THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents

WALK IN MY SHOES

Collected Memories of the Holocaust

<<BACK

Each one of the millions of Jewish men, women and children who lived during the time of World War II and the Holocaust had their own unique experiences. The majority of them who then lived in Europe perished, never having the opportunity to tell their story to anyone after the war and the defeat of Nazi Germany. Those who did somehow survive the war were forced to bear the scars of their experiences, to try to come to terms with the horribly evocative memories of the deaths of family members and friends, and often the destruction of an entire Jewish community.

How these traumatic experiences manifested in those who survived post-war and beyond is an important question that needs to be addressed when trying to understand the psyche of the survivor. Some survivors have had the desire or felt the need to tell others their story, often with the explicit hope that their story might educate them by raising the consciousness of those who might read or hear their story, so that another holocaust would never occur again. Of course there are many, many survivors who prefer to keep these memories suppressed, and do not wish to talk about this horrible time in their lives. This is surely understandable. Many survivors though, have volunteered to talk in front of groups of interested people, to both Jews and non-Jews, to children and adults alike, in hopes of educating them.
 


Six-year-old war orphan with Buchenwald badge on his sleeve waits for his name to be called at roll call at Buchenwald camp, Germany, for departure for Switzerland. June 19, 1945. Pfc. G. A. Haynia. (Army)

Some survivors have chosen to write books about their experiences during the Holocaust (Shoah.) Others have consented to be interviewed by Holocaust-related organizations such as the Shoah Foundation, so that their story may be preserved for present and future generations. Though only in its infancy, the Museum of Family History has tried to do as much, conducting a small number of such interviews with survivors. The results of these interviews will presented on this website, mostly within this exhibition, with more to follow over time. This collection of memories is presented here in various forms--some purely in a narrative or conversational form, between the interviewer and interviewee. Others are in a summary form, and others yet are presented as excerpts (with permission of the author) from their own publication. When possible, short sound clips are presented along with the interviews in the hope that hearing the voice of the narrator-survivor will affect the viewer/listener in a way that just reading a story simply cannot do. Hopefully, video will be included as more interviews are presented to you in the future. Of course, the Museum welcomes others who have their own story to tell. Please do contact the museum and make arrangements for your own unique story to be entered into this ongoing exhibition.

As someone who has conducted a number of such interviews, I must say that I have been affected deeply by the people I have interviewed and the stories they had to tell. There is a certain "human element" that often escapes many of us when we choose to read a book about the Holocaust or look at a photo of what life was like in the many concentration camps. To be able to interact and ask questions of those who actually survived the Holocaust is an important and unique learning experience, one that could not be matched, e.g., by taking a college course on Holocaust studies. To get to know these people and listen attentively to their stories is the best way to learn and to feel for those who survived such a dark period in human history, and for me the experience has been truly worthwhile. I am honored that they believed me worthy, and were willing to share their stories with me, and through me with all of you.

As I've previously stated, I have been deeply affected by the stories I have heard, especially those told about life in the many concentration camps; about the crimes of man against his fellow man, the inhumanity that existed. I often can't help but visualize the events described to me during my conversations with some survivors-- the horror of prisoners having to run through a "gauntlet" of nail-laden clubs at Majdanek; the SS guards, the Kapos and others at Auschwitz, walking side by side every morning, sweeping through the camp, forcing those who stood in their path toward the hospital where the death trucks awaited them, ready to take them to the gas chambers. It was sometimes only by cleverness that many survived the camps, though often it was just a matter of chance or luck or being on one line or another or standing on the wrong side of the road.

It is rather a daunting task for someone like myself who was born into a free and open society to try to be eloquent about such a dark subject as the Holocaust, to write an introduction to an exhibition such as this. I can at least tell you that the purpose of this exhibition, for me at least, is to give voice to those who wish to speak to you, and to make available to you their recollections as they are made available to me. This is done all with the fervent hope that the many who will read these stories thoughtfully, will over time, encourage their children and grandchildren (when suitable) to know these survivors through their words, to "walk in their shoes," so to speak. They will see of course the tremendous weakness of character of those who oppressed the powerless; how so many could follow such a hateful ideology and impose such cruelties onto a people. They will, however, also see the beauty and strength of character of the Jewish people; not just how some managed to survive by their own cunning and guile, but also how so many parents who had so much love for their children, were willing to sacrifice themselves so that their children might live.

The stories as told by the Holocaust survivors displayed here are organized by country, i.e. the country of their birth. Some are single pages of testimony, while are comprised of multiple pages organized in chronological order. Some stories are presented here in part, with more to come in the near future. Whichever the case, what is presented here currently should be of great interest to many, and of course will probably be very powerful and emotionally evocative. That we may in some vicarious way "walk in their shoes" and share in the telling of their experiences that are so very personal to them, is an honor and a privilege.
 

From Shiku Smilovic, who had been imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald with his father until one fateful day:

"Father was very pessimistic about the whole situation. He told me that all the people from his barrack were being transferred from Buchenwald in order to make room for other incoming prisoners. I felt a cold shiver going through my bones. The Americans were already occupying part of western Germany; in only a few weeks the war would be over, and we would be free. Father took me around and hugged me for a while. I could feel his tears running down my neck and he said, "If you are spared I want you to tell the world about our destruction. And don't let the world ever forget the murder of the Jews!"

With a kiss on my forehead, he said goodbye, and walked away waving to me. I was left sitting on the ground in front of my barrack, dazed. I wanted to cry out and scream. I just sat and watched while dad was walking away towards his barrack and kept waving all along. The next day when I returned from work, I hurried to see father in his barrack, but he was gone. They were all removed the night before and taken away to a unknown destination."

 

Choose to read testimonies of survivors from any of the following countries:

Belarus

Hungary

Lithuania

Poland

Ukraine


Instructions
for optimal viewing of this exhibition:
--Left-click on any of the survivor portraits to be taken to their story. Their photographic portraits are placed on the individual country pages alphabetically by surname, on what might be called a "carte-de-visite", a style used by studio photographers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, roughly 2 by 3 1/2 inches in size.

--If you decide to listen to whatever sound clips are provided, please turn on your speakers and adjust their volume to a reasonable intensity. There are a few sound clips provided at present; more will be added in the future.

--The "exhibition" link provided on most pages at the top right under the exhibition banner will take you back to the exhibition introduction and the main links to the individual country pages, i.e. this page. Within an individual's story, the "back" and "front" links will take you through an individual's story, and once that story is complete, will bring you to the next story for that particular country, until all the stories for that particular country have been told.

--The links provided below will take you to the Museum's main Holocaust page and also its Holocaust links page.

--As stated previously, the exhibition is in a constant state of evolution and flux, so please revisit it monthly to see what more has been added.

 

 

 

Site Map            Holocaust Main Page            Feedback            Opportunities            Holocaust Links

 

Copyright 2007-10 Museum of Family History. All rights reserved. Image Use Policy