Desperation and Survival

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I have often wondered how the Sonderkommandos coped with their  work.

Sonderkommandos were  forced labour units made up of  Nazi death camp prisoners. usually Jews.They were forced to help with the disposal of gas chamber victims among other duties. Sometimes even removing family members.

It is not like they had a choice, it was either work and have a chance to survive or get killed themselves. I have heard people call them traitors but I don’t subscribe to that point of view, The basic instinct of any human being is to survive.

How hard it was for these victims, for they to were victims, is illustrated in the testimony of Filip Müller, a Slovak Jewish member of the Sonderkommando.

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Filip had become so desperate that he tried to commit suicide by smuggling himself into the gas chamber.

Below are some excerpts from his testimony taken from his book ‘ Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers’

“In the great confusion near the door I managed to mingle with the pushing and shoving crowd of people who were being driven into the gas chamber. Quickly I ran to the back and stood behind one of the concrete pillars. I thought that here I would remain undiscovered until the gas chamber was full, when it would be locked. Until then I must try to remain unnoticed. I was overcome by a feeling of indifference: everything had become meaningless. Even the thought of a painful death from Zyklon B gas, whose effect I of all people knew only too well, no longer filled me with fear and horror. I faced my fate with composure.Eyewitness

Inside the gas chamber the singing had stopped. Now there was only weeping and sobbing. People, their faces smashed and bleeding, were still streaming through the door, driven by blows and goaded by vicious dogs. Desperate children who had become separated from their parents in the scramble were rushing around calling for them. All at once, a small boy was standing before me. He looked at me curiously; perhaps he had noticed me there at the back standing all by myself. Then, his little face puckered with worry, he asked timidly: “Do you know where my mummy and my daddy are hiding?” I tried to comfort him, explaining that his parents were sure to be among all those people milling round in the front part of the room. “You run along there,” I told him, “and they’ll be waiting for you, you’ll see.”

The only reason he survived is because he was approached by a few girls.

“Suddenly a few girls, naked and in the full bloom of youth, came up to me. They stood in front of me without a word, gazing at me deep in thought and shaking their heads uncomprehendingly. At last one of them plucked up courage and spoke to me: “We understand that you have chosen to die with us of your own free will, and we have come to tell you that we think your decision pointless: for it helps no one.” She went on: “We must die, but you still have a chance to save your life. You have to return to the camp, and tell everybody about our last hours,” she commanded. “You have to explain to them that they must free themselves from any illusions. They ought to fight, that’s better than dying here helplessly. It’ll be easier for them, since they have no children. As for you, perhaps you’ll survive this terrible tragedy and then you must tell everybody what happened to you. One more thing,” she went on, “you can do me one last favour: this gold chain around my neck: when I’m dead, take it off and give it to my boyfriend Sasha. He works in the bakery. Remember me to him. Say ‘love from Yana.’ When it’s all over, you’ll find me here.” She pointed at a place next to the concrete pillar where I was standing. Those were her last words.”

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Müller first testified during his recovery in a post-liberation hospital and subsequently in several trials. His testimonies were included in “The Death Factory” written by two fellow Holocaust survivors, Erich Kulka and Ota Kraus. He was also interviewed for the 1985 French documentary Shoah by Claude Lanzmann, who himself had been a Holocaust survivor and French resistance fighter.

Müller died on November 9, 2013. In my opinion there is only one word to describe him. Hero.

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Ernest Erbstein-Holocaust survivor who died a tragic death.

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Now that the World Cup Football is well on its way in Russia, it is a good opportunity at one of the sport’s legends.

Ernest Erbstein, aka Ernest Egri-Erbstein was a Jewish-Hungarian football player and  He was involved in  football as a player and coach in several countries,  but he was most noted for his association with Italian football.

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Erbstein moved to Torino in 1938 to  play for the team , but because of World War II and the fact that he was Jewish he returned to Hungary.

He, his wife Jolan and their two daughters all survived the holocaust.

