Tuesday, May 03, 2005

In advance of Yom Hashoah

In 2003 Silflay Hraka began posting Holocaust pictures (marked "War Pool Photos, Not For Use In British Isles, France, Or Western Hemisphere") that his father found in a WWII-era filing cabinet. Here's the first post in the series.

I've just read his recent post on Friar Victor and wanted to share it with you. The accompanying photo was taken in April 1945, in the German town of Schwarzenfeld. It shows long rows of caskets. The bodies in the caskets are those of murdered Jews exhumed from a pit found at the edge of town. The people in attendance are from the town. From Hraka's post:
Friar Victor Koch ... saved the town from destruction after American forces discovered the mass grave ...

[Father Viktor convinced the American commander] to spare the town under one condition. He ordered Schwarzenfeld's citizens to exhume corpses buried on the town's outskirts, wash them, clothe them in donated garments, construct caskets, and give each victim a proper burial, all in 48 hours. If the townspeople failed to achieve this task, he intended to re-issue orders for Schwarzenfeld's destruction.

To complicate matters, wood and nails--the construction materials needed to construct caskets--were scarce. However, the people of Schwarzenfeld were resourceful. The children knew of a local barn where old horseshoes were in plentiful supply, and they quickly proceeded to gather as many as they could find. Later, the nails were hammered back into shape, and then used to construct the coffins. Every man, woman, and child in the town participated in this effort...
I was dumbstruck by the idea of the townspeople forced to confront, face to face, one by one, every Jew that had been killed, forced to provide each a modicum of dignity after death.

I've participated in our local Yom Hashoah programs, created by Yiddish professor Sheva Zucker and local activist Ron Grunwald, for decades. Each year they invite a Holocaust survivor to come share his or her first-hand experience. Every the year the speaker is older. And now, only those who were young children during the War are still healthy and strong enough to visit us and tell their stories. Their elders are gone.

Eventually all the witnesses will be gone. If some dare to say the Holocaust was a myth even in the face of first-hand testimony from living survivors and soldiers and Nazis, what will happen when the witnesses are dead?

Read more at the website of the excellent Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Some survivors created Yizkor books which commemorated the dead, and their home towns and communities destroyed during the war; a few are online here. A list of Holocaust links here. And thanks to Silflay Hraka for making these rare photographs available.

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At 2:25 PM, Anonymous QC said...

I'm here via the Blog Showcase site...this entry really struck me. Several years ago, I had a conversation with a survivor of the Holocaust. I shook his hand. I cried afterwards. I will never, ever be the same.

I refuse to forget, and once he's old enough to learn more about it, I refuse to let my son forget.

Thanks for posting this.

At 10:36 PM, Anonymous colleen said...

I grew up in a big Irish Catholic family, but we all carry to this day the burden of the holocaust because my father, a WWII vet, was among those who freed Buchewald Concentration camp and we didn't get a whole father because of it. He suffered from PTSD and alcoholism because he was never the same after what he saw there. We were all made well aware of it. Thanks for the post. I scares me too what people can be made to beleive in this increasingly Orwellian world.


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