. The American[s] are twenty kilometers" — about fifteen, seventeen miles — "away from here. You just spend the days, try to stay in this area and wait till they come, so they will be able to help you." Next she says, "Up the hill, on the other side of the road is a little chapel. When after it gets dark, go up there and you will find some food." She never gave us her name. I have no idea. But she must have been — she was a lifesaver. We stayed in the area and every night we went up to the chapel for about three or four nights, and the fourth night we again found some food, and on top of the food was a little bunch of forget-me-nots.

In the meantime, we heard the artillery shots, and we knew from her this can only be the approaching American army. So we walked toward the sound of artillery. Again we passed a little larger village, from which each and every German had escaped into the woods. They were so frightened of the Americans, thought that the Americans would do to them what they did to us. Nonetheless, they were so frightened that they sometimes forgot even to lock the door, so fast they ran into the woods.

We passed, Heidi and I, a nice-looking house with an open door. Naturally, we walk in. Cabinets full of clothes and sacks full of food. The farmers had everything. So in our craze, what we did — the first thing we did, we ripped off all of our lice-infested clothes. We took clothes out of the closet. Each of us put on three or four dresses one on top of the other. Then the Germans have shopping bags with zippers on top and two handles. We each took one or two bags and we put in rice and sugar and whatnot — everything we did was crazy, but that's what we did. Then we went into the adjoining kitchen. The kitchen was off the hall. And Heidi was still in a little bit better shape — as it turned out later, after we were weighed, I weighed seventy pounds and she weighed eighty pounds, which means she was still a little bit better shape, strong enough, I suppose, to busy herself at the oven. Whatever she could find she cooked together: eggs with carrots, with whatnot, whatever she could find.

Suddenly, while we were in this situation, the door was jammed open with force. And two American soldiers walk into the kitchen. Now, fortunately, first of all, we were prepared more or less that the Americans were approaching. Secondly, we recognized at that point by their language — and fortunately both of us knew English also. So first thing we told to them, in our fear they shouldn't think we are Germans, we told them, "We are Jewish girls from concentration camp." And he said. "We have liberated so many concentration camps," he says, "You don't have any explaining to do." He said, "Stay in this house. I will give order further back to the officers, and you wait here until the officers come here. In the meantime," he said, "EVERYTHING IN THIS HOUSE IS YOURS!" He had such a warm heart. He didn't know what to do, so he wanted to console us and said everything in that house belonged to us! Sure enough, about an hour and half or so later two very distinguished-looking young American officers walked in. They didn't say much. One of them literally took me in his arms, carried me in his arms. The other one carried Heidi on his arms, and carried us into their quarters. So, typical Americans, I mean they meant so well, but they couldn't also fathom what was really going on with us. So one asked, "Would you like a whiskey?"


Arnold C.

We went to the first town, a German, Austrian town. We went into a home. We demanded food. There was a group of us. They gave us all the food we could eat. I was never so sick in all my life afterwards. We were allocated by the U.S. army, barracks expropriated from German troops.

One day a group of Jewish soldiers from the Jewish Brigade showed up and they said, "Do you want to go to Palestine?" Yes, I wanted to go to Palestine, but I was thinking of where do I find my parents. I found an American soldier. He was a black man and I asked him if he could write a letter to 1819 Wesley Avenue in Evanston. He did. I then decided to go with the Jewish soldiers. They took us to Italy in trucks. Then there was a correspondent from Israel who came to interview the children. They asked me where I was from, I told them and so on. It was published. My mother happened to read that newspaper in Austria, that I did an interview in Italy, and I am alive. She came looking for me. And one day, I saw her coming on the street. I saw her from far. I was standing on top of a hill and I saw her coming. And I ran down the hill and she ran towards me, as we hugged and met each other.


