Disclaimer: Originally published in January 2020. It is being republished since it still remains an interesting topic till today.
QuoraED! This is when we pick up a trending or interesting thread from Quora and spin a story around it.
Right now, considering the political atmosphere of the country, regarding the CAA and NRC debate, words like ‘Holocaust’ and ‘Nazi’ are being thrown around a lot.
Many people are against the current government’s latest decisions regarding the discriminatory act, that allows accelerated citizenship to various religions but not Muslims. And in turn are comparing it with the Nazi rule that resulted in one of the biggest genocide in history.
To give a brief background on one of the darkest times in history, the Holocaust or the Shoah existed between 1941 to 1945. Nazi Germany and its collaborators under the rule of Adolf Hitler systematically murdered over 6 million Jews which was around two-thirds of the European Jewish population.
Jews were forcefully made to live in ghettos and from there taken to concentration camps where they were tortured and eventually killed.
A lot of people in India at the time are in support of the CAA and NRC and forget how segregation of any kind is never good for the citizens of a country.
This Quora thread I found about ‘What was it like meeting a Holocaust survivor? What was her/his story?‘ has some chilling stories from Holocaust survivors and what all they experienced.
It seems we need a reminder of what happened then in order to avoid anything worse happening now.
Memories Of A Horrible Time
A Quora user Joshua Kaplan talks about what his wife’s maternal grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor told him one time.
“I am an Orthodox Jewish guy so as you can imagine, I have met many Holocaust survivors over the years. Until I got married however, I did not get to actually discuss with any of them their personal Holocaust stories in a detailed way.
I do have lots and lots of relatives that did experience the Holocaust but those relatives did not survive. The first time I did actually have the opportunity to have a discussion with a survivor was when I got married.
My wife’s (maternal) grandfather is an Auschwitz survivor. When we were first married, being young and insensitive, I used to bring up the topic and talk to him about his experiences and it appeared he did not have any qualms talking about it.
One day, one of my uncles approached me and explained me that being the sweetest guy in the world, my grandfather would talk to anyone about anything, but I should be aware that on a day he talks about his experiences he will wake up with nightmares that night.
Originally I thought this was strange as my mother in law had told us lots of stories about his time in Auschwitz – stories that he had obviously shared – and she never mentioned that it had such an effect on him.
Additionally, I had heard that in times past he had the custom to describe his whole story every year at the Passover seder. (This is actually common of survivors – describing their own personal exodus from slavery to freedom).
So I asked my mother in law about this and she explained that when he was younger he was able to talk about it without having nightmares. Interestingly enough, the nightmares had started again at the time that Germany was reunified and the Berlin Wall came down.
Seeing Germany standing tall once again was seemingly too much to bear for someone who had seen most of his family slaughtered by that very nation. Obviously, I felt horrible and stopped bringing up the topic at this point.
About 10 years after we were married my grandfather came to visit for a weekend. The weekend that he came happened to be around the anniversary of his arriving at Auschwitz and the murder of many of his family members. (Actually it is the approximate anniversary – or yahrtzeit – as the exact date they were murdered is not certain.
He commemorates the yahrtzeit on the day they arrived in Auschwitz.) We were walking home from the synagogue on Saturday morning when he suddenly began saying his story. It was as if he was transported to another world.
He spoke quietly; we had to lean in closely to hear him. He had a faraway look in his eyes as if he was not seeing the world around him. When he took a momentary break from talking to catch his breath and someone asked him a question, he didn’t hear it.
It was as if he was transported back to that hellish world that was Auschwitz. That may sound melodramatic but that is an accurate description.
This is how he explained his welcome to that hell-on-earth called Auschwitz:
He was about 12 years old when the Holocaust reached his part of Europe (Slovakia). A few short months later, he and his family were deported. None of the transportees (including the adults) were aware of their destination, but rather thought they were being resettled somewhere else.
Traditionally a Jewish boy begins wearingby his Bar Mitzvah at 13 years of age, but even though he was a few months short of that, his father gave him a pair before they were deported.
He explained that as they were relocating to an unknown place, there was no way of knowing if they would be able to get hold of a pair there and so it would be worthwhile to take along one for his Bar Mitzvah. That bit of thoughtfulness unknowingly saved his life.
They traveled for a few days in a railcar designed for transporting cattle. They were crammed inside and there was literally standing room only. There was very little air in the car and the only food they had was whatever bread his mother had thought to bring along for “the trip.”
They arrived at Auschwitz in the middle of the night. As soon as the door to the cattle car was opened, his senses were assaulted by the sounds of dogs (both human and canine) screaming and barking, the sight of SS officers dressed in black, prisoners that he described as appearing lifeless aside from the fact they were actually walking around, and by a strong stench that he had never experienced before.
After tumbling out of the cattle car, they spent a few minutes trying to get their bearings. While standing there, he remembered that he had left his Tefillin behind in the cattle car and went to retrieve them.
While in the car, a woman came over to him and told him, “When they ask you how old you are, say 16.” He had no clue what she was talking about. Who would ask? And why should he lie?
A few minutes later, at the behest of the SS officers, the large group – he said it numbered in the thousands – was separated by gender (though small children went with their mothers).
Grandfather and his father and 4 older brothers went with the men, while his mother and 4 younger siblings (2 boys and two girls) with the women. He said goodbye to them thinking he would be seeing them later after settling in to their bunks.
After being whipped (literally) into a single file line, each of the prisoners were made to stand in front of a doctor (he says he believes it was the infamous Dr. Mengele, but cannot be sure).
When Grandfather’s turn came, he was asked his age. Remembering the advice of the woman on the train to lie about his age, he did. But because of his confused state, he answered 18 instead of 16. The doctor looked at him skeptically and said he did not believe him and so he said he meant 16.
The doctor asked him for his birth year to see if he would fumble and he really could not answer the question. Luckily a man behind him whispered, “1928,” and he answered the doctor correctly.
He was sent to the the right, as were his father and two of his brothers. The remaining two of his older brothers were sent to the left. At that point, he did not understand the implications of that flick of the finger, but rather thought that those being sent to the right would be sent to labor of some sort and those sent to the left — being either too young or weak to work — would be left alone.
As a matter of fact, he said he was a bit annoyed at himself for obeying that strange woman’s advice. Those sent to the left were marched off, never to be seen again.
Two days later, he was still trying to determine the whereabouts of the six of his siblings and his mother, who had been separated from him at the Selektzia.
While asking around, someone pointed out to him the tall chimneys spewing smoke into the sky and and asked him what he thought the smoke was. He replied that he thought it was some sort of factory that was part of the camp. “No,” the man replied. “That is your mother.”
And then he understood.
When he finished talking, he looked at my children and said, “At the time of my Bar Mitzvah, I was in Auschwitz and did not dream I would survive. Now look! I have over 75 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren! (That was then; now he has well over a hundred.) More than ten for every one they murdered!“
Read More: Hitler’s Right-Hand Man Goebbels’ Secretary Says They Both Were Nice Guys And She Doesn’t Feel Guilty About Working For Them
When You See Your Own Family Die
Another Quora user, Ben A. Wise, talked about his own grandmother being a Holocaust survivor and the memories she would recall from time to time.
“My grandma watched her own mother starve to death in Auschwitz.
Apparently, if you feed people only potato peels and days’ old bread crust, that happens.
Maria, a Polish friend from before the war who worked in the camp, snuck clothes in for her. My grandma, after changing in the bathroom, walked out in broad daylight, marching right past rifled SS guards and their vicious attack dogs.
Her father was gassed later on.
But she lived out the war in a tiny village in the southeast of the country, pretending to be a good Catholic while working as a secretary at a lumberyard.
The problem: no one knows what happened during those years.
What she had to do to survive.
She’s never talked about it.
In June, she’ll be 96.
She hardly leaves the house, has to use a walker, and gets strong pain medication to alleviate all the aches that come with having your spine compress and decompress for nearly a century.
Plus, the weight of knowing that your parents, cousins, friends—and everyone else you grew up with and loved—were slaughtered because some bloodthirsty lunatic managed to convince enough people that the Jews are an inferior race that must be exterminated but you couldn’t do anything about it.
And, the guilt that while she managed to escape, her father stayed behind.
A few years ago, I asked her what she thinks about me coming over, interviewing her, and writing her story.
“I would be open to that,” she said.
I was surprised.
I thought it was something buried so deep that even if it festered there, sending out currents of emotional pain, there was no way it was ever coming to light.
Or maybe she was just entertaining me.
Impossible to say.
But I didn’t go.
It was hard to find the time between family and work. Or maybe that’s an excuse I tell myself because of my own guilt of not having pursued the opportunity—even if nothing would have come out of it.
Anyway, the dementia is too advanced now. A conversation with her resets every twenty seconds.
“How is your family and work?”
“My family is healthy and my work is going well. I’m happy.”
“I’ve gotten so old. Can you believe that?”
“But anyway, how is your family and work?”
And I will have to live with the fact that soon, one more survivor’s story will be lost, and that maybe—just maybe—I could have done something about it.”
Frankly, this is not a symbol for the Indian population, but with anti-semitism (prejudice and discrimination against Jews) on the rise again, this is extremely relevant in today’s time.
These are just a few of the chilling stories from the Holocaust period, one that will always mar history and hopefully teach us a few things.
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