The Nazi Holocaust is one of the most dreadful and infamous events in history – and of the most important ways to remember it is through survivor testimonies. Here, Amy Kim discusses the importance of survivor testimony of genocide in the context of the Holocaust and her own experience of meeting a former Korean comfort woman from the time of the Japanese invasion of Korea.

Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz concentration camp in summer 1944. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3., available  here .

Hungarian Jews arriving at Auschwitz concentration camp in summer 1944. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA 3., available here.

The dread in my heart when I listened to Holocaust survivor HannsLoewenbach recountbeing identified on the streets of Berlin byan SS officer (and formerclassmate) is a feeling no history textbook can induce. The uniqueness of each survivor’s testimony allows us to present the tragedy of the Nazi Holocaust in the most compelling and lasting way, allowing readers to attempt to conceptualize its historical singularity and unthinkable horrors.Survivor testimonies provide painful but historically essential information no other sources could ever reveal. Though rightly considered “singular,” there is nevertheless an increasingly terrifying danger of a recurrence of genocidal ethnic violence, making it crucial to teach and learn the Holocaust through survivors’ accounts.

 

Loewenbach’s testimony

In his testimony, Loewenbachdescribes the discriminationthat began long before Hitler’s rule:he remembers being beaten upin publicby 10 classmates just for being Jewishwhilethe rest of the student body looked on passively. After Hitler took power and began stripping Jews of rights and then deporting them to concentration camps, Loewenbach made the desperate decision to swim across the icy Baltic waters to Denmark to plead for protection. As soon as he reached these shores, however, a Danish officer confronted him and told him to swim back to Berlin, threatening that he would otherwise be turned over to German officers - a fate that meant certain death. 

Though pedagogically, and therefore politically, indispensable, the powerful effects of survivor testimony by no means exclusively serve students. If Loewenbach had not decided to speak up, historians themselves might never have known this specific detail about life in Nazi Germany and its surrounding polities. Neither could historians have otherwise divined Loewenbach’s incredulity when a German officer asked him, “Aren’t you happy?” when offered a spot in the German Army, or similar surprise when his former classmate-turned SS officer offered to forge a passport for him instead of turning him in.

 

Survivor Testimonies

The accumulation of Holocaust survivor testimony not only fills an objective lacunae in the historical record, but also helps preserve politically necessary examples of this atrocity in order to prevent its recurrence. If revisionist historians value “official” records and secondary sources shorn of emotion over primary sources because they presume that survivor testimonies are “unreliable” and “trauma-based,” they are failing to employ the most vivid and effective method to record the Holocaust, a catastrophe whose memory must be preserved to ensure a brighter future. In addition, especially because survivors often recount feeling fearful of revealing their histories, we must be especially proactive in seeking out and preserving their testimonies. Loewenbach famously said “Evil does not need your hate, just your indifference” after first encountering Elie Wiesel, a fellow Holocaust survivor and acclaimed author of Night. In turn, Wiesel told Loewenbach that they must speak out about the Holocaust for those whose lives were taken and could not speak for themselves. 

I vividly remember therainy day in May of 2017 when I had the privilege of interviewing a former Korean comfort woman, who had beenforced into sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation of Koreaduring the Second World War. Her name was Yi Ok-Seon. Yi had also initially hidden her past, avoidingpersonal shame (and blame)by concealingher victimizationby Japanese military officers. Like Loewenbach, however, she could not endure the possibility that victimslike her might be erased fromhistory, ultimately inspiringher to speak out at countless conferences and commemorations, in addition to me, a high schoolerworking on a humbledocumentary. I still remember the atmosphere in the room weighingdown on me and the angst in her voice as she said, “We are all over the age of 90, and all we want is for the Japanese to listen and apologize.”

In studying historical events, students often empathize with past plights using relatable personal experience, but this is rarely the case for genocide or the Holocaust. For the average student, it is difficult to understand the unique horrors of the Holocaust when our access is primarily through secondary sources - including competing popular media narratives. Only survivor testimonies capture emotions and humanity of the very people who endured those horrors and thereby facilitate an unmediated, empathetic response from students. It is time for us to realize that in considering the pedagogical and political reasons for preserving primary source testimony, we must not overlook the psychological imperativeto hear the voices of the tortured and the dead. The preservation ofsurvivor testimonynot only enriches the learningof history throughoriginal accounts that offer a genuine connection across generations, but also preserve the voices of past martyrs providing, a priceless tool for building a better future.

 

What do you think of the importance of survivor testimonies of genocides? Let us know below.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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The Holocaust has left its mark as one of the darkest moments in history. However, even during the darkest of times, there was still love. Here, Casey Titus tells us about a love story between a Nazi concentration camp prisoner and an SS Guard at Auschwitz.

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  Helena Citronova (left) and Franz Wunsch (right) fell in love at Auschwitz.

Helena Citronova (left) and Franz Wunsch (right) fell in love at Auschwitz.

