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Introduction
The purpose of this Manual
What is the Holocaust?
Caring for Aging Survivors
The Child Survivors
Acknowledgements

 
What is the Holocaust?
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Paula David, MSW, Coordinator, Holocaust Resource Project, Baycrest Centre

The term Holocaust refers to the extermination of six million Jews during the Nazi era (1933-45). Nazi policy was to systematically and meticulously to erase the Jewish race while the world stood by and did nothing to stop it. Every Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe - which included all European countries except England and Sweden - was doomed to die.

Hitler's war against the Jews consisted of three distinct stages, beginning with the Nazi Party's rise to power in 1933 and the first stage of "The Final Solution of the Jewish Question". This stage of persecution lasted until the onset of World War II in 1939. There were strict laws for Jewish people. Jews were ousted from civil-service positions, deprived of their livelihood, and prevented from attending public schools.
The middle phase of the destruction of Europe's Jewry began with the Nazi conquest of Poland on September 1, 1939, and lasted until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Jews were made into outcasts of society and interned in ghettos, where they were isolated from the rest of the population during this period of violence and murder. Thousands died daily as the result of being overworked as slave labour for German war industries, and also because of severe overcrowding, substandard sanitary conditions, diseases, cold, beatings and torture, constant hunger and starvation and medical experimentation.

The last stage of the "Final Solution" began in 1941 after Germany invaded the Soviet Union and lasted until the end of the war in May 1945. This period was marked by liquidation of the ghettos, mass executions, and deportations to death camps which affected Jews from all countries in Nazi-occupied Europe. With the massive destruction of European Jewry came the demise of the 1,000-year-old East European Jewish civilization. Entire Jewish communities were wiped out and their culture lost. Gone forever were Jewish homes, synagogues, commercial and educational institutions.
Who are the Survivors?

Holocaust Survivors are Jews who survived the "Final Solution" and outlived the Nazi extermination program. They were miraculously found alive by the allied liberation forces in 1945. While many Survivors had experienced internment in Nazi concentration camps and death camps, there were other hellish environments from which Survivors emerged at the time of liberation. These included hiding places, sometimes not larger than a closet in an apartment or a haystack in a barn. Others survived by hiding and living in forests as partisan fighters. Some managed to stay alive by concealing their identities and trying to pass as non-Jews or Gentiles. Recognition is given to those courageous 'Righteous Gentiles' who literally risked their lives and their families' lives by hiding Jews or providing them safe harbour.

Of the nearly 8.9 million Jews living in Europe prior to World War II, it is estimated that just 400,000 to 500,000 survived after living in ghettos, being hidden, or working in slave labour camps. It is estimated that no more than 75,000 European Jews survived life in the Nazi concentration camps.
Mrs. B.'s Story

Mrs. B. was one of 12 children who grew up in Viersbenik, Poland. Her family lived in this small town with a few dozen other Jewish families along side the Poles. Most of her siblings moved to North America in the 1930s. Mrs. B. married in 1937. On September 1, 1939, she was working in her store when the Germans invaded Poland. Bombs were dropped on her town and one landed next to her store. Mrs. B. remembers German soldiers marching through the streets and looting stores, including hers. She lived in a Jewish ghetto until 1942. After that she worked for two years in a sawdust mill on a machine that made stretchers for German soldiers.

Mrs. B. gave birth to a son in 1941. When her son was one-and-a-half, a young Polish girl came to her house and said, "What a beautiful child." Mrs. B. replied, "You like him, take him," knowing that the child would not survive if he remained with her. He was taken 60 miles through the forest but cried so loudly, he was given away to a Polish beggar. The toddler was left in a park, and was found - cold and hungry - by a policeman who took him to an orphanage at a church.
Mrs. B.'s Story - continued

In mid 1944, Mrs. B. was deported to Starachowice where fellow inmates were forced to dig their own graves. Her life was spared and in August, she was deported again -- to Auschwitz. At selection, she learned that she had been placed in a line of those to be gassed. She survived only by leaving her place in this doomed line and joining a different line of prisoners. In late 1944, she walked hundreds of miles in the snow to the camp at Bergen Belsen where she was badly beaten.

Mrs. B. was liberated on April 15, 1945. She learned that her husband had joined a partisan group of 421 fighters and was one of 402 people killed in the forest. The Nazis also murdered her parents and one sister.

After the war, she was reunited with her son who was by then six years old. 6. Mrs. B. recognized him because of a scar and a wart. She married her second husband in 1946, came to Canada in 1948 and gave birth to a second son in 1951.