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Present Memories Script
We, the survivors of the Holocaust, come from another world. We come from a universe where our people were condemned to torture, to death, for no other reason but because we were Jewish. Of course, not all the victims were Jewish, but all the Jews were victims.
Come, take this giant leap with us
into the other world . . . , the other place
where language fails and imagery defies,
denies our consciousness . . . and dies
upon the altar of insanity.
Come, take this giant leap with us
into the world . . . the other place
and trace the eclipse of humanity . . .
where children burned while nations stood by,
and the universe has yet to learn why
Both sides of my family had settled in Germany thousands of years ago. My father and grandfathers had fought proudly for their country in the wars.
When my parents married, my mother, who was Christian, converted to Judaism and my brother and I were raised as Jews. This must have been a tough and courageous decision because anti semitism was flourishing by the time I was born and had greatly intensified by the time the Nazis seized power in 1933 when I was 3.
My father and his brother owned a successful wholesale business. As soon as the Nazis came to power, boycotts of Jewish establishments commenced and soon their business was in bankruptcy. My father took a job as a salesman for an Aryan company and traveled all over Europe.
I remember starting first grade in a German public neighborhood school around Easter, 1935, the same year the Nuremberg Laws, the Nazi Racial Laws, were adopted. Less than a year later, Jewish kids were prohibited from public school. A new school was set up for us in an old barracks building in the outskirts of the city.
Since we were not allowed to use public transportation, we had to walk 45 minutes
to school each day. The classroom space was limited, and kids of different ages doubled
up in the same room with a coal stove in the corner. The all-
Attendance at this school marked us as Jews. Although we were frequently yelled at and chased by other kids, we never questioned our parents why these kids were so mean to us. Even at this young age, we understood that to be Jewish was different.
The war on us in Germany was in full swing long before the outbreak of WW II. Laws were passed requiring Jews to use the middle name of Israel and Sara. We were forbidden to use movies, playgrounds, streetcars. On Rosh Hashanah, 1939, the Gestapo came and confiscated our radio, a bicycle, and a fur coat. The bank froze our assets and we were allowed only small withdrawals. We were ordered to sew a yellow Star of David on all of our outer clothing and to affix one to the door of our apartment. Violations meant arrest and a concentration camp.
In October 1938, my father was fired from his job. Jews no longer could be employed by Aryans. From now on, we could only dig ditches and perform menial tasks.
During Kristallnact, November, 1938, Nazi storm troopers and Brown-
My father realized that we had no future in Germany and used all of his connections in other European countries and in the US to try to get us out. It was to no avail; Jews were not wanted. The American Consulate in Stuttgart was overrun by Jews trying to get out. Frantic scenes took place there and family members were often separated by technicalities. Because the quota for Jews was very low, the application numbering system only provided the prospect of being called years from then. Even if your number came up, no visa was given unless someone in the United States provided a financial affidavit to ensure that you would not go on welfare. The world did not realize the impending slaughter by the Nazis and the urgency for us to leave. So we were stuck, and nobody really cared.
We prayed for better times, but the adults kept talking of the coming war. In a small
A few days before the war started, I was offered an escape with a children’s transport to England. My parents held me back. I was just 10 and they felt that in war time I would be safer with them. My cousin Hans had left on another transport to England a few weeks before. He would be the only one in his family to survive.
The German victories on the battlefields made it even less likely that we would survive. The Jewish School was closed. Education was banned. A few teachers defied the orders and risked their lives by teaching in their homes.
And then the deportations to the East began. We did not know that the Final Solution to the Jewish problem had started and the decision to exterminate all Jews was being implemented. In June and September of 1942, my schoolmates, our teachers, my father’s relatives, and all of the Jews that we knew were arrested and deported in 2 large transports. One kindly lady gave us her “black” hidden money before committing suicide.
Daily we feared we too would be sent with these transports, but miraculously we were temporarily spared because of my mother’s Aryan birth.
