Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Hawthornes Visit St. Petersburg. The Holocaust Museum.

The Florida Holocaust Museum honors the memory of millions of innocent men, women, and children who suffered or died in the Holocaust.  The Museum is dedicated to teaching members of all races and cultures to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of human life in order to prevent future genocides.

 One of the largest Holocaust museums in the country, The Florida Holocaust Museum is the result of St. Petersburg businessman and philanthropist Walter P. Loebenberg’s remarkable journey and vision. Loebenberg escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 and served in the United States Army during World War II. Together with a group of local businesspeople and community leaders, the concept of a living memorial to those who suffered and perished was conceived. Among the participating individuals were Survivors of the Holocaust and individuals who lost relatives, as well as those who had no personal investment, other than wanting to ensure that such atrocities could never again happen to any group of people.

 The Museum’s core exhibition, History, Heritage and Hope spans the first floor. Featuring original artifacts, video, and photos, it presents the history of the Holocaust beginning with the history of antisemitism and life before World War II, followed by the rise of Hitler and the Nazis and anti-Jewish legislation.

Nazi efficiency.
One shot.  Two deaths.
Mother and child.

The Florida Holocaust Museum is home to one of the few remaining railroad boxcars of the type used by the Nazis to transport Jews and other prisoners to places like Auschwitz and Treblinka. Boxcar #113 069-5 now rests on original tracks from the Treblinka Killing Center as a silent tribute to those who perished in the Holocaust and is featured as part of the History, Heritage and Hope permanent exhibition.
Boxcar #113 069-5, along with the rest of the boxcars, was the first place of death for many during the Holocaust. The bare freight cars often became a suffocation chamber for some of the people (100 or more at a time) who were squeezed into it. Those who survived the trip had to endure the journey under conditions of hunger and thirst, extreme overcrowding, and horrible sanitation. Many of those deported, especially the elderly and children died during the journey.

 This is Boxcar #113 0695-5.  It was used by the Nazis to transport Jews and other prisoners to the killing centers.  Sometimes more than 100 people were stuffed inside without food, water, or sanitation.  These "passengers" were ticketed by the SS, who paid the Reichsbahn (railroad) for the transportation - receiving a credit because the fare was one-way.
"At every stop you could hear voices from the boxcars begging for air.  Without fail a German officer would reply, 'You have everything you deserve.'  At every station those who managed to open a window and beg the guards for help got either a bullet from a revolver or a burst from a machine gun for an answer."

"By five o'clock, we counted about 100 who had suffocated; after that the number mounted rapidly from minute to minute."

"Right there on the train, the SS killed most of the children.  M.W. saw both of his little boys collapse at his side."

"They separated the women, the children, and the old people from the rest of the deportees, and that was the last we ever heard of them.  I think that my wife, who was among them, went with them to the gas chamber."

"From every car there were reports of outbreaks of madness.  Some of the prisoners had no choice but to silence others who had become either crazed or dangerous."

"The boxcars were forced open and the SS guards stormed in.  Shouting wildly, they prodded us with rifle butts and bayonets and beat us with clubs, then set the dogs loose on us.  Those who fell and could not get up were ripped apart.  I was wearing a large cape which the dogs sank their teeth into, forcing me to submit."

"All of us were racked with thirst.  I saw some of my comrades pushed to the point of drinking their own urine, others to licking the sweat off the backs of fellow prisoners, while still others tried to catch the occasional drops of water that condensed on the walls of the boxcar."

"At the terminal in Bremen we were denied water by the German Red Cross, who told us that there was no water for us."

"The last car of the train, which had remained empty, was reserved for corpses.  It contained not only the dead but also the wounded who were thrown in together with the dead.  I saw this car again at Buchenwald and heard the moaning and groaning of the wounded.  I know with absolute certainty that all of them were killed and thrown in the ovens along with those already dead."

"A few young people were hastily selected...  We saw five of them approaching from among the first to be chosen; each was accompanied by a German policeman carrying a handgun.  The moment they reached the ditch, a policeman would grab hold of a prisoner, stand him against the wall, and shoot him in the head."

 "The people I now saw arriving all died of asphyxiation...  Sadly, they still had their civilian clothes on and were carrying photographs of their families with them.  That was July 1944, and the ovens were working day and night."

 "The SS stripped us completely naked and squeezed 140 persons into one boxcar.  These were the famous WW1 boxcars they said could hold 40 men or 8 horses.  It was sheer hell."

"In the middle of the car was a bucket that served as a chamber pot; in a few hours it was full to overflowing and gave off a terrible odor.  After that, people had no choice but to relieve themselves directly on the floor, and that meant that we spent the trip enveloped in a poisonous stench."

Page #3447 from testimony at the Nuremburg Trials:

Q:  ... the men's camp was found at the time of the liberation and how many survivors were there?

When the Germans left they left two thousand sick woman and a number of volunteers, including myself to take care of them.  They left us without water and without light.  Fortunately the Russians arrived the following day.  We therefore went to the men's camp and there was found a sight which is impossible to describe.  They had been for five days without water.  There were eight hundred seriously ill, three doctors and seven nurses who were unable to pull the dead from the sick.  Thanks to the Red Army we were able to transport these sick into eleven blocks and to give them food and care.  But unfortunately I can give only the figure for the French. 

There were four hundred when we found the camp and there were only one hundred and fifty who were able to return to France; for the others it was too late in spite of the care we gave them.

Q:  Were you present at the executions and how were they carried out? 

A:  I did not assist at any executions.  I know only that the last one that took place was on the 22 of April , a week before the arrival of the Red Army.  The prisoners were sent, as I said, to the Kommandantur, then their clothes were returned and their cards taken out of the file.

Q:  Is this situation in these camps exceptional or do you consider is was part of a system?

A:  It is difficult to give an exact idea of the concentration camps when one has not been in them once because one can only cite examples of horror but one cannot give the impression of this slow monotony.  When one asks what was the worst, it is impossible to answer because everything was atrocious.  It is atrocious to die of hunger, to die of thirst, to be ill, to see around you all your companions dying without being able to do anything; to think of these children of one's country that one will never see again and at times we wondered ourselves if it was not a nightmare, so completely
 unreal did this life seemed to us, so horrible.

We had a will for months and years;  all that we could hope for was that a few of us would be able to come out to be able to tell the world what the Nazis were like.  Everywhere as in Auschwitz, as in Ravensbrueck, the companions who were in the other camps related the same facts;  the systematic will, the implacable will to use men as slaves and when they could no longer work, to kill them...

There was one picture I just could not shoot.
It was too painful.
It would have been an invasion of privacy.
 I watched an elderly gentleman
go up to the boxcar here.
He placed his hands on the boxcar
and bowed his head,
his forehead touching the car.
He stayed, not moving, for about 20-30 seconds.

God help us.

No comments: