Holocaust Story

This is what I’m planning on doing for my Hebrew project. I’m currently translating it to Hebrew. I basically wrote the letter as if I were the holocaust survivor writing to a close dear one. Enjoy:

To My Dearest Cousin Tom Vager,

It’s been awhile since the last time I have written you, but there is so much I must share with you.

My family and I are currently in a two bedroom apartment in New York. I definitely miss my old friends and life back in Danzig, but I think the German community of refugees here is helping me and my family transition. Every Saturday all the refugees that fled Europe meet up. By hearing the stories of these “fellow suffers”, it allows me to realize how good luck has played in my favor over my life. These constant meetings help me cope with missing my old friends. I’ve made plenty of new friends in New York, which is also helping me take my mind of what’s going on in Danzig.

Mom is suffering the most. She is depressed and starting to smoke even more than usual, which says a lot since she is a chain-smoker. Also, she drinks over 3 cups of coffee a day. I think she is having a hard time with the fact that we had to sell everything, and now she gets no help at home anymore. I still ponder on how she, despite her depression, makes our meals and cleans the house and keeps our family together. She is a real trooper.

Just writing about Danzig, makes me miss the very place. I used to wake up every morning, lying in bed listening to my parents play chamber music – my dad on the violin, and my mom on the piano. Then, when my dad escaped to Poland, we started to sell everything we owned. I still remember that terrible day when a high ranking officer, with his shiny good-looking uniform, took our grand piano. Striding into our apartment, he acted as if he was a “man of culture.” My mother’s and sister’s valuable treasure, was taken for almost nothing. My sister cried, but there was nothing she could do. That was the most frustrating thing I have ever had to face during the war – watching evil occur right in front of your eyes, but you are unable to do anything about it.

My family and I always wanted to go to America. It was a dream to us, and now we are here in a tiny apartment. Back in Europe my parents talked about fleeing. It began when rumors reached us about what the Nazi’s where doing in other countries to the Jews. It was not until children were beaten on their way to school, my Jewish classmates and I in a German school were harassed, and the Nazi’s took away all the Jewish doctor’s licenses – including my father’s – did we decide to leave. That was when my dad, in the middle of the night, crossed over the border to Poland. My mom, sister, and I started selling and packing our things in preparation to leave also Danzig. Legally, the League of Nations protected Danzig, supposedly a free city. However, Nazi’s still had some control. Having the League of Nations on our side made conditions okay – certainly not as bad as other places in Europe. Jewish lawyers and doctors started getting arrested because they continued to practice their professions. This convinced us to escape to Poland. My dad went first, and we followed two weeks later.

While in Poland I was able to make connections in London to get an apprenticeship. As you know, I use to play violin. I was very interested in learning how to make them. So, the apprenticeship, I thought would be a great advantage to learn how to create violins. I was able to get an apprenticeship visa, while the rest of my family stayed in Poland. I was 16 at the time. Luckily, one of my aunts was there. So, I stayed with her for a week before I found a place for myself. This apprenticeship turned out to be a great disappointed. The violins were imported from China and then just repaired and sold for a much greater price. Two months after my arrival in England, a freighter stopped by for the day. My family was there. I went to visit them while they stayed in London for the day. My landlord came with me too. He met with an immigration official. They were good friends because they attended the same lodge. So, while they talked, my landlord was able to convince the official to allow my family to stay in London with me without them having visas. The freighter that my family went on was destined to go to France, and 6 months after my family arrived, the Nazi’s had taken control of France. Every day I think to myself of how good luck after good luck helped my family survive. I was placed in an internment camp earlier during my stay in England. However, it was quite nice since it was on the Island of Man (located on the Island Sea) where big hotels stood. This was where all the interns, such as myself lived. Then, the Germans took over. They placed all German speaking Jewish men in these hotels – since we were presumed to be spies. They didn’t even have the decency to put my dad and me in the same building. However, my dad, after one week, was able to escape the camp because he was diabetic and the Germans would not tolerate providing food for diabetics. I was able to escape after 10 weeks. My family and I all lived in London together. Often, air raids attacked the city every night from the Germans, and one time the bombing became so severe, that a bomb exploded on our roof. Luckily, the air raid shelter protected us, but we were trapped until the following day when emergency crews dug us out. My family and I, with the help of one of my dad’s former patients (who was the head of a shipping line), were able to get visas to America after 2 years of waiting.

The boat ride from London to New York was very difficult. First off, there was no passenger service. So, my family (mother, father, sister, and I) had to cram into an officer’s cabin. We had to travel in a convoy since German submarines lurked in the water, preparing to attack any ships carrying passengers – mainly Jews. Our trip, during the middle of winter, took 3 weeks before we reached America. The whole time during our journey, I kept my recommendation from London safe. I went to a branch in New York and gave them my recommendation, so that I could hopefully learn how to make violins. I got the job, which turned out to be another disappointment. There were no instruments, but instead, sheets of music. They assigned me the job at the type writer to print music. I was never happy there and went through a whole list of other jobs. But all the while, I still continued playing my violin – the only meaningful possession I still had of my childhood. By the time I turned 19 years old I was told about an orchestra in Texas searching for musicians. Although it was far away, I traveled and preformed for them. No one was as shocked as me when I heard that I had made it. Joining the orchestra was my first professional job. After 3 years I became tired of playing for them. It’s no fun to have a director constantly telling you what to do. So, I quit, and applied to Juilliard.

Here I am, my 4th year in Julliard, and finally writing you. It’s taken me awhile to cope with reality, adjust to new situations, and be able to share what I’ve been through. About 2 years ago my friend asked me to start the Lasalle String Quartets. It took me awhile to think about what I really wanted to do, but I decided to join. The quartet consists of 2 violinists, 1 cellist, and of me, the violist. The two other violinists were both German Jews. One of them fled to Israel to escape the Holocaust, while the other suffered 3 years in various concentration camps. Unbelievably, he continued to play his violin. While listening to the terrifying stories of how Nazi soldiers treated him and many others, I began to rethink of my position and see how luck really played on my side. I had won the ultimate gamble between living in New York and going to Julliard, or dying in a concentration camp in Germany.

Our quartet has become quite well known now. We have traveled everywhere. We have played in Israel 3 times, in South Africa, Japan, but mostly in Europe. I plan on visiting you and your daughter soon. Though making records here in Cincinnati University in Ohio and teaching younger students keeps me busy, I still have time to travel. I wish to play with your daughter, just as we had together back in London during the black outs. I remember having just enough light to play a Sonata – her on the piano, and me on the violin.

The other day, I saw a girl in Ohio who had come to the university. She had been studying medicine in Switzerland to become a doctor. She had come to Ohio especially because of the river to swim. But when she found out that the river was polluted, there was no way for her to swim the water. I met her through a group of mutual friends. She says that she plans to go back to Israel, but I doubt it. I hope she stays here, and continues her studies in the US. She is a really special person.

Looking back on everything that I have written, the greatest thing that I have learned in my lifetime is the importance of luck. If I had to tell generations to come about the Holocaust, it would be on but one matter – luck. Luck has stuck by my side this whole time. Luck has saved me, has saved my family, and protected us from evil. Without luck, I would probably not be alive today. I carry luck with me. You too, Cousin Tom, have luck for you live in California, far away from the evils that once reined in Europe. Remember, luck changes everything – for good, or for bad. In my story, it is for good.

Yours Truly,
Peter Kamnitzer