Meth, Opioids, Cocaine, Morphine – Guess Which Were Hitler’s Favorites.

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By the time Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, he was a drug addict.  First, it was simple hormone and vitamin injections, then he graduated to opioid injections and finally, a cocktail of opioids and cocaine. No wonder the Germans lost the war!  Their leader was propped up by magical potions that made his limbs tremble and warped his mind.  In his book, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, Norman Ohler quotes Hitler’s personal physician’s notes from the end of 1944:

“‘Left hand very strong tremor,’ wrote [Theodor] Morell [Hitler’s personal physician].  Then: ‘increased tremor in the right hand.’ Or: ‘The left leg is not trembling now, but the left arm and the left hand are.’  Hitler buried his fingers in his coat pockets to conceal the fact. By now it could hardly have been described as trembling, as it had graduated to shaking.” (Ohler at 177-178)

Things went from bad to worse as the Allies bombed Berlin.  On just one day – February 3, 1945, the Allies dropped 2,264 tons of bombs on Berlin. (216) Among the many buildings destroyed were pharmaceutical factories – drying up the drug supply.  The Fuhrer showed signs of withdrawal: “the tremors were getting worse and his body was going into rapid decline.  At his final speech to the district leaders on February 24, 1945, he had finally lost his power of suggestion.  He made a pitiful impression on his visitors, stood bowed, drooling.” (Id.)

To commit suicide with his now wife, Eva Braun, Hitler ate a meal of spaghetti and had hydrogen cyanide for dessert.  After eating the cyanide, Hitler shot himself in the brain with a 6.35 Walther.[1] (224)

But this is not how it started – oh no.  When Hitler came to power in 1933 – he was all about the purity of the German body.  Years before Nancy Reagan, Hitler “just said no” to drugs.  Morphine and cocaine, which were the Germans’ drugs of choice, were outlawed.  (5-15) In the autumn of 1935 The Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring was passed, requiring sterilization for certain conditions, including drug addiction. (17)  The next step was to kill all the drug addicts.  The Euthanasia program, called T4, was the perfect vehicle (17) (see blog posts 11/12/17; 4/14/17; 12/21/15).

It was “well known” that Jews were druggies.  They loved morphine and cocaine – the twin enemies of the Nazi party.  As Ohler describes, “SS Haupsturmfuhrer Criminal Commissar Erwin Kosmehl, who was from 1941 director of the Reich Central Office for Combating Drug Transgressions, asserted that ‘Jews play a supreme part’ in the international drug trade.  His work was concerned with ‘eliminating international criminals who often have roots in Jewry.’  The Nazi Party’s Officer of Racial Policy claimed that the Jewish character was essentially drug-dependent: the intellectual urban Jew preferred cocaine or morphine to calm his constantly ‘excited nerves’ and give himself a feeling of peace and inner security.  Jewish doctors were rumored to be ‘often extraordinarily addicted to morphine.’” (19)

Propaganda was the key instrument to insure indoctrination of the youth.  In an antisemetic children’s book “Der Gifpilz (‘The Poisonous Mushroom’) the National Socialists combined their twin bogeymen, Jews and drugs, into racial-hygiene propaganda that was used in schools and nurseries.  The story was exemplary, the message perfectly clear: the dangerous poison mushroom had to be eradicated.” (19)  The book contains a picture of a young boy kneeling and handing a mushroom to a woman with a basket (think red-riding hood) in the forest.  The caption under the picture reads: “Just as poisonous mushrooms are often difficult to tell from good mushrooms, it is often difficult to recognize the Jews and confidence tricksters and criminals.” (21)

Well, with morphine and cocaine now outlawed for all living under Nazi rule, pharma companies got creative.   In 1937, the German pharmaceutical company, Temmler, developed and patented a new method of synthesizing methamphetamine.  They gave it the trade name – Pervitin.  (28-29) Taking Pervitin had magical effects: “All of a sudden the consumer feels wide awake and experiences an increase in energy; the senses are intensified to the extreme.  One feels livelier, energized to the tips of one’s hair and fingers.  Self-confidence rises, there is a subjectively perceived acceleration of thought processes, a sense of euphoria, and a feeling of lightness and freshness. A state of emergency is experienced, as when one faces a sudden danger, a time when an organism mobilizes all its forces – even though there is no danger.  An artificial kick.” (30)

