Compiled by Ben Goldner
and Matt Miller
Cold Spring Harbor High School
"I was eight years old.... Little
kids simply don't understand things
like that" -- Kate Lesser,
It is no small feat to understand the Holocaust. Not even those who went through it can fully comprehend its horror. With this in mind, we tenth grade students took it upon ourselves to attempt to bridge the gap between today's reader and the survivors, between the students and the primary sources. Towards this end, we managed to obtain, from the H-HOLOCAUST Listserve, moderated by Jim Mott, the Internet e-mail addresses of three Holocaust survivors who are part of an on-line survivors' group called "Reach and Teach." They have answered questions from over 5,000 students, and the URL for their Web page was:
Survivors Ed, Kate and Ester wholeheartedly agreed to answer our class' questions about their experiences, which drew heavily from our concurrent reading of Elie Wiesel's autobiography, Night.
The survivors we contacted were all children at the time of the Holocaust. Two of them live now in the United States and one in Israel. The first step we took was to identify which survivor went through what. We requested of them to send us a brief history of themselves and their experiences during WW II. Ed Behrendt, the founder of "Reach and Teach," and Kate Lesser and Ester Golan all were involved with the Kindertransport, which was essentially an exodus out of several countries in Europe by Jewish youth who fled to England.
As Ed Behrendt wrote, "in November, 1938 an event took place now called Kristallnacht, in English, "The Night of Broken Glass." After that date, life for those of the Jewish faith became really terrible in Germany and Austria. Most countries in the world didn't want to do anything about it, nor did they really want to help us. Some countries did take in a few Jews who were trying to escape, but very few. Even the U.S. unfortunately did very little. They tried to pass a bill in Congress to at least help young children, but that failed to pass.
In Great Britain it was a little different story. After a major debate in the House of Parliament, they passed a bill authorizing 10,000 children to be admitted immediately. Actually, they planned to send them on to other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, but that never happened. Great Britain then negotiated with the Nazis to let 10,000 children escape.
The children came from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and a place then called, "The Free City of Danzig" (now, Gdansk).
After the deal was made, Britain first had to come up with the money for each child and then find homes for them all. The government itself could do very little about that, so that the people of Britain then took over. Several major organizations were the first to help, particularly the Quakers, the Church of England, and several Jewish organizations. They, however, could not come up with either sufficient money or homes. Appeals then went out to the people themselves. Major fundraising efforts were made to the public, and people were asked to open their homes and their hearts to take in these children. Remember, they were asked to take in thousands of strange children, from other countries, who did not speak their language, most of whom were of another religion, for an unlimited period of time. Appeals were made on the radio (no television at that time); posters were hung everywhere, and churches and temples talked about it.
The results were tremendous. Nearly everybody gave something, and many people offered to take in kids. Whole groups became involved. This took place from around November 1938, until the war started in Europe on September 1, 1939. Nearly all 10,000 children were rescued and sent to homes in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Some went into private homes, some to farms, orphanages, camps, and boarding schools.
It was a very difficult time for both the children and their parents. No one knew exactly where they were going, what was going to happen to them, or whether they would ever see their parents or families again. Most of the children were split up when they arrived in England, and many never saw each other again. By the end of the war, about 80 percent of the children never saw their parents again, for their parents perished in the Holocaust.
There is more to the story, of course, but that will give you a brief background."
Best wishes for your studies,
The questions we students asked ranged from the specific to the obscure, from the past to the present, and the answers given by the survivors were all heartfelt and genuine.
Below is a sampling of the questions posed and their respective answers. While not all answers could be included for spatial concerns, we have taken the greatest care in selecting the answers that make the point understood or are exceptionally poignant.
We heard from another survivor that 80 percent of all Kindertransport children never saw their families again. What happened to the rest of your family?
Rich Elberg and Adrian Benvenutti
Here is what happened to my family: My father died before the worst excesses happened in Germany, leaving my mother a widow with two small children. My mother survived through extraordinary circumstances. She hung on in Berlin until 1941, and just before the last roundup of Jews, managed to get on a ship to Cuba. She stayed there until her quota number for emigration to the US came up. She lived to be 88 years old. My brother was sent to Israel (then Palestine) and grew up on a kibbutz. He fought in Israel's wars, and built up the country, and is alive today. The rest of my family -- grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins did not survive, but met their end in various horrific ways at the hands of the Germans.
Kate Lesser, survivor
Did you ever meet an SS officer who was compassionate to Jews in any way?
Doug Frisina and Lauren Lombardi
I was born in Germany. During the six years 1933-39 when I left for Scotland, most men joined the Nazi Party, SA or SS, boys to the Hitlerjugend and girls to the BDM [Bund Deutscher Mädchen]. Among the people, there were some who were compassionate while others were not. Not every SS officer beat up every Jew that he came across.
Ester Golan, survivor
What hurt you the most about the Holocaust?
In answer to what hurt me most about the Holocaust: That is a big question. I lost my childhood, my family, and my trust in the world. I became a refugee growing up among strangers, so I was this weird outsider as a child and as a teenager. But more than my small personal life and loss, there is the hurt coming from the loss of one and one half million Jewish children who are not with us today and who did not get to grow up. When I look back on it now, I think this is the most serious loss.
Kate Lesser, survivor
We always discuss what life was like during the Holocaust, but I was wondering what life was like before the Holocaust.
I had a very pleasant and secure childhood. We had lived for several generations in the same town in Glogau/Selisia which in those days was Germany. My grandmother lived with us, which was not at all unusual. I loved the Jewish life, feasts, and holy days. My family was Zionist/traditional- Jewish, and the fact that we lived in Germany was like living anywhere else in the world. From childhood I remember hoping one day to be able to live in the Land of Israel. I belonged to the Zionist youth movement, Habonim. My mother often said we can be proud to be Jewish. And that I am.
Ester Golan, survivor
What part of the Holocaust do you remember most? Was there any event that stood out above all others?
Michelle Bellino and Laura Breckner
Your question was about any event that stood out for me during the Holocaust, so I will try to answer that. Yes, there is an event, that, among many others of course, still remains vividly in my mind and heart to this day. It was the day, I believe it was Aug. 10, 1939, when I got on the train in Berlin and joined the other children who were leaving their families forever. Our parents brought us to the train station. We had tags around our necks to identify us. I had a knapsack on my back with my favorite doll's face sticking out of it. I carried my violin. I was eight years old. I knew something terrible was happening, but I did not know what it was. Little kids simply don't understand things like that. All I knew was that I was leaving my mother for always. Why this was, I did not understand. I was put on a train with a bunch of children, and no adults, and sent across Europe, landing eventually in England. We children were very frightened, but it was so bad that we did not even dare to cry. So, in one day, we children went from being children in families to refugee children who were alone.
Kate Lesser, survivor
What is your feeling towards Holocaust "revisionists" and deniers who would like us to believe that the Holocaust never happened?
Paul Gunther and Will Klocke
If the Holocaust did not happen, then tell me where my parents are? Why do I not have a grave that I can visit to pay respect to my parents as other people do?
Ester Golan, survivor
Our goal in conducting this project was to take people of our generation, today's teenagers, and give them insight on an event that is quickly fading. It is unfortunate that ours may be the last generation to be able to do this, but we hope we have contributed to Holocaust education and genocide studies.
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