Are you struggling to try to understanding the Holocaust? Did the Holocaust leave your family in shambles? Have you experienced racism? Are you getting married soon?If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then the journal below may be helpful to yourself. I decided to publish some recent journal entries. They documented my thoughts as I took a summer course about children of the Nazi era. The entries are very personal. However it is my hope that by they can help others struggling with wedding plans, understanding the Holocaust, or racism.
Diary Reflection - Sunday July 12, 2015 – Evening
I have had the opportunity to be blessed by the presence of quite a few survivors. Every opportunity to meet with one is a precious moment. I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to meet with Stephanie S*ltzer. I try to spend as much time with every survivor as I can. We were fortunate that Stephanie S*lzer was able to spend several hours with us today.
Several things stuck out to me from our discussion and our meeting with Stephanie. First was the total tragedy of her loss. Like I said earlier today when I introduced myself, I work at Greenwood House in Ewing, New Jersey and as a coordinator for Shabbat Services and other life/holiday events. I spend every Shabbat leading a community that includes many survivors in prayer. I regularly interview the survivors and discuss with them life before and after the war. Unsolicited, they will often tell me about their loss, which has always been tragic.
Despite the time I have spent with the survivor community, I learn something new every time a survivor opens up to me. Today, I was able to better understand the tragedy of loss by children.
The survivor community at Greenwood house includes many child survivors as well as adult survivors. Until now, I would say I have documented more emphatically the stories of older survivors. This has been for two reasons. Firstly, they are older. It is more of a precedent that I spend a day talking in Yiddish and documenting the story of a survivor who is 106 rather than a survivor who is 85. The other reason was that before today; the loss of a child has been more difficult for me to wrap my brain around. It is easier for everyone to understand the loss of older victims, because their loss is more relatable. It can be easier to negate much of their suffering because they were so young, so we wrongly assume they were too young to understand the loss that they experienced. Older survivors experienced a mother and a father, a Jewish household, and mostly positive childhood experiences – So did I! Child survivors often lacked both a “mother” and a “father” in the same sense of the word, and also lacked a Jewish upbringing and generally had negative childhood experiences.
This is the most tragic part for child survivors. The loss they grew up with. Their most important developmental years were not “normal,” which is heartbreaking.
I asked Stephanie S*ltzer a good question today – “Do you find it difficult to relate to children when your experience was so different?” She struggled to find an answer before admitting something that I found telling. She today plays board games with children and most importantly – collects dolls.
I believe that the dolls are her way of reliving a part of her childhood – the part that was stolen from her. In hiding, she did not have access to typical children’s toys. She played with goats and her own hair for entertainment.
Diary Reflection – Monday July 13, 2015 – Early Morning
Last night, when I went out to eat with my fiancé I could not eat dinner. Something bothered me from our discussion yesterday. When dessert was served, I looked at my fiancé and told her, “If only the victims had this sort of food.” It is hard to place exactly the moment or point of discussion that bothered me most. It was difficult. I did not sleep. The testimony bothered me. But how could it not? Am I not human? I couldn’t stop thinking about the horrors that were endured.
Diary Reflection – Monday July 13, 2015 – Evening
The video today was horrifying. It was horrifying for a new reason – because the victims were a new set of people – non-Jews, children who were taken into the lebensraum program.
Most difficult for myself was the story of Guntram Weber. Guntram Weber is the illegitimate son of Ludolf von Alvensleben, prodigy of the lebensraum program. When Weber visited Jadwiga Polakoski it was heartbreaking. Jadwiga Polakoski is the daughter of one of the victims of Ludolf von Alvensleben. Ludolf von Alvensleben is said to have overseen the direct orders of the murder of some 30,000 Poles. This included the intelligencia of Poland in the 1930’s.
The interaction between Jadwiga Polakoski and Guntram Weber is upsetting. It is upsetting because naturally, Jadwiga Polakoski should feel animosity towards Guntram Weber. She was a victim of Guntram’s father. She did not need to accept Guntram into her home, but she invited him into her house and shared her story of loss with Guntram. I believe Jadwiga Polakoski accepted Guntram Weber into her home and spent the time of day with him for one reason: pity.