The Temmler marketing team had a hay day.  They sold the meth over the counter, and marketed it for curing “frigidity in women,” by “increasing women’s libido and sexual power.” This powerful pill was said to cure the negative effects of “withdrawal from alcohol, cocaine and even opiates.” (32)  They put meth in chocolate and stated it was “perfectly safe” and a “delight.” (34) After eating a few of these chocolates, “housework would be done in a trice, and this unusual tidbit would even melt the pounds away, since Pervitin, a slimming agent, also curbed the appetite.” (34)

September of 1939 saw the invasion of Poland and the start of World War II.  German commanders handed out Pervitin to soldiers to keep them awake longer and give them a boost of energy and confidence.  Ohler quotes a medical officer from the IX Army Corps: “I’m convinced that in big pushes, where the last drop has to be squeezed from the team, a unit supplied with Pervitin is superior.  This doctor has therefore made sure that there is a supply of Pervitin in the Unit Medical Equipment.” (53)  In the summer of 1941, the Wehrmacht High Command classified Pervitin as ‘decisive for the outcome of the war.” (101)

This decisive drug led to a generation of meth addicts.  In the end, none of these drugs saved Hitler or the German people, yemach shemam (may their names be erased).

Hitler’s personal doctor and drug dealer, ended up being arrested and put in jail.  But he was no use to the American interrogators, he sat apathetically and depressed in his jail cell.  He was released from prison in the summer of 1947 – dropped , shoeless, outside Munich’s central station.  There he sat, unable to muster the energy to move until “a half-Jewish Red Cross nurse took pity on him and put him in a hospital in Tegensee, where he died on May 26,1948,” (225-26) just twelve days after the State of Israel was declared.  Sweet revenge.

 

[1] After Hitler’s suicide, 100,000 Germans followed their Fuhrer and committed suicide.  Id. at 225.

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The “Truth”: Janusz Korczak and Velvel Schneiderman.

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The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery is holy ground.   While visiting the cemetery with my family in June of 2016, we saw a statue of Dr. Janusz Korczak, the proprietor of the Warsaw ghetto orphanage.  The photo above is Shlomo pointing to Korczak.  It stands tall among the low tombstones.  He has no grave; he was murdered at Treblinka.

Janusz Korczak was his pen name.  He authored children’s book in Polish.  His name at birth was Henryk Goldszmit.  The statute depicts him walking with a young child in one arm and holding the hand of another child who is followed by yet more.  I had read and been told that Korczak was given an opportunity to leave the Warsaw ghetto and find freedom and safety outside of Poland.  But he refused, boarding the train to Treblinka with his children.

This “truth” seems a bit shaky now, after I read Victor Ripp’s book, Hell’s Traces: One Murder, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials.  Ripp visited a memorial dedicated to Janusz Korczak (not the statute we saw in the cemetery).  He had heard the story of how Korczak went to the gas chamber together with the children.  Specifically, Ripp heard the story that “[t]here was an SS officer at the terminal when the train was being boarded.  As a child, he [the SS officer] had loved Korczak’s books so much that he was ready to intervene and save the author.  But Korczak refused to leave the children.” (Ripp at 56)

The memorial is located in a simple park and depicts Korczak as embracing six children with a “saintly” expression on his face.  The small girl at the front is holding a doll and looking down, while other children gaze at Korczak.  While Ripp was sitting contemplating the statute, a group of Canadian high school students came by.   Their guide said the following:

“’Some of you may have seen on the Internet or perhaps heard the story of how Korczak volunteered to go to Treblinka with the orphans.  But that is a legend.  It makes for a nice story, and we can use some nice stories about that terrible time. But it’s not true.’” (Ripp at 57)

What did she say?   Ripp needed to clarify.  He ran and caught up with guide and asked her – what do you mean the story about Korczak isn’t true?

