EVIL AND HATE LIVE ON

Sipping my decaf coffee yesterday morning, reading the New York Times, I came to the op-ed page.  I read “The New Face of German Hate,” by by Anna Sauerbrey. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/30/opinion/the-new-face-of-racism-in-germany.html

In this article, Ms. Sauerbrey describes the hateful rhetoric that spewed from Bjorn Hocke, a leader in Germany’s right wing party Alternative fur Duetschland. She describes that it was “an openly racist speech on the ‘differing reproductive strategies’ of Africans and Europeans.”  Ms. Sauerbrey struggles.  She wants to see Mr. Hocke as a monster – different than the rest of Germans.  “In the minds of most, racists wore their heads shaved, feet heavily booted and arms rune-tattooed.” Stunningly, Mr. Hocke is not a monster: “He’s a high school history teacher on leave and a married father of four.  He lives in the countryside and is invariably well dressed, though never in a showy way.“   He seems normal.  

This article sent a shiver down my spine.   My mind was jolted to Hannah Arendt’s words describing Adolf Eichmann in her reporting on his 1961 trial in Jerusalem.

The world watched the trial, expecting a monster.  But as Hannah watched, she found no such monster.  In her controversial article in the New Yorker:  Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt states:  “The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.” (Arendt at 276). 

It seems that Eichmann’s execution for crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes against the Jewish people just after midnight on June 1, 1962, did not rid the world of evil, even the banal type.

Sources: 

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York. Penguin Group.  1963.

Sauerbrey, Anna.  “The New Face of German Hate,” New York Times. December 30, 2015.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/30/opinion/the-new-face-of-racism-in-germany.html

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Pet Jews

Nazis had “pet Jews”?

I am not kidding.

It was part of how Sam Goldberg survived Treblinka for 13 months.   Sam describes two Nazi SS officers who loved his eyes and wanted him to survive.

It was even hard for Sam to understand.  He saw it as a pure miracle. Here is a partial descriptions from a 1997 interview:

Sam:  I didn’t care about my life at all.  I didn’t care about staying alive.  It would come into my head, I would think at night, where are my mother and father, where are my sisters and brothers?  Why should I be here?  I wanted to be free of my life also.  The German said, “you will survive.”

Interviewer:  Why do you think the German was so good to you?

Sam:  I don’t know.  G-d in heaven sent him to me.  He and another German.  The German who chased the people into the [unknown word], he wanted to take off his uniform and give it to me that I should get out of there, that I should survive.  It was important to them that I survive.

Interviewer:  Did you ever ask them why they did that?

Sam:  I asked them (in German) “Why do you do this?”  He said, “you have to stay alive.”  They liked my blue eyes.  So I should stay alive.  He took off his own coat with anger and he ordered me that I should leave there.  I said, “no.”

Interviewer:  When did this happen?

Sam:  This happened in 1943.  I was there 13 months.

Richard Glazer, another Treblinka survivor, speculates about SS officers:

“There was an incredible rivalry amongst the ss men . . . You see, they weren’t just an amorphous mass, as people now like to imagine them; they were, after all, individual men, with individual personalities.  Some were worse, some better.  Almost every one of them had their protege amongst the prisoners, whom they played off against each other.” (Sereny at 178).

Even Franz Stengl, the first Kommandant of Sobibor and the second Kommandant of Treblinka, had a pet Jew.   Stanislaw Szmajzner (Stan) was an orthodox boy of 14.  With his parents sent to their death in the gas chamber, he found himself in Sobibor with only his talent to save him – he was a goldsmith.  Stan was saved from the gas chambers to sit and turn the gold from Jews’ teeth and wedding rings into trinkets for wives and girlfriends of the SS and the Ukranian guards.  He describes that he was treated with kindness by Stengl:

“‘Stangl seemed so friendly when they brought the gold in the afternoon,’ he told me.  ‘I felt encouraged to ask about my father.  I told him that I’d like to go and see my father.  Where is he, please? I asked.  You are much better off here, Stangl answered in a very friendly way.  This is a much better place to work.  Don’t worry about him.  He is all right. . . . Stengl was always cheerful and treated me with kindness. . . . it’s perfectly true that he seemed to like me; that he made a sort of pet of me.  Perhaps he really did want to help me (Sereny at 126-129).

Stan resettled in Brazil after the war and ironically, so did Stengl.  After Stengl was captured and sent back to Germany for trial, Stan gave interviews to the Brazilian press and testified at Stengl’s trial in 1970.  One of the thing he described was how Stengl would come to his barrack on Friday evening and offer him pork sausages.  The Court and the press understood that Stengl was taunting this young orthodox boy to eat pork on the Sabbath.