In September 1935, the Reichstag (the parliament during the Third Reich) voted unanimously to for the passing of the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, otherwise known as the Nuremberg Laws that not only excluded German Jews from Reich citizenship but from marrying or having sexual relations with people of “German or related blood.”

Persons accused of having sexual relations with non-Aryans faced public humiliation and those convicted were “typically sentenced to prison terms, and (subsequent to 8 March 1938) upon completing their sentences were re-arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Nazi concentration camps.”

Even with the punishments for forbidden affection severe, especially for Nazi soldiers, that was not enough to stop Auschwitz SS officer Franz Wunsch from falling in love with a Jewish Slovakian prisoner named Helena Citronova. Across the world, Auschwitz concentration camp has become a symbol of genocide, terror, war, and the Holocaust.

However, after 70 years, PBS in America as well as an Israeli television brought to life the forbidden romance story between an SS guard and a Jewish prisoner at Auschwitz that highlighted the complexity of human relationships in the most horrifying of world events.

In 1942, Franz Wunsch was serving as a 20-year old SS guard in charge of the gas chambers of Auschwitz. On his birthday, March 21, his Nazi comrades brought in a Jewish girl, Helena Citronova, to sing him birthday songs. Helena was imprisoned at Auschwitz from Slovakia and was forced to sort all of the incoming prisoners’ belongings before they were shipped to Berlin to fuel the Nazi war efforts.

Helena and her sister Rozinka had both been sentenced to die in the gas chambers earlier that very day so Helena attempted to sing the very best she could, melting the heart of the SS guard. When Wunsch realized she wouldn’t be alive the next day, he hurried and managed to postpone the execution of both sisters.

Helena would say years later in Israel, “When he came into the barracks where I was working, he threw me that note. I destroyed it right there and then, but I did see the word "love" — "I fell in love with you". I thought I'd rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. For a long time afterwards there was just hatred. I couldn't even look at him.”

Over time, though unclear of exactly when, Helena succumbed to her feelings for Franz, especially after her SS devotee rushed to prevent her sister and her sister’s children from being sent to the gas chambers.

“'So he said to me, "Tell me quickly what your sister's name is before I'm too late." So I said, "You won't be able to. She came with two little children." Helena later recalled.

'He replied, "Children, that's different. Children can't live here." So he ran to the crematorium and found my sister.'

Helena admitted she had slept with her rescuer and at times had even forgotten who he was and came to terms with the romance. Wunsch would provide Helena with food, clothing, and protection. Though their relationship would not develop any further, Helena would repay him years later for risking his life to protect a Jewish prisoner on the pain of death.

When the war ended, the SS guards fled the Allied advance, even destroying parts of the concentration camps to cover their war crimes. Helena and her sister Rozinka attempted to return home with other displaced people through an Eastern Europe that contained violent and raping Soviet soldiers. Both sisters avoided being raped when Rozinka claimed to be Helena’s mother and defended her. Following the founding of Israel in 1948, Helena moved there while Franz returned to Austria.

Thirty years following Nazi Germany’s defeat and the end of World War II, in 1972, Wunsch was put on trial in Vienna, accused of being cruel towards prisoners by beating men and women alike and operated at the gas chambers to insert the lethal gas. Testimonies include camp survivors describing Wunsch as a “natural Jew hater” and sometimes participated in the selection of inmates all over occupied Europe to live or die. With more than enough evidence for the guilty verdict, life imprisonment and death most likely would have awaited him.

In a twist of events, Helena and her sister defended Wunsch at his trial. Even with ‘an overwhelming evidence of guilt’ as the judge commented in Wunsch’s participation in the Nazi’s largest concentration camp’s mass murder, Wunsch was acquitted of all charges due to the statute of limitations over war crimes in Austria.

“Desire changed my brutal behavior,” Wunsch said. “I fell in love with Helena Citronova and that changed me. I changed into another person because of her influence.”

 

Citronova died in 2005. Wunsch died in 2009.

 

Share your thoughts on this article below…

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
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Our image of the week is of Anne Frank, who was born on June 12, 1929.

 

Most of us know Anne Frank, the girl who hid with her family from the Nazis in Amsterdam for two years in an attic during World War II. Ultimately she was betrayed and sent to a concentration camp where she died. She is one of the better-known of the approximately six million victims of the Holocaust. Anne’s diary, The Diary of a Young Girl, was published after the war – and that in large part explains why she is so well known.

Anne is the image of the week in recognition that she was born on June 12 1929 – she would have been 85 today. Our image shows a smiling Anne standing against a wall with her shadow in the background. A warm but also incredibly poignant photo.

 

You can read an article from the blog entitled ‘The Face of Anne Frank and the Holocaust’ by clicking here.

Image source: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Anne-Frank/All-people/Anne-Frank

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

Samantha Jones presents a very personal view of the Holocaust and discusses the tragic story of Anne Frank.