“’It is all because of one man:  Wladyslaw Szpilman,’ she said.  ‘In Polanski’s movie The Pianist, Szpilman is portrayed as a national hero.  After that no one argued with anything Szpilman said.  When he wrote in his memoir that he saw Korczak at the train station that day, volunteering to go with the children, that became the truth.  But there are many inconsistencies in Szpilman’s story – he got the weather of that day wrong, also the time of the train’s departure.  But you really have to know only one thing.  The Nazis did not give anyone that sort of choice.  ‘They were not so generous.’”(58)

The reason Ripp decided to visit the Korczak memorial in the first place was because his friend Agata Tuszynska told him to.  Tuszynska is a writer and longtime resident of Warsaw, who wrote a controversial book about Vera Gran, a popular singer who after the war was accused of collaborating with the Germans.  Agate told Ripp that her book “takes no sides,” but “it just shows that memories of that time can be very tricky. . . .  Who can say what the truth is?” (58-59)

I have been thinking about who gets to say what the “truth” is quite a lot.

In writing or thinking about the past, memories are distorted.  Trauma plays mean tricks on the mind.  Different versions of the same event emerge.  What is truth?  What is reality?

Recently, Shlomo located some testimony from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about the war years from Velvel (William) Schneiderman.   He escaped Treblinka with Sam and together they met Esther in the woods.  Esther took both Sam and Velvel to Helena Stys and convinced her to hide them as the Nazis were searching for Treblinka escapees.

I was shocked when I read Velvel’s testimony.  He states that he was together with Sam after escaping Treblinka and they met “a boy, a young boy with a sister-in-law” – presumably Esther and Chayim.  He states that, together with three others, he hid in a pit that they dug.   He indicates that he was there for eleven months, until the Germans were retreating from the area.  He describes how he got separated from the other three and the Germans captured him.  Ultimately after some time he got away from the Germans.[1]

Velvel’s “truth” does not match Sam, Esther, or any of the Stys family members’ “truth.”  According to Sam and Esther, Velvel was with them for the first few days, but then he left and went off through the forest on his own.  While the Stys family members clearly remembered Moishe, Esther, Chayim and later – Sam – they had no recollection of Velvel.

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[Photo – Left to Right:  Velvel Schneiderman; Norma Schneiderman; Sam Goldberg; Esther Goldberg, holding Fay – at DP Camp – Föhrenwald.]

Bottom line – there is no way to know what really happened during this terrible time.   No one who lived through it can be blamed for having different versions of the truth.  It is all the truth.

[1] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  Interview with William Schneiderman. September 1, 1994.  RG-50.030*0288.

ESTHER GOLDBERG’S 20TH YARTZHEIT

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Today is Esther Bryndl Wzsnia Goldberg’s 20th Yahrzeit.

I always know how many years since Esther died because I was pregnant with my youngest daughter Esther, who bears her name.  She was a proud and resilient woman who survived the Nazis and lived to see nine grandchildren, with one on the way.

Readers of this blog know of her miraculous and difficult years of survival during the war.  She began in 1939 as an innocent 19-year-old and ended in 1944, an orphan, a widow, having lost a child and survived four Nazi massacres and two years hiding in a pit or a barn with very little food.

Today, I would like to remember her as the warm, laughing mother-in-law that I knew.  Yes, she cried too – daily – but my memories are filled with her deep, hearty laugh, her brown hair teased up high on her head as she stood in her small Miami Beach kitchen wearing a patterned house dress with snaps down the front.  She was the best cook I ever met – from latkes to chicken soup to kreplach – all delicious.  My mouth waters with the memory.

Today, I pause to remember her and to remind myself of the love she showed me and the lessons she taught.  I am grateful to her for the family she created and how she welcomed me into it.

May her memory be a blessing to us all.

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“WHERE ARE YOU TAKING US?” THE GREY BUS MEMORIAL

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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.

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I wrote this paragraph in a blog post about the Euthanasia Program and the Church’s knowledge of it.  It was post on December 21, 2015.  Here is the post:

https://soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook.wordpress.com/2015/12/21/nazi-euthanasia-program-and-the-church/

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Victor Ripp, in his new book Hell’s Traces: One Murder, Two Families, Thirty-Five Holocaust Memorials describes a Holocaust memorial to those murdered in the German Euthanasia Program, blandly known as “T4,” after the street where it was headquartered.  Ripp visited this memorial along with thirty-four others to examine the memory of his lost family.  Using the device of the Holocaust memorials, Ripp weaves the two sides of his family together as he recounts their history.  His mother’s family (30 members) left Germany together when Jews could still leave, while in his father’s family, only a few left and the rest were murdered by the Nazis.

