Holocaust survivors came from many sectors of society. Most of them were already dead, but their testimonies continue to live. There are survivors who are artists, painters, actors, actresses, directors, book publishers, musicians, mathematicians, scientists, theologians, military, politicians, and athletes. We consider that the most important sector among them were the speakers and researchers of Holocaust itself.
Among Holocaust survivors and scholars, the name of Elie Wiesel is the most popular. In his book, Night, he describes his experiences and emotions at the hands of the Nazis. He raised the most difficult theme centering on theodicy, the theological discussion resolving to reconcile the existence of evil and the prevailing concept about God. He would never forget the curses that fell upon that very long night in the camp, the smoke, the faces of children, the dead bodies, and the indescribable suffering that murdered his God. For Wiesel, the question about the presence of God in the face of evil and inhumanity suffered by Auschwitz prisoners remains unresolved to this very day. As a result of those traumatic experiences, Wiesel devoted his life to fight for human rights and global peace.
The present and future generations have a lot to learn from Holocaust survivors to secure that similar sinister event would never happen again. It is necessary that they come to the open, share their stories in order to dispel the growing Holocaust denial. Louise Lawrence-Israels, a woman Holocaust survivor, shared her experiences and lessons to learn from the tragic event.
Louise witnessed a generation full of hate and a time when nobody has the courage to stand opposing the reign of evil. The business of her family was confiscated. They were not allowed to use public transportation and could not travel on public parks. Against their will, they were forced to wear the Star of David for them to be easily identified. Despite of her sufferings, her admonition is to put a stop on hatred and learn to question if there is something that is going wrong.
Louise is just a representation of the voices of many women whose sufferings have been overlooked. From this point on, let us hear the testimonies from several women Holocaust survivors as they record their miseries in their monographs. There we will find the struggle between the barbaric acts of Nazi officers and the strength of the detainees to maintain human dignity through various means.
Grete Salus described her experience of the sadistic roll calls. Inmates had to stand in rows for several hours, and there were times that entire groups of prisoners due to a particular “offense” were forced to kneel for long hours. Unfortunate individuals were selected to strip themselves naked, and the sick inmates were immediately sent to gas chambers.
Lucie Begov observed that due to long hours of waiting during sadistic roll calls there were detainees who would begin to hallucinate and talk to themselves. On excremental assaults, Begov recalled she was forced to empty large wagons filled with human excrement from latrines all over the camp.
Anja Lundholm is another one from the Holocaust survivors, and she narrated her experience of pointless, hard labor. Prisoners were forced to fill huge containers with sand, saturate them with water to make them heavy, carry them for long distance, and then return them back to their original place. Those who fell out of exhaustion were beaten to death.
Lundhom also recalled psychological tortures given to women. They were ordered to go through fruits and vegetables intended for guards and tasked to throw away the spoiled ones. On penalty of death, they were forbidden to eat any of them, but since they were starving some women would give in to their hunger resulting to severe penalty.
Ruth Kluger recorded her observation of inmates who lost the will to survive, withdraw from what was happening, and turned insanly. Since they were no longer functional, they were sent to gas chambers to be exterminated.
Officers and guards of concentration camps were masters of inventing new forms of tortures. They preferred to assign tasks appropriately described as more of psychological in nature than physical ones. The primary purpose of all these barbaric treatments was to dehumanize and degrade the prisoners for them to give up the will to survive.
However, despite extreme sufferings, prisoners were able to maintain their human dignity through religion, literature, and informal instruction. Informal discussion groups were organized to receive appropriate words like the belief that the Nazi would not last forever. Recollecting favorite books, reciting memorized poems, storing original poems to memory were used to defeat fear and for motivation that continually living amidst miseries was a worthwhile goal. Even writing of autobiographies was really an act of courage. All of these tools helped Holocaust survivors to maintain their humanity, their will to survive, and their lessons to give succeeding generations not to repeat such dark pages in human history.
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