The Holocaust was a devastating event. It will be remembered forever. Statistics are important to learn just how many people perished as result of the Holocaust. But perhaps more shocking than statistics, are the words said by people who experienced the Holocaust first hand. It takes a certain person to survive through this tragic experience.
To fully understand what qualities it takes to survive life through concentration camps, it is necessary to know what goes on in these concentration camps. By reading survivors' testimonies, one can get a grasp of qualities of people must have to survive in concentration camps.
Rabbi Baruch G. was born in Mlawa, Poland in 1923. During the summer recess from his religious studies in Warsaw, Poland was invaded and Mlawa was one of the first towns occupied. Anti-Jewish restrictions were enacted, a Judenrat was formed, and forced labor was imposed. The first time Baruch was forced to work on Saturday was traumatic, as was the first time he was beaten, as described below.
"I will never forget the first time I was beaten up, not so much the pain got to me, but the mental anguish. Instead of telling me how to put bricks together a certain way in order for them to be stacked up, he simply went over and beat me for it, without my knowing why. I couldn't even cry. When I came home, this is when I burst out crying. I knew one thing. I had to do the best I can - it was forced labor. But why? I mean, what right? What? It was incomprehensible to me." Baruch later discussed the scars with which he is left with, particularly the lack of an extended family and some difficulties in dealing with his son. He also reflected upon his religious beliefs and his hope that people will learn from his experience and others like it, so that history will not be repeat itself.
Peter S. was born in Nuremberg, Germany in March 1936. In December 1941, his family was deported to the Riga ghetto, but was saved due to their father's skill as a professional auto mechanic. Eventually separated from his father, who died in Buchenwald, Peter was sent to the women's section of RavensbrÃÂ¼ck along with his mother and brother.
"Ã¢ÂÂ¦surrounded by a stone wall, barracks, a lot of kids... this was not only a concentration camp for Jews. In RavensbrÃÂ¼ck there were people who were criminals. You could tell who was who because everybody had to wear a color code on their left lapel, yellow for Jews. I don't know what the Gypsies had, but there were a lot of Gypsies there. They were probably more mistreated there than anybody else. This was the place where they did the medical experiments on the Gypsies.
...There were machine guns all around and you always had to be aware of that. ...The women were used as field hands and it was truly slavery. ...They would march off, and I remember my mother and all the other women sneaking in carrots or something--whatever they would be able to sneak in, under their dresses... They were wearing prison garb, striped dresses. ...Food was not that good...although there was bread and I remember some terrible soup." Peter S. developed infections all over his body, and a large abscess on his neck required medical treatment in the infirmary. Shortly after, there was a selection.
"There was a one-legged girl who I remember being carried away and crying bitterly. And everybody assumed that this was her end. And everybody who was older was also put to that side and they disappeared." Rachel G. enjoyed a happy childhood prior to the German invasion. Often traveling at night, Rachel moved frequently from convent to convent, changing her name each time and always accompanied by clergy. Kind priests and nuns gave her religious instruction, so she would not be discovered. One incident occurred when she was living with six nuns at a seminary in Louvain.
"One day the Gestapo came in and they knocked on the door and said we want her - with the guns and all - we want that Jewish child. We know you have a Jewish child there. The nuns said they don't have anybody. They broke the door. And what I will never forget is that the six nuns, they pushed me in the laundry to hide me and they put all the linen on top. That happened like in one second. And that's how I was saved." Col. Edmund M. was a First Lieutenant in the 65th Infantry Division of Patton's Third Army during World War II. During a liberation, he went into one of the barracks.
"I walked in then into one of the barracks, and the first thing, that almost literally startled me, was the terrific stench of the barracks. It was just unbelievable - the odor of excretions, etceteras, that were in there, Ã¢ÂÂ¦the bunks were roughly about, I'd say about six feet long, probably about three and a half or four feet wide. Here we had three to four inmates sleeping in each of these bunks just squeezed together." He describes a two hundred foot drop from a precipice at the bottom of which were jagged stones strewn with broken and decomposing bodies.
"One hundred eighty-six steps of death that led from the bottom of this quarry up to the top of this precipice. This particular work detail was one of the worst tortures. Inmates would carry these heavy stones up the one hundred and eight-six steps of death. If they fell or stumbled or dropped the rocks, they were beaten to death right on these one hundred eighty-six steps or pushed from the precipice down to the jagged rocks below, to their deaths." All of these people share one quality, and that is adaptability. Without being capable to adapt to their surroundings, nobody would have ever made it through their tough times. The vast change in their lives would have led to their deaths had they not been able to adapt.
Many of the Jews, Gypsies, and other groups segregated against led successful lives prior to the invasions. Going from a life where one could do what one please, and believe what they want to believe, to a controlled environment where they were ordered around and forced to perform hard labor, would have proved to be too much for someone who was unwilling too change.
Rabbi Baruch G had to learn how to the Nazis no matter how much he hated them. Rachel G. had to adapt to being transported from convent to convent and had to learn another religion. Others had to learn to continue their life as normal as they could with knowing what was going on.
Despite the Nazis being wrong for what they did, unless the prisoners adapted to their new unfair life of enslavement, there would be far less survivors. Without the adaptability some survivors possessed the Holocaust would have been a far greater tragedy.
Works Cited Langer, Lawrence L. Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memories. Reissued Ed. New Haven: Yale Publishing Co., 1993.
Levi, Trude. A Cat Called Adolf. New York City: Books, Inc. 1995 Guide to Yale University Library Holocaust Video Testimonies. Vol. 1. New Haven: Yale Publishing Co., 1990.