His description of the T4 memorial moved me deeply.  I was moved in part, because this memorial reminds us how the mass killing by gas began – with the T4 program.  In part, because T4 was designed to murder disabled and mentally Germans of all kinds, not just Jews.  In part, because I recently watched the episode of Amazon’s The Man In the High Castle[1], where the teenage son of a leading American Nazi realizes that he has a degenerative disease and he is “defective.”  His father attempts to hide the defect from him and to send him out of the country, so he will not be murdered for his defect.  But, the son, being indoctrinated in Nazi philosophy, realizes he is ill and believes that his defect must result in his death.  He should not be allowed to live.  He turns himself in and is taken away, presumably to die.

Ripp describes the memorial:

“It was a poured concrete replica of a German city bus circa 1940, and compared to Kassel’s contemporary vehicles it appeared a mutant. It was obviously different – it couldn’t move, for one thing – but it was similar enough in its shape so that it wouldn’t have appeared totally out of place in contemporary traffic.  What had once happened was history. But it was a history that, the memorial insisted, still intruded on the present.

When T4 Aktion was carried out, the windows on the buses were covered to spare the townspeople’s sensibility.  There had been complaints that it was unpleasant to have to see the faces of the passengers on the way to the gas chambers.  The windows on the replica were similarly blocked off.

The memorial was sliced lengthwise into two.  The resulting aisle was barely wide enough for me to pass through, sparking a mild spasm of claustrophobic anxiety.  On one wall there was an inscription:  Wohin bringt ihr uns?  At first glance this seems a typical question from passenger to driver – ‘Where are you taking us?’ But parsed more closely, it suggests life in a society that has descended into grotesque caricature.  Buses look like ordinary buses, they circulate through ordinary city streets, but the route ends in a death camp.” (Ripp at 30)

Though the buses took the victims to their death, it was not a death camp like Treblinka.  It was a building, which looked like a doctor’s office.  But inside there was equipment set up to asphyxiate those not worthy of living.

The simple question written on the T4 memorial is so powerful because it was surely asked by people on these buses.  But it was also surely asked by millions of Jews who were put on buses, trucks and trains who were taken to mass killing sites, death, concentration or a labor camps.   Sam certainly asked this question when, in June of 1942, he was captured in Stoczek and put on a truck to Treblinka.  He had no idea where he was going and, even once he got there, he had no idea what he was being forced to build.

During the war, “where are you taking us?” was a scary question and the answer might have meant the difference between life and death.

In my life, I am blessed to get on a bus and not worry that I will be taken to my death or to a forced labor camp.  But the idea of wanting to know where I am going becomes a question I ask myself – perhaps a metaphysical quest.  The human spirit desires to “get” somewhere in life.  Let’s keep asking.  Let’s keep asking to remember those who were murdered by the Nazis. Let’s keep asking to see where the bus takes us.

Let’s make the most of the ride.

 

[1] The Man in the High Castle is an Amazon TV show that depicts what the world would be like if Germany and Japan had won the war.

EDUARD SCHULTE – UNSUNG GERMAN HERO

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He tried, he really tried.

Eduard Schulte, a German industrialist who found himself in the Nazi inner circle, was disgusted and described them as “monsters who would ‘ruin Germany.’”  (Winik, Jay.  1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History at 285)   Risking his own life, in the summer of 1942, he sent out alarms to the British and the Americans about the real intent of Hitler’s Final Solution.  Unfortunately, the strong and immediate Allied actions he was hoping for, did not occur and over the next two and a half years, Auschwitz turned a million people into ash.

On his many business trips to Switzerland, Schulte leaked Nazi secrets to members of “the Polish Secret Service, who in turn passed the information on, via secret radio transmitter or diplomatic mail pouch, to the British. From there, it was relayed to the Americans in Washington.”  (289)

One day in the summer of 1942, Schulte heard news that set off many alarms.  After Heinrich Himmler’s visit to Auschwitz in July, Schulte heard that Himmler had a dinner party at which he “openly talked about Hitler’s plan to systematically murder all the Jews of Europe and beyond – every last man, woman, and child.“ (296) Previously, Schulte had heard that Hitler planned to relocate the Jews of Europe to Madagascar.  But now, he understood that was no longer the plan.  Now, the Final Solution would lead to the systematic murder of an entire people – millions of people.