 

My best friend and I have a strong interest in the Holocaust. Nothing macabre or flippant, but we cannot rid this disbelief that something like that could happen. For my friend`s Creative Arts Major work she focused upon survivors of the death camps, interviewing migrants at the Jewish Museum in Sydney. Aside from this, when I was much younger my mother surprised me with a trip to Amsterdam just to visit Anne Frank’s house, and on another trip while my friend and I were visiting Dachau, we heard on the radio that Miep Gies had passed away. Needless to say, we felt a small personal connection to the event, as ignorant as that may be. 

Anne Frank in 1942.

Anne Frank in 1942.

At the time, for us 18-year-old girls, Anne Frank was the face of the Holocaust. Her writing, so innocent and beautiful, was what we strived for and it mesmerized our minds throughout our adolescence. We were barely able to stomach the tragedy behind her story, always staring in disbelief at our own lives and our similarity in age. One day at the Jewish Museum, we met a survivor who shared barracks with Anne Frank at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp. Naturally, we were amazed that we were standing in front of someone who knew her. I mean imagine. The lady named Helen, calmly laughed and then said through her thick Austrian accent, “Yes girls, but there were others…”

For those of you who don’t know, Anne Frank and her family were Jews who hid from the Nazi persecution in Amsterdam. From 1942 to 1944 the Franks, with another family of three and a family friend, hid in an attic belonging to Anne’s father, Otto. For two years, the hiders never left the attic, never stepped outside, never felt fresh sunlight or breathed crisp air, instead watching the barbaric chaos unfold upon the streets they looked helplessly down on. Family and work friends, including Miep Gies, supplied the hiders with the things they needed; however someone found out and the hiders were arrested.

Anne entered the ‘Secret Annex’ when she was thirteen and began writing a diary during her confinement. When she was fifteen, Anne was taken with her family and sent to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, where she eventually died with her sister Margot.

Out of the eight hiders, only Anne’s father Otto survived, returning from Auschwitz to the lonely attic and Anne’s diary. Otto Frank published the diary in 1947, and Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl was eventually published in over 60 languages. Now the attic has been transformed into a museum, where tourists can go inside to see where the Franks hid, Margot and Anne’s growth marks on the wall, Anne’s bedroom and the diary itself, which surprisingly resembles a scrapbook. If you get anything out of this article, let it be this. Just go and read the diary.

 

A SYMBOL

Despite Anne’s diary becoming a piece of classic literature, she has also become one of the most notable faces that represent the millions upon millions of lives lost under Nazi persecution. Miep Gies, the secretary who denied she was a hero, resembles the perspective of Helen, the Austrian survivor in the Jewish museum. Anne was a remarkable writer certainly, but still an ordinary girl. What about the faces that have been forgotten? What about everyone else?

The idea of Anne Frank and Miep Gies being so ‘ordinary’, can be taken as a positive or negative. Ordinary people can change the world everyday. As Gies teaches us: “But even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room.” When we all see the world falling apart, we need inspiration like this to keep going. To stop and really think long and hard about every face, every family, every marriage, every child that had their lives robbed, we would not be able to get through the day. So maybe it is easier for us to idolize one face instead of millions. But as those that were there remind us, to forget others can be as dangerous and devastating as the tragedy itself.

History is biased and picky. It remembers what the writers of history want to remember, and remembering Anne Frank is no different. I mean no disrespect to her legacy by any means, she has inspired me in so many ways I cannot name them all. But does this come at a cost? I think we need to educate ourselves, listen to stories and dig deeper to fully understand something from the past. Otherwise, our understanding, and the idea of justice and truth is distorted, much like the events we study in the first place. Anne Frank leaves an amazing legacy. But as my Austrian teacher tells me, there were others too.

 

You can read an article related to Alice Herz-Somme, an incredible Holocaust survivor, by clicking here.

 

Finally, if you’d like others to know about this article, share it, tweet about it or like it by clicking on one of the buttons below.

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AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

We thought that this review should be about something really special, and then somebody suggested this amazing film.

Alice Herz-Somme is the oldest Holocaust survivor and an amazing pianist. The film, The Lady in Number 6, tells her story. But here, we’ll briefly explain her life.

Having been born in Prague in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1903, Alice went on to live an inspiring life – but not before her troubles. In the years before World War II, she gained a reputation as being a world-class pianist, and played with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. And that helped to save her and her son when they were sent to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp by the Nazis. Alice’s husband and mother were killed in Auschwitz; however, Alice’s music allowed her to play in concerts in the Concentration Camp.

After the war, Anna went back to a changed Prague. The Nazis had moved other people into her apartment and so she decided to move to the new country of Israel. She continued to play the piano, while her son became a cellist.

Later in life, at nearly 100, Alice moved to London in order to be close to her son. Alas tragedy struck again, but Alice has an incredible spirit. This film tells the story of her views on life, a woman that has suffered hardships that most of us can’t possibly imagine, but still has a very positive outlook. Here is an extended clip:

You can find out more about the film by clicking here.

 

And there is another of our reviews available here.  It's on Germany, Poland and the USSR.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones