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Jewish Life During the Holocaust

By DevMariee Nov 13, 2013 2495 Words
Jewish Life During the Holocaust
Solomon Radasky is one of the few Jews that made it through the holocaust alive. The following is one of his stories told in his own words.
1944 when they give up the lodz ghetto... they give up... they was some in them a people lot of people coming to Auschwitz from Lodz. A lot of people got killed in Lodz. In the ghetto got the children. The Germans hold the people with the children, hold the and the children was grown up a little, and 4 years is not a baby, you know. When they was coming to Auschwitz. When they was coming in 1944, September, October. In the two months, I don't know what happened. Til now nothing can figure out with the Germans... they all went crazy. They... they... they holler to make it go fast... everything the crematoriums. They throw in the people, you know, in the crematoriums... the children. I will never forget... alive... they throw them in the crematoriums... They grabbed by an arm by a leg, by the head, and throw them into the ovens. There it was so tragic the... the... the cries and the people when crying there, you know, was so terrible. I can feel it now... I can even see the other people... the other people was crying the... the children was hollering, "Mama, Daddy help me! Mama, Daddy help me!" You know it was terrible... (Menzer, 1999, p. 276). The Jews suffered in many ways. At first they were discriminated against and forced to go into hiding, they were sent into ghettos and treated unfairly in very poor conditions. Then the Nazis made their plan called the Final Solution, an attempt to murder the entire the Jewish population. When the Jewish were finally saved, many effects of the Holocaust still remained. Before the Nazis came to power, the lives of the Jews were very normal. Many held important government positions and taught in many of the German Universities. In 1933, more than 100,000 Jews had served in the German army and were decorated for bravery. With only 500,000, the Jewish made up less than one percent of the German population. Early on, some discrimination against Jews did take place, but most were still very confident of their future lives as Germans. When the Nazis came to power antisemitism, meaning prejudice against or hatred of Jews, became more of a problem. On April 1,1933 the first real action against Jews was carried out by the Nazis. They held a boycott against all Jewish owned businesses. The Nazis posted signs telling others not to buy from Jews, painted the Star of David on Jewish doors and windows, and Storm Troopers stood outside of the shops. The German word for Jew is "Jude", which was also painted on the shop windows. In some parts of Germany the boycott was more violent, a Jewish lawyer had been killed. The boycott only lasted about a day, but it was the starting point of the war against Jews (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2013). After the boycott many laws were passed against Jews. They were prohibited from serving as dentists, dental technicians, and doctors in state-run insurance institutions. In October, 1933, Jews were banned from being journalists and all the newspapers were put under Nazi control. September 29, Jews were banned from all entertainment and cultural activities (World War II in Europe, n.d.). All civil service employment was restricted to the Aryans, teachers in German universities and public schools were fired (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2013). It was very common for Jewish children to be abused by their fellow classmates and their teachers, verbally and physically. They were sent to the back of the classroom and sometimes completely isolated. Jewish children were often forced to stand in front of their classmates while the teacher pointed out facial features, showing the class how they were 'different.' Then, in 1938, all Jewish children were banned from the German schools, they had to attended a separate Jewish school. The problems did not end when the Jewish children went to other schools, German boys would wait outside and beat up Jewish boys as they left school. They tried to defend themselves but there was nothing they could do to get away (Education: The Jewish Experience, 2012). Because of the ongoing war against Jews, many parents tried to save their children by hiding them. It was much easier to hide children than hiding adults because children were not required to carry identification, unlike adults. It was much easier for them to blend in. It was a very difficult and terrifying experience for the children to be sent to hiding places. Usually they traveled under strenuous conditions to unfamiliar places. Most of the children hid with complete strangers and were cut off from the world for years, so it was very common for them to never see their families again (Jewish Life During the Holocaust, n.d.). People and communities as a whole dedicated their lives to saving the Jews. They put their lives at risk, facing the death penalty if they were caught (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2013). The death penalty was the reason families that hid Jews were often very worried about being discovered and be turned in to the Nazis to face punishment (Jewish Life During the Holocaust, n.d.). During the time of the holocaust, Jews were forced to live in an isolated part of the city called an ghetto. The Warshaw Ghetto was the largest in Poland, at about 400,000 people crammed into a 2.5 square mile area, with a 19-foot wall to keep Jews separated. About a year after it opened, typhus broke out, because of the extremely close quarters, it killed many. The conditions of these ghettos were cramped, unhealthy, and horrible for the adults and children living there. There was an extreme lack of food in the ghettos, many starved to death. The Jewish were forced into wearing the Star of David on their sleeve to distinguish between Jews and non-Jews. Guards were on duty at all times and strict curfews were set. Any Jew who was caught trying to escape was killed. Even through all of the problems Jews faced in the ghettos they never gave up hope, they secretly studied, prayed, and had religious services. They put on plays and set up schools. In 1943, the Jews started an uprising in revolt of the Nazi power. The Nazis burnt down the ghetto and whoever was left was sent to concentration camps (Jewish life during the Holocaust, n.d.). The Nazis decided their final plan would be to murder every Jew in Europe. To deport Jews from the ghettos, Nazis told them they were being moved somewhere better. Jews were then put onto crowded and filthy crate or cattle cars. Because of poor conditions, many died on the way to the camps in the trains. There were two types of camps, concentration camps and death camps. In the concentration camps, prisoners were used for hard labor and given little if anything to eat. Even though these camps were not made to kill the Jews, many prisoners died because of disease, starvation, and harsh treatment by the Nazis. If they were not killed in concentration camps they were sent to the death camps. Death camps were sent up with the intention of mass murder. Belzec, Chelmno, Mejdanek, Sobidor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau were created to be the death camps. Auschwitz-Burkenau was the largest of all of the death camps, there was two gas chambers and four crematoriums used to burn the victims of the gas chambers corpses (Jewish life during the Holocaust, n.d.). Also housed by Auschwitz-Berkenau is 46 ovens that could dispose of 4,400 corpses per day. During 1942, about 200,000 Jews from Europe were sent to Auschwitz. When they arrived, about 70 percent were murdered immediately. When the trains arrived at Auschwitz the most physically fit Jews were selected for work. The other 70-90 percent of Jews were taken directly from the train ramp to gas chambers to be killed immediately (Auschwitz: inside the Nazi state, 2004). Morris Venezia has a very vivid memory of the Nazis separating the Jews at the camps.

