I spent some time during the Holidays studying the history of the Holocaust. Why? Well, I had some downtime due to my body not cooperating which required my feet to be elevated. When this happens I like to research various topics while resting. Secondly, something has been really bothering me and I wanted to get some answers for myself. I thought my experience might be typical for some of yours, so I thought I would share it. These are my thoughts and observations from holocaust survivor testimonies and how I think it relates to our current reality.
I have a sister who has demonized me because of my political views. I never noticed it much and always “forgave her” when she was rude. I love her, and we had been very close all our growing up years. I was her sounding board and always encouraged her through her various life trials, no matter what was going on in my personal life. I thought we were good friends.
The change in our relationship began subtly. When I was on FaceBook, many, many, years ago, she refused to “friend” me. I thought that odd, but I ignored it. She had started attending a very “liberal” church, in my opinion. She had become accusatory and critical over the years of everyone whom she thought was “prejudiced” in some form or another, and that included myself and all of my siblings. When our father died, she completely lost it and lashed out at everyone. I forgave her. Grief is a difficult thing for so many. Our father was a Veteran, a very conservative man in Faith and Life, yet generous to a fault. He was beloved by all his children. She brought in a female “pastor” from her church to pray over him before he died, and I wondered what he was thinking. He probably thought the woman was just another friend of my sister, and he would pray with anyone. I thought my sister’s grief had driven her mad so I excused her.
The straw that broke the camel’s back in our relationship was on January 6th, 2021 when the Capitol Complex experienced chaos, both real and manufactured. She texted me and my other family members individually, and if you could scream on text messaging she did that. Somehow any of us who had voted for Trump (the majority in my family) who lived about 3,000 miles away from D.C., were to blame for that mess. I was so stunned that I couldn’t respond to her. As this past year has progressed, I noticed that she believed everything the government and media dished out and was very pious in her faith but liberal in her lifestyle. She continued to be critical of everyone else. I was very hurt by her behavior, but I’ve now come to terms with the fact that she will not change.
At any rate, I wanted to understand how people could be brainwashed by their government, the media, their church, and other sources. I wanted to understand how people could become so pious and unaware of their own behavior that they would turn on their family members. I felt I needed to understand this strange facet of human behavior so I could emotionally move on in a positive direction. And I also wanted to be acutely aware of the signs that someone would betray their own family members, especially now during the times we are in. It almost boils down to a safety factor for me. So, onto what I learned from the holocaust survivor testimonies while I was resting. I think I watched at least 20 hours of testimony, mostly from women.
Most of the interviewees had very normal, some very nice, middle-class lives prior to the war, but many were the only survivors in their families. Very few of the ones I watched were “very religious”. They described an integrated, assimilated, life in Germany and Poland. A lot of them described growing up in very loving homes and having happy lives. They described celebrating the traditional Jewish holidays, but didn’t necessarily have a “kosher home”. They had friends of all stripes and were shocked that their neighbors and friends rejected them and turned on them. Some got out early, before World War II, as they could see the handwriting on the wall. But, most did not think, according to the testimonies that I watched, that the war would last, and certainly didn’t think they would be targeted like they were.
Observation: Few believed what was happening was happening. Denial.
Initially, they thought Hitler was an idiot politician and never dreamed he would gain so much control and persecute the population like he did. They described it as if it happened overnight. Suddenly. Even though the signs of the times had been there for years. When they panicked and tried to get out of Germany or Poland, they could get out, but they weren’t allowed to immigrate into surrounding countries because there were immigration quotas and too many people were fleeing all at once. They had to turn back – they were stuck.
Every day, new laws and regulations were laid down for Jewish people – curfews, wearing the yellow star, closing their businesses, had to give up all gold, silver, and valuables on pain of death, weren’t allowed to work at all or own anything, couldn’t buy or sell. The “Gentiles” were also threatened if they associated with or helped the Jews as they would also be shot. Eventually, they were herded into Ghettos, that were then “evacuated” to various camps – labor camps and death camps. Everything was taken from them – their homes, their furniture, their possessions, their clothing, everything. (I’m collapsing the timeline for the sake of brevity).
Observation: For all of us “preppers”, never, ever, let your government “evacuate” or herd you into camps of any kind. Never, ever, let them disarm you.
The conditions in the Ghettos were horrible. Not enough food, no clean water, sanitation, clothing, heat – all the basics were slowly cut off. Many people died of starvation and exposure. The survivors described seeing dead people in the streets, and then they were told to bury their own dead, but had no tools to even dig graves, some digging graves using a tree branch and with their own hands. Even then, some thought it would soon be over.
One survivor described seeing the Germans throwing babies out of the upper-story windows of a Jewish maternity ward and if the mothers screamed, the Germans would throw the mothers out the window too. When one survivor told her mother about what she saw, her mother punished her for saying such horrible things and told her that no human being would do such a thing to another human being. Her mother’s denial was very strong – a common theme.