In February 1945, our luck finally ran out. My father, my brother and I were arrested
and sent in cattle-
JANET SINGER APPLEFIELD
During the first few days of the war, my father and his brothers joined the Polish
army to fight the Germans. My mother, baby sister, and I (I was 4) went to stay with
my maternal grandparents in the village of Wadowice. Realizing the imminent danger,
my grandfather put us on a horse drawn wagon, and we joined a moving caravan heading
east toward Russia. There was incredible fear, uncertainty, and confusion. We hid
in ditches by day, traveled at night. After weeks on the road, we arrived near Lvov,
a city on the Polish-
The Polish army was no match for the Germans and within a few days surrendered. My
father did not know where we were. He took the only escape route that, lucky for
us, was toward Lvov and was able to find us through a newspaper ad. Life in Russia
was very difficult. My little sister, only 18 months old, became critically ill with
diphtheria and died because we could not get any medicine for her. As Polish nationals,
my parents decided they would be safer fleeing Russia and returning to Poland -
When news spread that the ghetto was to be liquidated, my father planned our escape. He put us on a train bound for Krakow and then hid in a Polish friend’s attic until he was able to join us. Not long after, we learned that the Jews in this town, too, were to be liquidated. Once again we fled in the middle of the night. With no place to go, we hid in potato fields. The Polish police, who were collaborating with the Nazis, caught us, beat us with clubs, and returned us to the village. The next day my parents made an agonizing decision: to give their remaining child away. One of my cousins’ nursemaids agreed to take me for a short time. I left with her by train for Krakow. The following day, my parents and thousands of others were ordered to report to the stadium. They painfully separated, hoping to maximize the chance of at least one of them surviving. My mother was sent to the left. She was taken to the forest on the outskirts of town and brutally shot to death. My father was sent to the right. He was taken to the Krakow ghetto and then to the Plaszow concentration camp.
Staying with the Polish woman, I had many frightening experiences. Once, a Gestapo
came, looking for Jews in hiding. After ransacking the apartment, he looked at me,
held my blond pigtail in his fingers, and left. I still remember his chilling smile
My father, who was still in the ghetto, knew my stay with the Polish woman had to be temporary. He managed to buy the birth certificate of a deceased Polish girl for me from a Catholic priest and I became that girl. I had a new identity, a new name: Krystyna Antoszkiewicz. He then contacted a cousin with false Polish papers who agreed to take me.
One day my cousin went to meet her Polish boyfriend in a Krakow cafe. She instructed
me to stay in the church across the street. Though I waited for hours, she did not
return. I saw that the street was cordoned off. The Gestapo had arrested everyone
in the cafe. It was May 21, 1943. There I was, seven years old, walking the streets
and crying, completely bewildered and terrified, not knowing what to do. I was alone
in the world. An older woman walking by asked me what was the matter. Seeing that
I looked like a typical Aryan child with my blond hair, blue eyes, and upturned nose,
she placed me under her large cape and quickly whisked me into the cafe building.
She took me upstairs to her friend, Alicja Golob. I answered her questions with a
One day right after slaughtering a pig -
I remained with this Polish family until the end of the war when my cousin’s father came for me. I was sad to leave. The family wanted to keep me but felt that it would be ethically and morally wrong. I was placed in a refugee center with other malnourished, frightened Jewish children until Lena Kuchler, a wonderful women looking for her family, found us and made a commitment to do something with our broken lives. Against great odds, she started two orphanages and became our “mother”.
Even though Hungary was an early ally of Germany, we thought that we would escape the mass deportations and annihilation. We were wrong. With the help of many local collaborators, the Germans moved like lightening after they occupied Hungary in March, 1944. Isolation and ghettoization were quickly accomplished.
On June 6, 1944, D-
My father and I we were taken by the Hungarian military for forced labor. For six months we performed a wide variety of tasks: we worked in a coal mine, did road construction, gathered the harvest, worked in forestry, and cleared snow.
In December, 1944, the Hungarians turned us over to the Germans for deportation to the Neuhaus labor camp in Austria to dig ditches and tank traps. Although we were in there for less than four months, only a few of us survived. Exhausted from hunger and frostbite, demoralized by random killings, most of us became infected with typhus.
