FRANCES CUTLER HIDDEN CHILD
B. 1938 PARIS, FRANCE
“I remember most being jealous and resentful that I was not part of a family,” says Frances Cutler. Growing up in various foster homes, she was often seated away from the host family’s birth children, never sharing in the joys of dinner table laughter, toys, and treats. She longed for familiarity and security—and mostly for the mother she barely remembered.
Frances has had two religions, five names, seven homes, and eight families—all tools for survival for a hidden child during the Holocaust. The children (and their hosts) lived in constant danger. Many never saw their birth families again. Frances’s parents, Cyla and Shlomo, immigrated to France from Ciechanow, Poland, in 1936.
Frances was born in Paris amid the turmoil of the German invasion. Worried that she could not protect her daughter, Cyla brought three-year-old “Fanny” to a Catholic children’s home, where she could visit her weekly. Cyla was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where she died, pregnant with Frances’s only sibling. After that, Frances was taken to a Catholic farm to prevent her deportation. Shlomo joined the French Resistance and died from combat wounds in 1946.In 1948 Frances came to live with her aunt and uncle in America. Even though she became an American citizen in 1953, her Polish roots and French upbringing made it difficult for her to feel at home anywhere. A trip to France in 1978 began the process of healing, although, she says, “it took a long time and a lot of work for me to let it go.” She recently published a book in collaboration with other hidden children.
ROBERT EISENSTEIN WITNESS: DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP
B. 1917 CLINTON, IOWA
“We rode the jeep toward the barracks,” Robert Eisenstein recalls. “People were still there. They looked at us. We looked at them. Hollow.”
Bob shipped out in April 1943 as an officer in the American Army. He was Jewish but, like the majority of American soldiers, he was completely unprepared for what he saw two years later at Dachau. “We got some vague information from periodicals, but nothing official. We never heard any rumors—nothing about what was really going on in Europe.”In May 1945, while headquartered at Fürstenfeldbruck airfield, Bob drove into Dachau accompanied by another soldier who spoke Yiddish. They were able to communicate with some inmates.Bob says, “I can remember it clearly. All the houses in the town of Dachau had basements filled with different things. rooms had shoes, one had clothing, one had hair, and one had gold fillings.” He remembers the cages in which guards kept vicious dogs that could be unleashed on inmates standing in line for food. He noticed that the German officers’ quarters were neatly furnished. “I became sick, momentarily sick. How people could live so comfortably after doing these kinds of things to others…it was all just too much.”
Although Bob was in Dachau only four hours, the images from that visit are still vivid today. He says, “I became most affected by what I had seen” after returning home to Nashville. He realized that had it not been for an accident of geography, he and his family could have been among the Holocaust’s victims.
JACK FRIED SURVIVOR: CHOROSTKOW GHETTO, JABLONICA FORCED LABOR CAMP
B. 1938 CHOROSTKOW, POLAND
(NOW KHOROSTKOV, UKRAINE)
“My grandfather was hiding in an underground bunker during an air raid,” remembers Jack Fried. “The guards found him there and shot him right where he was sitting. My father, uncle, and I went to look for him and found my grandfather dead, still holding his sister in his arms…this is something you just don’t forget.”
In the ghetto, five-year-old Jack Fried worked twelve hours a day with his mother and sister providing food for inmates and German guards. He knew that “taking food was punishable by death.” His father, once a prominent businessman, labored at grave digging and road paving.He recalls, “It was very hard work and many did not survive it.”The family was transported to Jablonica, an agricultural camp in German-occupied Ukraine.His father and sister harvested food for German soldiers; Jack and his mother worked in the kitchen. “He didn’t sit around and let things happen to us,” Jack says of his father. “He fought and he saved us. My father escaped with my sister and returned home to unearth buried money he had hidden there.” He bribed a German guard to smuggle Jack and his mother out, and paid a Polish farmer to hide them all in his hayloft.Six months later, as the Russian Army pushed German troops west, Jack and his family traveled under their protection to Romania, then made their way through Bulgaria and Turkey into Palestine. Jack relates, “In Judaism we have a saying. It is B’shert. It means ‘meant to be’ and I believe much of our time after the camp was just that.”