This testimony bothered Stengl.  In his conversation with Gitta Sereny, Stengl referred to this part of Stan’s testimony.

“That business with the sausage,” he said, “was deliberately misinterpreted . . .  It’s true I used to bring him food and probably there was sausages. But it wasn’t to taunt him with pork; I brought him other things too.  It was because we received our food allocations on Fridays and – there was a great deal of food in the camp much of the time – and you should have seen how the papers [in Brazil] there ate it up – they made of it – that I used to stand in front of the window of the barrack where he worked and shout tauntingly, holding up the sausage.  But I never did such a thing . . . I don’t know what the sausages – if sausages there were – were made of.    . . .”  (Sereny at 128)

Sources:

  • Sereny, Gitta.  Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience.  New York, NY.  Random House.  1974.
  • Interview with Sam Goldberg – 1997

Sam Goldberg, Was He the Only Survivor of The Death Camp Construction Crews?

Captured from the nearby town of Stok (or Stocheck) in approximately June of 1942, Sam Goldberg was brought to Treblinka – by truck.   When he arrived, the only building standing was a barracks.  His job, along with other Jewish slaves, was to build the camp that would kill his family and at least 750,000 other Jews.  Sam survived for 13 months, until he escaped during the uprising on August 2, 1943.

My research shows that it is possible that Sam may be the only person who was forced to construct Belzec, Sobibor or Treblinika  that survived.  This is an astounding fact that may be unknown to scholars.

Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, explains that Himmler sent some men to “a site near the village of Treblinka, where construction of the death factory began on 1 June 1942.  The laborers were Jews from the region, who were killed when the project was complete.” (Snyder at 261).

Yitzchak Arad in his book, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps, describes the construction crew assembled for Treblinka:  “Polish and Jewish prisoners from Treblinka penal camp [pre-existing], as well as Jews from neighboring towns, were provided for labor. . . . None of the Jewish workers who were employed at the building of the camp survived (Arad at 40).

Sobibor, one of the other two death camps in Operation Reinhard was built and operational before Treblinka’s construction even began.   Arad confirms that, [a] group of eighty Jews from the ghettos in the vicinity of the camp was brought to Sobibor for construction work. . . . After completing their work, the Jews were shot“ (Arad at 30).

Belzec was the first of the Operation Reinhard camps to be built.  Arad describes that “Jews from ghettos in the vicinity . . . were brought to the camp.  Some of these Jews were skilled workers – carpenters, smiths, and builders”(Arad at 25).  After the completion of the gas chambers, Jews were brought in to experiment and see how they work.  “These experimental killings lasted a few days and the last group to be murdered were the Jewish prisoners who had been engaged in building the camp” (Id at 26).

These scholars seem to believe that no Jews from the construction crews survived.

Later in his book, Arad describes how the chances for survival in Treblinka were  extremely low.  However, he acknowledges that there were a few survivors among the early prisoners.  He states that “[t]hose who entered the camp around the time of its establishment and lasted until the final stages of the camp’s existence can be counted on one hand” (Arad at 207).

Sam Goldberg was one of these survivors.  But is it possible that he was the only survivor from those who were originally captured and brought to construct these camps?

In a 1997 interview, Sam describes his capture and first work at Treblinka:

Sam: So they didn’t take me until the time came,when they came from Treblinka and they needed 135 people from the shtetl Stochek.

Interviewer:  What did they need them for?

Sam:  They needed them for the work.

Interviewer:  What kind of work?

Sam:  For the work, there in Treblinka, to build the camp.  So they caught us, they took this policeman too.

Interviewer:  Where did they take you?

Sam:  Treblinka.

Interviewer:  By night or day?

Sam: By day.  There were Ukrainians and Germans.  They surrounded the shtetl, it was a small shtetl and they caught us.  They got me too. So everyone that was caught, they had us lie down.  So, it’s lost, there was nothing I could do about it.  I was skillful in escaping, but they didn’t let me. I looked here and I looked there . . . What can you do?  So they put us on a truck, 135 people and they took us to Treblinka.  We got to Treblinka and took us off the tuck.

Interviewer:  Did you know you were going to Treblinka?

Sam:  Yeah, they told us that we were going to Treblinka to work.

Interviewer:  What did you know at that time about Treblinka?

