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TRANSCRIPTS OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR INTERVIEWS (Page 1 of 8)
©2000 Jim Terr / Blue Canyon Productions. All Rights Reserved
The following are the complete interviews which were the source material for the video, "WE WERE THERE: Seven (New Mexico) Survivors of the Holocaust," a 56-minute video produced under foundation and private funding for free distribution to New Mexico high schools and libraries, and available to libraries and individuals nationally as well.
In 2001 a tape of the COMPLETE interviews (approximately four hours) was produced to send to several western State Libraries, along with this transcript.
The interviews were conducted in 1999, mostly in Albuquerque, NM. A couple of the interviews on the 56-minute video are not included in the transcript or the 4-hour tape because those interviews were short, or were fairly complete on the 56-minute video.
NOTE: Readers should understand that with the passage of time, memories of facts and chronologies may not be entirely accurate, and no claim is made by the producers that the following narratives are entirely accurate. They have not been fact-checked by the producers or other independent parties. Furthermore, this transcription of all that was said may not be entirely accurate. A few words that were unclear to the transcribers have been corrected and, in some cases, clarified, by the interviewees.
Commentary by Professor Peter H. Hoffenberg, University of Hawaii
Commentary by Professor Herbert F. Ziegler, University of Hawaii
Joseph H. VanDenHeuvel
The original 56-minute tape, the 4-hour tape and this transcript produced and distributed with generous support from The McCune Foundation, The Sidney Stern Memorial Trust, The Levinson Foundation, Richard Becker, Judy Lear, The Aurora Foundation, Gay Block and Malka Drucker, Yad B'Yad, The Self Reliance Foundation, Regina Turner, Sam and Ethel Ballen, Zaplin-Lampert Gallery and The Candyman, Santa Fe, NM
I was born in 1926. I was 7 years old when Hitler came to power. I was aware of it right away. My Mother was Jewish, my father was Catholic. I come from three sets of kids. He was married three times. The first wife was Protestant, the second one was Catholic. They had 5 kids, and then he married my mother in 1925, and my brother and I were raised Jewish all the way through. I came from a small town outside of Frankfurt, Germany until I was 10 years old. My father lost his business because my mother was Jewish. So it was the best thing. We had to leave in the middle of the night and it was hard. We were in Frankfurt 3 years when the war broke out. I was 13 years old in 1939. I was 16 when they arrested me, but in the meantime, they arrested my mother, and all of her family in 1942. All my mother's family was on the train-the "death train", they called it, when they got to their destination, wherever it was. We never found out where, they were all dead. They gassed the whole train.
They arrested my mother on Christmas Eve, 1942, walked her through town. Because of the prison they were going to put her. They had a typhoid scare and wouldn't let anybody in. The Gestapo marched her all through Frankfurt but beat her every inch of the way. She came home about 9:00 o'clock that night and they arrested her again in January and kept her in prison in Frankfurt from January until the end of March, when she went to Auschwitz. She was in Auschwitz 3 days when they killed her.
They arrested by brother in March and kept him in prison in Frankfurt until the next year in the middle of summer. They arrested me on the 14th of April, 1943. I was in prison in Frankfurt until December, 1943. They let me come home for some reason or other. By then my mother was dead. When they arrested me in April, they told me that my old lady was dead. I just said, "yes, I know.", but I didn't ..nobody knew. It was hard. Like I said, I was 16 years old, and you're locked up. My brother and I wore the Star of David from September, 1942 until the war was over in 1945.
You had to wear the Star of David on your left side upon your heart. It was shaped like a star, yellow, and had black "Jew" in the middle. And you were not allowed outside of your house without it. But, when they arrested me they used it as an excuse that I left the house without my Star of David. And, I probably did. I had put snaps on my coat where I could snap it off and put it back on. But, I think that was just an excuse because I never saw anybody watch me when I came out the door. As you probably have guessed, I am half German, or German-Jew. My mother was Jewish and my dad was Catholic, and my brother and I were raised very strict in the Jewish religion, but we grew up with both religions. And so Friday night and Saturday, I would go with my mother to Synagogue and on Sundays I'd go with the rest of the family to church. So I came up with both of them and there never was any problem.
My brother always wanted to go to Israel, 'course he never made it, and I always wanted to come to this country after the war. He never came home. He got killed in Bergen Belsen which I didn't know where it was until 3 years ago, when they interviewed me in Frankfurt, and they told me where it was. It was right outside the town of Hanover. Nobody in my family knew where it was, we had no idea.
