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Nazis targeted children, survivors say



“I can’t remember her face for some reason.” So said Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter of his pain at the fragmented memory of his twin sister, Sabine, who was murdered at Madjanek.

Gutter was one of six Holocaust survivors from around the world who spoke at the communal Yom Hashoah ceremony held online this year. The ceremony was held in collaboration with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, the South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation, and the Beau Bassin Jewish Detainees Memorial and Information Centre.

“We were born together; we lived together for 11 years. We shared the ghetto. We shared the same room together with our parents,” recalled Gutter. Gutter and his sister were born in Lodz, Poland, in 1932. He now lives in Toronto, Canada.

“When I saw her the last time, running towards my mother, I saw her beautiful braids. She had this long, blonde braid. We were both blonde and blue-eyed.

“She is running towards my mother and, of course, immediately after that, they were taken away and murdered.

“All I can remember now of my sister is nothing for a whole 11 years except the braid.”

Untold stories of lives cut short and generations lost was the focus of much of the survivor’s contribution to the ceremony. Recording their testimony from separate locations, mostly in their private living room or study, scattered with the paraphernalia of the lives they lived in the aftermath, they shared intimate memories. Their stories were juxtaposed with the participation of young Jewish people from all over South Africa and Mauritius, representing the continued responsibility to remember.

Survivor Miriam Lichterman’s reflection had a particularly poignant origin:

“’Even in inhuman circumstances, we must remain human and caring of each other.’ This is the last message my parents gave me – and I give it to you,” said Lichterman. She and a sister were the only survivors of their family. Along with the loss of their parents, their brother died fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Lichterman, who now lives in Cape Town, also contemplated the extreme horror of how Nazis targeted children in their killings.

“Massacres have occurred throughout history, but even in the most evil circumstances, it wasn’t usual for children to be slaughtered along with their parents. This wasn’t the case in the Holocaust. Rather, the Nazis hunted down Jewish children as thoroughly as they hunted down all others. Along with the elderly and infirm, they were generally marked for immediate murder on arrival at the death camps.

“Nazis didn’t view Jewish children as innocent and harmless but as the seed bearers of a biologically polluted and inferior race that had to be exterminated just like any other dangerous virus.”

Survivor, Marian Turski, who was born in Polish territory and still lives in Poland today, said it was important to remember the martyrs and heroes not only of the armed resistance, but anyone who had taken action to try and help others.

Moreover, he said, we need to honour the dead with a clearer understanding of their plight. “Please, my dear sisters and brothers, don’t accept any opinion that those who didn’t fight went as sheep to the slaughterhouse. I can’t agree. I don’t agree that my decent, wonderful father, who was a good Zionist, who was a good Jew, a good family [man], that when he was gassed at Auschwitz, he died without dignity.

“We should reject this kind of opinion,” Turski implored.

Helene Sieff, who was born in Belgium and survived the war in hiding and in foster homes, made a call especially to honour the Righteous Amongst the Nations who had the vision of looking beyond “religion, race, and ethnicity” to the “fact that we were fellow human beings”.

Oscar Langsam spoke of his experiences as one of 1 584 Jewish refugees who were detained in Mauritius by the British when, in 1940, they tried to flee to then Palestine.

The 90-year-old who now lives in Israel, spoke in memory of the 128 detainees who died before they would ever know freedom. He mentioned, in particular, his three-year-old brother, Herman, who died of typhus while at a temporary detention camp in Atlit, as well as Dita Eisler, a “beloved 20-year-old music teacher” who died of polio a few months before their release in Mauritius.

Survivor Ella Blumenthal, who was born in 1921 in Warsaw and now lives in Cape Town, spoke of her happy childhood as the youngest of seven children before the Nazi regime took power. By the end of the war, 22 members of her family had been wiped out.

She recalled the joy she later experienced in rebuilding her life in South Africa, and the pleasure of having four children, 11 grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

Nevertheless, she questioned, “How many more children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren would my brothers and sisters have brought into this world had their lives not been so brutally taken from them?

“When remembering the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, let us think also of those generations that were never allowed to come into being.”

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