Guntram Weber is haunted by his father’s crimes. Guntram Weber has written extensively about his father, the war criminal. His life has been devoted to expunging the identity of his father’s legacy. Jadwiga Polakoski saw the body of her father, she experienced immeasurable pain and suffering because of Guntram’s father. Guntram appeared in the interview to be genuinely and totally troubled by his father’s crimes. I believe Jadwiga Polakoski felt pity for him and also believed that this encounter would rid Guntram Weber of some pain and help him reconcile his own idenity as a good person.
Diary Reflection – Tuesday July 14, 2015 – Early Morning
This morning Barak Obama was leaving Philadelphia. The traffic coming into Gratz was terrible. It took me about two hours to get to Gratz. It usually only takes me 40 minutes. I allowed myself extra time expecting the traffic. It was not a fun drive, and I do not like driving very much.
I am sick with a cold. I feel the sickness may be stress-related. Watching so many testimonies may have given me stress. I am not eating appropriate meals. I am not sleeping well either. I am taking Robitussin, Dayquil and Nyquil. When I entered into the building this morning I was sneezing and coughing all over. Mindy was very sweet, she noticed I looked ill and gave me some hot tea with honey – an Old Russian remedy. I think it may have helped, but I keep on coughing in class and I also have a sore throat. The air conditioning is breathing down my neck. I have asked that the air conditioner be turned down on several occasions. It keeps on, rather inhumanely, being turned back on. However, I cannot expect the entire classroom to suffer without air while I am struggling with a cold – that may also be inhumane. I have thought about moving seats, but I would rather stay put, I am confident that I will kick the cold within a day or so. I have made a commitment to myself after last night’s restless sleep – I am going to try to go to bed especially early as to assure, even with labored sleep, that I will get a full 6-8 hours.
I noticed that I have developed in maturity from college, I have changed a lot. Things that would never bother me before bother me in ways I still don’t understand until it is 12:30 a.m. and I cannot sleep. I am a more sensitive person. I am around children more often while I teach. I am engaged, soon to join in marriage. Life events, cycles, parenting, children; these thoughts all rush through my mind when I read and watch testimonies.
When I was younger I could never do this – I did not have an extremely close-knit or large family. I had no cousins, nephews, aunts or uncles. There were no children in my family. Celebrating Jewish Holiday’s, Shabbat and morning shivas were the only times we came together. When we came together there were never any children, it was always small, it was always just my parents, my sister and myself. Today, I am around children all the time. I am around my loving malchatunim. They have a large family with plenty of children. It’s a totally different dynamic.
Diary Reflection – Tuesday July 14, 2015 – Evening
Well… today did not fail to disappoint me (sarcasm) in terms of upsetting testimonies. I was once again devastated by another testimony. Ronnie Br*slow told us her story.
Compared to the other stories, it ended happier than the rest. Her mother and father were all reunited in America. She was separated from her father during the war. She did not lose him though, as our earlier speaker did.
I feel exhausted today, mentally drained. I already know I am not going to eat food this evening. I ordered two different pizzas. I found reason to fuss over the ingredients on both pies after they arrived. They are still sitting on the table. This evening I am going to bed earlier, and try to keep my mind off of the Holocaust for the evening. I am going to watch silly shows that will distract me, like Trailer Park Boys, and I will get some sleep early.
Diary Reflection – Wednesday July 15, 2015 – Early Morning
I succeeded in getting a full night’s sleep last night. I feel much better heath-wise today. I did have a nightmare, but I don’t recall it in detail - it was not uncommon. Despite eating nothing for dinner last night, I was able to sleep. I also received a phone call late last night from my cousin; she wanted to know if her children were invited to my wedding. I never met her children. I wonder why she wants to introduce them to me, suddenly, now. I wonder why they were hidden from me for 26 years. I never knew they even existed until recently. She asked me if the reason they were not invited was because they are black. The reason was because I don’t know them. They are my 2nd or 3rd cousins. I wonder if it is because they are black, that I never met them. I would like to think I am wrong. But I don’t know. It may be because while they are halakhally Jewish, they may not be practicing. It seems the only events we ever come together for are Jewish events. Her comment bothered me though. It jarred up memories of both the readings and reviews from Monday about the “Rhineland Bastards.”