JIMMY GENTRY LIBERATOR:DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP
B. 1925 FRANKLIN, TN
“Off in the distance I saw boxcars lined up with hundreds of dead bodies inside. They looked starved and tortured,”Jimmy Gentry.“I asked another soldier, ‘Who are these people?’ He said, ‘They are Jews.’”
American infantryman Jimmy Gentry had seen combat at the Battle of the Bulge, but it paled in comparison to what he saw that day. “No one told us what we would find. No one explained what our mission was. We saw a wall and that was the entrance to a prison camp like I have never seen.” The camp was Dachau.
They were told, “Get the guards and get out.” Jimmy recalls his horror, “I couldn’t move, and though I knew what I had to do, I was numb at the same time.” He knew that soldiers died in war, “but non-soldiers? Just people? Religious people? I can’t understand it. Not then, not now.”
When Jimmy returned home, he was determined never to speak about it again: “I kept thinking if I didn’t talk about it, it would go away.” But it didn’t, and in 1985 Jimmy met a Nashville Survivor who convinced him to share his experiences with others. “Talking about it so many years later made such an impact on me,” says Jimmy, who wrote a book called An American Life in 2002. “It was all too much. I was a young boy, a simple foot soldier moving from one day to the next. I just wanted to get away from that place, away from smelling death.”
HANNA HAMBURGER REFUGEE
B. 1922 EPPINGEN, GERMANY
“There were good people then, too. Not everyone believed what the Nazis told them,” says Hanna Hamburger. “The nun at my school refused to allow me to be ridiculed. She protected me a lot.”
Raised in Germany, Hanna Hamburger escaped Nazism at the age of sixteen. She and her family managed to leave just weeks beforeKristallnacht. She recalls the fear and intimidation and the quiet exchanges between her parents. During the Boycott of 1933, Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, urged Germans to boycott Jewish-owned businesses. The boycott bankrupted Hanna’s father. Anti-Semitism was rampant. At Hannah’s fifteenth birthday party, no one came.“I can still see myself all dressed up waiting for my guests,” she recalls.But she also remembers the Nazi physician who tenderly cared for her grandmother, the nun who protected her from anti-Semitism in school, and the German soldiers who urged her father to leave.
Hanna’s father wrote to America and asked for a visa. His timing was good. When they arrived in New York in 1938, her distinguished father became a dishwasher, her mother a maid. Today she admits, “I feel guilty for surviving when so many didn’t. There was so much loss and so much torture.”
FRIDA LANDAU SURVIVOR: AUSCHWITZ AND THERESIENSTADT CONCENTRATION CAMPS
B. 1925 PAVLOVICE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA
(NOW CZECH REPUBLIC)
“We were afraid every minute of our lives, and every day we had grass or even a sip of water, we were grateful. I guess we thought that was better than dying…I suppose it was,” says Frida Landau. She and her sister ate grass in an attempt to survive the ten-day train journey to Theresienstadt concentration camp.
By then it was 1945. They had managed to live through nine months of imprisonment in Block 16 at Auschwitz, where they had lost their parents along with their sister and her daughters.“It was during separation,” she recalls. “We walked left to the showers and they went to the right…they died never really knowing what was happening to any of us.”Concentration camp guards routinely separated family groups according to age and fitness to work. Teenagers and young adults were spared, while parents and younger siblings were often sent to their deaths.At Auschwitz they slept four to a bunk. Frida remembers praying a lot and talking to others.“The Polish inmates had been there for about a year and would tell us many details,” she says.“I could hear them but I just couldn’t believe what they were saying. I knew but then I really didn’t know anything.”Frida calls the day they were liberated in Theresienstadt a birthday. “[May 8,] 1945 was the birth of my freedom,” she exclaims. It was a day she wasn’t sure she would ever experience.