Chaim E.
Escaped from Sobibo'r with his future wife

We saw in a field a stack of hay somewhere and we figured let's stay over there, because that's the only place we could find. And what happened, some kids came playing there and they crawled up and they saw us. So we had, the middle of the day, to go away. Some farmer with some horse and wagon came around, and I talked to him and he said, "Yah! Sure!" And I got suspicious, so I jumped off and I say Selma, "Jump off! It's not safe!" The way he talked or whatever. And we ran away. We always kept near to woods.

One farmer, we told him we'd give him everything he wants if he wants to keep us here. Just give us once a day to eat and keep or whatever. And one day we talk with him and he says, "Listen. I cannot do it because it is too obvious. I live crowded with people. But I have a brother what he lives very isolated. He might be willing to do it." [We] dressed up Selma as an old lady, and me put on the wagon, covered me with straw and brought us to his brother. Now that was a terrible dangerous thing to do because the Germans all over. His brother agreed. So we gave him everything we had. He put us in the barn, a cow barn, on the top, an attic on straw. He put us there, and once a day he brought us something to eat.

He kept us there for quite some time till the Russians came — about six months. A few days before the Russians came, a little nephew from this farmer was chasing birds. And the birds happened to fly in the direction where we were there. And he saw us. So, it was a secret — no one in the family knew about, just he and his wife. So we were in danger already because probably he wouldn't want to keep us. So luckily, two or three days later, the Russians came and then we got freed. So that is really the end for us, the end of the war. So we was really very lucky that these people kept us — at least they didn't kill us. It was a rarity to have people like we met by accident. Very rare. Very rare.


Joseph K.
Liberated, age 19

We came across a group of Americans guarding German prisoners of war. And there was this American soldier who spoke Polish and he asked us who we were, and we explained it to him. He interpreted to the American boys, and one of them took off a submachine gun. He handed it to me, motioning to kill the German prisoners. I became very frightened and I gave it back to him. I just walked away.

I couldn't believe it, that the Americans were real. I couldn't believe it, that the Germans were actually defeated. It took a long time to understand that there was a stronger power than Germany. To us, they were the all-powerful and they brainwashed us [to] such an extent that we had no belief in ourselves. We had no understanding for right and wrong at that particular point in time.


Rene'e G.
Age 12, Soviet troops enter the area where she and her family were hiding

The biggest thrill was when we started hearing shooting and we knew that the Russians are approaching. One day, we saw planes coming overhead and we were rejoiced. We knew we could get killed again, because many of the barns were burning all around us. But as long as were being killed by the Russians, it wasn't so bad. The only thing we were afraid of [was] that the barn would start burning and we would have to run out into the fields and be killed by Germans, if they see us come out. Luckily, our barn was not hit and we saw German soldiers coming back. And what a joy to see German soldiers coming back depressed and just dragging back, instead of the ones we saw marching with full force and pride towards the east. Now they were really dragging back. On the road we saw them just moving back. We saw the Russian planes hitting the road. We still didn't know how soon all this was going to happen. And the next morning we heard a strange language outside. It was no longer German. We heard Russian spoken. And we said, "This is it! This is it!"

The farmer didn't want to let us out during the daylight. He was more afraid of his neighbors than the Germans themselves. So the next evening, when it was all clear and there was nobody around, he opened that gate and he said, "Walk out." So we walked to the highway and we waited. A Russian truck came by and asked us who we were. We told them we were Jews who were hiding out. They picked us up, took us to our town, let us in to our own homes, gave us food, and treated us very well. My father tried to get some of the goods back that he had before the war. There was a lot of resentment. The Polish peasants, some of them didn't want to give it back.


Herbert J.
American POW, Mauthausen

When we were taken prisoner, it wasn't known by anybody because the two halftracks just disappeared. That's all. Twenty-seven men. They [concluded] that something happened to us because they couldn't find us anywhere and we were reported as missing in action. Then they liberated the camp — it was my own outfit that liberated the camp, the Eleventh Armored — and when they liberated the camp and I was able to identify myself and those who were still alive, I was right back in my own outfit again. They said something about prisoner of war and whatnot, but, you know, I said I'd just as soon forget about it. That's about the way it ended up. The fact that I was in the camp was something that I wanted to forget at the time.