In 1944 he was imprisoned  in a slave labour camp near Budapest along together with another great Jewish footballer Béla Guttmann,who also survived the Holocaust . They found out  that their labour brigade  of Jewish men was about to be deported to a most likely death.

Rather than awaiting the same  fate of their  600,000  fellow Hungarian  Jews, they escaped by jumping from a window.

After the war Erbstein rejoined Torino,  but this time as  a trainer; it would become  one of the most noted spells in Italian football as the Torino side became known as Grande Torino.

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Erbstein  along with Englishman Leslie Lievesley were co-managers during the 1948–49 season.  On 4 May 1949 while on the way back from Lisbon, the plane carrying Erbstein and the majority of the Torino team and staff crashed  into the retaining wall at the back of the Basilica of Superga, which stands on a hill on the outskirts of Turin.

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Erbstein’s luggage was undamaged. He had borrowed the suitcase from his daughter and had promised to return it to her when he came back from Lisbon.

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Sources

CNN

Haaretz

Captain Roy Wooldridge- The British soldier saved by Field Marshall Rommel.

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Captain Roy Wooldridge, who was in the Royal Engineers, was taken prisoner during a covert night-time mission to examine submerged mines along the French beaches weeks before the D-Day landings.

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Mr Wooldridge, who was twice awarded the Military Cross, was sent a telegram ordering him to report to his unit just three days after his wedding in 1944.

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The lieutenant, who was later promoted to captain, was sent to the French beaches with a colleague to ensure there were no mines which could blow up the boats during the D-Day landings.

Due to the secretive nature of the mission, he was not wearing a uniform or carrying identification

Captured by the Nazis and treated as a spy, Captain Roy Wooldridge was told he must reveal all about his secret mission or be shot dead.Despite being grilled by the Gestapo, the British soldier refused to talk .

 

Capt Wooldridge, a hero of the Battle of El Alamein two years earlier at which Rommel was defeated by the Allies, was stunned when he was presented to the high-ranking officer.

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When Rommel asked if he needed anything, cheeky Roy replied: “A single ticket back to the UK, a pint of beer, a packet of cigarettes and a really good meal.”

To his astonishment, his wish was granted when he was ushered into Rommel’s mess where all three items were waiting for him, with the exception of the ticket back to the UK.

He later recalled “I was taken to the officers’ mess, where a waiter in white dress adorned with a ­swastika gave me a jug of beer, a packet of cigarettes and a meal.

From memory it was meatballs, or faggots, with potatoes and sauerkraut.”

Capt Wooldridge ate the food, drank the stein of lager and smoked the German cigarettes, but kept the empty packet as a souvenir.

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That empty cigarette packet  featured on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow on 23 November 2014.With Arms and Militaria specialist Graham Lay

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Thanks to Rommel, he survived and was sent on to a prisoner of war camp, where he spent the rest of the war.

Captain Roy Wooldridge died in April 2017, aged 97.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life Jacket of a different kind- The story of a Dutch Nagasaki survivor.

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A flash and a deafening rumble. On 9 August 1945, the American Air Force exploded an atomic bomb 500 metres above Nagasaki. The Japanese city was wiped away, 39,000 people died and approximately 65,000 were wounded.

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Three days earlier, the Americans had also dropped an A-bomb on Hiroshima, but Japan still refused to surrender.

A Dutch prisoner of war, J. van Houten, who had been deployed to work in a shipyard near Nagasaki owned by Mitsubishi, fled with his fellow prisoners to the hills surrounding the burning city. There was no time to grab anything. Van Houten was not wearing a shirt and it got very cold that evening. To his surprise, out of the blue, he heard a young Japanese soldier ask ‘Tsumetai ka?’, which means more or less: ‘Are you cold?’ When he responded yes, the soldier gave him this raincoat.

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After a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945 and the Second World War came to an end.

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Alistair Urquhart- The man that just wouldn’t be killed.

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Sometimes you come  across stories and you think “You could not write this”. Amazing tales of survival.Proof of how strong the will to live can be.