Every couple of weeks those unable to go to work and stayed in the sick bay were
taken away in trucks to what the SS-
One night I managed to sneak out. This was possible because Neuhaus was only a small
makeshift labor camp. Besides, there was nowhere to escape. Next to the camp on a
street that we crossed every morning on our way to work, we passed a store that looked
like a pharmacy and had an after-
I went to this store and rang the bell. A woman in her early thirties opened the door and I could tell from the look on her face that she knew that I was from the camp. Her reaction was most unexpected. There was a strange calmness about her. She grabbed my dirty jacket, pulled me inside, and pushed me into a room on her right. As she let go of my jacket, she held up her index finger to her mouth warning me to be silent. As she closed the door she whispered to me: “Ich werde bald zurueck” (I’ll be right back).
When she returned, she told me she had to let me wait because she had to get rid
of the SS-
My father and I managed to escape the selections for the “hospital” until the end,
but eventually we no longer had the strength to go to work. We could hear the front
approaching as the SS-
My father and I were piled with the other sick prisoners onto two trucks and were driven a few miles to a clearing in the forest. We later learned that this clearing was the killing field where people from previous transports to the “hospital” had been shot and buried in a mass grave. But the SS had no time to finish the last transport. They made us get off of the trucks and, as soon as we did, the trucks took off, leaving us on the road. We crawled into a side ditch and watched as the German vehicles fled from the approaching Russian army. We were liberated the next morning.
I was 12 years old when we were forced to resettle into the Krakow ghetto. I trembled with such fear and hopelessness as we walked through the narrow, familiar streets into the ghetto carrying our meager possessions, pulling a pushcart filled with some bedding, a mattress, and some pots and pans. We went over the bridge, into our prison behind the high walls, surrounded by armed guards and hundreds of dogs trained to tear us apart.
Since adults over 55 and children under 12 were deemed unfit for work and we believed that work meant life, my parents changed my birth date to make me two years older.
There were workshops in the ghetto. Some of us were tailors, dressmakers, shoe makers, boot makers. Others made brooms, brushes, or worked in printing shops.
The ghetto was over-
Day and night, there was more horror, more terror. Soldiers stormed through the streets and the buildings, arresting people. Selections and transports to where we didn't know.
I remember that summer day when there was a round up and my grandparents couldn't get “life” permits. I hid with them in the courtyard of our building under bushes and piles of leaves. We stayed there all day, not moving, while the soldiers with their bayonets searched the buildings, room by room. At one time one of the murderers was inches away from my head, but I didn’t flinch. Finally, we heard the trucks leaving. The shooting ended. No more barking dogs. Slowly we crawled out from our hiding place, trying not to look suspicious. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the last patrol of the day appeared. They pushed me aside and took my grandparents away. I can still see these dear old people, walking away holding hands, never looking back. I stood there sobbing, helpless.
A few weeks later at midnight there was a banging on our door. My handsome, wonderful father was arrested and taken away.
Not long after, the ghetto was liquidated. That day will be etched in my mind forever.
The SS Troopers invaded early in the morning, their screaming and the sound of their
boots filling us with terror. We were told to pack a small suitcase and leave. Small
children and the elderly were kept back. My mother and I tried to take my blonde,
Without food, without hope, just fear, we marched into another nightmare, Plaszow, a concentration camp, just seven kilometers from the ghetto. It was a sleepy little village with three Jewish cemeteries.
Some parents hid their small children in backpacks. Only a few of these children were successfully given to righteous gentiles. The rest were hidden in barracks where they knew they were in constant danger and had to keep quiet no matter how tired and hungry they were. Several months later our beautiful children were discovered, loaded on trucks and taken away. We were warned that if we moved, they would be shot.
My mother and I built barracks and roads paved with crushed gravestones from the Jewish cemeteries under the watchful eyes of Amon Goeth, a vicious sadistic murderer. Every second, we were in danger of being shot, hanged, or beaten to death. I was struggling just to survive when I first met Oskar Schindler.
Schindler was a German industrialist who joined the SS Party just to become rich. Early in 1940 he took over a pots and pans factory in Krakow. Using his charm, he intentionally befriended the SS officers, wined and dined with them, and won their affection with bribes and expensive gifts. This enabled him to get the permits necessary to run the factory and to hire the necessary workers.