Joseph K.

For the longest time after liberation, I didn't want to live. I had nothing to live for. Somehow, in my deep recesses, I was hoping to live to see Germany destroyed. And I did live to see that. After that, there was nothing.


Rabbi Baruch G.
Age 22, Theresienstadt

Loneliness has various aspects to it. I remember after liberation, I suffered probably more from the loneliness and the isolation, more than during the Holocaust period. And I thought about it the other day, I suppose it has to do with the fact that after, life around you seems to be normal — but you are abnormal. Well, why? In concentration camps, in labor camps, there was a preoccupation with survival, a preoccupation with being thrown around and how I can make the next day. But then after what was called "liberation" — actually the realization of liberation was not vivid with me, was not real with me for a long time.

But I remember during the years '45, '46, '47, even up to '48, I would find myself crying, and quite frequently, feeling there's no one — there's no one around me that cares what I do and what I don't do. There are many other aspects to it that I suppose has to do with loneliness. Feeling of, yes, I'm alive, but that's it. The rest doesn't matter. No ambition. For what? For who? No initiative. If I am to stand, I'm standing. So I am standing. If you tell me to sit down, I'll sit down. That was real for a long time.


Perla K.

I remember one day General Eisenhower came in the hospital. He was walking, you know, in the hospital, walking every bed, and he stopped in my bed and he was talking with the doctor. And he was, you know [nodding] his head. After, the doctor told me, he say, "You'll be all right. You're going [to] Greece again." But I say to myself, "Going [to] Greece? To do what? Who is there? I don't know who is going to come back, I don't know anything."


Rabbi Baruch G.
Displaced persons camp

For shoes we were given those wooden clogs and they used to make loud noise when you walked. I was afraid that somebody, that I'll disturb somebody. I was so afraid for people. I was so much afraid to do any harm to anybody, to make anybody displeased with me. Terribly afraid. I remember we had to go to the kitchen to get my soup, you know, for the first few months. I would drag the shoes, not to lift them up, so they wouldn't make much noise. I remember at times going over to the place where I had my dish with a spoon. Take it — take it off the shelf and sitting down and going through the motions of eating, then catching myself — "What am I doing? There is no food there."


Joseph K.

When I went back to Poland after the war to find out if any of members of my family had survived, I was in a train of repatriates. As we left the Polish border, going towards Katowice, which was the next main town, I heard a group of Polish people talking amongst themselves, saying something to the effect, well, whatever Hitler did, at least we are grateful to him for having solved the Jewish problem for us. Now this is after the war. This is after what has happened to our people!


Martin S.

After liberation, after the war, we went back. We didn't even want to lay claim to anything. We just wanted to look for our families. We were in Kraków. In that two-week period we were there, there were two pogroms. It was so shattering. I cannot find the words to describe the feeling. The incredulousness! It is impossible to elucidate! Here I'm coming back from what I call hell, and I remember saying to myself, "You know, when we get back to Poland, they're going to feel sorry for us. They'll open the doors for us." And we arrive in Kraków and we're waiting in one of those holding areas for DPs and they're attacking with guns, knives. It was terrible. The Russians were protecting us.

After things settled down, quieted down, and they're standing there with machine guns, two other Russians walked by. And one holler[ed] up to one of them, "What are you doing up there?" He says, "Oh, I've got duty. I've got to watch these kikes." That jolt was another one to tell me, "There's no way, no place." After the two pogroms, plus this. It was worse than camp, those instances. The utter helplessness, the feeling of despair. Is there any place that I don't have to fear? Is there any place that I can feel comfortable?


Joseph K.