Alistair Urquhart  8 September 1919 – 7 October 2016) was a Scottish businessman and the author of The Forgotten Highlander, an account of the three and a half years he spent as a Japanese prisoner of war during his service in the Gordon Highlanders infantry regiment during the Second World War.

Urquhart was born in Aberdeen in 1919. He was conscripted into the British Army in 1939, at the age of 19, and served with the Gordon Highlanders stationed at Fort Canning in Singapore.

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He was taken prisoner when the Japanese invaded the island during the Battle of Singapore, which lasted from December 1941 to February 1942. He was sent to work on the Burma Railway,built by the Empire of Japan to support its forces in the Burma Campaign and referred to as “Death Railway” because of the tens of thousands of forced labourers who died during its construction. While working on the railway Urquhart suffered malnutrition, cholera and torture at the hands of his captors.

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After working on the railway and in the docks in Singapore, Urquhart was loaded into the hold of the Kachidoki Maru, an American passenger and cargo ship captured by the Japanese and put to use as a “hell ship” transporting hundreds of prisoners. The ship was part of a convoy bound for Japan; on the voyage prisoners endured more illness, dehydration, and instances of cannibalism.

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On 12 September 1944, the ship was torpedoed and sunk by the US submarine USS Pampanito,whose commander was unaware of its cargo of prisoners.

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Urquhart was burned and covered in oil when the ship went down, and swallowed some oil which caused permanent damage to his vocal cords.He floated in a single-man raft for five days without food or water before being picked up by a Japanese whaling ship and taken to Japan.

In Japan, Urquhart was sent to work in coal mines belonging to the Aso Mining Company and later a labour camp ten miles from the city of Nagasaki. He was there when the city was hit with an atomic bomb by the United States.

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Remarkably he survived all 3 events. In 2010, Urquhart published The Forgotten Highlander: My Incredible Story of Survival During the War in the Far East, an account of his experiences.

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In the book he expresses anger at the lack of recognition in Japan of its role in war crimes as compared to the atonement in Germany.

He was born in the City of Aberdeen, but has resided in Broughty Ferry, Dundee for many years. He spent his retirement teaching retired people how to use the computer and attended and taught ballroom dancing at many Tea Dances.He died on 7 October 2016, aged 97.

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Corrie ten Boom- WWII Hero

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Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom (15 April 1892 – 15 April 1983) was a Dutch watchmaker and Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. She was imprisoned for her actions. Her most famous book, The Hiding Place, describes the ordeal.

This is a drawing of the Ten Boom family home, Barteljorisstraat 19, Haarlem, Holland. The drawing looks very much like the house does today.  In 1837 Willem ten Boom opened a watch shop in this house.  His family lived in the rooms above the shop.  The home was later passed down to Willem’s son, Casper, and then to Casper’s daughter, Corrie

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The Ten Boom family were devoted Christians who dedicated their lives in service to their fellow man. Their home was always an “open house” for anyone in need. Through the decades the Ten Booms were very active in social work in Haarlem, and their faith inspired them to serve the religious community and society at large.

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During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their lives. This non-violent resistance against the Nazi-oppressors was the Ten Booms’ way of living out their Christian faith. This faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.

During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6-7 people illegally living in this home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch underground.  Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a few hours or a few days until another “safe house” could be located for them.

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Corrie became a ringleader within the network of the Haarlem underground. Corrie and “the Beje group” would search for courageous Dutch families who would take in refugees, and much of Corrie’s  time was spent caring for these people once they were in hiding. Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers.

On February 28, 1944, this family was betrayed and the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) raided their home. The Gestapo set a trap and waited throughout the day, seizing everyone who came to the house. By evening about 30 people had been taken into custody! Casper, Corrie and Betsie were all arrested. Corrie’s brother Willem, sister Nollie, and nephew Peter were at the house that day, and were also taken to prison.

Although the Gestapo systematically searched the house, they could not find what they sought most. They suspected Jews were in the house, but the Jews were safely hidden behind a false wall in Corrie’s bedroom.

