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

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Yom Hashoa – Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yesterday we had an important one hour assembly for the Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was the first assembly where high school, middle school, and elementary school (only 5th grade) were all together. We watched a movie that was put together of the 10th, 11th, and 12th graders that went to Poland. This a trip in which all high schoolers (except ninth grade) go on to look at the remains from the Holocaust. The movie was so powerful. One Catholic girl on the trip said, “Once Jews marched on a trail leading into the woods. In rows of 5 they walked. Each one walking up to a ditch. Then, a Nazi soldier shot them down – one by one – and each one after a shot fell into that ditch. And here we march on the same path into the woods. Going to the destination they went before they died. But at the ditch we prayed and sang. I watched my fellow classmates walk with an Israeli flag covered over their shoulders as we marched.” There were just so many horrors and hearts broken as the children went to the Poland Trip. They saw how close a normal pretty town was right next to crematoriums. They found ashes and also piles and piles of shoes and bags that were left behind while the Jews were taken.

 

Then, the next part of the program the high school boys choir sang 6 Million in Hebrew. Of what I remember 6 million Jews were killed, 1 million kids, 2 million Catholics/Christians, and 1 million others.

 

A guest speaker came to talk to us, and it turns out she was a holocaust survivor. She said to us – a very optimistic woman – told us she didn’t want to fill our hearts and minds with bad things and memories but to tell us about few special people that were braved and had saved her life as well as others. She told us two stories, which I will try to explain as best I can.

She lived at a convent as a young girl. She was 5 at the time of the Holocaust. Her parents had wanted to go to Israel before the war, but her parents were able to get a shop and business going, so they didn’t. Her mother always told her pretend you don’t know or understand anything because she spoke both Hebrew and Polish. She said that it was better to be stupid than to say something stupid. She had also died her daughters hair from black to blond and told her to pretend your tired all the time so that no one would see her black Jewish eyes. Her father was killed while she was at the religious boarding school, but she did not mention what had happened to her mother. When her hair started to grow out and her black roots started to show, the nuns thought it was part of the devil and they started to pray for her. There was a young priest at the church and he came up to her and said in Hebrew, “You don’t have to worry. I will protect you.” She then asked, without knowing what else to do, “How do you know?” The priest said that in her sleep she started to cry out Abba, Emma (Father, Mother), Ani rotza lalechet ha bieta (I want to come back home). She never spoke in her sleep again, after hearing the news. Sometimes, though she would wake up in the middle of the night and see that the priest was beside her bed. She felt safe. The priest helped her pass her classes at school too, since she was finally able to get out of the mindset that “she doesn’t know or understand anything” even if it was simple. One day though, a Nazi soldier took the priest away, and she never saw him again. It turns out he had helped other Jews and disguised them as Christians. The soldier had asked who she was and the head mistress told him that she was an orphan that they had taken in out of charity. At this point in the war, since it was the beginning, they were only looking for people that were resisting, so for that time, she was safe.

The second story was when she was 7 years old. All the Polish people had to evacuate where she was living. So, all the Polish, including her convent had to march to the train station. The head mistresses daughter (16 years old) loved her like a sister. She begged her mom to let her come with them and that they would take care of her. The 16 year old had a boyfriend that had gotten shot on his side. He told her (the holocaust survivor) that they were both in trouble and that he would take care of her. The head mistress gave her two heavy bags to carry on the march. She was afraid if she let go of the bags, since they were so heavy, that the mistress would leave her behind. The town was being destroyed, so if she were to be left behind, it would mean certain death. The 16 year old girls boy friend saw her struggling and told her to let go of the bags and leave them behind. She did what she was told. She was so exhausted and worn out from the march, that she could barely walk. The boyfriend picked her up and they started walking. In the middle of the journey, she felt that her skirt was wet. She looked down, and saw that it was red. She realized that him carrying her, had made his wound open again and was bleeding. She begged him to let her down, but he said, “shh, no. Just put your head on my shoulder.” By the time they got to the train station, he put her down next to him, and he laid down with the support from a wall. There was a soldier nearby. Then, the boyfriend had a pistol that fell out of his pocket. The Nazi soldier saw him and the gun, and took him. They went around a corner and she heard 2 shots. She never saw him again.

To this day, the holocaust survivor can not look at boots because her height at the time of the holocaust only looked at boots and guns that the soldiers carried. She told us that we are the future, and we are here to make it better. She is telling us her story, for us, to lead a better life. I think this is really something, but I wish I could have heard more. In May, my Hebrew class (for the first time) is going to work with another middle school class that are doing a section on “living history” to talk and interview five holocaust survivors. So, I will definitely take notes and write their stories for all of you.