A new year of uncertainty had just begun, 1945. It would be another year of hunger, pain, and misery. As I contemplated our future with my best friend, Lola, I wondered how much longer we could endure the brutalities. I could sense from the expression on her face that she was more concerned about the immediate, the present moment. She had not been feeling well for several days but did not dare complain, nor go to our camp doctor. In a labor camp there is no room for the sick or those unable to work.
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Some time ago I was approached by one of the Museum’s personnel and asked if I would meet the then-minister-president from Brandenburg State in Germany. He was coming to observe the Days of Remembrance, to read some names in the Hall of Remembrance, and to light a candle. I agreed. But from that time on, hardly a day passed by without my wondering about meeting (with trepidation) the German official. How would I react meeting someone from the German government?
I was recently quoted by a young columnist from a local newspaper, saying that I will speak to anyone who wants to listen and even to those who don’t want to listen. But when I was asked to speak to a Rotary Club in Virginia I was curious to find out first about their organization, what they represent and what their purpose is, before I accepted their invitation. I had no previous knowledge about them, and since this was not arranged by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I had to do my own research.
The news that something had happened at the packing station during my cousin’s shift made me rush to her barrack to find out if she was well. Though we were in the same camp, we seldom met each other because we worked on different shifts and were assigned to different barracks. Sometimes when I saw her returning from work, I did not recognize her because her face was a black mask. We worked in a factory that produced soot (carbon).
For decades we survivors have been waiting for the release by the International Tracing Service (ITS) of the millions of records kept in Germany. The Nazis were very meticulous in keeping records of the countries they occupied and of the people whose fates they determined. They kept strict records of every person and event, of dates, and of the destinations of the people involved. We were anxious to get access to those documents to learn about the final fates of our lost dear ones.
By the end of 1940, about half of the population from our city of 28,000 Jews, plus the Jews brought in from the neighboring towns, had already been deported. The Dulag (transit camp) was always full to capacity with Jews awaiting deportation either to labor or concentration camps. Jews started thinking of ways that they could be useful to the Germans so they could remain in place.
The Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia—acres of land located on the Wilmington River—is visited every year by thousands of tourists. It is a unique burial place dating back to the 18th century. In addition to the famous Georgians that are interred there, there is an unusual collection of statues telling the story of the people whose graves they adorn as well as an assortment of mausoleums and headstones. The most touching are the statuettes on the graves of young children. One reads: “Papa’s Sweetheart.” The moss-draped mighty old oaks stand erect protecting the elegant statuary and headstones. The cemetery is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
With disbelief we watched the young men, our soldiers, looking tired, in deplorable condition, many wounded, returning defeated from the frontline after only a few days of fighting.
“Forget what has happened over there. You are now in this golden country. Start a new life.” Those were the words uttered by my American cousins every time I mentioned the Holocaust.
The skeletal figures descended the white buses with uncertainty and in bewilderment looked around at the throng of civilized human beings awaiting their arrival.