The Holocaust is a horrific period in history, but its importance teaches people about the past. Learning about it may lead individuals to come to understand the present, so that they make ethical decisions in the future. The main matter of interest of this project is to look at the Holocaust through eyes of survivors, to explore the tragedy of Jewish people and failure of humanity while analyzing survivors’ memories of integrity and inner self maintenance when facing inhumanity and sadistic attitude.
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The goal of this project is to explore life battles of the Holocaust survivors, their beliefs and faith before and after the tragedy; to analyze the uncertainty of survivors’ mindset and establish Holocaust consequences and its relevance to the present; to identify the crucial points of remaining a survivor and not a victim while spreading the message of tolerance by stories retelling.
With this project we hope to find answers on life principal questions before and after the Holocaust and identify factors that helped survivors to cope from day to day, maintain hope in ghettos, motivate them to stay alive in conditions of concentration camps as well as to highlight the change in faith and thought of humanity through the expression of inspiration in art and literature.
The collected information was mostly gathered from video-interviews of the Holocaust survivors such as Lydia Tischler, Eva Mozes Kor and Magda Herzberger, supported by books and stories written by survivors and writers who either lived through the events or experienced Nazi regime.
The Holocaust through Eyes of Survivors
“I remember everything because there was a lesson there. And I want people to learn that lesson”, says Lydia Tischler, the Holocaust survivor, with a trembling smile on her face. Her memories are the bright sign of the hideously evil crime ever committed–genocide of millions of people during World War II: the persecution, the cruelty, the victimization of nations who perished just because they were “others”.
Anti-Semitism in Europe prompted the emphasis on a racial character instead of religious toleration that was spread during Enlightenment. Racism, indifference and hatred were guiding mass consciousness that blindly believed in ideology of perfectionism created by Nazi regime. Holocaust, in fact, lasted from January 1933, when Hitler came to power, and was over in 1945 after his absolute defeat. His obsession with a “pure” German race superiority resulted in the extermination of the Jewish race in Germany, spatial expansion, killing methods experiments, ongoing concentration camps–incomprehensible failure of humanity as a whole. “The real story is not the numbers of people that were killed, but the Jews town after town, village after village, family by family, person by person, one by one, bullet by bullet... The horror of the Holocaust is not that it was drifted from human norms; the horror is that it did not. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders” (Bauer, 2001).
Another Holocaust survivor, Eva Mozes Kor, in her interview highlights that no human race is superior, no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgements are wrong, only racists can make them. She shares that the best way to remember is if people could learn from this experience so that it is not repeated. And, in fact, it is something that she has never felt a need to revenge from. She also has not felt as a victim, they did not succeed in making her one. She thinks of herself as a survivor which is something very different. She thought about heartless abusers as inhuman, but they never made her feel less than a human. The Germans were able to take away almost everything that could be removed from her body, but they still could not remove her soul, her integrity, her inner self. This strong woman shows that nobody can change what happened, but the attitude towards this tragic part can shift despite of feeling hopeless, powerless, helpless and hurt. People should prevent similar atrocities from happening again and come together in the moment of danger because endangering one group means endangering all of us.
Ambiguity of “Arbeit Macht Frei“
The slogan Arbeit Macht Frei was welcoming political prisoners in many entrances to concentration camps since 1933. The motto takes its origin from a novel written by Lorenz Dieffenbach, German philologist, in which in order to reach chastity and morality cheaters and fraudsters plunged into labour. Eva Mozes Kor remembers her life in Auschwitz as a self-sacrifice through the hard work: “We were producing staff for German war effort, we were working, so why would they still want to kill us? It took me so long to realize why. They hatred the Jews more than anything else”. The real interpretation of “work makes you free” was simply associated with the complete exhaustion of political prisoners, who despite of endless working hours and maintaining hope for release via labour achievements were led to a kind of a spiritual freedom. The false promise that was not intended literally, was rather highlighted as a mockery.
People did not lose courage because they had already escaped the gravest danger: selection. The only thing left was to focus on mustering inner strength without losing a heart. Above all cruelty, people still had faith in life and drove out despair; they believed that the Holocaust hell was not for eternity and they all would see the day of liberation.
Life in Auschwitz
The past is unforgettable, especially when it has been so traumatic for millions of people who suffered unimaginable loss. Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star, so they could be blatantly recognized. Convicted because of having a different essence of belief, people were put into concentration camps, smelling the burning of flesh and still not accepting the current events in a culture nation like Germany. But the longer they stayed in Auschwitz, the more realistic image of what was going on was build – Nazi genocide, prejudice, intolerance and hate could be inbreathed through air of Auschwitz.
“Auschwitz was hell”, says Lydia Tischler while answering the question about the worst part of living in a concentration camp. She felt like the hell was empty and all the devils were there. She shares her memories of being in a cattle truck with about 50 people, holding tightly to the bucket and smelling fear in the middle of the night. People were being selected to live or to die. They were crying, pushing and shoving, even dogs were constantly barking – Lydia had never seen a place like that before. And as she turned around, she realized that her father and two older sisters were gone. While holding onto mother for dear life they had to go through the Mengele’s selection who was standing there, estimating prisoners and sending them to the left or to the right. She knew her mother was dead because she did not come to the left with her.
“We were herded to a huge hall and told to undress. And then somebody came and shaved all our hair. Then we were herded to another room where we were being sat on benches like in a theatre, stacked, and we did not know whether it would be water or gas. And it was water”, shares Eva looking at the wall with a dead frozen eye and later adds - “whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story. That is everyone’s duty”.
Holocaust’s Angel of Death
It all happened so fast: the ghetto, the deportation, the sealed cattle car – the history of people that were meant to be sacrificed. So many of the Bible-men had a thought of cruelty execution, but Doctor Joseph Mengele seem to king a destruction of the mankind over with his experiments on twins, main goal of which was to discover how the birth rate of an Aryan master race could be increased.
Mengele was looking for twins, standing there and wearing a white glove for his selection of God. The ones who were chosen to live were no longer considered as human beings: they had no name, just a written number on their arm. Mengele would examine every part of twins’ fingers, eyes and their color, the visual similarities and differences. People were saying that he wanted to examine the peculiarities of twins’ existence because personally he considered it as a kind of defect. Mengele performed the most serious experiments including operations that contained taking out people’s organs without anesthetics, the exchange of blood between the two twins and others and if one of the twins felt sick or passed away, the other twin was immediately murdered. Twins were given injections: speaking aloud or crying was not allowed, so they would just stay quietly, waiting whatever was yet to come.
“I was looking at the wall full of eyes: the whole world of blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes… and they were all staring at me. How could someone take parts of human bodies and put them into jars?”, shares Eva Kor, who survived Holocaust and infernal experiments of the Angel of Death. She was given at least five injections per day and the content of those is still unknown. Years later, her twin sister Miriam developed severe kidney infections that did not respond to any antibiotic and after the consultation of Israeli doctors Eva found out that Miriam’s kidneys never grew larger that the size of a 10 years old.
It was all ruled by delusion. To Mengele the war represented the last desperate fight of the German nation for its endangered existence. He did not take pleasure in inflicting pain, he simply thought that human beings affected by disorders were unfit to reproduce, even to live.