I must note, that in July of 1942, when Himmler boasted over cocktails about how Auschwitz would be turned into a murder factory, a million Jews had already been shot into pits in Eastern Europe.  Further, Chelmno, Belzec and Sobibor were in full operation, murdering thousands of Jews each day and Treblinka was under construction by Sam and his fellow prisoners.

Schulte was not aware of the Operation Reinhard Death Camps[1] in Poland nor of the shootings further east.  But he now knew that there were plans to exterminate millions of Europe’s Jews, that a giant crematorium had been built and the “Nazis were planning to take 3 million to 4 million Jews to the east, where they would be gassed with prussic acid.” (299-300)

He acted quickly – he traveled to Zurich.  His intention was to pass this information on to someone who can get it “all the way to Franklin Roosevelt – as soon as possible.” (297)  He chose a Jewish man he knew from the world of finance.   He told him this information and urged him to immediately pass this information onto someone who could get it to Washington.  Time was of the essence.

This person immediately contacted a respected Jewish journalist, Benno Sagalowitz, who had diplomatic contacts with the Americans.  Sagalowitz agreed that this information had to reach President Roosevelt and that strong action must be taken.  (361)  Sagalowitz chose Gerhart Riegner, a thirty-year old Parisian Jewish lawyer who practiced international law in Geneva.  Riegner was now the chief of the Geneva office of a new organization – the World Jewish Congress (WJC).   WJC began in 1936 “to protect the rights of Jews in Europe, and to ‘mobilize the democratic world against Nazi atrocities.’” (302)

After five hours of intense conversation, Sagalowitz convinced Riegner that this was real.  Sagalowitz and Riegner met again on August 3, 1942 and they wrote a telegram that became known as the “Riegner Telegram.” (304)  Riegner sent his telegram to the British Consulate, who sent it straight away to the British Foreign Office.  Riegner also met with an American consulate official who passed the information along.  On August 11, the American minister in Switzerland, Leland Harrison, wrote a cover letter to accompany the telegram to the State Department, stating that this report was filled with “war rumors inspired by fear.”  (307)

Harrison’s letter was the first place the brakes were put on the Riegner Telegram.  When this letter and telegram landed on the desk of State Department’s division of European affairs, it was dismissed as fantastical.  They did not pass it along to the White House nor did they pass it along to Rabbi Stephen Wise (leading Jewish American voice raising alarms about the Holocaust), as Riegner had instructed.

Wise found out about the telegram, but not through the State Department. He found out about it from Samual Sydney Silverman, a respected British barrister who was a member of Parliament, as well as the chairman of the World Jewish Congress in England.  Once Wise heard of the Riegner Telegram he was beside himself with grief and felt he must get this information to Roosevelt.

Wise contacted the State Department (who already knew of the Riegner telegram) and urged them to get this information to Roosevelt.  Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles, called Wise on September 3, 1942 and asked him to “keep the Riegner Telegram under wraps until it could be ‘confirmed.’. . .  Fatefully, Wise relented.” (318)

Meanwhile, more information about the destruction of European Jewry was reaching Wise and Roosevelt.   News that the “Warsaw ghetto had been ‘evacuated’ and that 100,000 Jews had been ‘bestially murdered’” reached both Wise and Roosevelt.  The cable indicated that the corpses were being used for “artificial fertilizers.” (319)  Belzec was named as a place the Jews were sent to for an “unknown fate.” (321)

After receiving all this information, Roosevelt made a weak statement about how the Nazis should know that “they’re being watched by the civilized world.”  (321) No action to stop the murders was taken.

Soon, more evidence of Jewish annihilation arrived on Roosevelt’s desk.  Roosevelt finally met in person with Rabbi Stephen Wise on December 8.  Wise provided a twenty-page memo entitled “Blueprint for Extermination” which provided a full account of what the Nazis were doing.   Sadly, Wise seems not to have asked the President to do more than issue more warnings to the Germans and set up a commission to “sift through the evidence of the Nazi’s atrocities and ‘report it to the world.’” To which Roosevelt agreed. (329)

Roosevelt, together with Britain and the Soviet Union, did indeed issue a statement condemning the German genocide.  The statement stated that the Germans’ actions were “bestial,” and used the “strongest possible terms.” (331)   This declaration received world-wide publicity, but did not stop the Nazi annihilation of European Jewry – not in the least.

