Remembering Those Lost In The Holocaust

Seeing as yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 71st anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, it is only fitting that we take some time to remember those whose lives were so tragically taken away, all too soon. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to listen to Michael Marder, a Holocaust survivor, share his personal story yesterday afternoon. This incredible man was able to survive nine different concentration camps, but unfortunately, no one in his immediate family had such luck.

Hearing Michael Marder tell his story reminded me of just how important it is to continue to share such stories so that we never forget about the atrocities that took place not too long ago. And with that, I’d like to introduce you to part of the Gottheim family. The woman in the photo is my great aunt (my grandmother’s mother’s sister), and pictured alongside her is her husband and three children. Unfortunately, they were never given the opportunity to tell their names, so all I have is a last name to go off of.

The Gottheims lived in Poland, but upon hearing of a potential German invasion, they made the necessary plans to make the trip to America by boat. When they arrived to the docks, each member of the family was inspected to make sure that they were in good enough condition to travel. However, as it turns out, one of the children had an ear infection and wasn’t allowed to board the ship. The father told the mother to take the other two children to America, and he would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The mother refused, and instead suggested that the father take the other two children to America, and she would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The father also refused, and the general consensus was to wait it out together, and make the trip as a family, once the child got better.

Unfortunately for the Gottheims, the German invasion came sooner than they had expected, and the family was murdered in their home before they were able to escape to America.

11 million people were killed during the Holocaust, 1.1 million of whom were children. 6 million of these individuals were Jewish, and others who were targeted and murdered include persons with disabilities, people from the LGBTQ community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma, Slavs, political opponents, and plenty others. So many of these people died without their stories being told, which means to us, they will sadly forever be nameless and faceless. Like the Gottheims, millions of lives were cut short, and who knows what kind of greatness these people could have gone on to achieve?

One would think that we have since learned from the Holocaust, but it was not the first act of genocide to take place in the world, and unfortunately, it was not the last. If we do not remember the atrocities that were carried out just a few decades ago, we will be bound to have history repeat itself. We must never forget the Holocaust, and we must always speak up whenever we see any one person or any group of people being targeted by others. We owe this to the Gottheims, to all of the people who perished during the Holocaust, and to the survivors like Michael Marder who have dedicated their lives to spreading the word about the inhumane treatment they endured.

Martin Neimöller, a well-known pastor once exclaimed:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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Day 1 In Budapest, Hungary Continued

After our morning tour of the city, we had an afternoon tour based on the Jewish heritage of Budapest and our first stop was to the Dohány Street Synagogue. The synagogue is named after its location, Dohány Street, which translates to tobacco street since there used to be a lot of tobacco production in the area. This was by far the most beautiful synagogue I had ever seen, and it’s actually the largest Jewish Temple in Europe, and the second largest in the world, falling short of Temple Emanu-El in New York by one inch.

During the Holocaust, all of the prayer books in the temple were destroyed by 25 Torah scrolls were saved by two priests who took them one night. The priests put the Torah scrolls into plastic bags, buried them in their garden, and returned them to the temple after the war. Thanks to these two priests, holy scriptures were saved and a major part of the temple had been restored after a terrible time in history.

Hungary was actually the last country to be occupied in World War II, and by the time this happened, the rest of the world had already been informed what was going on. Because the details of the Holocaust were known to the rest of the world, there was no time for strategic planning or paperwork to be completed on how to exterminate the Hungarian Jews, so the Jewish residents of Hungary were forced to walk to the concentration camp.

Outside of the temple, we came across an elegant little shop run by this cute, little elderly woman who was selling handmade Jewish crafts and goods. We were told that this elderly woman, Lucy Brown was actually a Holocaust survivor. Lucy was a teenager when she, her mother, and sister were taken with the other women from their town on a march, led by the Arrow Cross Army. As they were marching towards the Danube River (where the Jews would be shot and thrown into the River), a street cleaner opened up a gate to clean the grounds behind the gate. Lucy grabbed her mother and sister, and ran through the gate, and fortunately enough, the Arrow Cross leader didn’t notice. Lucy ripped off the yellow stars from their shirts, and the three of them went into hiding until the end of the war, thanks to gentile neighbors and friends of theirs. Because of Lucy’s courage, she saved herself, her mother, and her sister.

After walking through the immaculate Dohány Street Synagogue and meeting Lucy, we walked to a Jewish Museum next door which was built over an apartment building where Theodore Herzl, the visionary behind modern Zionism and the reinstitution of a Jewish homeland was born. One of the first artifacts we came across was a bench where the Rabbi would sit to perform a Brit Milah, or circumcision on newborns, which is customary in the Jewish religion. The two seats on the bench are for the Rabbi and for the prophet, Elijah. One of the ways that the Nazis would know if a male was Jewish during the Holocaust was to see if he was circumcised. So even if you had paperwork stating that you’re not Jewish, the Nazis would force you to pull your pants down, and if they saw that you were in fact circumcised, they would kill you on the spot. For this reason, many parents in Budapest are afraid to circumcise their children out of fear of what might happen in the future.

We then came across a scroll that shows a dying man with a Rabbi because it is said that you cannot die until you complete your studies, so the angel of death cannot get to the sick person because he is still learning in the picture. Years ago, the mafia in the area stole everything from the museum, with hopes of profiting from the sales of these ancient artifacts. No one in Budapest could figure out who the thief was until the members of the mafia were caught trying to sell the artifacts. The only item they didn’t take was the Menorah pictured below because it was too heavy.

I hate to split up this one day into yet another blog post, but there was so much rich history that we learned about in Budapest, so the remainder of the city’s Jewish heritage tour will have to be continued!