My mother and I were selected to work for Oskar Schindler and we moved to the small camp he built for his workers. He paid Amon Goeth a fortune for this. Herr Director was our savior, our guardian angel. He had a smile and a kind word for everyone, especially for the children. I was one of the youngest to be lucky enough to be on Schindler’s List.
Sadly, this haven didn’t last long. Orders soon came to liquidate the camp.
February 21, 1944. I was shipped with 260 people in cattle cars from Plashov to Auschwitz 1. I had injured my leg in Plashov and was afraid I would not make it through the selections, but I did. The number 174101 was tattooed on my arm and I was assigned to a barrack with my friend, Ignac.
Auschwitz 1 was a show camp for foreign dignitaries and the International Red Cross. We were housed in brick buildings which had been a Polish army camp. There were constant inspections and if anyone was found to be unclean or unable to work, he would be sent to Auschwitz 2, also known as Birkenau. We quickly learned that it was there, only a couple of miles from our camp, that thousands of people were being murdered in the gas chambers.
We marched to work every day through the main gate under the watchful eyes of the camp commander and the banner “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work makes one free). To the side was a bandstand with internationally famous Jewish musicians playing marching music. If we didn’t keep in step, the guards would hit us with a 2x4. Often we passed large groups of men, women, and children being herded to the gas chambers. We could do nothing but watch and wonder if we would be next. When the wind was blowing toward our camp, we could smell the odor of the bodies burning in the crematoria. Life seemed hopeless. Some gave up and committed suicide on the electrified barbed wire surrounding our camp.
Ignac and I were assigned to install and fix roofs on the houses of German officers and guards. This gave us the opportunity to find discarded food.
In the fall of 1944, stories circulated about allied victories and every so often, we would hear the roar of airplanes overhead. Some believed that the allies would save us, but most felt that the Germans would kill us, rather than free us.
On January 16, 1945, as the Russian army was closing in, the Germans decided to liquidate Auschwitz and move us to other camps. With all of the commotion in the camp, some of us were able to steal bread from the warehouses. Ignac and I loaded ourselves with bread and a bottle of rum.
During the so called death march of Auschwitz, the German guards made us march during the night and rest during the day in order to protect themselves from the allied planes. Conditions were terrible. It was winter with heavy snow on the ground. Our uniforms were made from reprocessed paper, and our shoes had wooden soles. The guards would shoot anyone who fell and didn’t get up quickly enough. During the first night, Ignac and I secretly opened the bottle of rum and took a couple of slugs. The next morning, we finished the bottle and had a wonderful rest.
We marched again for several nights until we reached the next concentration camp, Gross Rosen. The following day we were loaded into cattle cars so tight that there was no room to sit down. Some stood or sat in their feces. With little air, food, and water, some passed out and some died.
One of the most unusual things happened to me during that trip. Even though we felt that we were doomed to die, someone in the cattle car started to play a harmonica. Since I also played the harmonica, I yelled over to him to throw it to me so I could play some of my melodies. When the harmonica landed on the floor, I mistakenly stepped on it. When I picked it up, one of the metal side covers was damaged. While prying it open to fix it, I noticed something taped to the inside of the metal cover. I gently pulled it off and, all of a sudden, found myself the owner of a twenty dollar bill. I quickly put it in my pocket, played a couple of melodies, and returned the harmonica. I then quietly told Ignac what I had found and he almost fainted from the news. We had a critical decision to make. Should we try to smuggle it through to the next camps and face the consequences if it was found by the Germans, or should we discard it. We decided to keep the bill. I rolled it tight, tied it with a thread taken from my uniform, and inserted it into my rectum.
Finally, on February 4, our transport arrived at Dachau. We were ordered to remove all of our clothes and face the selection process. I then bent down a couple of times and Ignac checked to make sure that nothing showed. My twenty dollar bill was not discovered. Though we now felt rich, we couldn’t even buy a piece of bread with the money because we were afraid to even mention it to anyone. While in Dachau, we could see through the window the bodies of the dead prisoners and the still living skeletons.From Dachau, we were transported to a labor camp near Munich. In this camp, we were able to contact some German guards to exchange dollars for food.
Finally at the end of April of 1945, we were again loaded into cattle cars and shipped to the Southern Bavaria to be liquidated. Fortunately, the American Army prevented the train to reach its destination and we were liberated at the beginning of May, 1945 in a small town at a railroad siding in Southern Bavaria.
Our final transport from Venusburg to the infamous Mauthausen, in Austria, took 16
days; 120 -
In order to reach Mauthausen, we had to climb the hills between the railroad and the camp. In our group of five, two of us were deathly sick so the other three had to drag us along. Otherwise the SS would have dumped us into wagons heaped with bodies, some dead, some still alive.
In that camp, many of the prisoners worked in the quarries where they were forced to carry heavy boulders up and down the slippery mountains. In my mind’s eye, I can always see my father and Blanca’s husband, Norbert, among the victims.
May 5th, 1945, the American armies entered Mauthausen. The soldiers looked at us
with disbelief and horror. Although the allied leadership knew about the death camps
by 1942, the soldiers were uninformed and unprepared. Mostly delirious and unable
to distinguish between nightmare and reality, I stared at an African-
A Black Messiah came for me,
He stared with eyes that didn’t see,
He never heard a single word
Which hung absurd upon my tongue”...
I was placed in a make-
I was still desperately ill when a miracle occurred and Blanca and Norbert were reunited.
Barely alive after liberation, Norbert followed every rumor, every lead and searched
for us until he found Blanca. I learned later that during the reunion at the American
Headquarters, many of those war-
When I regained consciousness, we were a family! Norbert picked me up like a baby,
carried me to a borrowed car (where I promptly threw-
Someone gave us a radio, candy, and fruit. Slowly, I regained my health. I listened to music, wrote poetry again, and grew stronger each day.
But soon the enormity of our tragedy became clearer and we began to mourn the unspeakable
personal losses. And then the dimensions of this catastrophe overwhelmed us with
sorrow and emptiness. And yet we didn’t give up! We stood a little taller. We picked
up the pieces of our shattered lives. We worked and we studied and we fell in love
Ah, but then the ugly reality set in: We still had no place to go! Poland was a vast graveyard to us, still infested with antisemitism and hatred. There was no Israel. And the United States had very strict Immigration Laws.
A truly devastating thought: would we spend the rest of our lives in DP Camps, stateless and abandoned? Later we learned that in those days, it was easier for the killers, the SS and their collaborators, to enter a Western nation than it was for the survivors.
ERIC KAHN: My father, brother and I spent several months of fear, starvation and disease in Theresienstadt before the Red Army liberated us on the very last day of WW II, May 8, 1945. A month later we returned to our waiting mother in Wiesbaden. A year later we finally made it to these shores and started a new life. My wife, Ruth, and I are the proud parents of two children, Lisa and Mark. For many years I did not talk about my experiences during the Holocaust. Then I realized that by keeping silent I was negating the very existence of my dear friends and relatives. And so we remember together.
JANET APPLEFIELD: When Lena Kucher realized that the extreme antisemitism in Poland threatened their lives, she miraculously smuggled 100 of her orphans to Israel. I was one of the very few lucky ones for my father had survived. When I first saw him after two and a half years, I did not recognize him and was terribly frightened. He weighed 80 lbs. and looked like a skeleton. I too was malnourished and had a problem walking.My father decided to rent a room near the orphanage while he recuperated and we become reacquainted. I soon agreed to return with him to my grandparents’ house. I was the only Jewish child from that town to survive. Our lives were threatened daily. Several of my father’s friends were murdered after the war. We found notes posted on our door saying, “Hitler did not complete the job. We will kill you.” The police chief told us that he could do nothing to help us, but gave my father a gun which he kept under his pillow when he slept. It did not take us long to realize that we had no future in Poland. We came to the United States in March 1947. My husband Jerome and I have 3 children and 4 grandchildren. My rescuers are the genuine heroes. They risked their own lives, by simply responding to the cries of an abandoned child.