Eduard Schulte tried, he really did.

 

[1] Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka.

Poles – Victims or Perpetrators – Conflicting Narratives.

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I was angry.   I had just visited the Schindler Museum in Krakow, Poland.  The museum has important information about Oskar Schindler and the Jews he saved, but its main goal was to depict Polish suffering and victimization during the war.  I felt that the Schindler name was just a tactic to get tourists to come and see how terrible it was for the Poles under Nazi occupation.

I kept thinking about what Sam and Esther told me many time: “The Finstere (dark) Poles were worse than the Germans.”

They had good reason to make this statement.   Though they were helped by the non-Jewish Stys family, they were turned away and in peril of being killed or informed upon to by so many others.  Moishe Kwiatek, Esther’s first husband, was murdered by a Polish man looking for a reward. They lived in constant terror of their Polish neighbors.

In his book Why? Explaining the Holocaust, Peter Hays discusses the very touchy subject of non-Jewish versus Jewish victimization of those who called Poland home before 1939.

Hays notes that there is a perception that Catholic Poles did little to help the Jews and “indeed in many cases had favored and even encouraged the outcome,” (Why at 240).  This belief was bolstered by Claude Lanzmann’s nine-hour documentary film – Shoah, which showed Polish Catholics making antisemetic statements and Jan Gross’s 2001 book, Neighbors, about how the Poles burned the Jews of Jedwabne in a barn in 1941.

Hays explains that antisemitism was “considerable” in Poland before 1939.  There were pogroms, admission to university was restricted, and the Polish government toyed with a way to force the emigration of all the Jews to Madagascar or Angola.   The Polish government trained Zionist fighters in Poland in 1938-39 and sent them to Palestine in the hopes that they would perpetrate violence there and convince the British to allow Polish Jews to emigrate to Palestine.  They wanted the Jews to leave Poland.

Jews and Poles lived as separate ethnic communities.  Jews spoke Yiddish, while Poles spoke Polish.  Intermarriages and conversions were rare and the two groups did not socialize much.  Although only 1% of the Jews were professionals, this group made up 63% of those employed in commerce in 1921.  By 1931, Jews made up 56% of the physicians, 43% of the teachers, 33.55% of the lawyers, and 22% of the Journalists and publishers.  Jewish owned businesses employed 35-40% of the non-Jewish Poles and Jews paid 35-40% of Poland’s tax revenues.  The non-Jews were envious of Jewish success.

On the other hand, Hays explains, the Nazi occupation of Poland was terrible.  When the Germans first invaded, they systematically captured, imprisoned and killed a huge percentage of the Polish intelligentsia – professors, journalist, lawyers, priests, politicians.   Himmler ordered the displacement and impoverishment of over 300,000 Poles and about two million more were forced to serve as slave laborers for the German Reich.  (Id. at 241)

The Germans didn’t care much about the remaining Poles and they restricted their food intake; official rations in 1941 amounted to 29% of the daily caloric needs.  Nazi officials treated the Poles with contempt and cruelty.  An anonymous Polish doctor remarked: “[I]t was like living in a county where all the thieves and gangsters had been let loose and the operation of the law entirely suspended.” (Id. at 242) One statistic that Hays offers to show how bad it was for the Poles is: “more Poles may have been killed in the suppression of the Warsaw Rising of 1944[1] than Japanese people were in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki a year later.” (Id. at 243) In all, approximately two million non-Jewish Poles died during the war.

Further, more Poles are commemorated at Yad Vashem for saving Jews than any other nationality. In part this simply follows from the fact that Jews were more numerous in Poland than anywhere else. But the families like the Stys family that helped Sam and Esther, surface as examples of Poles who did not stand by to allow their neighbors to be turned to ash.

So, while I was angry after I went through the Schindler museum, it’s a complicated emotion.  I know the Polish people suffered during the war. But I also know that most Poles either stood by while the Nazis executed the Final Solution or were involved in the dirty work of identifying and killing Jews.   Even after the war, when Sam and Esther lived in Ostrow, the non-Jewish Poles plotted to kill them to take their wealth and their property.  It was after this terrifying incident of near death that Sam and Esther decided that they must leave Poland for good and emigrate to America.