A couple of Germans were separating us. When he was looking at the old people he put to the right and the young people to the left. The right lane they took led led them right away to the gas chamber (Auschwitz: inside the Nazi state, 2004, p. 6).

Prisoners were killed by shooting, gas chambers, or gas vans. The most effective way Nazis murdered the Jews was by using the gas chambers. The prisoners were told they were going to take showers, so they undressed and followed the signs the pointed towards the "shower rooms." In these "shower rooms" Zyclom B gas was released and killed the prisoners by suffocation (Jewish life during the holocaust, n.d.). Jews that were deported were led through a corridor, up a ramp, and into a small windowless room. The Jews did not know where they were and they panicked. This windowless room was a cargo area of a large van; once the van was full the doors were shut and the van started to drive. The Nazis routed the exhaust fumes into the back cargo area where the Jews were held. While the van drove to a nearby forest, the fumes suffocated the trapped Jews (Auschwitz: inside the Nazi state, n.d.). The following is Zofia Szalek's account of the gas vans.

We could hear the screams, but we couldn't see the people. They were loaded in and murdered there. It was hell. That's why we called these vans "Hell Vans" (Auschwitz: inside the Nazi state, 2004, p. 11).

About 4,000 children were kept in a camp called Drancy, they did not live there long until they were packed up and put into freight trains and sent to Auschwitz. The children rode in the train for two days and two nights without their families or parents, they had no idea where they were going. When they arrived at Auschwitz they were taken off the train and killed; none of these children survived (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi state, 2004).

