Holocaust Testimonies Touch My Photograph and Hear My Story . . .
A book, Kafka said, is an axe, to crack the frozen sea within us. But these testimonies are icebergs, to freeze the warm, coursing blood within us – and this constitutes a threat as well as a challenge. Testimonies resting unseen in archives are like books locked in vaults; they might as well not exist. We use books to expand our consciousness; we must use these videotapes for the same purpose.
– Lawrence Langer, Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory
I was born in Malinov, and it was Poland I believe at the time, May 1st 1937. I am the youngest of six. It was a poor life but it was a happy life ‘cause there was a lot of love in the house. It came through what they suspected, that the Germans were going to get after the Jewish people – annihilate us was their goal. My father knew that no good was going to come out of this.
They came in the middle of the night, the Germans. I remember that night, because I remember everybody screaming. They broke the door open and they grabbed him, and I believe that’s when he was shot. And my mother took my sister and I, and we went down where my father told us to go. I heard the footsteps, footsteps… And then after a while it got very quiet, and the three of us came up. And my mother kept saying to me, “Please don’t make a noise, don’t make a noise,” because in the windows we could see those terrible helmets that the Germans were wearing and the tips of their rifles.
And she took my hand and my sister’s and we went through like the back doors and through alleyways. We just ran and ran and ran, and we ran into the woods. My sister got separated from us. And we went to all the different little farms and they said, “She was just here, she was looking for you.” She gave herself up and they killed her.
My mother running with a small child – constant running, running and hiding, and hiding and running. We came to a cemetery and we used to hide there. My mother prayed for rain so we could have something to drink. And at night she would go searching for something to eat. They used to feed the pigs and they used to dump a bunch of slop, and she would grab that slop and try to feed me and herself.
And a lot of people were there, hiding like us. They dug holes in the woods. And it was that hole that was like our home for so many months. And it was just a dark hole in the ground with worms and things crawling in there. And they got into my skin. And I remember the lice that I had in my hair. And then a lot of bullets were like machine guns going off. And one of them grazed my left thigh, and blood was coming out all over the place. And my mother, she tore off a piece of her dress and tried wrapping it up, but it kept coming through.
And then we were running again. That’s all I remember of my life as a youngster is just the dark and the fear and the running, and just running and running. This was my whole life, it seemed like at that time.
My name is Manfred Kelman. I was born and raised in Bremen, Germany. I was born of a Jewish father. My mother was Aryan, Lutheran. However, once they married, she took the Jewish religion. As far as the Germans were concerned, I was “ein Mischling” – basically a mixture, I was half Jewish.
And on 2 September my dad was taken to the Gestapo prison in my hometown. At which time the Germans also called my mother in and asked her to divorce my father. Although she had taken the Jewish religion, they did not consider her Jewish because by blood or by birth she was not Jewish.
My mother refused to divorce my father. He was sent to the concentration camp, Buchenwald. My dad died in June of 1940 in Buchenwald.
My mother and I were completely left alone in those days. I was afraid to go into the streets. I could not go into a public shelter, an air raid shelter, which for a fourteen year-old kid during an air raid gets a little hairy.
We had to report to the railroad station to go to transport to Theresienstadt, the prison camp in Czechoslovakia. My mother took me there. We were put into cattle cars, thirty-five forty people per car. Yes, I remember saying goodbye. Yes, I remember being sad about it. My mother had tears in her eyes, needless to say, as any mother would. I remember… my mother had considered me always a survivor, and I am a survivor.
I stayed in camp until, I think, May the 8th, two days before the war was over in Czechoslovakia. We were then freed by the Russians. On the 31st of August, 1946, we landed in the United States. I joined the Army. I was on active service for thirty-six years. I commanded a parachute battalion in Vietnam. I retired as a full colonel in the United States Army.
I’m Gerda Haas. I was born in Germany, one of two daughters of the Jewish butcher in town. I was ten when Hitler came to power. And pretty soon we saw slogans against the Jews hanging over the streets.
I was so young, I was just barely sixteen going on seventeen. We weren’t allowed to do anything, we couldn’t go to the movies or shopping or anything. So we found our own joys. We went out in the evening and looked at the stars. And we took long walks, and we rowed on the pond. It is a wonderful thing of human nature, you still find little pockets of enjoyment – and we did. And my mother did the heavy worrying. How to get food, how to get clothing, what to do with her two young girls. We had no schooling to go to, you have to understand…
Hitler was now, of course, solidly entrenched. And he made hundreds if not thousands of laws against us. One of the laws was that we couldn’t travel. We were by then already marked with the star. We were the ones that were hunted…
Unhappily my mother was in one of the very first transports. She was fairly hopeful that she would survive this. She wrote a letter to my father the day she was supposed to appear at the SS collection point. “Dear Siegfried. Don’t worry, I’m packing, I’m with all my friends. And the children know and the children wanted to come with me, but I told them not to, and it’s better they stay here. And soon I will come back and…” And then, of course, soon enough both my sister and I were also shipped away.
One of the interesting things is, even when you are in the most dire situation, you still think it’s not going to happen to you. It may happen to everyone else but it isn’t going to happen to you.