ELIZABETH LIMOR SURVIVOR: HASAG MUNITIONS FACTORY/SKARZYSKO SLAVE LABOR CAMP; HASAG MUNITIONS FACTORY/CZESTOCHOWA SLAVE LABOR CAMP
B. 1922 LÓD´Z, POLAND
“ARBEIT MACHT FREI” (Work Makes You Free) were the words wrought in iron on the heavy gates of the camp that imprisoned nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Limor.
Elizabeth worked twelve-hour days packing bullet casings on an assembly line in the HASAG ammunition factory in Skarzysko. At night she returned to grim, wooden barracks. She remembers, “The place was infested with lice and bed bugs. You could feel them crawling all over you.” Once she and a group of other women were falsely accused of stealing a coat.Elizabeth was beaten with a rubber hose until she passed out. She wouldn’t beg for mercy: “I promised myself I would never let the Germans hear me cry.” But the women “cried together and tried to help each other. There was a lot of togetherness.”By January 1945, Elizabeth was at another HASAG factory in Czestochowa. Hearing that the Russian Army was coming to liberate them, Elizabeth and a group of friends, among them her future husband Irvin, opened “the tremendous iron gate.” She relates, “We just walked out onto the street—we liberated ourselves.” She was sent for medical care to Bergen-Belsen, a former concentration camp turned into a post-war displaced persons’ camp.
From Germany, Elizabeth, her husband Irvin, and their baby son immigrated to Israel. Years later, after locating her brother in Tennessee, the Limors and their two sons came to join him.Elizabeth dictated her book,Memoirs: Before, During, and After, for her grandchildren. “When I finally wrote it all down, it freed my soul.”
MENACHEM LIMOR SURVIVOR: CZESTOCHOWA GHETTO; HASAG MUNITIONS FACTORY/CZESTOCHOWA SLAVE LABOR CAMP; BUCHENWALD CONCENTRATION CAMP
B. 1930 CZESTOCHOWA, POLAND
“Hundreds of people were crammed into these cattle cars. No food or water…we could barely sit. We melted snow to drink,” recalls Menachem Limor, who was on the train for five days on his way to Buchenwald.
Snow offered survival. Menachem ate it and drank it and piled it up to stand on so he would appear taller to the Nazis who wanted to get rid of children too young for slave labor.Menachem says of his childhood in Poland, “We were so close. I remember being very happy.”After the Germans invaded and shot his father, he says, “everything changed to the worst… the worst it would ever be.”His family moved into the ghetto in 1942. When his mother and one brother were taken to the
Treblinka death camp, but Menachem, small enough to hide in a hole in the attic, stayed behind with his brother Irvin. At a HASAG work camp, Menachem says they met a “very religious man.He tried to teach the children whatever he knew. He taught us how to stay alive.”Two years later, on the way to Buchenwald, Menachem kept one piece of bread in his pocket for the trip. “Each night, I would eat one bite.” On April 11, 1945, Buchenwald inmates climbed onto barracks rooftops to watch American tanks pull in. “They were coming from both sides. It was amazing.” After liberation, Menachem was reunited with his brother Irvin. They have no family photographs. He still struggles to picture his mother: “I can’t see her face in my mind. For me this is the most painful of all.”
ESTHER LOEB SURVIVOR OF A SIBERIAN FORCED LABOR CAMP
B. 1924 BYDGOSZCZ, POLAND
“Survivors were reborn through freedom. We have a commitment and promise to fulfill. If we stop remembering, then six million Jews will have died in vain,” states Esther Loeb, whose family escaped to Russia from German-occupied Poland, only to be sent to Siberia.
