This beautiful little girl is Helga Kahn & this is the last school photograph she had taken .... ever. I'm afraid I can't tell you her story today because no one knows just what happened to her, but considering she was a Jewish girl in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1940 I'd say we could all guess her eventual demise.
And her story is not unusual. There are 1.5 million Stories just like this one out there to be told, because One and a half million Jewish children were murdered in the Holocaust and were thus prevented from growing up and fulfilling their basic lives ~ to live, dream, love, play and laugh. Some faded photographs of children under the Nazi regime remain, and their questioning, accusing eyes cry out. And I challenge you to remain dry eyed as you look at them.
From the day the Nazis came to power, Jewish children became acquainted with cruelty, first in Germany and, as time passed, in every other country the Germans conquered or forged an alliance. The parents and families of these children were unable to grant them the security and protection they needed. Jewish children were separated from their non-Jewish playmates and expelled from state sponsored schools. They saw their parents lose the right to support their families, and often witnessed the descent of the family unit into an abyss of despair. As war broke out and anti-semitic policies worsened, the suffering of Jewish children increased ... many were doomed to the horrific suffering of life in a ghetto ~ the bitter cold, the never-ending hunger and a multitude of dangerous diseases. There, cut off from the world, they lived in the shadow of endless terror and violence. As smuggling was central to survival in the ghettos, they were often forced to assume the new role of breadwinner for their disintegrating families.
Henrika Lazobert, a Jewish poet, wrote a paean to a daring young smuggler who, despite the risks, persevered in finding food for his family. The poem ends: ~
"I shall no longer come back to you [mother] …
and only on my lips will one worry freeze fast:
My beloved mother, tomorrow who’ll bring you
your piece of bread as in the past?"
When the deportations to the extermination camps began, a chasm opened up in the lives of Jewish children. Throughout Nazi Europe, they fled and hid, separated from their parents and loved ones. Some of them found refuge in the homes of decent people whose conscience would not allow them to remain passive; several were hidden in convents and monasteries and boarding schools; others were forced to roam through forests and villages, hunting for food like wild animals and relying entirely on their own ingenuity and resourcefulness. Many were forced to live under assumed identities, longingly anticipating the return of their father and mother.
Some were so young when separated from their parents that they forgot their real names and Jewish identity. Many were forced to train themselves not to move, laugh or cry, or even talk. Upon liberation from Auschwitz, one little girl asked her mother, “Mommy, may I cry now?” (A Personal Oral recollection of my Grandmother who survived Auschwitz ~ Mrs. Pederofski was the 'Mommy' concerned!)
Of course, not all Jewish children were lucky enough to find a place of refuge, and many tens of thousands of children were caught and sent to the death camps. Their young age made most the first prey of the Nazi killing machine. More than a million and a half Jewish children were lost in those years, a whole murdered generation.
This is Eva & Leana Munzer. Aren't they Adorable?
These two little Jewish girls have a very sad story. Their parents left them with a non-jewish family who took care of them. They were betrayed to the SS, who captured the girls and sent them to Auschwitz, where they ~ like most small children ~ were gassed upon arrival.
At first children were given lethal injections. Later they were starved or shot or bayoneted or strangled. Or used for mid-air target practice for snipers. These methods proved too much for some soldiers and too slow for the projected 'Final Solution.' Thus were born the extermination camps with their gas chambers disguised as showers. A guard at Auschwitz, testifying at the Nuremburg trial, admitted that at the height of the genocide, when the camp was killing ten thousand Jews a day, children were thrown into the furnaces alive. Never has humanity come closer to evil for evil's sake.
Children ~ dependent, vulnerable, defenceless ~ are the litmus test of our humanity. Not by accident does the Hebrew word for compassion, 'rachamim', come from rechem, meaning a womb. We Cherish our children. The world does not. It is important to remember them. It is important to remember!
It is important to remember as anti-semitism is rising rapidly in every area of the globe, every country in the world & it could happen again. It certainly looks like it will. A non-Jewish friend of mine constantly chided me for answering thus (He thought I was a bad Jew) ..... "Why would I save & not spend, why would I put off purchasing those shoes or that dress, why would I deny my daughter that doll, why wouldn't I do that right now ..... I won't need it when they come to collect me for their Camp!!!"
We cannot write the future. Only our children can do that. But we can teach them our History and to remember the indifferences that allowed the Holocaust to claim 1,500, 000 million childrens lives. Can you imagine how much silent assent that takes .... the slaughter of 1.5 million children. The Slaugher of 6 million Jews????
Let's Remember these Children today, especially as the international isolation & demonization of Israel quickens its pace & anti-semitism escalates in Europe once again. The Question of Israel is & increasingly becomes an Existential Question!!!