Residents share stories of holocaust survival


November 9, 2018, marks the 80th anniversary of ‘Kristallnacht.’

The word is German and translated to ‘night of broken glass.’

The meaning of the phrase refers to how the streets of cities all across Nazi Germany were filled with glass and debris as thousands of Jewish owned businesses and homes were burned to the ground.

As a remembrance of that terrible historical event, a number of holocaust survivors who are also Montgomery County residents agreed to share their memories of history’s darkest hours.

Many of today’s survivors were children when the holocaust began.

In 1944, the Nazis took over Hungary, which was the home of 8-year-old Emanuel Mandel.

Like many, his father entertained plans of escape.

“My father wanted to become a gentleman farmer in an orchard in Palestine” said Mandel. “The money that he had put away was invested in my uncle and my aunt’s tannery in Yugoslavia. One day, the Nazis came, took the tannery and everything else.”

Mandel was lucky. A lawyer named Rudolf Kastner struck a deal with Nazi officers, allowing 1,600 Jews to board a train for Switzerland and safety. But at one point, that train was diverted to the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

“I can’t understand how folks could do this to folks,” said Mandel. “I don’t care who they are. Man’s inhumanity to man, it’s beyond understanding.”

Mandel’s train spent six months at Bergen-Belsen, a place where over 50,000 Jews died.

74 years later, Mandel has become dismayed by the lack of holocaust and world war two education that today’s kids receive.

“The level of history, geography and intellectual curiosity about these things is abominable,” he said.

While Mandel managed to escape, Halina Peabody had to hide in plain sight.

In eastern Poland, she was 7 in 1939 when the Russians who at that point were in partnership with the Nazis invaded.

 “My father was told he was a spy but he was a dentist,” said Halina. “And therefore, he was given 20 years hard labor and sent off to Siberia.”

Halina, her mother and baby sister survived by falsifying papers which identified them as Catholics. But even then, they knew that anti-Semitic neighbors could sell them out to nearby Nazi death squads at any time.

 “We did what we had to, and hoped for the best. I was terrified, because i did not want to die,” said Halina.

The Peabody family survived the war. Halina’s father escaped Russia, and Halina later lived in Israel. But these days, she has major concerns about the revival of hyper-nationalistic movements at home and abroad.

Poland is going that way after Hungary, and this is something that we need to fight with. I think America is a big country, and hopefully enough people will understand what is happening,” said Peabody.

By the time Louise Lawrence-Israels was born in the Netherlands in 1942, the Nazis had begun deporting Jews to death camps like Auschwitz.

“My father found an attic in the middle of Amsterdam where we were ordered to go to by the Nazis, and that is where we went for almost three years,” said Louise.

While some Dutch collaborators were happy to help root out Jews in hiding, Louise and her family lived a semblance of a normal life.

“We must have had really good Dutch people living below us, because they never betrayed us,” said Louise.

For three years, the family stayed indoors until the Canadians came with liberation in 1945.

“They pulled Hershey bars out of their pockets and gave each my brother and myself a Hershey bar,” said Louise. “The first time you eat chocolate, you forget a lot of things. It just makes you happy.”

Though their stories differ, they are all survivors who have worked with the Holocaust Museum to preserve their stories to ensure that others never again have to repeat them.

These interviews and thousands of others that had been gathered since 1945 reveal a dark truth about the holocaust, namely that it’s perpetrators went well beyond just Hitler’s Germany.

The systematic elimination of Jews was aided by tens of thousands of Nazi sympathizers across nearly every European nation, most notably France, the Ukraine and Poland.

A great deal of the interviews and images that were collected as part of this report were made possible by Professor Kenneth Jassie and the “Portraits of Life: exhibit that was held this year at the Montgomery College Rockville campus.

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