[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]

True Stories That
Had to Be Told

By Karen Smith
Broadford Secondary College

On 6 March 1997, the year twelves of Broadford Secondary College went to Elsternwick to visit the Holocaust Museum and Research Centre. I was one of those year twelves and this is an account of what I heard and experienced:

On entering the building, I don't know if it was just me, but the atmosphere felt sort of spooky. The auditorium we were taken to was cold, and the air was moist. Standing in front of the rows of chairs was a small, fair-haired lady. Her name was Ruth Crane, and she was a survivor of the Holocaust.

Ruth told us her story which involved her gratitude to an old Polish lady who had helped her. There was a penalty of death for any person found helping a Jew, but this did not worry the Polish lady who let Ruth and some members of her family stay in her cellar for two years.

Ruth and her family had one candle and a very small amount of food, since the old lady was unable to buy a lot of food because people would have become suspicious. The candle was only for emergencies as the neighbors may have been able to see the light and then they would also have become suspicious.

There was a good reward for telling the Gestapo about people who were hiding Jews. Ruth and her family were so worried about being caught that they had poison prepared just in case they were found out. They would take the poison so that they would not be tortured.

Ruth's mother felt guilty about hiding and not being able to repay the old lady, so she came up from the cellar and offered to help her with the housework. One day an S.S. officer came to the old lady's house and found Ruth's mother there working. If she had not been scared, they would not have known that she was Jewish. As it was, the officer took the old lady and Ruth's mother away for the trial. Ruth's mother told the Gestapo that she had only come that day looking for work and had not told the old lady that she was a Jew. Ruth and the other family members were locked in the cellar for two days before the old lady returned and told them what had happened. Ruth's mother had been taken away and killed.

After Ruth told us her story, she showed us a video and then we were introduced to two other survivors, Susie Noyzik and Abe Goldberg. Abe, a very small man, told of how he and a friend had a radio that they buried and dug up every day so they could hear the progress of the war. They would have been killed instantly if they had been found with it. Abe told us of how he had heard on the radio about the killing going on in the concentration camps. He and his friend decided not to tell anyone about it, since it would only make them panic.

When Abe told of the day he and his mother were taken to Auschwitz, everyone just gasped in disbelief. He told of how he last saw his mother at Auschwitz when they were separated. She was taken off to the gas chambers while he was sent to do forced labour after he came. Abe came face to face with Dr. Mengele who was the man who would determine whether he lived or died. With a flick of Dr. Mengele's finger, Abe was sent to forced labour and luckily survived along with his friend. The both of them wrote up secret documents and put them in boxes and buried them to be dug up when one of them died.

Unfortunately, Abe's friend died in 1995, so Abe went back to where the documents had been buried and dug them up. He also went back to take his friend's ashes to Poland and spread them in No. 2 crematorium at Birkenau where his friend's mother had died on the 23rd of August, 52 years earlier. Abe's wife, Cesia, and his two children, accompanied him when he did this, since Cesia's mother had also been gassed in this chamber, on the same day, at the same time. The emotion for them over this was overwhelming. Although we all know what happened during World War II, a survivor actually standing there in front of us telling us what he suffered made it even more horrific, and for the first time I think it hit us that this really did happen.

Suzie was next up, and she told of the immense humiliation that she and her mother went through at one of the death camps. Along with a group of other woman, they were made to parade around in front of the medical officers in the nude and then be sent to be killed or to do forced labour. Suzie told of how she and her mother were lined up with the other ladies while a soldier fired at them with a machine gun, killing all but her. It is a miracle that she still doesn't understand.

She lay, half dead, for two days before being discovered. She was treated by some Russian soldiers at a hospital but only until she was conscious again. Suzie had a lot of trouble talking about certain things that had happened to her because she said that they were such painful memories that she never wanted to remember them. She then told us of how she had to tell her grandmother about what had happened to her mother. At this point she broke down in tears, and so did I. It was so sad to think of what this poor lady had been through.

I felt a little silly getting upset, but I looked around and all I could see were puffy eyes. Everyone else felt the same way. Suzie told us not to worry about her crying because she did it every day, and she still had nightmares about it. During the whole talk, the silence of all the students was haunting. We were so enthralled by what we were being told. Many of us still can't come to terms with what we were told. It is so hard to believe that it could have happened.

We were asked if we had any questions that we wanted answered. It took a while for someone to put their hand up because we were still in a state of shock. Cesia Goldberg stood up and answered a question with such anger that it was frightening. She told of how she went back to her home town, which is about 10 kilometers from the death camp Treblinka, and no one would talk to her. Her best friend Selina didn't even ask her how she escaped or if she was all right. She just said, "You were lucky you weren't here to smell all those burning Jews."

Cesia walked around with me and two others and explained certain parts of the museum. She said that she is learning Hebrew and wrote an essay about what she thinks heaven will be like. She said that in heaven there will be no racial tension and everyone will like each other and the environment would always be happy.

[ Majdanek Uniforms ]
Prisoner Uniforms, Majdanek

The whole experience of being able to see and talk to survivors of the Holocaust was one that I will never forget. The reason that they come and talk with school groups is so that something like the Holocaust will never happen again. These survivors were very nice to talk to and willing to tell us anything we wanted to know about their experiences, and in return, all they wanted was for us to tell everyone else possible about what had happened to them and their families.

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