Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why Did It Happen?

On Sun, Jan 3, 2010 at 1:43 PM,> wrote:  (name removed)

thank you for letting me ask you some questions. i read a book about the holocaust and wanted to learn more about it, if the questions are too personal, that's OK, i would appreciate any information you are comfortable telling me.

 Mimi and I read your blog I think it is good that your telling people what happened so people can know what happened.  I loved your blog you are a great writer.

1. why did the holocaust happen?
2. how did it affect your life?
3. do you sill have the earrings?

thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions,

XXXXXXXXXX (Name removed)

LOL. these are not easy questions to answer, some of them would take hours of time and smarter people than me have tried many times over in the last 50 years and still have not come up with the answer.

I am going to try and tackle this question, for you, from my perspective though.

The Holocaust happened because people let it happen.  

A man came to power who promised the people of Germany that all the troubles in their lives could and would be solved if they just elected him to be in charge.

They were difficult times in Germany back then.  After WWI,  Germany emerged quite broken and financially strapped.  The Treaty of Versailles (which was an agreement signed with France, Britain and America) stated that Germany had to pay reparations and reimburse the damages they had authored  for causing the war.  This impacted their economy to a very large extent.  The German's were also faced with the embarrassment of loosing the war, which was a very hard thing for a proud people like them to endure.

The ordinary person on the street was sometimes hungry and couldn't always find work nor could they afford the heavy burden of the taxation to repair most of Europe that had been destroyed during that war.

The promises this man made were very nice on the outside but to accomplish his agenda, he had to find a scapegoat for the people to blame.   He was a very cleaver man and a charismatic speaker.  To find his scapegoat, he dug deep into his own past.  Somewhere back in his younger years, he felt inadequate or belittled for his own Jewish heritage.

It was not a new concept, Jews have been persecuted , many times over in history, all the way back to Babylonia.  The King of Egypt banished the Jews in the Bible, Troy, Sparta, Alexander the Great, Spain, Russia and even Napoleon all tried to  annihilate the Jews all through history.

Jewish people realize that we are doomed to repeat this aggression against us time and again, as we are told by our elders.  We are the chosen people.  What we are chosen for is another story and one no one else asks but us.  We believe we were chosen to be a symbol to the world of how following G-d's laws reaps rewards.  When we forget who we are or think we can be like everyone else,  G-d steps in and reminds us that we are not so strong without him.

The man, who is named Hitler, began the process very slowly.  At first he made a few new laws that were just inconvenient to the Jews, like they couldn't go out at night or they couldn't send their children to certain schools.  Then, very slowly, he made more rules.  Jews couldn't sell their goods to others. Jews and Germans were not allowed to mingle,  mix or marry.

One day, he made a new law that Jews had to have special I.D. cards (cause they looked just like everyone else).  Then he made it a law that they had to wear a yellow star on their shirt so everyone else would know they were "different".

One day, he made a law that all Jews had to gather their things and prepare to move to labor camps.  Since they were such a nuisance by now, everyone was pretty happy with them being taken away.  So they began to disappear, 1st by their professions, the doctors, then the lawyers, next the teachers, and the merchants and finally a few strays were sent away.

Everything they left behind became the property of the German people and they were happy because they were reaping the goods from these absent people.

Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)
said it all quite elegantly in his well known quip:

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.

As a social study group, people are generally very passive.  We rarely speak out for others who are less fortunate than us, unless reminded, like at Christmas time.  We don't like to "get involved" if it isn't directly related to ourselves.  Human beings are very selfish that way.  We almost never share what we have nor do we actively seek out others who might be in distress.  Take as a perfect example the new phenomenon of voyeurism on T.V.  Reality TV is: us, watching them, do their thing and enjoying it, even when someone gets hurt.

There are a million stories of ordinary people who do and did get involved, even back then.  I wrote about one such person, Irena Sendler, in my blog a few months ago. Steven Speilberg made Oscar Schindler's story famous in his movie Schindler's List.  Marlene Dietrich, a well known German actress at that time, risked her own fame and fortune to sneak out many Jewish refugees under the guise as her entourage when she visited the US.  It was the biggest joke of the 3rd Reich,

"Marlene, how do you manage to loose so many of your employees every time you visit the US to make a movie?  Are you so bad to them?".

There are more, many more. unique, exceptional people, who felt that the world was not right and tried, in their own small ways, to help out.  Maybe they are not all so famous as the ones I have mentioned but they are precious, everyone of them.  In Hebrew, we call them "The Righteous Ones".  They are forever honored for their personal sacrifice and unselfish commitment to what is right and to humanity.

So, to sum up my theory of why the Holocaust happened, I would have to say, when we stop being vigilant, when we think someone else can solve our problem for us, when we forget to clean our own house first and when we get lazy, there is someone out there who will gladly do it for us and happily sacrifice anything and everything that stands in their way to get their own selfish goals accomplished.

Which leads me to your second question, what have I learned or how did it effect my own life?  I have learned to be different and that it is OK to be so.  I have spent my life trying to let others know just what can happen when we let our guard down.  I have lived my life by the golden rule, Do onto others as you would have them do onto you..  I knew from the day I was born, that life is a gift and the only way to preserve it, is to give back.  It's fine to remember others on holidays, but to remember the suffering of others everyday is our purpose in life.