Esther grew up near Danzig, where residents were bitterly split between German and Polish national identities. As she tells it, “They were always fighting each other, but they blamed the Jews for the civil unrest.”In 1939, following the Nazi invasion, Esther and her family fled east. At the Soviet border, small boats carried refugees across the river. Esther’s family boarded, but her mother was pulled back. Esther continues, “My father begged to switch with her. He kept shouting to let him get off and let her go instead, but the boat pulled out leaving her behind.” In Ukraine, they were robbed and had to go door to door begging for shelter. “Then,” Esther recalls, “out of nowhere, my mother found us. Her legs were swollen from walking for miles in sub-zero temperatures.”They lived in a barn for two weeks before the Russian Army found them and dispatched them to Siberia. Esther’s father suddenly fell ill and died. Her pregnant mother gave birth to a boy who died of starvation before his first birthday.In 1942 Polish civilian prisoners of war were granted permission to move freely within the Soviet Union. Esther and her sister sold stolen potatoes for train fare and took their mother to central Asia, where they found farm and factory work. At war’s end, they returned to Poland, found no living family members, then left to create new lives in the West.
HERMAN LOEWENSTEIN REFUGEE
B. 1927 HAMELN, GERMANY
“The SA (Nazi Storm Troopers) came to our house and shot out the lights, threw milk cans through our windows…we were terrified,” recalls Herman Loewenstein. “All of a sudden we were no longer acceptable citizens.”
It was known as Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” and Herman remembers the nightmare well. On November 9 and 10, 1938, outbursts of violence, spearheaded by Nazi Special Police, occurred in German and Austrian towns and cities. Synagogues were ravaged and burned, Jewish-owned businesses were looted and their windows shattered, and Jewish men were beaten and arrested. 30,000 Jewish men were sent to detention camps. Afterward, eleven-year-old Herman was not allowed to associate with his childhood friends. When Jewish children were forbidden to go to school in his hometown of Hessich-Oldendorf, Herman was sent to live with an uncle. In 1939 Herman left Germany through the Kindertransportprogram, an extraordinary rescue operation that transported 10,000 Jewish children to safe houses and foster families in Great Britain. He remembers, “I was sent to North Hampton. I can still hear the planes flying overhead.” Herman was one of the fortunate ones; his parents came to retrieve him. They made their way to Montreal, to New York, and finally to Nashville.At the end of the war, Herman remembers his father receiving requests for letters stating that certain officials in his hometown had never been Nazis. Those who once had turned him away now needed him. “Ironic, isn’t it?” Herman muses. “They needed him now.”
HEDY LUSTIG REFUGEE
B. 1930 HÖCHST IM ODENWALD, GERMANY
“We were preparing to leave Germany,” remembers Hedy Lustig. “We had papers to come to the United States. Then all of the sudden, we heard that the Nazis were planning to come in and rid the town of all the Jews. We couldn’t imagine such a thing.”
On November 9, 1938, when Hedy was nine years old, thousands of Jewish synagogues, businesses, and homes were damaged or destroyed. That night became known as Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” for the shattered store windows carpeting German streets.Hedy and her family ran. “We stayed in the woods for several days,” she remembers. “In November it was very cold and we were so hungry.” Quietly, they returned to their home. Almost immediately, she says, “[the Nazis] arrived and took my father away. They beat him terribly, right in front of us, and they strangled to death the man who lived upstairs. It was at our dining room table. We were only children…to see such things!”Hedy recalls, “My mother went to my uncle’s house to seek refuge there. The Nazis knew everything, they knew where every Jew was, knew their families, and could almost always find them. They sent my mother a telegram demanding she come home to clean up their mess from the night they ransacked our home and took our father away.”Her brave mother went to the mayor, she says: “For whatever reason—we may never really know—he told her my father was in Buchenwald and, hearing that he fought in World War I, arranged for him to come home.” In early 1939 Hedy’s reunited family came to America.
ROBERT MAMLIN LIBERATOR: DACHAU CONCENTRATION CAMP
B. 1924 BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
“I saw the look in their eyes as we arrived…those who had survived every hideous torture known to man. Their tears of joy and jubilation had finally been validated.” Other memories haunt Robert Mamlin still. “Crematoriums…the smell of dead bodies. Half-buried women holding babies, their pitiful rags cast aside. They thought they were going to the showers and someone would launder their clothes…but they were gassed. They were just mothers holding their children in the showers. They had no idea.”
Robert and his unit came into Dachau with other American troops serving under General George Patton in April 1945. Because he could speak Yiddish and some German, he was able to communicate with the inmates. Many told of the desperate final days at Dachau when the guards panicked and lost control as they learned that the Americans were advancing.He remembers a young boy of fourteen who had lost his entire family. “By his brains and wit, he survived. He said he couldn’t visualize that a Jewish soldier could actually enter the camps to help free Jewish inmates.” The concept was equally overwhelming to Robert, whose military mission was also a personal one. He felt chosen, he says. “It gave me great satisfaction to be there as Jews were liberated.”
OLIVIA NEWMAN HIDDEN CHILD
B. 1938 VIENNA, AUSTRIA
“Now listen, my child, I was always searching for God.” Olivia Newman found these parting words in her mother’s journal after she died. “Maybe she lost her faith? I don’t know. She was always looking for some reason…something to explain all of this,” says Olivia.
As a small child in Vienna, Olivia remembers kissing her father as he was being taken away.She never saw him again. She and her mother moved secretly to Hamburg, Germany, in 1941.They were no longer Austrian Jews; they were now German gentiles to anyone who asked.“I don’t remember practicing Judaism, but I do remember my mother lighting imaginary candles on Friday nights. She would also speak to her cousin in a different language, one I later learned was Yiddish.” One December her mother placed a tiny Christmas tree on the table. The tree had eight candles on it, a symbolic reference to Chanukah.It was not until the age of twenty-six that Olivia discovered that her father was Jewish and that he had perished in a concentration camp. She learned of her family’s religious heritage from her mother’s journal. Its old German script and cursive Hebrew writing revealed a history from which she had been protected.“I suspect she left them for me,” says Olivia. “I can’t imagine what she must have gone through.Her imaginary ceremonies were signs of how much she missed that life. Ironically, without ever knowing it, I came to Judaism, never wanting to belong to anything else.”
ROBERT RAY, JR. LIBERATOR: NORDHAUSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP
B. 1920 NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE
“I will never forget April 11, 1945. I don’t know that if I hadn’t seen it myself, I would believe it… I honestly can’t tell you that…it was just so, so horrible. But I can tell you…I may not have stayed very long in Nordhausen, but after what I saw…it was long enough.”
Entering Nordhausen, American soldier Robert Ray, Jr. thought it would be just another town.The Nazi guards had fled and the Third Armored Division came upon a cold, dark compound. Electrified fencing surrounded what looked like military barracks. The soldiers used tanks to plow through the center of a wall. Robert’s first sight is one he will never forget: “Skeletons running towards us…crazed.” Not sure what to do, he and the other troops gave up their only rations…and cigarettes. The prisoners didn’t smoke them; they ate them, he says. “That’s what starvation did to them.”Robert didn’t write home about the four hours he spent at Nordhausen. In fact, he never spoke about it again, but he says that afternoon at the camp fueled his anger to win the war. Sixty years later, he can still see their faces.
ERIC ROSENFELD REFUGEE
B. 1925 SEEHEIM, GERMANY
“I asked him about my mother and what really happened to her. He told me he was ordered to send her and my uncle to Darmstadt.” At that moment, for German refugee–turned–American soldier Eric Rosenfeld, time stood still. “I carried a pistol; the war was not over. I was in complete control. If I shot him, I would not be held accountable. What he had done to my family, to my childhood…all the pain and suffering I had experienced…it was unforgivable. All because we were Jews.”
With emotions churning, Eric drove the mayor of his former hometown back to city hall. “Finally my head cleared and I realized I would not let him make me the animal he was. My heart tells me to take revenge but my head tells me I cannot sink to his level.”In Germany in the late 1930s, Eric had seen schools and synagogues burned to the ground and businesses posting signs that said, “Jews bring us disaster” and “Jews perish.” Eric and his mother appealed to the American Consulate for permission to enter the United States. He was assigned the number 22,000, but his mother’s number was 33,000; this variance ultimately meant life or death. Eric left Germany for New York, where he could live with relatives. In 1944 he joined the American Army. “Because I could speak German fluently, I was assigned to the counterintelligence corps and advanced with the 103rd Infantry Division into Germany in April 1945.” Eric and other soldiers entered his hometown of Seeheim just before Germany's surrender.
EVA ROSENFELD REFUGEE
B. 1927 KÖNIGSBERG, GERMANY
(NOW KALININGRAD, RUSSIA)
“Both of my uncles and grandparents had made it to the United States and were desperately trying to get us there with no success.” When Eva Rosenfeld’s father fled to France on a fishing boat looking for a place to relocate his family, he left thirteen-year-old Eva behind. His decision made her both an orphan and a survivor.
In 1936 Eva was prohibited from attending public school, and her parents lost their right to work. They moved to Italy; her brother chose to stay and finish school. Eva recalls, “It was twenty-eight years before I saw him again.”Her mother died in Italy. When Italy allied with Germany, her father lost his business. After being jailed and released, he escaped to France to make arrangements to bring his family out of Nazi occupied Europe. Eva stayed behind. When her father was captured and died in a concentration camp, she was orphaned at age thirteen.Eva hid out with friends until she was seventeen, living in various places with “very meager means. No running water or sanitation…lice, rats, and mice,” and in “constant terror with German soldiers everywhere. It was never safe.”When the United States accepted 982 refugees from occupied Italy, Eva boarded an army ship with other “guests” of President Franklin Roosevelt. They were the only Jewish refugees allowed to enter the United States during wartime. Eva says, “I hardly ever spoke. I didn’t realize it then, but I was totally traumatized by what happened to me.” Eva completed high school, learned English, and graduated from nursing school. “At my graduation in December 1948, I was finally independent.”
RAYMOND SANDVIG MILITARY LIAISON: NUREMBERG WAR CRIMES TRIALS
B. 1920 SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA
“I worked up a plan so they could attend and realize this was serious and we weren’t just there for revenge or show,” says Ray Sandvig, an American Army officer involved in the Nuremberg Trials. He adds that it was “very important to me to let the Germans believe in what we were doing.”
The Nuremberg Trials were convened by the Allied powers to sit in judgment on those suspected of crimes against humanity during World War II. When Ray thinks back, he is overwhelmed. “I remember one day just sitting at my desk and tears came running down my cheek,” he says.“It was just too much, you know, too much hitting the body all at once. It was part of history, a time for retribution. A very important time for many.”Ray was surprised to see how many German civilians supported the process. Many were quick to denounce Nazism—a protest that could have cost them their lives just months before. He recalls the “doctors’ trial” for those who performed medical testing and experimentation on Jewish prisoners. He heard a witness describe how German physicians froze fully conscious live subjects in an experiment to determine the limits the human body could withstand. The victims often died or were permanently disfigured.Twenty-two “major” German and Austrian war criminals were tried during eleven months of hearings at Nuremberg. Other tribunals throughout Europe would continue the work begun at Nuremberg, and a number of low-level officials were convicted, but many Nazis and Nazi collaborators were never brought to justice.
GERTRUDE SCHLANGER SURVIVOR: AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP
B. 1925 SOBRANCE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA
“Eat whatever they feed you…please…you need it so you will survive,” were the parting words of a father to his three daughters, spoken through a fence dividing parents from children. “It was at separation,” Gertrude Schlanger recalls. “You were moved into different lines but you just didn’t know that would be the last time you would see each other. You could have said goodbye; instead, you looked at each other…terrified…and then it was over.”
Gertrude and her sisters spent the winter of 1945 in Auschwitz hauling potatoes in the bitter cold. As rumors circulated about possible liberation by the Russian Army, Gertrude and twenty-two others decided to try to escape. On a forced march from a camp she can barely recall, she says, “we were put in haystacks to sleep. We hid beneath the hay and when the guard called on us to start walking, we stayed behind in the straw.” No one noticed as the women fled the next day. Gertrude and her sisters boarded a train. “We had heard the Russians had come in and I guess we thought we could safely ride a train. No money, no food, barely any clothes…I suppose we just didn’t care anymore.” No one asked them for train fare.Because they were among the first Jews to return to Czechoslovakia, they were able to retrieve their home and its furnishings from their neighbors. Gertrude muses, “People have told me they think I just tell stories about what happened…they didn’t lose their whole family in a line… they have no idea what pain is.”
RALPH SCHULZ SPECIAL SERVICES OFFICER: NUREMBERG WAR CRIMES TRIALS
B. 1926 ALTON, ILLINOIS
“Good Germans are being put to death in gas chambers,” read a headline in a Catholic periodical in 1945. Ralph Schulz recalls this news bulletin as the first he had heard of the atrocities against the Jews.
Because he could speak German, infantryman Ralph Schulz was sent to Germany in 1945 to assist US Army lawyers with the Nuremberg Trials. “My job overseas was to provide documents and evidence for the trials and particularly those being tried,” he says. He spoke to many survivors, and he was present during Hermann Göring’s trial.Göring, a senior Nazi official, had been responsible for giving the order to carry out the Final Solution, the plan for the total destruction of the Jews in Europe. Ralph recalls that Göring was delusional and thought the judge “and everyone there would just snap to attention, follow his orders, and accept his testimony.” Ralph says, “He genuinely believed he had served the German people with honor.” Although he knows the survivors suffered at hearing Göring’s testimony, Ralph says that “there was healing for them, too...at being present as he was brought to justice.” He continues, “Göring wasn’t right. He was grasping for a rationale. Many were. But, it was a time for justice.” Göring was found guilty on all counts but committed suicide in prison just hours before his scheduled hanging.“The job was tough emotionally,” Ralph remembers. As he returned to the United States in March 1947, he carried the weight of all he had seen and heard at Nuremberg with him.
HARRY SNODGRASS LIBERATOR: BUCHENWALD CONCENTRATION CAMP
MT. JULIET, TENNESSEE
B. 1922 JOHNSON CITY, TENNESSEE
“Inmates everywhere. Some dead and some alive under the dead…just lying there. I couldn’t think. No thoughts came to my head. horror. had never seen anything like this before.”As they drove into Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945, Harry Snodgrass recalls a fellow American soldier saying to him, “There isn’t a God in heaven…no God at all.”
He toured the camp with a Lithuanian inmate who spoke broken English. Harry’s voice trails off as he recalls the memories. “It was in the commander’s office. There were lampshades made from the skin of Jews. In the crematorium they used the ashes of the inmates to fertilize the fields—the ashes of dead people. After an hour, it just became too much. I was stunned…just stunned. We don’t even treat dogs like this.”Harry and the other soldier retreated and moved on to Berlin as ordered. For Harry, the hour at Buchenwald became six decades of nightmares. He had enlisted in the army at age twenty, and although he knew of the hate the Germans had for the Jews, he was shocked at the atrocities. With pain evident in his eyes, Harry struggles with the complacency of the local townspeople living near the camp: “They saw the trains going in but no one saw them leave.If they say they didn’t know what was happening, they were lying.”Today Harry Snodgrass speaks to schools and gatherings about what he saw as a liberator.He stresses the danger of racial and religious divisiveness. “I tell them what I have known all my life…for evil to exist it just takes good people to do nothing.”