Many kept saying, the war will be over soon, and we’ll just make the best of this. Initially, the Germans would give the people in the Ghetto a ration of bread, only bread, nothing else – maybe a 2 or 3 lb loaf for an entire week. Later, there was no food to be found and what could be found was smuggled into the Ghetto, mostly by small children who could sneak in and out of the barbed wire fencing. The penalty for smuggling food was death.
Observation: The rest of the world either didn’t know what was going on, or they were complicit, or they didn’t want to get involved. I gained some sympathy for “immigration quotas” and decided to look into that further.
Some described that they were systematically “evacuated” from the Ghettos to the camps, herded into cattle cars, so many people shoved into a car that they could hardly breathe, just a bucket in the corner for human waste and it would overflow. Many died in the cars. The trips would take several days. They described arriving at the Camps and being greeted by the SS with large German Shepherd dogs and total chaos. They were separated into groups. Many described seeing Mengele, who would send people to the Left or the Right. One side went straight to the gas chambers and ovens, the other side went into the barracks to be used as slave labor. The children were sent to the gas chambers, as were the elderly and the sick or disabled. Anyone deemed “not useful” for labor was immediately killed.
For those who weren’t immediately killed? Their heads were shaved. They had to strip down and stand there completely naked in front of the guards. They were tattooed on their forearm with a number that was their new identity. Then, they were “de-loused” with chemicals that stung them. Then given thin clothing that didn’t fit, no coat, no shoes, no underwear. They had to stand for hours in the courtyard every day to be counted, even in freezing weather. They were allowed to go to the bathroom twice a day. The bathroom was nothing more than holes cut into a bench. They weren’t allowed to bathe. They had no toilet paper. They were punished if they made any mistakes. They weren’t allowed to ask questions or get medical care. If they became sick or weak, they were sent to the gas chambers. Many of the men and boys were shot first. The strong women worked until they could no longer. They were starved. They slept on bunks that were just planks of wood, no sheets or blankets or pillows. It’s not clear that there was significant work being done. It sounds like everything was carefully designed to humiliate, dehumanize, and slowly kill them.
Observation: The entire “operation” was well thought out and planned in advance as they herded Jews into specific regions, and then on to the camps – Millions of people were moved and exterminated according to a plan. Can you imagine that such “Central Planners” exist in this world?
In one survivor’s testimony, the girl was only 12 years old when the difficulty started for her. She escaped and lived in the fields and forests in Poland. At one time, she was hidden by a farmer, in a hole in the ground, under a pigsty for 6 months. She lost everyone in her family. Her terror went on for 10 years as she roamed from spot to spot, sometimes finding shelter in a barn or a wheat field. She did not have a coat or shoes. She described stealing food that was left for the dogs or pigs or a potato from the field. The Polish people were told they would all be shot if they helped a Jew, so she had very little help. But also, many Polish “Christians” demonized the Jews calling them “Jesus killers”. Some people tried to help, but they were also afraid for themselves, and their entire families, who would be shot by the Germans if they were caught helping or hiding a Jew.
Many survivors talked about being bored, initially, because they weren’t allowed to do anything or go anywhere, so there was fighting and blaming. That soon turned into sheer survival. In one testimony, a woman described that her long braid of hair had become so filthy and full of lice over the years that you couldn’t even cut it off with a pair of scissors. It had to be chopped off with an axe. Imagine no bath for ten years, never enough food, being spit upon and abused by everyone you encountered, constantly running in fear, afraid to sleep, not able to trust Anyone – imagine growing up that way.
Observation: Friends and neighbors, and even family members who chose to collaborate with the Nazi’s, turned on anyone with Jewish genetics, like sheep. Friends and neighbors. Let that sink in.
On the bright side (very little of it), there were many who formed an underground to rescue and ferret Jews out of the country, especially children, or keep them hidden. The Diary of Anne Frank was one such story. One of the most stunning and shocking things to me, was the betrayal by former “friends” and neighbors. As a Jew, you never knew who would turn on you. And even more shocking was the fact that nominal “Christians”, at least the ones who professed Christianity, joined in on the abuse of anyone with Jewish heritage. Jews whose families had lived for many generations, some for two hundred years, in a particular town or region, well established with long-time friendships, were betrayed by their own friends and neighbors. I can’t fathom it.
Observation: “Christians” have a lot to be humble about and a lot to answer for, then, and now. I think Christians will be judged by God much harsher than most. We are to be Salt and Light, not complicit.
When Poland was “liberated” by the Russians, who at that time were Communists, the Jews suffered almost as much abuse. According to testimony, the Russian soldiers would rape the surviving girls, so they had to continue to hide. Even after the war had officially finished, there were millions of starving Jews, wandering from town to town looking for their relatives, hoping beyond hope that someone had survived. Large lists of survivors were compiled and distributed by different organizations. Some found one another.
Aid societies would bring in food and supplies for the survivors only to have those fall into the wrong hands with very little reaching the actual survivors. Some had to finally believe and accept that no one in their family made it. The prejudice that had built up over time was still present. So many refused to help the refugees. I can’t imagine the despair.
Observation: War is horrible and we should never banter about “Civil War 2.0”. What is done on the battlefield is an unimaginable horror. If we must participate in War, let it be with full knowledge.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)