The Story of Blima: A Holocaust Survivor is a
true story. It tells of the experience of Blima Weisstuch, a Jewish girl in Poland, between the years 1936 and 1947. To a reader today, those words—Jews, 1940s, Poland—may not suggest anything particular. But to someone who lived through those years, the words evoke shudders of horror. For during that era, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party were rising to power in Europe. As Blima herself says, “[The Nazis] had some plan they talked about in these smoke-filled clubs, a plan for the country, the world. A plan which did not include Jews.” In order to understand the nightmare that overtook Blima and her family, some background information is helpful. 1
SHIRLEY RUSSAK WACHTEL
In 1936, when the story opens, much of Europe was in the grips of an economic depression. Millions of people were out of work. In Germany, conditions were particularly harsh. The country had been on the losing side of World War I, and it was broke from waging war. To make matters worse, the treaty that ended the war demanded that Germany pay some of the Allies (the countries that had fought against Germany, including Britain, France, the United States, and Russia) large sums of money to compensate for the suffering the war had caused. In addition, the treaty forbade Germany from establishing another army. All of these elements came together to make the German people feel bitter and hopeless. Humiliated, hungry, angry at the world and uncertain of the future, they looked for a leader—and someone to blame for their troubles. As a result, when Adolf Hitler began talking about his plan to restore Germany’s pride and prosperity, people were ready to listen. And when he suggested that the Jews were responsible for many of Europe’s problems, his audience was happy to have a target for their anger and frustration. Why did Hitler blame the Jews for Germany’s problems? He was tapping into a vein of anti-Semitism (meaning “hatred of Jews”) that
THE STORY OF BLIMA
had existed in Europe for centuries. AntiSemitism was (and unfortunately, still is) both a form of prejudice and an expression of resentment and even jealousy. Over the years, in part because of antiSemitism, many European Jews had chosen to live in communities with other Jews, where they could practice their religion and customs together. Some of the Jews dressed differently than other Europeans; they observed Old Testament dietary rules called “keeping kosher”; they spoke Yiddish (a language related to German but including words from Hebrew and other languages). All these things led to bitter accusations against the Jews—that they were “clannish” and considered themselves superior to the goyim, or non-Jews, or that they were practicing secret rituals and even witchcraft. Anti-Semites also liked to remind people that, according to some interpretations of the New Testament, Jewish leaders participated in condemning Jesus to death. Calling Jews “Christkillers” added fuel to the fires. Jews were also resented because of the perception that they were financially better-off than many other Europeans. In general, this was a false perception—most Jews were just as impoverished as their neighbors. But because the Jewish culture had always emphasized learning
SHIRLEY RUSSAK WACHTEL
and education, a number of Jewish people had become prominent in business and the professions. Anti-Semites encouraged their followers to believe that the “greedy Jews” were somehow responsible for their own poverty. So this tradition of anti-Semitism was a handy one for Hitler to exploit for his own benefit. The Nazi philosophy was based largely on the idea of Germans being a “master race.” “Germany above all” and “Germany for the Germans” were the Nazis’ rallying cries. Hitler promised his listeners that he would make Germany “racially pure,” thus restoring it to greatness. In order to make his promises reality, Hitler developed a systematic...