I am a big mouth, sometimes a very niggling, inconvenient itch, a problem, a protector of the weak, a fighter, a crusader, and a best friend.  I rarely sugar coat anything,  I cry out in a loud voice,  I scream for those with no voice,  I listen when others turn a deaf ear, and I watch.   I don't believe everything I hear, see, touch or smell because I know that I can be deceived and I refuse to accept trite answers.

We all have a purpose in life.  If we do our best to make it easier on someone else less fortunate or ignorant, then we have accomplished our goal as a human being.  If we let nature takes it course, then we are no better than the other animals that inhabit this earth.

And finally, YES! honey, I do have the earrings that my great grandmother promised to my mother.  I wear them proudly when I live the lesson that came with them.  They arrived in the USA on January 3rd 1951.  They traveled from Russia, to Siberia, through Germany and finally to the shores of New York carefully wrapped in a piece of oilcloth.

My father told me the story of how he smuggled them out of Russia along with a few other precious items.  Both of my parents were prisoners in Siberia in the Gulag at the close of WWII.  They met then and married after both of them had lost their respective families.  The earrings were the only thing my mother had left of her family and to part with them would have killed her.  They were no longer pretty sparkly things, they were her symbol of truth and humanity, as her own grandmother had wanted them to be.

On the day they were to be traded back to Poland (my father being a Pole) they were told they could only carry one thing with them, a package of food for a day's journey.  When everything you have or had, has been taken from you, but for a few small possessions, how do you part with even them?  The other prisoners gathered at the train station, each with a small basket of food they were allowed to carry.  

My own parents approached too.  In my father's hand was also a basket of food.  He had dug up the foulest things he could find, rotten eggs, a soured potato, moldy bread and spoiled stew.  He mixed everything all up into an awful paste and filled the basket with the gruel.  At the bottom of the basket lay a small package, wrapped in oilcloth that contained a few pictures, a few documents, a pair of earrings and his watch (this is another story all by itself).

Everyone laughed at my father.  What an idiot he was, they thought.  Obviously he and my mother would probably starve on the day's trip to Poland.  This idiot did not deserve any sympathy and no one offered to share their food with my parents either.

The train finally left the station, everyone settled in as best as they could.  The night air was cold, crisp and the snow glistened by the moon's light.  At the border to Poland, the Russian soldiers entered the train for a last inspection.  The cries of some passengers could be heard as they took their last breath from a gunshot wound administered by the soldiers, when they found some contraband on them.

My father looked out the window and saw the snow was sparkling even more brightly.  As he looked closer, he realized that the shine was coming from diamonds, diamonds that some woman had thought she could smuggle through the border and thinking twice now, had tossed from the train to save her own life.

When a big smart looking soldier approached my own parents and asked to see their basket, my father handed it over.  The man opened the top and the stench of the rotten food raised up from the container.  He yelled at my dad, "Idiot  I am not sticking my hand into this foul mess!  Enjoy your meal old fool",  and he moved on.

Had the lady with the diamonds cared to share her dinner with my folks, she might have been saved her bounty.  Instead, she simply enjoyed a fairly sparse meal with herself.  See what happens when you hoard?

I hope I have answered your questions, I hope even more so that I have given you something much more special than an answer... maybe a way to think as you grow up and look at the world through your own eyes...


  1. Thank so much for taking the time to write this for my 10 yr old Granddaughter. You have given her far more than a book report. I know she will have you in her heart forever.<<<as I do.

    Jo Ann

  2. Bravo! That's the lesson I have learned in my studies of the Holocaust and in my observations on life: things happen because people ALLOW them to happen!

    Over the course of a few years, people acted like sheep, and began to hate their Jewish neighbors at the instigation of those in governmental authority and even members of clergy! So many social experiments have proved this fatal human flaw (like the famous brown eye vs. blue eyed students experiment). People will often gradually, then eagerly fall into a prejudice in an attempt to make themselves feel higher in class or accepted by the majority of mankind.

    We have to stand up for what is moral and right and speak up for our brothers and sisters on this planet! If the masses had banded together to prevent this mass murder we wouldn't be reading about it or hearing the first person accounts of the unbelievable nightmares foisted upon the Jews and any who spoke up for them.

    And what a brilliant pair of parents you had! How sad that anyone would try to prevent them from having the few remaining sentimental possessions to carry along as they began their life again! No doubt hunger was something they were used to, but their hearts were full of joy knowing they had their memories with them for the duration!

    Thank you so much for sharing these personal stories. There are so many people who still refuse to believe in the Holocaust, yet genocides occur presently? And who is speaking out?

  3. Exceptionally well said and thanks you guys...

  4. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
    A lot of people that went through the Holocaust don't really like to talk about it all. Thought it may be hard for you to talk about it, it is good for you to tell your story and let your voice be heard.

  5. I thank you for sharing these memories. I feel closer to my Mother when I hear them. She told stories of how it was in Germany during the war. One of her "pet peeves" was censorship of any kind. She was a young girl when she watched him burn books that contradicted his philosophy.

    I like that you pointed out that at first he seemed to be a good thing. He was careful and by the time the people realized the truth it was too late. By then you feared for your life and the life of your family should you put a voice to any doubts.

    Americans will insist that a similar thing could never happen here but in some ways it already has.