I made no commitment to inviting them over the phone. I told her I needed to think if it was appropriate to invite essentially strangers to my wedding.
Diary Reflection – Wednesday July 15, 2015 – Evening
Well… If I thought I was feeling better in the morning I would say things turned in the opposite direction in the second part of the day. My mind was blown away by the “Secret Lives” movie. I fought back tears toward the end of the movie. It was the most difficult thing for me to ever watch. The hardest point were the words of one Polish rescuer.. After the war was over, the family of the child she rescued returned for their child. She remarked they were forced to dissociate after the war and that they did “Not allow him to remember us. [It was] so insensitive and insulting to us!” I tried to ask questions and make sense of a totally incomprehensible series of testimonies. I felt choked up while I asked questions. I tried to find the words to express a single thought, and it was difficult. I finally found the words, essentially reaffirming the notion that Jewish Children of the Nazi era who were raised by non-Jewish rescuers were forced to either dissociate with the people and faith of the rescuers or leave the faith of their ancestors. There was loss in leaving the rescuers post war as Jewish families reclaimed their children. The rescuers were oftentimes just as dramatic and affected as for their own child. Sometimes these children never spoke to their rescuers again, as they were oftentimes scorned for being either Polish, German, etc., in a society broken by the Holocaust.
After the first discussion we had lunch and Mindy pulled me aside. She asked if I was okay. I was evidently very white and didn’t look well. I told her well… I was feeling better in the morning… but now… not so hot. The video shook me a lot and I was still thinking about it.
Aside from all this, my cousin’s phone call was still bothering me from yesterday. I called my cousin after class let out. I told her that the invitation should read her children and family. I do not know why, but she told me she was going to cry over the phone. I think she truly must struggle with feeling accepted for marrying a person from a different group. I don’t know if this is why I never met her family, but it may be part of the reason. It is something my family does not really talk about. It may be, however, because she is only my grandfather’s, brother’s child, not exactly a close relative. I asked her to bring her grandchildren to the wedding also and told her if she was interested in a Shul for the kids, I happen to be a teacher at a local one. It felt good to invite them, as despite being strangers, they are family.
Diary Reflection – Thursday July 16, 2015 – Early Morning
I think calling my cousin last night and inviting those relatives brought me some closure. For some reason, I feel better today both health wise and emotionally. I think that reading about the children who grew up and never knowing their own parents was a precedent for me extending this invitation. Whatever the reason for 26 years of silence, it ends today. I would like to meet my own cousins. It felt good and in some ways was almost liberating.
Health wise, I feel 95% better. I am not taking Dayquil or Nyquil. Last night I had the healthiest sleep of this entire program. Best yet, I had entire meat last night! A pizza and a brownie! I kept my mind off things with a nice movie at home. It was Kindergarten Cop – I love that film.
Diary Reflection – Thursday July 16, 2015 – Evening
Well, it is the end of the class and I feel 100% better. As the class began to near the end of the road today other students began to express themselves with humor. I find comedy to be a great relief from stress. One of the students covered her face in chocolate ice cream and switched everyone’s name cards. Some students began joking about our mutual intrests in the morbid subject – The Holocaust. I needed that comedy relief. It was a liberating feeling after hours and days of sadness.
My closing thoughts are reflecting on the closure of inviting my cousins to my wedding. I realize after watching these testimonies, like the children reunited with families after the war, that we never met each other. But we are family. Both my family and my machatumin lost many relatives in both pogroms and the war. It seems unfair to dissociate with living relatives.