ALAN BROWN: My father died the night after we were liberated. With the help of two other survivors, I buried him. I learned that the rest of my family had been killed in Aushwitz. I was the only one to survive. After liberation I would have like to have thanked the lady who risked her life to save my father and helped to save me. But in a few days, as we were trying to gather our strength, we heard the gunfire getting louder again in the West: the Germans were mounting an offensive. Not wanting to wait for them to return, we painfully started walking to the East, towards Hungary. I came to the United States in 1949. It took me 16 years to find Rosa Freissmuth Schreiber, the woman who had helped me, and we established a close relationship. During a month’s stay with my family in Windsor, Ontario, she was honored by 2,000 people at a memorial dinner at the Detroit Holocaust Center.
Rosa had been officially recognized by the Austrian government in 1946 and 1947, as an “Austrian Freedom Fighter” who “during the entire Nazi period openly manifested her abhorrence of the atrocities by the Nazi Party and widely supported fortification workers and Jews with food and medication.” It was acknowledged that as punishment for aiding prisoners, her store had been periodically closed during the war and her merchandise confiscated. Because Yad Vashem required 2 witnesses, it took 40 years for Rosa to be finally honored by them as a Righteous Gentile. In 1995, during a visit with her, I found the additional witnesses in some old documents in her house. Sadly, Rosa died in 1996 and her recognition was awarded posthumously.
Since retiring as a professor of economics, I have devoted myself to education on the Holocaust. My wife Barbara and I have 3 children and 5 grandchildren.
RENA FINDER: When Plashov was liquidated, Oskar Schindler paid Amon Goeth a lot of money to move his factory and his workers to Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia. The men on Schindler’s List were shipped in one transport. The women mistakenly ended up in Auschwitz. It was only then that we learned that our children had been taken here and had been murdered on the day of their arrival. It was then that I lost faith in God.
Most of us would have died in Auschwitz had not Oskar Schindler rescued us. He sent his beautiful secretary with a fortune in diamonds to bribe the Commander. I was among the 300 women who left the death camp. My mother and I survived. Over 6 million others did not. If it weren’t for Oskar Schindler I wouldn’t have had a chance to grow up, to get married, to have children and grandchildren. Oskar used his fortune and influence, and risked his life to save 1000 Jews. He and his wife Emily are shining examples that people can make a difference.
For years, I couldn’t bear to recount my own personal experience. But when the haters in this generation became more violent and when revisionists began spreading their lies denying that the Holocaust ever happened, I knew I could no longer remain silent. In 1946, I married Mark Finder, who is also a Holocaust survivor. We have 3 children and 6 beautiful grandchildren.
JOSEPH MATZNER: My father was shot during a round up in my home town on April 28, 1942 with forty other prominent Jews before we were all locked up in the Ghetto. My mother, my sister, Toni, and most of the women and children with me in the Tarnow Ghetto were transported to a “FERNICHTUNGS LAGER” (Extermination Camp), Treblinka, and gassed to death.
In the fall of 1945, I went back to Poland to look for any survivors from my family and found none. In 1946, I returned to Germany and in August of 1949, came to the United States. My wife, Alexandra, and I have a married daughter, with two wonderful grandchildren.
SONIA WEITZ: When the fog finally lifted that spring of 1945 and Nazi Germany was
defeated, I was among a handful of the “Walking Dead”. For me, the devastation was
almost complete. My mother was killed in the death camp of Belzec. My father was
murdered in Mauthausen only a few weeks before the Americans came. Eighty-
After searching for 3 long years, Norbert found an uncle in Peabody, MA. In May, 1948, Uncle Harry welcomed us to the United States. My husband Mark and I have 3 children and 3 grandchildren. My own reconnection with life occurred when I visited Israel for first time. In that tiny corner of the world, I finally felt whole.
My very own miracle happened to me
When my eyes beheld the blue skies above.
The Meadows so green . . . and the emerald sea
As deep as the love
That seemed to surround me. Not a cloud in sight!
My heritage priceless in the face of time;
I drank of its beauty in wondrous delight -
Suspended . . . Sublime . . .
I want to shout praises so the world may hear,
Until mountains tremble through rock and debris,
For my heart is singing -