Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival

Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival

Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival

Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival

Synopsis

Every student of the Holocaust knows the crucial importance of survivors' testimonies in reconstructing the crime. Most such accounts, however, were recorded years or even decades after the end of World War II. The survivor narratives that make up this volume, in contrast, were gathered immediately after the war. In 1946, Russian-born American psychologist David P. Boder interviewed 109 victims of Nazi persecution - the majority of them Jews - in "Displaced Persons" camps across Europe. These interviews encompass survivors from Poland, Lithuania, Germany, France, Slovakia, and Hungary, ranging in age from their early teens to their seventies. Their stories shed light on such controversial subjects as relations between Jews and neighbors or strangers who extended or withheld aid, opportunities for and obstacles to Jewish resistance, the behavior and attitudes of the perpetrators, the victims' knowledge - or lack of knowledge - about the fate that awaited them in Nazi hands, survival strategies, women's experience of the Holocaust, the Nazi practice of placing prisoners in charge of their fellow inmates, and the liberators' postwar treatment of freed concentration camp inmates.

Excerpt

The Upper Silesian city of Bedzin where Udel S. was born in 1915 is just a few miles from Abraham K.'s hometown. In the 1930s it had nearly 60,000 inhabitants, about half of them Jews. S. mentions initial German atrocities there in September 1939 but provides details only for the period after 1941, when Nazi policies caused the Jewish population of Bedzin to double. Not only did the Germans ship Jews from small communities in the surrounding area to the city; they also put off construction of a ghetto there until January 1943, which made it for some time a refuge for Jews fleeing harsher persecution elsewhere in Poland. S. points out that in 1942 the Jews in Bedzin heard about Auschwitz from an escapee and apparently believed what they were told. And yet, apart from constructing hiding places to avoid deportations to the nearby killing center, S. recalls more resignation and denial than resistance among his fellow Jews. He holds Moshe Merin responsible for lulling the Jews into a false sense of hope that deportation meant being sent to work someplace else.

Udel S. remained in Bedzin until the Germans began to liquidate the local ghetto on August 1, 1943. Perhaps the most affecting passages of his interview describe attempts by his family and others to evade the deportations by hiding in cleverly concealed rooms in their ghetto apartments. Especially for those like S. who had children, the results were usually tragic. After a few days, hiding became impossible; S. and his family, together with many of their neighbors, simply gave themselves up. Sent to Auschwitz with five members of his family, only he survived. One of his most vivid memories of Auschwitz was the cruelty of the Jewish capos there. He was then sent to work at the Krupp arms plant at Fünfteichen, the same camp that held Abraham K. (although there is no indication that they knew each other there). When it was evacuated in the early part of 1945, S. was sent via Gross-Rosen to Flossenbürg concentration camp in Germany, and he ended up being marched from there to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia, where he remembers conditions being still comparatively good. Among his memories of the last days of this "model" ghetto was the arming of Jews by Czech guards, who until then had worked for the Germans.

As S. saw it, postwar Europe could only be viewed as a land of exile, one that "burned," in the colorful Yiddish term that traditionally re-

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