Selfishly, I am glad that they did – otherwise I would never have met Shlomo.

Life is complicated.

[1] This was not the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of the Jews – it was a revolt by non-Jewish Poles living in Warsaw against the Nazi occupiers.   The Jewish uprising was in April of 1943.

Oh, To Be “Rid of Unnecessary mouths to Feed” – A Triple Miracle.

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One by one they removed their clothes; one by one they were shot into a pit. Esther’s family was murdered this way. Sam’s siblings and their families were murdered this way.  Thousands of Jews were murdered this way, outside of Slonim, on August 20,1941.

It is a miracle to survive one massacre – but three – that is beyond a miracle.

Esther survived the August Slonim massacre because she was in the hospital.  Her boyfriend Moishe Kwiatek escaped the Nazis by hiding.  They stayed in Slonim for another six or seven months getting enough money to buy a horse and buggy to take them home – to Stoczek.

We don’t know much about these months after the August massacre except that Esther and Moishe handled on the black market to make enough money to buy a horse and buggy in March of 1942.  I learned more about this vague time from the entry into a “situation report” recorded by Gebietskommissar Gerhard Erren, dated January 25, 1942.[1]

Remarkably, it seems that Esther and Moishe avoided another massacre of Slonim’s Jews on November 13, 1941.

Gebietskommissar Erren was in charge when the second big killing of Slonim Jews took place on November 13, 1941.  This “action” murdered an additional 18,000 Slonim Jews and “rid me of unnecessary mouths to feed,” Gebietskommissar Erren wrote.

After this purge of “useless eaters”, the report indicates that there were 7,000 Jews left in Slonim.  Esther and Moishe were two of the 7,000.  I have no idea how Esther and Moishe evaded the November round up.  Perhaps they were labeled “skilled workers” and exempt.  “Skilled workers” were kept alive to keep the economy of Slonim going.  “The best of the skilled workers among the Jews,” Gebietskommissar Erren wrote, “will be made to pass their skills on to intelligent apprentices in my craft colleges, so that Jews will finally be dispensable in the skilled craft and trade sector and can be eliminated.” (178-79)

When Gebietskommissar Erren began his rule of Slonim, he had to do some repair work to make it “livable” for the Germans who now occupied it as rulers.  He had his work cut out for him:

“Operating on the premise that my colleagues need the highest standard of overall living conditions in order to maintain peak performance I saw to it from day one that each of our men not only has decent accommodation and enough to eat but that his whole lifestyle embodies German culture and the prestige appropriate to it.  Our accommodation is such that members of all the German services, including Sonderfuhrer and police, eat together but in separate dining-rooms. Standards of conduct are adhered to, with the result that even people with little upbringing soon learn manners which command the respect of the local serving staff towards the German master race.” (Id.)

The “master race” did a great job of making life as comfortable as possible for themselves and as miserable as possible for the Jews.  It is a wonder that Esther and Moishe got out of Slonim in March of 1942.  It must have been so hard!  My heart breaks thinking about the impossible life they led day in and day out under Nazi rule.

They arrived back in Stoczek by Passover of 1942 – back to Moishe’s family, who were all still alive and their soda factory was still churning out bottles of bubbly water.  They lived under no delusion that life would be simple or smooth.  It was not.  In June of 1942, the Nazis came to town and took 135 men away – to Treblinka (including Sam).  Then they came back in September, shooting hundreds into pits at the Stoczek Jewish cemetery and taking the rest of the Jews to Treblinka.  Esther and Moishe – for the third time – evaded the massacre – hiding in the attic of the Kwiatek home.  From this massacre, they ran to the forest, to the Stys family – onto the next horrible chapter of their lives.

What are the chances of evading mass shootings and deportations three times between August of 1942 and September of 1943? So slim.  But yet, it happened.  Moishe did not survive the war, but Esther did and for that I am eternally grateful.

[1] Willi Dressen, Ernst Klee and Volker Riess, ed. “The Good Old Days”: The Holocaust as Seen by Its Perpetrators and Bystanders.