November 2, 2006
Books: Kristallnacht’s memory revealed and recovered
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Her experience coincides with the history of her city, Radom; being young and strong, she is selected for forced labor rather than deportation to Treblinka, but by 1944, even her work camp becomes a concentration camp. It was more than a change of jurisdictions, more than a change of attitude. It soon became the ante-chamber to Auschwitz. Young and able, she survives selection and is at Auschwitz for four months, until she is transferred to Siemens Motors, which employed slave laborers to the very end of the war. Chiale describes the ties that bound one to life and the ties that endangered life at Auschwitz. She describes the hunger and the extent to which one would go to satisfy that hunger. She depicts -- but does not condemn -- those around her who traded favors for food or clothing. She did not abandon God even in God's absence, even when surrounded by the anti-God and anti-man at Auschwitz.
Like many survivors, her liberation brought no joy, only the realization of what was lost. Chiale is reunited with one of her brothers and with Joseph, the man she first met in the camps and with whom she discovers emotions she had not known.
Success in Germany follows, but at a steep cost; life in Germany is intolerable. How does one live in proximity of one's killers? So a new journey to a new land is required. Life reestablished, children brought into the world, Chiale -- now Helen -- had "survived survival." And then from 1982, the survivor became a witness, and in bearing witness, she found the reason for her survival. She narrated her story to her husband, Joseph Freeman, a local survivor from Pasadena and writer, who had written his own story earlier, "The Trilogy of Job," and who has devoted the last 25 years to teaching and lecturing on the Holocaust and writing of his experience. In the act of writing, he bore witness and endowed his survival with meaning. He wished to share that satisfaction with his wife of more than six decades before it was too late to write, too late to recall, too late to record.
The large story of the Holocaust is now known. The contours of what happened are discernible. But we still have time -- an all too limited time -- to recover the individual stories of the men, women and children -- victims and killers, rescuers and collaborators who lived this history. The discovery of the life of the victims give flesh to those who appear as skeletons, life to those who were to disappear into the abyss of anonymity as numbers and statistic.
The Museum of Tolerance will be hosting a discussion and book signing with Robert Satloff, one of America's leading Middle East experts, for an exploration of "The Nazi Holocaust in Arab Lands." Nov. 8, 8 p.m. 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P. required.
Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a professor of theology (adjunct) at the University of Judaism.