It was a spring day at the end of April 1945. The Nazi regime had been dissolving under the internal conflict within its corrupt leadership. With military and political leaders beginning to separate from Hitler to gain personal power, the evil superpower began to crumble.
World War II was still very much leaving its mark on lives and nations. Hitler was feeling the pressure and gave one last statement on April 29, hoping to hang on to the thin thread of power he still had.
Hitler blamed the war on ‘International Jewry and its helpers’ and urged the German leaders and people to follow ‘the strict observance of the racial laws and with merciless resistance against the universal poisoners of all peoples’–the Jews. The following day, he committed suicide. Germany’s formal surrender in World War II came barely a week later, on May 8, 1945.[i]
The Hebrew word for the Holocaust is Shoah, which literally means destruction or catastrophe. The catastrophic destruction that took place during the four years of the Holocaust did not end in 1945.
We read the dates of the Holocaust…
- 1941 –1945
We see the death toll of the Jewish people…
- 6 million European Jews, which was approximately 2/3 of the Jewish population of Europe
For many of us who read these numbers, it is devastating and beyond comprehension. However, have you ever stopped to think what it would be like to be a child who was just evacuated from a concentration camp?
What it must have been like… knowing you were no longer held as a prisoner in a death camp, but at the same time being surrounded by lifelessness and hopelessness.
In Primo Levi’s book Survival in Auschwitz, the author describes the scene of Auschwitz just months before the end of the Holocaust…
We lay in a world of death and phantoms. The last trace of civilization had vanished around and inside us. The work of bestial degradation, begun by the victorious Germans, had been carried to conclusion by the Germans in defeat.”
Images such as this do not leave the mind even when the leadership and rule are dissolved. They also do not vanish years later after the world has moved on from the horrific events. Generations die, babies are born, land that was once war-torn begins to bloom with foliage sometime later—but the hurt, the memories, the wounds are still there.
Nowhere to Go
Many survivors had plans of returning home. Home is, after all, where one feels safe, comfortable, and secure. These hopes were quickly squashed for many. They had lost families, neighbors, and friends. As if it wasn't bad enough to have nonexistent support and social networks, many non-Jewish neighbors closed their doors and hearts to these survivors as well. There were now new struggles for Holocaust survivors.
The late 1940s were a time of displaced populations and survivors seeking refuge all across Europe.
One Holocaust survivor—Charles Stein—described how anti-Semitism gained momentum all around him and how he escaped to Luxembourg…
‘At 4 p.m., I was walking home and I heard a lot of noise behind me. I saw guys in Nazi uniforms chasing one student and yelling terrible things like “Kill that Jew!” and other things so horrible. I found an open door and went in a basement and hid there until I thought it was safe. I went home and told my parents…’
“‘Two former classmates of mine who I had gone to school with in the same classroom every day for eight years were in Nazi uniforms looking for me. They were members of the Hitler youth,’ Stein said. ‘They went to my house looking for me. I wasn't there. Later, when I was told about it, I made a decision right then. I'm not going to come home anymore.’
“‘I had quite a few Christian friends who were not Nazis at the time and their parents would allow me to stay at their homes at night.’
“In August 1938, just a few months after Hitler's occupation of Austria, Stein got the chance to escape to Luxembourg.
“‘I went to tell my parents. My parents didn't have a passport. They decided it wasn't going to be that bad. They sent me away with my violin and a bag of clothes,’ he said.
“‘It was a tearful goodbye. Just as I stepped on the train, I heard my mother say “We will never see our son again.” Those words are with me every day of my life, including today.’”[ii]
Stein is not alone in his description of feeling the effects of the Holocaust decades later… “These words are with me every day of my life, including today.”
The struggles facing Holocaust survivors were evident by these very-much-alive memories—every day. Some may not be plagued by them as intensely as they once were, but others are not as fortunate.
They recall the scenes of being separated from loved ones, the bruises that were left after beatings, the emotional and physical toll that starvation took on their lives. Can anyone ever really overcome such torment?
Ask yourself, “What are the pleasures I enjoy the most in life?” Usually, they are the “small” ones—laughing with friends, being full of joy to the point of dancing, tasting your favorite treat during the holidays.
These are the same joys these men and women relish. Under the wrinkled hands and the gray hair is a heart that longs to be healed. The healing takes time, but every act of kindness they are shown is like one more stitch added to the hem that repairs the brokenness.
Learn more about Holocaust survivors HERE! Sow into a life today to make a difference for their tomorrow.
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”—Colossians 3:17