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She Survived to Tell the World, A Holocaust Story
phoenixesrose | July 4, 2008 at 11:30 amby
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In an age when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad openly declares the Holocaust a myth, it is increasingly important to tell people the truth of what happened, and Tosia Schneidner has made that her life’s mission.
“There is no occurrence that was better documented than the Holocaust,” said Schneider, the lone Holocaust survivor in her 14-member family. “The Germans were meticulous record keepers.”
But still people will deny history, she said. That is why, after years of speaking to groups about her experiences, she finally wrote her story down and published her book six months ago. Professor Tom Peterson of the University of West Georgia invited Schneider to speak to his Critical Issues in Education class on Thursday.
The class for teachers is designed to expose them to societal issues from radical evil to radical love, he said.
“These teachers have never been exposed to this before, none of them have been exposed to really studying the Holocaust and what are the lessons we can learn from it,” Peterson said. Schneider said she remembers sitting in the theater in New York watching the play “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and it ended with a quote: “I still believe that people are good at heart.”
“I thought to myself, they should have gone to Bergen-Belsen, when she was watching her sister Margaret dying of starvation and herself. ... It’s not the whole story,” Schneider said.
Would Anne Frank have said the same thing in the camp? Schneider wondered. “I would not have.” Schneider, a retired Hebrew teacher who lives in Atlanta, was born in Poland. She was just 11 years old when World War II came to Poland. Her home was taken over first by Russia and then by Germany.
“The perpetrators did not come from some ... jungle or distant planet,” Schneider said. “These were the sons and daughters of the most quote, unquote civilized county in Europe -- Germany. These were barbarians with Ph.D.s.”
Doctors performed experiments on imprisoned Jews, architects designed gas chambers, while chemists invented efficient poisons. “All labors to murder innocent men, women and children,” Schneider said. “Six million innocent murdered, over 1 million and a half children.”
On Sept. 1, 1939, Poland was attacked and within 17 days surrendered. The country was divided between Stalin and Hitler. Schneider’s hometown was occupied by Russian troops. In June, Germany attacked the Soviet Union and in July, her home was wrested from Russian troops and occupied by Nazis.
The began the occupation by destroying the synagogue and beating the rabbi. “They erected eight gallows in the center of town, randomly selected eight Jews and hung them, and told us if we didn’t follow all the orders, that was going to happen to everyone,” Schneider said.
The Jews were forced into labor for the Nazis. They were required to turn anything of value over to the Germans. The children were barred from school and her mother, a teacher, was banned from teaching. In October 1940, a ghetto was established in the town.
“The two streets in the Jewish section of town were designated as ghetto and barbed wire was thrown across the street,” Schneider said. “Food rations that the Germans allowed were extremely small, something like 60 calories per person per day.” In December 1941, 2,500 Jews from the ghetto were gathered up, while Schneider and her family hid in the flour mill where her father worked for the Germans. The Jews who were caught were taken into the forest and shot. Her aunt was one of those murdered.
Months later, another group of Jews was rounded up, while one more time Schneider and her family hid in the mill. Her uncle and two of her cousins were caught and sent to an extermination camp.
In September 1942, her grandmother died on the trip to another ghetto. Her father was one of 70 mill workers kept behind while the rest of the town left for the new ghetto. She never saw or heard from him again. Even today, she is not sure how or where he died. That winter, before she died of starvation and Typhus, Schneider’s mother told her, “Someone must survive to tell the world. Someone must survive.”
The lone act of mercy that Schneider experienced during those years was from a co-worker of her father who smuggled eggs into the ghetto for the children.
“All we had was potato peels and eggs,” she said. “But more than sustenance for the body, he brought some light of human kindness into a world of darkness and despair. To my great sorrow, I don’t know his name.” It was not enough to save her mother, but Schneider survived the winter.
In 1943, she and her brother were working in the fields harvesting for the farmers. In July, her brother was killed in another round up by the Germans.
In 1944, the camp was liberated, but not before another round of killings as German airplanes bombed the camp on their way out. In 1949, Schneider came to the United States to live with her aunt.
“As I stood at the railing of the S.S. Flasher and saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time it was really a beacon of freedom,” she said.
A year later she married and she went to work. She had three children and raised them. Life took over, she said. “I spoke to many colleges, to Emory, to Georgia State, you name it,” Schneider said. “I realized I should write it down. At first I thought it was just to be for my family, for my children, my grandchildren.”
But then after witnessing the trial of an Emory University professor accused in a lawsuit of fabricating the Holocaust story in Britain, she realized the story was for everyone. So, 65 years after she promised her mother, Schneider presented her story to the world in her book, “Someone Must Survive to Tell the World.”
By Laura Camper
Carrollton, Georgia, USA