The Holocaust is really too big and too dark to fathom. It’s larger than life, larger than death, even larger than evil. The human mind can’t quite comprehend an evil that wants to destroy a whole race of humans — and succeeds in destroying about a third of it.
In the summer of 1993, my father and I visited the site of the extermination camp of Belzec in eastern Poland, where my grandparents were among half a million Jews murdered by the Nazis in 1942.
The Swiss government knew about the Nazi program to wipe out Jews in 1942 -- earlier than previously known -- documents publicized by a Swiss television station suggest. A report aired by the German-language station SRF on Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, said the government was aware of German leader Adolf Hitler’s extermination plan and the existence of German concentration camps as early as 1942, the year that Germany decided on its so-called “final solution” for the Jews.
In her solo show, “Silent Witnesses,” Stephanie Satie portrays four women, all childhood survivors of the Holocaust, who share their stories as a celebration of the human spirit. The idea for the play, which will be staged on Sept. 20 at the South Pasadena Library, came to Satie when she was performing at a fundraiser for Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles.
From the upstairs bedroom she shared with four girls, Sonja Blits heard the soldiers marching through the quiet village of Zaandijk, outside Amsterdam, where she was being hidden by a generous Dutch family. "Remember, stay below the windowsill," Moe Haidel, the other girls' mother, reminded her. But, drawn to the unusual noise, Sonja stood up and peeked through the curtain. Her eyes fixed on the SS troops' black boots making clicking noises on the brick street. That sound continued to haunt her.
Gitta Seidner -- known at the time by the Christian name Jannine Spinette -- was abruptly awakened around 4:30 a.m. by a large commotion outside her farmhouse bedroom in Waterloo, Belgium. "No, no, no. What do you want with my goddaughter?" she heard her godmother, Alice Spinette, say. SS soldiers then kicked open the door and pulled the crying girl from her bed. "She's not Jewish," Alice insisted. The soldiers didn't listen. They ordered Alice to get Gitta dressed and drove them to SS headquarters in Brussels.
For the first time, some survivors of Nazi-era ghettos are eligible for a one-time payment from the so-called Ghetto Fund in addition to the pensions they receive from the German government.
Despite the generation gap, many of today's grandchildren of survivors find they can't shake the feeling that their safe, normal world might end unexpectedly at any time. These youth, dubbed the Third Generation or Three Gen by people in the Holocaust community, share a common bond that is even more pronounced in their parents, the children of survivors -- those born in 1945 or later -- who are known as the Second Generation or Two Gen.
More than 60 years after the Holocaust, the descendants of survivors continue to be undeniably and deeply shaped by an event that preceded their birth. Together they share a unique upbringing that many say is both an onus and an inspiration.
A network of volunteers from many of the nation's leading law firms, recruited through a Los Angeles initiative, is helping to write what appears to be the last chapter in the long and contentious history of reparations to Holocaust victims.
As a teenager in Ukraine, Yakov Margulis worked every day except Saturday from morning until dark. During the summer, he toiled long hours on a farm. In winter, he repaired machinery.
"In exchange for work, they gave me food to eat," Margulis says.
Museum launches service for Holocaust archive searches
There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Holocaust survivors living in Los Angeles, according to Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon. Of these, 3,000 are determined to be financially needy, a figure based on a United Jewish Communities Report published December 2003, which found 25 percent of Holocaust victims in the United States living in poverty.
Galina's renewed sense of hope for her future -- for the chance to relax and to read and memorize her beloved poems about Victory Day -- comes as a result of the work of comedy director/producer Zane Buzby and the Survivor Mitzvah Project, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that brings direct financial assistance to about 700 elderly and ill Holocaust survivors in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Lithuania.
By this point in the summer, I know that my devoted Tommywood readers are all wondering the same thing -- be they sitting by the pool at the Sociét? des Bains de Mer in Monte Carlo, on their yachts sailing off the coast of Turkey or schvitzing in their New York apartments or Los Angeles homes.
They all want to know: How is he going to come up with another column about Hungarians?
On Sunday, April 17, hundreds of Holocaust survivors from around the world, along with their children and grandchildren, gathered on the site of the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen to observe the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
Lucian Ludwig Kozminski was -- or maybe is -- a man convicted of swindling some 3,000 of his fellow Holocaust survivors, who did time in federal prison and died in 1993, according to his death certificate.
Ordinarily, this would end the sordid tale of a man who preyed on his own people. Instead, it is only the beginning of a mystery, full of intrigue and skullduggery, which America's Most Wanted (Fox) will telecast on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 9 p.m. under the title, "The Holocaust Swindler."
"I have all these weird mixed feelings about my new play," Neil Goldman said.
As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, he wrote "A Candle for the Last," about the last living survivor, to do his part for Holocaust remembrance.
"But at the same time, there's the 'by Neil Goldman' aspect to it," Goldman, a staff writer for NBC's "Scrubs," said, sheepishly.
"Here I am doing a newspaper interview," he said. "Meanwhile, my grandmother is proud I've written a play, and she thinks Steven Spielberg should come see it. But did I subconsciously write it for that reason?"
The two men walk as one -- in steady step, shoulder to shoulder, their words a torrent of Yiddish.
There is much to catch up on since the former neighbors and schoolmates last met. That was more than 60 years ago, when the transports, fear and separations that characterized Jewish life during World War II reached their Polish hometown.
At many nursing homes and other senior residences, a visit from some friendly canines during "pet therapy" is a welcome source of comfort and cheer. But while the furry companions bring smiles and laughter to the majority of residents, they can be a source of terror to aging Holocaust survivors who suffer from post-traumatic stress or Alzheimer's disease.
Holocaust survivors and Jewish organizations have reacted with anger and disappointment to Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California law that required European insurance companies to disclose information about all their Holocaust-era policies.
Time is running out for survivors of Nazi ghettos to apply for retroactive German pensions, a German advocacy group warned.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice took a stand against the best interests of the most aged, infirm and vulnerable of Holocaust survivors.
Seemingly without shame, the federal government filed briefs arguing that significant court victories for long-forgotten survivors should be overturned.
While Republicans swept in the national elections, with the GOP reclaiming the Senate and retaining their majority in the house, in California, Democrats made a strong showing, winning every statewide office.
Holocaust survivors in California will no longer have to pay up to 12 percent of their reparation payments in wire transfer fees charged by five banks.
In a tribute to eight of its members, among them Holocaust survivors, a rabbi and two doctors, the Jewish National Fund will hold a 100th anniversary dinner Sept. 19 at the Hyatt Regency in Long Beach. The honorees include:
A grant of $120,000 over three years from the newly established PIMCO Foundation will help Orange County's Jewish Family Service (JFS) expand its services to about 45 elderly Holocaust survivors who reside locally.
It was meant to be the "not Wagner" concert: Daniel Barenboim, the pride of Israeli music-lovers, conducting his Berlin orchestra, the Staatskapelle, on the last night of this year's Israel Festival. Little did we know.
A foundation to aid needy Holocaust survivors in California, funded through a $4.2-million check from three Dutch insurance companies, was formally established last week by state officials, Jewish organizations and survivors.
Payments from a $1.25 billion settlement reached last year with several Swiss banks will start reaching Holocaust survivors by the second half of next year, according to the executive director of the World Jewish Congress.