HANS STRUPP REFUGEE
B. 1921 FRANKFURT, GERMANY
“Some got out and some didn’t. We were lucky that our family sponsorship arrived in time,” recalls Hans Strupp, who counts himself very fortunate to have come to the United States in 1939.
Hans’s American uncle completed the affidavit required for immigration to the United States, promising financial support so that Hans and his mother and brother could leave Germany.He remembers every difficult day leading up to their departure. The Nuremberg Laws passed in 1935 legally excluded Jews from German life and became the foundation for further anti-Jewish policies. Every element of life was upended, from public schools to employment, shopping, and entertainment. Some childhood friends no longer came around. Hans recalls, “We were human and then we weren’t. It happened so quickly and yet it was probably always there.”Hans and his family left for the United States. Their furniture, photo albums, household goods, and clothing were neatly packed, but they never arrived. “We were Jews. We weren’t allowed the luxuries of even our own clothing.”Hans has never forgotten what might have been. “We knew we were lucky. We always knew.No one could anticipate what was to happen. Rumors, even at their worst, never revealed such a nightmare.”
FRED WESTFIELD REFUGEE
B. 1926 ESSEN, GERMANY
“We were taken to England and I didn’t see my parents for eight long months.” Even after his parents joined him, Fred Westfield says that a sweep of all German/Jewish immigrants in 1940 “sent [his] father to an internment camp. Winston Churchill feared they might be spies.”
Fred had boarded a train bound for London in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport, a British effort to save Germany’s Jewish children from Nazi terror. Thirteen-year-old Fred was placed with a foster family until his parents could safely retrieve him. Weekly letters allowed them to keep in touch.In 1936, at the first rumblings of civil unrest in Germany, Fred’s parents had filed for United States visas. His fifteen-year-old brother had been allowed to emigrate, but Fred, his mother and his father were trapped by the United States quota system, which granted only a certain number of Jewish refugees entry in a given year. The British, however, were accepting Jewish adults who could financially support themselves and would agree not to seek . The Westfields were assigned a number and told to wait their turn.
By the time their US visa number came up, Fred’s parents were in England, but his father was being detained along with other German nationals. The US visa secured his release and the family boarded a ship from Liverpool, England, for New York. They were reunited with Fred’s brother in Nashville.
HENRY WOLKOFF ANDABRAMCZYK WOLKOFF
“She just knows I know and there is comfort in that. We don’t have to say anything. We understand the pain. We understand each other,” says Henry Wolkoff, who met his wife, Sally, in the Pabianice ghetto.
He continues, “You wanted to talk to other people there. You could learn about what was going on in other places—mostly rumors—and sometimes you made a friend. We would walk together and talk.” When the ghetto was closed in 1942 they lost touch. Both were deported to Lód´z, and then to Auschwitz. Sally remembers the last time she saw her family together: “It was in line awaiting separation at . Two of my sisters were sent to the airplane factory and my other sister and I were sent for office work.” Her father’s instructions were, “Whoever survives must return to Poland to find each other.”Henry was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp and taken by cattle car to Ebensee. Sally survived Freiburg and Mauthausen. She whispers, “It is impossible for me to describe what I saw there at the camps. Death everywhere. Bodies, sickness…I just can’t explain it.” As she confronts the memories, she cries.At liberation in May 1945, Sally was suffering from starvation and from typhus, a disease caused by lice and crowded, unsanitary living conditions. Henry, too, was sick with typhus. Butboth made their way back to Poland. When Sally saw Henry again, she says, “I knew he was the man I wanted to marry. I just looked at him and I knew.” Henry reaches for her hand. “We don’t talk about it. It is very hard for us,” he says, bowing his head in memory of family members who did not survive.
These are the eyewitness accounts of Nashvillians who experienced the Holocaust.