Never Again—Never Forget

On 27 January 1945, the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz. Although those who survived were physically liberated, for many the mental torture never left them. Their experiences were relived in their nightmares and there was constant anxiety.

The United Nations has designated 27 January as Holocaust Memorial Day. I believe every day should be a Holocaust Memorial Day, especially nowadays when so many want to forget or revise history.

Never Again. Never Forget. I cannot say Never Forgive because that is not my call—that’s the prerogative of those who survived and their families.

source

Camps de Gurs—The Forgotten Concentration Camp

Although its official name is Gurs Internment Camp, let’s call it what it really was, a concentration camp. It is also probably one, if not the only time, the Nazis sent Jews westward.

At first, it served as a camp for Spanish republicans and German refugees who fled from Nazism. The Gurs Camp was among the first and one of the largest camps established in prewar France. It was located at the foot of the Pyrenees in Southwestern France, just South of the village of Gurs. The camp, about 50 miles from the Spanish border, was situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains northwest of Oloron-Sainte-Marie.

The camp measured about 1.4 km (in length and 200 m in width, an area of 28 ha (69 acres). Its only street ran the length of the camp. On either side of the street were plots of land measuring 200 m by 100 m, named îlots (blocks; literally, “islets”). There were seven îlots on one side and six on the other. The plots were separated from the street and from each other by wire fences. The fences were doubled at the back part of the plots to create a walkway along which the exterior guards circulated. In each plot stood about 30 cabins; there were 382 cabins altogether.

In early 1940, the French government interned about 4,000 German Jewish refugees as “enemy aliens” along with French leftist political leaders who opposed the war with Germany. After the French armistice with Germany in June 1940, Gurs fell under the authority of the new collaborationist French government, the Vichy regime.

In October 1940, the Nazi Gauleiter (“governor”) from the Baden region of Germany had also been named Gauleiter of the neighbouring French region of Alsace. In Baden resided some 7,500 Jews, mainly women, children, and the elderly, given that the young and middle-aged men had emigrated or had gone to the Nazi concentration camps.

The Gauleiter received word that the camp at Gurs was mostly empty, and on 25 October 1940, it was decided to evacuate the Jews from Baden (between 6,500 and 7,500) to Gurs as part of Operation Wagner-Bürckel. There, they remained locked up under the French administration. The living conditions were difficult, and illness rife, especially typhus and dysentery.

The deportation of the German Jews to Gurs in October 1940 is a unique case in the history of the Holocaust. IT WAS the only deportation of Jews carried out toward the west of Germany by the Nazi regime.

Conditions in the Gurs camp were very primitive. It was overcrowded and there was a constant shortage of water, food, and clothing. During 1940–41, some 800 detainees died of contagious diseases, including typhoid fever and dysentery.

One in four of the deportees died in Gurs or other French camps, 11 per cent succeeded in emigrating overseas, 12 per cent hid out in France, and 40 per cent (around 2,600 deportees) were transported to Auschwitz after July 1942. The fate of the remaining 600 deportees is unknown.

The Vichy regime turned over the Jews who were located in Gurs to the Nazis. On 18 July 1942, the SS captain, Theodor Dannecker, inspected the camp and then ordered that they prepare themselves to be transported to Eastern Europe. The Nazis sent the majority of them to the Drancy transit camp just outside of Paris. From Drancy, they were deported in six convoys to the killing centres in Poland, primarily Auschwitz.

Vichy authorities closed the Gurs camp in November 1943. Almost 22,000 prisoners had passed through Gurs, of whom over 18,000 were Jewish. More than 1,100 internees died in the camp. In 1944, Gurs was reopened briefly to intern political prisoners and resistance fighters arrested by Vichy police.

From 25 August to 31 December 1945, Nazi collaborators and hundreds of anti-Franco militants were interned. In total 3,370 persons, exclusively men.

sources

https://www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr/en/gurs-internment-camp

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/gurs

https://portal.ehri-project.eu/institutions/fr-006277

https://www.fondationshoah.org/en/node/47403

The Sad Story of Betje Weijl-van Praag and her Daughter

On 16 November 1941, Betje Weijl-van Praag died from what appears to be suicide. The police report does not mention suicide, but the circumstances indicate that probably was what happened.

“Notification is given by telephone that something has probably happened to the resident of plot Schuttersweg 88 because she has not been seen all day. She lives alone. Police officer Van Rave goes to the scene and a little later announces by telephone that he has gained access to the house by breaking a window. A coal vapour smell was observed by him. The resident was found dead in bed by him so she probably died of coal fume poisoning. Dr Hermanides stated, who will perform the autopsy.”

Later two more officers went to the scene. Two and a half hours later it is noted: “Dr Hermanides had already performed the autopsy. An amount of money, amounting to NLG 40.82, as well as distribution documents were taken by the rapporteur. The stove in the house was still smouldering, while the stove pipe was completely blocked. The house is locked and the key has been taken by detective Wolvenne. According to found papers, the deceased would have relatives in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam police will try to warn them. Dr Lobstein van het Apeldoornsche Bosch later informs him that it is known to him (a daughter of Mrs Van Praag) is being nursed in the Apeldoornsche Bosch) that family (sister) lives in Amsterdam, Oudezijde Achterburgwal 111.”

The report mentions Betje Weijl-van Praag’s daughter. Sophia Charlotte Weijl was born on 14 April 1915. She was a patient at Het Apeldoornsche Bosch, a Jewish psychiatric hospital in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.

I am not sure when she was admitted to the hospital. However her father, Salomo Weijl died on 28 February 1923. Sophia was still nine at the time. Her mother, Betje Weijl-van Praag became a widow and perhaps she wasn’t able to look after her daughter on her own.

Sophia Charlotte Weijl was in Het Apeldoornsche Bos when it was raided on the night of 21/22 January 1943. She was put on transport on 22 January 1943 to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was murdered on 24 January 1943.

Both women were victims of the Nazi regime.

sources

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/nl/page/152937/betje-weijl-van-praag

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/nl/page/660803/sophia-charlotte-weijl

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My Interview with Joosje Asser—The Story About her Parents and their Survival

During the night of 21 to 22 January 1943, the Nazis raided Het Apeldoornsche Bosch, a Jewish psychiatric hospital in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. Nearly 1300 people are deported to Auschwitz.

All 1181 patients, sometimes naked, confused or in straitjackets, were forced by units of the SS and the Ordnungspolizei under the personal supervision of Hauptsturmführer Ferdinand aus der Fünten of the Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung (assisted by Albert Konrad Gemmeker, the SS commander of Camp Westerbork ) in trucks to the waiting freight train. In the days that followed, another 293 people, mainly personnel, were taken away. Most of them do not survive the war.

Eli Asser and Eefje Croisset, Joosje’s parents, who worked in the Hospital managed to escape. In the interview, Joosje talks about her parents, and the book her father wrote about the time.

There are a few small interruptions during the interview, I had considered cleaning them up, but then I realised the symbolic value of it. So many family lives were disrupted during the Holocaust. I decided to leave the interview as it was, unedited.

sources

https://www.apeldoornschebosch.nl/en/history

https://www.apeldoornschebosch.nl/

Then Suddenly, the Classroom was Empty

The murder of children during the Holocaust is what haunts me the most. Sometimes I try to be poetic and philosophical when I try to memorialize them, but often seeing the raw cold data is the most effective way to remember these young innocent lives. So many futures were destroyed.

The picture above is from a class at the Joodsche School in Rotterdam. I don’t know if all children were murdered, I can only presume they were. Below is the data of those who certainly were murdered.

Hartog Berkelouw, born in Rotterdam on 5 January 1932. and murdered in Auschwitz on 14 January 1943. He reached the age of 11 years old.

Mijntje Belia Koppels, born in Rotterdam on 29 December 1931. He was murdered in Sobibor on 28 May 1943 at the age of 11 years.

Abraham Sanders was born in Rotterdam on 8 August 1932. He was murdered in Sobibor on 23 April 1943 at the age of 10 years.

Betsy Jacobs was born in Rotterdam on 2 May 1931. She was murdered in Sobibor on 23 April 1943 at the age of 11 years.

Sophia Aandagt was born in Rotterdam on 19 April 1932. Murdered in Auschwitz on 5 August 1942. She was 10 years old.

Hinda Sanders was born in Rotterdam on 18 August 1932. She was murdered in Sobibor on 23 April 1943 at the age of 10 years.

Kaatje Ensel was born in Rotterdam on 23 June 1932 at Auschwitz on 16 August 1942 at the age of 10 years.

Doortje van der Horst was born in Rotterdam on 7 March 1932. She was murdered in Auschwitz on 9 August 1942 at the age of 10 years.

Gizela Minc was born in Danzig on 12 December 1932. She was murdered in Auschwitz on 19 November 1943 at the age of 10 years.

David Ossendrijver was born in Rotterdam on 5 September 1932. She was murdered in Auschwitz on 8 April 1944 at the age of 11 years.

Never forget what a twisted ideology and false promises can do.

Ivan Martynushkin—One of the Liberators of Auschwitz

On 27 January 1945, the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz. Ivan Martynushkin was one of the liberators of Auschwitz. Below are some excerpts about what he witnessed.

“We beat back the Germans in one village, passed through, and came out onto some kind of enormous field almost completely surrounded by electrified barbed-wire fences and watchtowers, we saw buildings beyond the barbed wire. And as we got closer, we began to see there were people.”

“We saw emaciated, tortured, impoverished people. Those were the people I first encountered…We could tell from their eyes that they were happy to be saved from this hell. Happy that now they weren’t threatened by death in a crematorium. Happy to be freed. And we had the feeling of doing a good deed—liberating these people from this hell.”

“It was hard to watch them. I remember their faces, especially their eyes which betrayed their ordeal. But what did I feel when I saw these people in the camp? I felt compassion and pity understanding how these people’s fate unfolded. Because I could have ended up in the same situation. I fought in the Soviet army. I could have been taken prisoner and they could have also thrown me into the camp.”

“At first there was wariness, on both our part and theirs. But then they apparently figured out who we were and began to welcome us, to signal that they knew who we were and that we shouldn’t be afraid of them, that there were no guards or Germans behind the barbed wire. Only prisoners.”

sources

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/01/26/auschwitz.liberator/index.html

https://www.rferl.org/a/russian-veteran-recalls-soviet-liberation-of-auschwitz-/26807978.html

https://www.timesofisrael.com/soviet-veteran-recounts-horrors-of-auschwitz-liberation/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/01/27/what-a-soviet-soldier-saw-when-his-unit-liberated-auschwitz-70-years-ago/

The Journey of No Return

The picture above is a photograph of a rail track I pass over nearly every day. Yesterday, when I passed it, I had to think of all those who went on train journeys and never returned.

The trains that travel over this rail track are comfortable, They have soft seats you can sit on, and some even have restaurant facilities on board.

On 20 January 1942, a conference was held in Berlin and became known as The Wannsee Conference. It was there that they decided what to do with the remaining Jews in Europe, not only occupied Europe but also The United Kingdom and Ireland. The Nazis wanted to murder all 11 million Jews in Europe. They called it, “The Final Solution.“

It was on that day when they decided that all Jews, Roma, undesirables, and non-Aryans, were to be transported by train to the concentration and extermination camps.

Trains were used before that, but more to concentrate the Jewish populations in the ghettos or to transport them to forced labour and concentration camps for economic exploitation.

Not like the luxury trains that pass the rail track above. The trains the Nazis used didn’t have the same facilities. The Nazis used both freight and passenger cars for the deportations. There was neither food nor water available on those trains. The toilet was one bucket for the hundreds of people per wagon. The people were deported in sealed freight cars with extreme heat in summer, freezing temperatures in winter, and the stench of urine and excrement. Some were transported in passenger cars, but the majority were deported on cars which were originally built to transport cattle. The difference was the cattle would have been a lot more comfortable because there were fewer of them, and they would be fed and given water. Without food or water, many of the deportees died before the trains reached the camps. Armed guards shot anyone trying to escape. They even had to pay for the train tickets. Everyone was pushed into the trains regardless the age, sex, or health condition. Young babies, pregnant women, people of old age, and sick people all in one car.

There is no denying how the railway transports of the Deutsche Reichsbahn operated. However, all other Railway companies across occupied Europe complied and were therefore complacent.

In France, it was the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français railway, or short SNCF. It became an instrument of death during the Holocaust. Under German occupation, it provided the trains that transported 73 convoys of Jews eastwards. French railway workers operated the trains until they reached the border with Germany, where they were replaced by German staff

In the Netherlands, Westerbork became the main transit camp in 1941 and the first deportees left on 15 July 1942. The final train left on 13 September 1944, with 279 Jews on board. Among those deported from the camp were 245 Sinti and Roma. Approximately 100 trains left Westerbork.

The prisoners at Westerbork lived from transport to transport and between hope and fear. The evening before a departure was unbearable because the names of those who would be transported were announced then. The next day there was no escape. Sometimes as many as 70 people with all their bags were crammed into each filthy boxcar of the lengthy train.

A representative of the National Westerbork Memorial, Dirk Mulder, said in a TV interview that the NS(Dutch Railways) had “complied with the German order to make trains available. The Germans paid for it and the NS had to come up with a timetable. And the company went and did it without a word of objection.”

There are some miraculous stories of survival though.

Mirjam Lapid-Andriesse was 10 years old when she was taken from her home in the Dutch city of Utrecht and placed in an Amsterdam “ghetto” with her family in April 1943. In an interview with the BBC, she recalled her memories.

“I was a little girl during the war, so my memories are childhood memories, not political, I was the youngest of four children, two boys and two girls. I remember we were taken from the ghetto by train to the Westerbork transit camp in June 1943.”

Shortly before the war ended, the Nazis began destroying evidence of concentration camps, including sites and documentation, and transporting prisoners to other locations within Germany. It was at this time, as Mirjam was travelling through Germany in 1945 on one of three trains that had departed from the camp at Bergen-Belsen, that she recalls the moment she was freed.

“Our train was known as The Lost Train,” she said after the vehicle intended to travel to Theresienstadt, in what is now the Czech Republic, was forced to reroute due to bombing, before stopping in the small German village of Tröbitz. Many of the people on board died in transit due to malnutrition and illness. I celebrated my 12th birthday on the train, on 17 April 1945. Since then I celebrate my second birthday on 23 April—the day we were liberated by the Russian army in Tröbitz, where we were held for two months. We were then returned to the Netherlands.”

Mirjam was one of the few lucky ones. Most went on a journey of no return.

#NEVER FORGET#

sources

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-49233817

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-30351196

Click to access Filling-the-Silence-JM1-State-of-Research.pdf

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/german-railways-and-the-holocaust

https://kampwesterbork.nl/en/history/second-world-war/durchgangslager/66-history/durchgangslager/266-transports

Tattoo Z-1557

(courtesy of John Davis)

This is an excerpt of John Davis’s book “Rainy Street Stories”

It tells the story of a survivor he met at Flossenburg, who had survived Auschwitz, Ravensbruch, and finally Flosssenburg

“Z-1557
While vacationing many years ago my wife Jane and I decided to visit Flossenburg, West Germany. This charming little town is nestled in among rolling hills, fresh brooks, and quaint farmhouses. In the late 1930s, though, the Nazis chose Flossenburg as the site of a concentration camp. It was for that reason we drove along a particularly pleasant road in search of this place.

The German town is, from all outward appearances, wholesome, sturdy and solid. It was difficult to find the old camp. We finally asked a pedestrian where the former concentration camp was and he indicated it was up a hill on the way out of town. We drove there and parked in a shaded lot. A guided path led us along memorials to the thousands of Europeans murdered there. Indeed, the actual incinerator was still in place. The strange feelings that overcame us were difficult to get a handle on.

The symbolic crosses and memorial tablets were fitting. Fitting is the appropriate word. Not moving. Not horrifying. A few flowers, recently placed, were what moved us. They were, in this park-like setting, perhaps the only scene that associated the place with the dread and terror of those many years ago. Real people, just like us, were rounded up, beaten, whipped, hung, shot and hacked to death there. Yet there was no sense conveyed that any of that had happened. Except, of course, from the anonymous people who placed the flowers. They had lost someone, and still felt the loss.

One of the last stops at the concentration camp is a re-created barracks building. Inside is a museum. Scenes in black and white somehow make it all seem distant and unreal. We stopped at a marker dedicated to famous inmates killed there – Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoffer. And then we turned to go.
As we arrived at the parking lot, we were approached by two strangers. They’d been in the museum at the same time we were. He asked me what I thought of the memorial. He thought we were English, and were surprised to discover we were Americans. I told him I really had gotten no sense of the dread reality of events at this place.

“No,” he said in German. “It is like a park. We were recently in Auschwitz. I can tell you that as a retired engineer, with one company of engineering soldiers I could have Auschwitz fully operational in 30 days.”Yet at Flossenburg, I said, there didn’t seem to be any sense of what it had really been like.

“Nor for us,” he said. “My wife could not even recognize the place when we drove in. You see, she was an inmate here.”

It was then that I noticed the woman. She was dark, small, and very thin. She wore long sleeves on a hot August day. I asked how she came to be put there. “Racial hatred,” she said. “I was a Roma, a gypsy, living in Danzig. In 1941 my entire village was rounded up. We were put into cargo trains and brought to Auschwitz, where they kept us crammed like animals in barracks for five months.”

She pulled up her sleeve, revealing the tattoo – Z-1557. Z for zigeunerin, or Roma, a gypsy. “Then, one day, they had a formation to select women who could work,” she continued. “I was chosen and sent at 3 o’clock by train to Ravensbrueck, a concentration camp for women. I only learned this week, due to the remarkable records the Nazis kept, that my family together with all the other Romani then held in Auschwitz were massacred four hours later that very evening.”

My wife and I were stunned. We’d never met an actual inmate of such a place. We didn’t know what to say. She finished her story. “After being held in Ravensbrueck, I was sent to Buchenwald, and after that to this place.”

“Did you see the photographs inside?” her husband asked. “Did you see the one where the commandant and guards of Flossenburg were being tried?”

I recalled a photograph that showed about 50 German prisoners being tried by an American tribunal. “Did you see the look on the Germans’ faces?” He inquired. “They looked like bored opera viewers. Their faces said, ‘So what are you going to do to me?’ Only a dozen or so of those tried received the death penalty. Three times that number were free men within eight years. They really did escape from justice. I think that the whole lot of them should have been finished off,” he said.

“We’ve just visited all the places where my wife was once held. She could not bring herself to go into Auschwitz,” he said.

That camp, in Poland, and some others – Buchenwald, in what was East Germany, for another – seem more as they might have been when in use. Not Flossenburg. “This place is a park,” he continued. “Who can even tell that there was a camp here? I think that here in the West the memory of such a place will go away in another generation.”

The tears his wife cried that day were for the murdered who were still part of her life after all these years. Can we imagine ourselves there? Can we imagine our own families in such a place?

Such places as Flossenburg were huge operations during the war. They were immense and readily visible from afar. Whether those who were alive back then knew, is a question for the past. Whether those of us alive today remember and do all in our power to stop such things from ever happening again, anywhere, is a question that we must answer for.

It has been said that to do good and avoid evil is not enough. We have to do good and undo evil. Why did we meet these strangers in a parking lot in Flossenburg?
I think the sensation I had at Flossenburg was an awareness of evil. That evil was smug, and evil was present. It was smug because it was waiting. Waiting for us to forget in the park that is Flossenburg”

source

Inventory of Salomon David Nathans and his family

The lives of Jewish lives wasn’t just the things they did, but also the things they owned. During the Holocaust the majority of Dutch Jews weren’t only murdered, but their possessions were also stolen or destroyed.During World War II, the Nazis quickly moved to remove Jews from economic life in the Netherlands.

Salomon David Nathans was born in Haren in the Netherlands, on February 24 1889. He sold draperies in his shop, on September 30, 1942 he was murdered in Auschwitz.. His whole family was murdered during the Holocaust.

Below is an inventory of his belongings.

Room
linoleum
carpet
mat (2)
table with cloth
divan with cover
chair (4)
armchair (2)
armchair (2)
flower table (2)
sideboard (2)
cabinet
fireplace with plate
standing table lamp
hanging lamp
lace curtains (5)
drapes (5)
small table with cloth
mantelpiece clock
mantelpiece runner
flower hanger
wall cupboard with underwear

Room
linoleum
cane mat
mat (3)
wooden bed with bedding
mat (3)
dressing table with mirror
chair (2)
bedside table
writing desk
hanging lamp
lace curtain and drapes (2)
wall cupboard with ladies’ and gents’ clothing

Room
linoleum
mat (3)
table with cloth
chair (3)
treadle sewing machine (“Pfaff”)
cupboard with knick-knacks
cupboard with books
curtain
drapes (2)
lace curtains
hanging lamp

Kitchen
cane mats
solid fuel oven
table with cloth (2)
chair (5)
wall mirror
dinner set
kitchenware
alarm clock
hanging lamp
drapes (4)

corridor and staircase
linoleum
coconut mat
coat stand
wall mirror
wall hanging
mat (2)
hanging lamp
stair carpet with rods
wall plate
lace curtains (2)

Room
linoleum
double bed with bedding
bedside table
chair (2)
dressing table
drapes
ceiling lamp

Attic
linen cupboard with underwear, whites
chair
table
flower table
cupboard with ladies’ and gents’ clothing

sources

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/134109/salomon-david-nathans

https://www.joodsmonument.nl/en/page/499649/inventory-of-salomon-david-nathans-and-his-family

The Shoe of a Child

The shoe of a child, looking at the type of shoe, it probably belonged to a boy.

The shoe of a child, I can see the front is faded maybe he kicked a ball, his favourite toy.

The shoe of a child, what was his name?

The shoe of a child, did he like to play a game?

The shoe of a child, we will never know who it belonged to.

The shoe of a child, the other one is missing because shoes come in a pair of two.

The shoe of a child, is he still alive or did he die?

The shoe of a child, the knowledge that he probably was murdered makes me cry.

The shoe of a child, how much talent was lost?

The shoe of a child, in a place called Auschwitz, it was tossed.

The shoe of a child, a human being tender and mild.

The shoe of a child, the shoe of a child.

source

https://www.yadvashem.org/museum/museum-complex/art/articles/the-flowers-of-life.html