Sam:  We didn’t know much about it, they were just starting to build the camp.

Interviewer:  What was there when you came there?

Sam:  When the 135 came to the camp, they put us in groups of five. What can you do? You are a tailor, if you were nothing, you said nothing. They asked me and I said, “I’m a farmer, but I can do anything.” (in German) I can do everything that has to be done.  He said “everything?” I said yes, everything. So they took me to make a roof to make out of bundles of straw and to bind them together and to make the roof from that.  And I should do that. So I indeed saw how the workers did that on our farm, but I had never done, not in my life, but I saw.  When the time came that I had to remember everything, I remembered how to do it.  So I took the straw and made the bundles. I asked the boys to pass it to me and they kissed, and said beautiful.  They liked the work.

Interviewer:  Tell me a little bit about Treblinka.

Sam:  I’ll tell you, just a minute.  When I finished (the roof), they asked “can you wash laundry?” I said “yavall” yes! So they brought me a basin with a board, and they said that I should  wash clothes.  I wasn’t alone, there were five or six.  Two people from Stok that they killed right away because they didn’t want to work.  They told me that I should work with them.  Oh, a stomach ache that I should work for them.  But what do I have to say about it, why I am here, I have no control over myself.  They said work, so I worked. . . . I worked for about six weeks, and I saw that they needed more people to do the laundry, I couldn’t do it alone.  So the senior German said to me, “you have nice eyes. I will make a laundry for you and you will be the supervisor of the laundry.” It didn’t go into my head. It didn’t take two days and there was already a laundry.

Interviewer:  Who built it?

Sam:  There were plenty of carpenters.

(translated from Yiddish by Shlomo Goldberg).

Amazing, right?  There is much more to Sam’s story of survival.   Stay tuned.

SOAP AND FERTILIZER

The bodies of murdered Jews were used by the Germans for soap and fertilizer.

This is what I was told growing up.  It was an accepted fact.

Well — Not true.  Gitta Sereny, has a footnote on p. 141 of Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience, where she states:

[T]he universally accepted story that the corpses were used to make soap and fertilizer is finally refuted by the generally very reliable Ludwigsburg Central Authority for Investigation into Nazi Crimes.   The Authority has found after considerable research that only one experiment was made, with “a few corpses from a concentration camp.  When it proved impractical the idea was apparently abandoned.”

Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Hitler and Huxley

How to get a whole nation of perfect Aryans – that was the challenge.  If only the baby-making technology imagined in Aldous Huxley’s 1932  utopian sci fi book, Brave New World had been available to Hitler!

Last week, I read Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World, for the first time.  The similarities between Hitler’s imagined society and Huxley imagined civilization, are all too scary.  I googled “Brave New World and Hitler” and found out that I am not the only one to think this.  With this blog post, I add my thoughts to the conversation.

Huxley describes the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center where thousands of engineered babies are created. Up to 96 can be “born” in one batch of identical “twins,” creating the perfect “civilization.”  Without Huxley’s technology, the Nazi regime resorted to sterilizing Germans who have hereditary diseases and providing financial incentives to German couples willing to marry and produce babies.  But only to those with “certificates of racial fitness.”

Oh, but it gets worse.  In Hitler’s Lebensborn project, thousands of “racially superior” young girls were mated with SS men.  Their babies became the property of the German State.  Perfect children with no parents – as close as Hitler could get to Huxley’s world.  This was of course, all very scientific – conducted at the “Nazi Breeding Institute for Racial Improvement.”

In Life and Death In the Third Reich, Peter Fritzsche describes three tasks that “awaited Germany’s racial warriors.”  (Fritzsche at 85)  The first task was to increase the birthrate by racially fit Aryans.  The second task was “racial reclamation” – to “weed out the unhealthy section of the population, primarily through sterilization” of “genetically unfit citizens.” (Id.)  The third task was “to eliminate foreign matter [read Jews] from the racial stock of the German people.” (Id. at 86)

Hitler promised that “if today there are still people in Germany who say: ‘We are not going to join your community, but stay just as we always have been,’ then I say: ‘You will die off, but after you there will [sic] a young generation that doesn’t know anything else!”  (Id. At 90).  This “promise” was made in November of 1933, one year after Brave New World was published.

I was rescued from this repulsive image of “civilization” by Rabbi Irving (“Yitz”) Greenberg.  I listened to a recording of a lecture he gave in 2000.  Rabbi Greenberg articulates three qualities that follow from the fact that humans were “created in the Image of G-d” (Genesis 1:27).   These qualities are:  (1) each human is of infinite value; (2) all humans are equal; and (3) each human is unique – there are no two humans who are absolutely identical, even identical twins.

