Read reflections and testimonies written by Holocaust survivors in their own words.

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  • The Unspeakable

    At first, the Nazi occupation of Belgium did not seem so troubling to us because the German authorities didn’t start persecuting Jews until October 1940, almost six months after the invasion began on May 10, 1940. In addition, anti-Jewish laws were introduced gradually to avoid alarming the Jewish population, which might have provoked disobedience among Jews and opposition from Belgian authorities. The German leaders also wanted to avoid raising Belgian public opinion against them as happened during World War I.

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10harry markowiczanti-jewish legislationauschwitzhidingdenunciationoccupationselection

  • On Becoming an American

    One bright spring day in 1956, my parents and I nervously faced a federal judge sitting in his private office in downtown Seattle, Washington. We were seated across from him at his desk. During the previous several months, the three of us had spent many hours studying a booklet in preparation for this day. The booklet contained questions and answers about the Constitution of the United States, the structure of the federal government, and some of the major historical events of this country. After asking us each several questions, easier ones for my parents, harder ones for me, the judge informed us with a very large smile that we had passed the test; he was ready to swear us in as naturalized citizens of the United States of America.

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10harry markowiczgermanyimmigrationunited states

  • Sunday Lunch at Charlotte’s House

    As a result of World War II, my few surviving relatives and their descendants ended up living in different parts of the world—some in Sweden; some in Venezuela; and others in Israel, England, Australia, and Canada. My parents, sister, brother, and I settled in the United States after the war. An exception to this pattern of leaving Europe to start a new life elsewhere was my cousin Charlotte, who spent part of the war in hiding, but returned afterward to her parents’ home in Noisy-le-Grand—a distant eastern suburb of Paris—and lived there nearly to the present day.

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 9complicitycollaborationdenunciationhidingfamily

  • A Letter to the Late Mademoiselle Jeanne

    In the Permanent Exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there is a plaque indicating that Jeanne Daman-Scaglione has been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. The plaque reads: “A Roman Catholic, Daman became a teacher, and later headmistress, of the Jewish kindergarten ‘Nos Petits’ in Brussels. When arrests and deportations of Jews began in 1942, she worked with Belgian and Jewish resistance units, helping to find hiding places for 2,000 children throughout Belgium. Daman also helped rescue many Jewish men about to be deported as slave laborers by obtaining false papers for them.”

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 9rescuershidingrighteous among the nations

  • The Reading of Names

    Kristallnacht, the nationwide pogrom against the Jewish community in Germany, Austria, and the occupied part of Czechoslovakia, occurred during the night of November 9-10, 1938, and was organized by the SA paramilitary troops who were joined by civilians. By then, the borders were closed; in any case, almost no country accepted Jews who wanted to leave the Third Reich. A short time before that event took place, a policeman who was a friend of the family (years earlier his fiancée had been our family’s maid) warned my father that the persecution of Jews in Germany was going to become much worse and that we should leave the country as soon as possible.

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 8anti-jewish legislationdenunciationdeportationjewish councilsdays of remembrancevolunteering at the museum

  • The Impostors

    Every Tuesday, I look forward to going to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to perform a few hours of volunteer work for the Visitor Services department. During the nation’s capital tourist season—March through August—dealing with the sheer volume of visitors is quite challenging. Fortunately, the Tuesday volunteers form a supportive team; we help each other carry the load. I suppose it’s the same on other days. The rest of the year is very different because the relatively smaller number of visitors doesn’t require our constant attention. To make the time go by and also to create a more welcoming environment, we talk with some of the visitors. For example, we inquire where they are from, or whether it’s their first visit to the Museum. We also speak with each other—the other volunteers, staff members, and interns—so we get to know each other better.

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 8denialhidden childrenvolunteering at the museum

  • Our Poor Shtetl is Burning!

    After the Allied armies liberated Belgium and it was safe once again for us to go out in public, my parents started attending social events here and there in Brussels. Perhaps because they didn’t want to leave me home alone—I was around eight or nine years old—I often went with them to cafés where American musicians played jazz, balls where my parents danced, nightclubs where comedians told slightly off-color jokes in Yiddish, a movie theatre where we saw the movie The Dybbuk, and other social events attended by Jews who, like us, had lived through the war in hiding and who had not seen each other in years. Also in attendance were some of the very few Jews who had survived deportation to the Nazi camps. At the time, the word Holocaust hadn’t yet been coined. In Yiddish, people said: “Wir hoben dus mit gemacht” (We went through that).

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 8belgiumjewish communities before the warlife after the holocaustparents

  • On Reassuming My Identity

    My earliest memory dates to the German invasion of Belgium in May 1940; I wasn’t quite three years old yet. My sister, Rosi, and my brother, Mani, being quite a few years older than I, had memories that reached back to our lives in Berlin before the war. They remembered also being smuggled into Belgium on September 26, 1938, at the exact time Hitler was giving a history-making speech on the radio. He asserted that the three and a half million Germans living in the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, a state created artificially by the Allies in 1918, were being expelled and exterminated by the Czechoslovakian government. He stated that his patience had run out, and he was demanding the return of that territory to Germany. One might even conclude that Der Führer’s fiery nationalistic speech facilitated our escape from Germany by distracting the border guards.

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 8anti-jewish legislationhidinglife after the holocaustfamily

  • Remembrances of a Hidden Child

    I was six years old and playing with several boys my age on the sidewalk across the street from the droguerie run by Mrs. Vanderlinden. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a man in a cassock entering the store. For the briefest moment I wondered what a priest might want to buy in a droguerie, a store in which only household cleaning products could be purchased. Before the Vanderlindens, who were hiding me, moved into the center of Brussels, they lived in an area called Bon Air on the outskirts of the city where I attended a nearby Catholic school. Although they had been nice to me, priests and nuns still made me feel uneasy.

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 7belgiumhidingrescuersmemory

  • The Midland Hotel

    It was August 1945, the month I celebrated my eighth birthday. My parents, my sister, Rosi, my brother, Mani, and I were on vacation at the seashore in Belgium. We were staying at the Midland Hotel, a small, three-story building separated from the dunes and the sea by the main coastal highway. Very few other guests were staying at the hotel. 

    Tags:   harry markowiczechoes of memory, volume 7aftermath of the holocaustbelgiumlife after the holocaustfamilymemory