Some of the survivors came back — and they were killed by the Polish people. There's no excuse. They were not under the occupation by the Germans anymore. They were not forced to do it. The Russians did not tell them to do it. But obviously they felt that they had to help Hitler in the annihilation of our people. That is inexcusable, unforgivable. I will never forgive them. I can't. I don't have a right to forgive them.

I ask a question now, as a survivor. Why was a country like Denmark — Christians, with a Jewish people — Christians having taken upon themselves to save something like 95 percent or upward of that number of the Jewish population, and only a couple hundred kilometers to the east, Christians, too, were cooperating with the Germans to annihilate us? I may sound bitter. I am.


Jacob K.
Age 22, liberated from a death march

When I came back after the war to Poland, we were looked at — we don't belong there anymore. The Poles didn't want us. That's a fact of life. Whether it was just a number, whether or not every Pole was bad or not every German was bad — that's immaterial. Precisely the pain is even more [that] the few who followed Hitler — if all Germany says now, "We didn't know," or something, that not all Germans are bad and that's true. But the few who were bad — it makes the pain worse, because the few who are bad could do so much damage while the rest was standing by. That's what makes it so bad.


Hanna F.
Age 22, posing as a Polish non-Jew

What I felt when the liberation came? That I am alone in the whole world. I escaped from the transport. I ran away two weeks before, two and a half weeks before the liberation. I ran away in Czechoslovakia — [sigh] — I had no desire to live. I had no place to go. I had nobody to talk to. I was just simply lost, without words. I know that everybody is killed. It took me a while till I met my husband after the war. I still had my assumed name. And afterwards, I went back to my own name, to my own identity. And to my own Jewishness. And I am Jewish, all right. I had determined already to survive, and you know what? It wasn't luck. It was stupidity. There was no guts. There were just sheer stupidity.


Edith P.

I recall the same afternoon, I sat down on a big stone and said to myself, "And what's now? What's going to happen to us now? We're all free — are we really free? Where's the family? I'm a young person who had a sheltered, innocent life, and what am I going to do now? Who's going to take care of me?"

Copyright © 2000 by Joshua M. Greene Productions, Inc.

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  • Posted December 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Witness: A book of many stories

    "The rats were standing and eating the (dead) people's faces-eating, you know, they were having a." This is what Hanna F. remembers from her experience at concentration camp, among other things. This book told the stories of several Jews, including Hanna, in their own words. The emotion, the anger, the fear, the guilt is all here, jumping off the pages. These people made me realize what damage the Holocaust did to them. Permanent damage that they have to deal with every day. "Sometime, you know what? I wish to be dead too." says Perla K., crying. "I wish to be dead. Because I can't anymore cope with this thing." It was hard for several of these people to even tell their stories because they felt no one cared to listen. How would you feel if you thought no one cared to listen?

    Several parts of this book were just so shocking and unbelievable. I admit to being repulsed a few times with the vivid descriptions of the horrors. One in particular, was of what Werner R. remembered of the aftermath of his death march, "I know, for instance, some people who managed to get hold of these rubber boots, they had the boots removed, and they removed the toes as well because they froze in this rubber stuff." When Werner arrived at Mauthausen after marching, there were only a few hundred prisoners left of the 5 to 10 thousand they began with. Can you believe that? I'm positive no one can fathom how awful it was to see thousands of Jews; friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow barrack members be killed. But they couldn't react because they had to go on. Someone would be shot next to them and they had to go on.

    There is no one author of this book. There are twenty-seven. Twenty-seven Jews who experienced the Holocaust and are sharing their stories in one place. I believe they want people to understand how awful it was so that it is never repeated. They want our generation to learn from their experiences and to understand that no one wants to feel, or can feel what they do. Martin S. says, "When I see these hijackings and the brutality with which they kill people, I say to myself, "What's new? It's never going to change." If you want first-hand accounts of the Holocaust, read this book. You must be patient, and wait for the stories, which are pieced together to form one, to unfold. But when they do, I believe you will get something out of this book.

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    Posted October 8, 2012

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