"There was a pile of babies, seven or eight high - crying their eyes out." Said Glass who told a story of a Nazi throwing a newborn against a concrete wall, killing it instantly. "This was the sadistic and sad way of the storm troopers" (Brennan, 2013, p. 2).

Once the Jews were killed, their bodies were taken to the crematoriums to be burned. Nazis kept certain Jews with useful strength alive and made them carry the bodies from the chambers to the crematoriums (Jewish life during the Holocaust, n.d.). At least 1.1 million people were killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz, 90 percent of them were Jewish. There is not precise counts of how many Jews were murdered during the Holocaust because many were taken directly off the train and into the gas chambers without ever being registered. The crematoriums couldn't keep up with gas chambers. Because Nazis could not cremate all the Jews they murdered they had to resort to burning the bodies in huge pits behind the crematorium. Even though the Nazis tried to keep up with the body count by burning them, tens of thousands of bodies still remained (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi state, 2004).

Towards the end of the war the Jews started to fight back. On October 7, 1944, one of the crematoriums at Auschwitz-Birkenaw was bombed. This brave act was planned by a young girl named Rosa Robota. Sadly, after her victory she was discovered by Nazis, she hung several weeks later. Prisoners began to get braver. The first to escape Auschwitz was Siegfried Lederer who escaped on April 5, 1944 by wearing a Nazi uniform with the help of guard named Viktor Pastek. This guard helped Lederer escape because he had fallen in love with a Jewish prisoner. After Lederer escaped, he was committed to telling other about the horrors of the camps and to prove Jews were being murdered. He wrote a report to the International Red Cross describing what the Nazis were doing. Two days after Lederer escaped, two more prisoners escaped Auschwitz, along with two more on May 27, 1944. The reason most of these Jews escaped was to inform the world of what was really happening there. Most of the people living outside the camps did not want to believe that these awful things were really happening (Jewish life during the Holocaust, n.d.). The Jews continued to fight back and with come help slowly the Nazis were overpowered. The Nazis realized that they couldn't cover up all of the bodies before the camps were taken over by troops. In an attempt to cover up the evidence, they blew up the gas chambers and crematoria. As the Soviet army was approaching, the Nazis marched the physically able Auschwitz Jews west into Germany. The Jews who were unable to make the trip were left behind to be shot. In the confusion of the war, several thousand were left alive. On January 27, 1945 the Soviet troops entered the concentration camps and found the prisoners who were left behind (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi state, 2004). The troops rescued thousands of survivors, who were left in very poor condition. After the Jews were rescued, they still feared going home. Antisemitism was still in Europe, the Jews still had to fear for their lives. The Holocaust left tens of thousands of Jews homeless. They could not all be emigrated, so the Untied Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration set up refugee centers and camps to house homeless Jews (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2013).

Even after the Jews were rescued, the pain still remained. The survivors felt an enormous amount of guilt after surviving the holocaust. Survivors guilt is connected to the feeling of powerlessness that was felt while the Jews were kept in the concentration camps. The majority of Jews perished and they had survived. Many had also suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. The Jews with post traumatic stress disorder were traumatized and did not want to ask for help because their fears of being weak and vulnerable again. Death imprint is one type of post traumatic stress disorder that the Jews suffered from after being rescued. Death imprint is when a person is traumatized by death and their memories are so intense that the images are permanently in their minds. Jews also felt numb after the Holocaust, it is an inability to experience emotion. Numbness is a defense mechanism to avoid overwhelming memories, thoughts and emotions. After the Holocaust the Jews often got married and started families. Their children were also effected by the Holocaust trauma indirectly (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi state, 2004). The middle class in Russian cities were hurt because of the massacre of the Jews. Before World War II, 67 percent of Jews held the prestigious jobs. Only 15 percent of non-Jews held these same jobs. Because of the Holocaust, many of the smartest people in Eastern Europe were wiped out (Brant, 2013).

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