Ultimately, Huxley’s hero – John (the “Savage”) – the accidental son of an engineered woman, raised outside of utopian London – kills himself.  He cannot endure the Hitlerian vision of “civilization.”

In the brave new world in which we live, we must value each human –  each created in the image of G-d.

Sources:

  • Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945. New York, NY. Bantam Books. 1975.
  • Fritzsche, Peter. Life and Death In The Third Reich. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. 2008.
  • Greenberg, Yitz. Lecture – The Triumph of Life: A Feminist Orthodox Reading of the Tradition. Delivered at the International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy on February 20-21, 2000.
  • Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London, England. Chatto & Windus. 1932.
  • Sereny, Gitta. Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience. New York, NY. Random House. 1974.
  • Genesis, the Hebrew Bible.

Nazi Euthanasia Program and the Church

The technique of killing by gas asphyxiation, used so successfully in the Nazi death camps, began in the German “Euthanasia Program” in the summer of 1939.

In their quest for the perfect Aryan race, the Nazis gassed 70,273 children and adults between the summer of 1939 and August of 1941.  Their crime — mental illness or physical disability.  These crimes deemed them “unworthy of life.”  The “Euthanasia Program” was aimed at Germans, not Jews, though it was fine if some Jews were murdered there.  Here began the deception – a physical exam by a doctor, followed by an invitation to disrobe and shower, only to be asphyxiated by carbon monoxide.

The program ended in August 1941, when public awareness led to Hitler’s fear of domestic resistance.     At its closing, 92 staff members were transferred to the Operation Reinhard Death Camps (Sobibor, Belzek and Treblinka) where the skill of gassing humans was used on a larger scale.

But here is what I learned today from Gitta Sereny’s book, Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience – the Catholic Church knew about the Euthanasia Program from the beginning and did not object in any way until the spring of 1940, and even then the objection was meek.  Sereny lays out the evidence from oral interviews as well as a review of transcripts from the 1967 Frankfurt Euthanasia trials.

Sereny concludes that, “[a]ccording to all the evidence now on hand, whether knowledge was official or unofficial, obtained through fair means or foul, transmitted through practicing or lapsed priests, it was literally impossible for the Church – which has what has been called the ‘best information service in the world’ at its disposal – to have been in ignorance.”   (Sereny at 74).

The fact of the Church’s indifference to the mass murder of the Jews is well known.  But who knew that they were also indifferent to the murder of non-Jewish Germans who were “unworthy of life.”

Sources:

  • Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York, NY. Basic Books. 2010.
  • Dawidowicz, Lucy S. The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945. New York, NY. Bantam Books. 1975.
  • Sereny, Gitta. Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience. New York, NY. Random House. 1974.

My First Post – Introducing Myself.

Let me introduce myself.  I am a fifth generation Jewish American, in fact, 5th generation Seattlite – on my mother’s side.  I am married and have four wonderful children.  I retired from my law practice in March and have undertaken to write a book about my in-laws experience during WWII.

Why, you might ask? – Fair question.

Well, growing up in Seattle, I learned about the Holocaust, but from a distance – I did not know anyone who survived.  Then I met, fell in love and married a man whose parents were both sole survivors of their families.  My mother-in-law, Esther (Vishnui) Goldberg (A”H) is from Stock, Poland.  She survived the war by hiding in the woods – in the shadow of the death camp Treblinka.   My father-in-law, Sam Goldberg (A”H), was born in Bagatelles, Poland.  After many trying adventures, he ended up not in the shadow of Treblinka, but actually in the camp itself.   He was one of 60 that survived.

My in-laws met on August 3, 1943, the day after the uprising in Treblinka when my father-in-law miraculously escaped.  He ran into the woods and it was there that he met my mother-in-law.  She saved him by convincing a Polish women to hide him for three days while the Nazis and Ukranians scoured the area for the escaped prisoners.  They spent the rest of the war together, hiding in the woods.

I have been studying and thinking about this story for 30 years.  I believe that the world is missing something without this story being publicly told. I will tell it.

I am reading and re-reading books related to World War II, the Holocaust, and Treblinka.  I am continually astounded.  I am writing this blog as a way to share some of my research and to help me organize my own thoughts about the events that took place between 1933 and 1945 and especially what happened to Esther and Sam.

Come with me on this journey.   You won’t be sorry.