Now that I was there last year, I don't know how the German's could help not knowing because right next to the concentration camp is a German Army Base, which was there before. The Germans in Hanover. Because at one time some lady said to me, here in this country: "Well, we used to see the smoke coming out of those chimneys and we could smell something, but we didn't know what it was." And it took every inch of energy I had not to do away with her, because I just knew, when you burn bones you can smell it. And if you burn thousands of them, you smell it that much more. When I went to Bergen Belsen for the last year, all I found was my brother's name in a book in four mass graves. It's the first time I ever saw a mass grave, and those were big ones. It was unbelievable. I just had to go and see it for myself because when people today speak about closure, you don't have closure from one month to the next. It takes years. And I could not go to Auschwitz to see where my mother was killed. I had to go there instead. I couldn't go because she got to Auschwitz the next day, they gave her a bar of soap and told her to take a shower. And instead of water, the gas came out and in that shower room the trap door opened and down and the ovens stay all wet. And that I couldn't go to.
And my brother got killed on the death march from Auschwitz to Bergen Belsen. They told me that as the Russians were moving towards Germany, the Germans moved the prisoners back towards Germany, so that Auschwitz was in Poland. And the closer the Russians got, the further the further back they moved those people into Germany. But I had to see it for myself.
When I came home, it was slave labor. We just sat in prison. It was just a prison. It was one that held all of the people that came from all over Europe that they were putting on the transports to Auschwitz. They came from France, Czechoslovakia. All the Jewish people that they assembled to go to Auschwitz had to come through that prison in Frankfurt. And at one time there were 95 women in one large room sleeping on straw sacks. And every Monday they would ship them off to Auschwitz. And every Monday I was ready to go. And I didn't. And my dad didn't know where I was from April until July, before the Gestapo told him what prison I was in in town. And I walked passed him down the steps and he didn't even know me. I weighted 65 pounds. They told him he could bring me clean underwear and clean clothes, and then luckily, the head of the prison there was a World War I veteran, like my father, and he had me called to the office, so I could see him for a minute. And I didn't see him anymore until December.
I escaped going to Auschwitz because of my father being Catholic. And my brother Why they killed him nobody every knows because everyone was hoping that he'd come home too, but he didn't. And on that death march, I guess people got sick and died and starved to death. And he was only 18 years old, and so it's hard.
I was in prison for 9 months. And then they made me work in two factories in Frankfurt 12 hours a day. In March, the Americans bombed Frankfurt for 48 minutes and the whole city was in chaos. The factories were bombed-everything. Frankfurt was flat. And my father took me to Fulda (sp?) which is a little small town north of Frankfurt. I had a half sister there. He took me there and went back to Frankfurt to get the ration cards, and the ones we used to have had a "J" on there, for "Jew". And when my dad went to pick up my cards, the lady looked at him and said, "Oh, that must be a mistake." IN printing, they must have made a mistake and put the "J" there. And my dad said "Yeah, I think so". And they gave him whole new papers for me without the "J". But, I had to report in to the Gestapo at the time, not knowing who I was. And they put me to work in the factories. In one, they decided I had two left hands and they were rewinding motors. And the next one, I had to sit on the drill machine and drill holes in parts for submarines and airplanes. I didn't have two left hands and I couldn't see so good because a lot of times the holes were crooked. By then, everybody knew who I was, but I lived.
My family stayed with my sister. They had 6 kids. The kids never knew who I was. All they knew was that Grandma had died. I couldn't jeopardize the family by telling them who I was. My sister and brother all knew. I was over there in May or June and had a Great Nephew come up to me. He's 45 years old and said, "Aunt, I'm coming to America. I've got to know the whole story." Now, after the War's been over for 54 years.
How I feel about the Germans that say they never knew what happened. They knew exactly what happened. And I defy anybody that looks at me and tells me it didn't happen. It did happen. And they know it happened. Of course, the younger generation don't know. Those who've been born the last 30 years, but before that, everybody knew. It upsets me that the people in this country act like it never happened. And the skinheads. Here I am almost 73 years old, if one ever crossed my path with the wrong look or word, I don't know what I would do. I'd probably spend the rest of my life in prison, but I would feel good enough that I've done away with one of those skinheads. It's like that guy that shot at those kids last week in L.A. I don't even understand how they even got that big in this country. We're so for the underdog, and all of a sudden, the underdog raises up and kills everybody. I will never understand how it got that big in this country. What they need to do is ask the Veterans from WWII that were there, and saw how things were---the concentration camps-they liberated these people. And they will tell what they saw and it did happen. You can't kill 6 million people and think it never happened. That's almost as big as New York City! If you killed 6 million people in New York, there isn't anybody left. Somebody will ask questions.