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In this “hiding place” were two Jewish men, two Jewish women and two members of the Dutch underground. Although the house remained under guard, the Resistance was able to liberate the refugees 47 hours later.  The six people had managed to stay quiet in their cramped, dark hiding place for all that time, even though they had no water and very little food. The four Jews were taken to new “safe houses,” and three survived the war. One of the underground workers was killed during the war years, but the other survived.

Because underground materials and extra ration cards were found in their home, the Ten Boom family was imprisoned.

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Casper (84 years old) died after only 10 days in Scheveningen Prison.  When Casper was asked if he knew he could die for helping Jews, he replied, “It would be an honor to give my life for God’s ancient people.”  Corrie and Betsie spent 10 months in three different prisons, the last was the infamous Ravensbruck Concentration Camp located near Berlin, Germany.   Life in the camp was almost unbearable, but Corrie and Betsie spent their time sharing Jesus’ love with their fellow prisoners.  Many women became Christians in that terrible place because of Corrie and Betsie’s witness to them.  Betsie (59) died in Ravensbruck, but Corrie survived.  Corrie’s nephew, Christiaan (24), had been sent to Bergen Belsen for his work in the underground, and never returned.  Corrie’s brother, Willem (60), was also a ring leader in the Dutch underground.  While in prison for this “crime,” he contracted spinal tuberculosis and died shortly after the war.

 Four Ten Booms gave their lives for this family’s commitment, but Corrie came home from the death camp.  She realized her life was a gift from God, and she needed to share what she and Betsie had learned in Ravensbruck:  “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still” and “God will give us the love to be able to forgive our enemies.”  At age 53, Corrie began a world-wide ministry which took her into more than 60 countries in the next 33 years! She testified to God’s love and encouraged all she met with the message that “Jesus is Victor.”

 

Corrie received many tributes.  Corrie was knighted by the Queen of Holland. In 1968, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem (Yad Vashem) asked Corrie to plant a tree in the Garden of Righteousness, in honor of the many Jewish lives her family saved.  Corrie’s tree stands there today. In the early 1970’s Corrie’s book THE HIDING PLACE became a best seller and World Wide Pictures released the major motion picture “The Hiding Place.” Corrie went on to write many other inspiring books and make several evangelical videos.

Corrie was a woman who was faithful to God She died on her 91st birthday, April 15, 1983. It is interesting that Corrie’s passing occurred on her birthday.   In the Jewish tradition, it is only very blessed people who are allowed the special privilege of dying on their birthday!

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Corrie’s story is recounted in her books THE HIDING PLACE and TRAMP FOR THE LORD

 

 

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The positive vibes of the Rocky movies.

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This is going to be a completely bias blog and I am not apologizing for it.For some reason I tend to watch the Rocky movies every time I am going to a bit of a rough time.

Although the movies are really not of the standard I usually would watch, I can’t but help having a soft spot for the franchise, yes even for the last 2 installments. It is not only the story of someone not giving up despite a lot of hardship, it is also  the music that works uplifting.

I was going for a walk earlier this week and as usual I would listen to music while walking. At one stage I was reflecting on some recent hard times and nearly became overwhelmed by emotion, but before the tears had a chance to make an appearance Bill Conti’s “Flying High now” was piping through my head set and it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

It is also because of the Rocky movies and especially III and IV I was introduced to one of my all time favourite rock bands Survivor. “Eye of the Tiger” became an instant classic as did “Burning heart” and again both songs will leave you with this great and positive feeling, as if you are able to take on the world.

Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay for Rocky in three and a half days, shortly after watching the championship match between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner that took place at Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio on March 24, 1975. Wepner was TKO’d in the 15th round of the match by Ali, but nobody ever expected.

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When Rocky Balboa runs up those steps in Philadelphia you feel like you’re running up with him and you get an equal buzz when you reach the top. And I think that is what the message is from the movies’It may seem like a lot you have to overcome but when you get to the top, the view is great’

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