Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust

By Anita Brostoff; Sheila Chamovitz | Go to book overview

My Sister Rieke
Esther Haas
b. The Hague, Netherlands, 1919

My sister Rieke was the most beautiful of the four Blok girls. She had dark blonde hair, sparkling brown eyes, a delicate nose, full round lips and a smile that flashed as bright as her future should have been. Her personality also had that bright quality. She attracted loads of friends to our house and she was invited everywhere that a young Dutch-Jewish girl would want to go—gymnastic club, youth concerts, swimming parties and even movies. At seventeen she was married; at eighteen and a half she was sent to Auschwitz.

Ironically, tragically, it was her brightness, her joy and her beauty that led to her being transported. She drew unwanted attention that ultimately ensured her a place on one of the cattle cars leaving every Tuesday for Auschwitz, Poland, from Westerbork, Holland.

Westerbork, close to the German border, was the gathering place for the Jews of Holland after the Nazis forced us from our homes. Built on low, flat land, it contained rows and rows of long barracks and a large railroad siding. It was a damp, muddy, grayish brown place.

Every day Jews came to Westerbork from all over Holland to stay until their selection for the Tuesday train to Poland. Cattle car after cattle car would leave

filled with frightened, gray-haired grandparents, clinging middle-aged couples, disoriented young men and women and bewildered, crying children. They left on a strictly adhered-to schedule. The train was never early, never late, always

filled with people who carried with them a nagging fear of the unknown. No one knew, no one could know that the trip ended in slavery, sickness, death. We all thought we would be forced to work for the Germans; we had never heard of the Final Solution.

Every Monday the selection took place for the next morning's train. One of our own, a Dutch Jew named Samson, was in charge of making the selection for the train. He was fairly young, fairly good-looking. I suppose he had to deliver a full trainload of people in order to save his own skin, but he took advantage of the power of his position to satisfy himself. We were all afraid of Samson, for he had complete control over us.

When Rieke and her husband David came to Westerbork, I had been at the camp for three months, kept out of the selections because I was a nurse. I knew the ropes, so every Monday night for four weeks I gathered my courage and

-84-

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Flares of Memory: Stories of Childhood during the Holocaust
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vi
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword xiii
  • Timeline of the Holocaust xv
  • Map of Concentration Camps in Europe xxviii
  • Preface xxix
  • Introduction xxxiii
  • I - Snapshots: Jewish Life Before the Holocaust 1
  • Snapshots 2
  • War Arrives in Lithuania 3
  • A German Family 7
  • Betrayal 11
  • Parting 13
  • II - The Destruction of a Society 15
  • Herr B. 17
  • A Kristallnacht Journey 18
  • An Action Against the Jews 20
  • Leaving Germany, Leaving Home 24
  • Escape to England 26
  • The Best-Laid Plans 28
  • A Life-Defining Impression 30
  • The Harbinger of What? 32
  • The Beginning and the End 33
  • A Family Gone, One by One 34
  • The Abandonment of Mielec 36
  • A Shtetl's Life is Ended 37
  • What Ever Happened to the Jews of Skudvil? 40
  • III - Ruthlessness as a System 43
  • In the Dark 45
  • Theresienstadt 47
  • Dachau 50
  • Auschwitz, 1944 55
  • The Tenth Woman on Block Ten 56
  • The Means to Survive 58
  • The Gypsies 60
  • Nazi Murderers 61
  • How Many Made It? 63
  • The Law in Lithuania 64
  • Horrors of War 70
  • IV - The Lottery of Death and Life 81
  • German Roulette 83
  • My Sister Rieke 84
  • A Definition of Survival 86
  • An Unforgettable Passover Seder 89
  • Trying to Go Home 90
  • Bar Mitzvah Boy 93
  • The Skull with the Golden Braid 95
  • The Concentration Camp Lottery 96
  • The Girl with Wooden Shoes 101
  • The Wagon 102
  • The Child 103
  • V - Disguise as a Way of Hiding 105
  • In Constant Terror 107
  • Posing as a Christian 114
  • I Choose Life 116
  • Lost Families 119
  • Beyond Memory 121
  • A Hidden Child in Greece 123
  • VI - The Sustaining Power of Family Love 143
  • The Promise 144
  • A Mother's Courage 147
  • Miracles 151
  • A Dream of Milk 155
  • In Praise of Manual Labor 156
  • A Son in Deed 158
  • The Psychologist 162
  • VII - The Virtuous and the Vicious 163
  • A Narrow Escaper 165
  • The Kindness of Strangers 168
  • A Saintly Person 170
  • The Convent in Marseilles 173
  • Among the Righteous 176
  • The Killing Hunger 179
  • Captain Zimmer 180
  • The Volunteer Group 181
  • Mazel 182
  • The Farmer Kowarski 185
  • A Surprise Package 187
  • VIII - Disguise as a Way of Hiding 189
  • Lithuanian Friends 191
  • Unsung Heroes 199
  • Friend or Enemy? 202
  • Resist in Everything! 208
  • IX - Emergence into Light 225
  • The Golden Chain of Judaism 227
  • Flight to Freedom 236
  • The Last Hiding Place 243
  • One Day War, the Next Day Not 245
  • The Long Road After Liberation 247
  • On the Way to Health 249
  • An Ending and a Beginning 252
  • The Tiny Flame 254
  • X - The Aftermath: Remembering 257
  • The Aftermath 258
  • The Barber 260
  • Kaleidoscope: Salonika, Greece, 1945 261
  • The Sewing Basket 263
  • Children from the Camps Going to England 265
  • The Chief of the Gestapo 268
  • Herr Schluemper 270
  • The Miracle 272
  • To Bear Witness About the Holocaust 274
  • It Shall Not Be Forgotten nor Forgiven! 276
  • Addendum - Seen with My Own Eyes: Stories by American Liberators 279
  • The Photograph 281
  • Germany, 1945: View from a Tank 283
  • Gusen: A Nurse's Tale 286
  • A Letter from Dachau 288
  • I Saw Buchenwald 291
  • Re-Entry 296
  • Biographies of Survivor-Authors 298
  • Biographies of Survivor-Authors 298
  • Photographs of Liberator-Authors 336
  • Author Index 342
  • Story Index 343
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