I'm very bitter, and the people that know me know how to take that because they realize what I went through. It's bad when ..I have a had a half brother-he's dead now-because of my mother being Jewish and the kids were all home. I'm the youngest of 8. We were three sets of kids. He had to leave home to join the Army in 1935 to get away from home, or they would have killed him way back then. When the Gestapo arrested me, the commissar said, "Hm, a blond, blue-eyed Jew". And I said "Yes, and I am proud of it." And I've had a bad back since April, 1943. But I also told him it wasn't funny that my brother in full uniform walked across the street and I couldn't go over there and talk to him. And he and his commander during the war were trying to get my brother home. They almost got killed themselves. They weren't all bad. No more than all of the people in this country are great and wonderful. They're not. And there were a lot of Germans that did not condone this. You can't judge a whole country. There was a lot of them-most of them I would say. But there were some good ones.
You can take a picture of my son, Charles. And that's the statue of the three soldiers in front of the Vietnam Memorial. This picture is the one my husband took the morning he left to go to Vietnam. Charles got killed in Vietnam. He left Albuquerque the 14th of February, 1971 on Valentine's day, and got killed the 13th of September, 1971. He was with the 101st Airborne Division. He was the only child we had. He was a graduate of Del Norte High School and went to the University of New Mexico for a year.
That's my husband and I right after World War II (photo). He stayed in the Army. He was with the Army Engineer Corps and was in the Army for 26 years.
This is the letter my brother sent to my father. The stamp is postmarked from Auschwitz, and the return address is Auschwitz, as you can see. He sent 6 or 7 to my father, and I have them all here. This is the wedding ring that belonged to my mother. They sent it back after they killed my mother in Auschwitz Sent it back to my father, and that's how I got it. They didn't do that to anybody else. It's a cat and mouse game, you know. They arrested my mother, and two months later, my brother, and then two months later they arrested me.
When I grew up with this thing "Don't talk or you'll be gone tomorrow". Not just the Jews, but the Germans too. They knew if they said anything against the German Government, they were gone for good. You talked loud and they arrested you-shot you on the spot. When I was in prison we had a police lady that helped some older women that were married to German Catholic people too, or Protestant, whatever they were, and she helped them, and they took her to Auschwitz and killed her. So they didn't care who they killed. And no German was allowed to help a Jew, and if they did, that was the end of it.
It can happen here, it can happen anywhere. And it has happened here. Within the last year, there were some skinheads that beat up some old ladies that were going into the Synagogue down here on Louisiana. And again those little kids last week in California. No town or city is immune to it. Those maniacs are everywhere and it's up to all of the kids that are growing up now to see that it doesn't happen again.
PROFESSOR PETER H. HOFFENBERG, University of Hawaii
The Holocaust, or the "Shoa"-- because even the very words we used make a difference-- is perhaps one of the most important events of modern history. It's almost as if the Holocaust defined the modern world. And that means that getting to know and to listen to survivors is even more important. Most of the survivors are of an age where they are nearing their own natural deaths. They're in their 70's, 80's or 90's. They're an invaluable source, not just, I think, for history, but for questions of ethics and religion, and philosophy. But having said that, we need to appreciate, I think, the difficulties of being a survivor.
The Holocaust was a catastrophe. It was an absolute, total catastrophe. And sometimes we're asking people to re-live, to re-think, to talk about again, the most horrific moments of their lives. And it's not just that we can understand they wouldn't want to talk about that, but many of them also have lived active, full, joyful lives since then. And sometimes the survivors I know-and I know a fair number of them-want to be known as something more than just survivors. It would be as if you met an African-American in the 1870's who had been a slave. And that person would want to be known that just a former slave. And so many of the survivors, while wanting people to know about what happened ..I mean, we shouldn't forget what happened .also want people to know that they're living examples that Judaism in particular, still lives. That Judaism isn't locked into the Holocaust. That the Nazis didn't win. That European Jews won, because they did, in fact, survive.
I think another difficulty in talking to the survivors and thinking about the Holocaust is really often that we want them to say things that will make us feel better. To say things that will find a deeper meaning in the Holocaust. I call this "The Anne Frank complex" .That we want to know that there was goodness there. That there were people saving other people. That we can look at the Holocaust and keep it from ever happening again. But many of us who study it realize that the Holocaust-the Shoa-was about murder. It wasn't about anything more profound. It wasn't about something with a deeper religious meaning. It was outright murder ..And thus when we deal with survivors and speak with them and meet them, we have to understand that most of their families were simply, outrightly murdered. And that's a kind of complex, that's a catastrophe which we really have to appreciate and not try to milk more out of it or seek some greater meaning out of it.