In 1939, the Germans invaded the town of Lodz, Poland. They forced all of the Jewish people to live in a small part of the city called a ghetto. They built a barbed-wire fence around it and posted Nazi guards to keep everyone inside it. Two hundred and seventy thousand people lived in the Lodz ghetto.
In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children.
I was one of the twelve.
Jennifer Roy interviewed her aunt, Sylvia Perlmutter, and told her story in the first person in the book Yellow Star.
Sylvia was born in 1935 and was only four years old when the Germans ran over Poland and enslaved its people. Yellow Star is a book I was able to read in just a few hours. Sylvia tells her story in her little girl language and from her point of view. What might a Nazi soldier look like to a 5-year-old? What does a 9-year-old girl feel when she is kicked by a soldier’s boot?
I had a connection to Sylvia. My own father was born in 1936 in Wroclaw, Poland – then called Breslau, Germany. That was only about 220 kilometers from Lodz.
My father was “lucky” because he was born Lutheran German, not Jewish German. If he had been born Jewish German, he would have been hauled to a ghetto in 1939, along with hundreds of thousands of others. I would likely not be here today because he would not have lived to even reach puberty.
The Germans, for reasons I do not understand, took all the children away in the latter years and told their parents they were going to care for them better than they could in the ghetto. However, the children, being of no use to the Germans as workers and only a distraction to the adult Jews, were jammed into cattle cars and taken to death camps like Auschwitz, which was only a few hundred kilometers south from Lodz – where they were killed within hours of arrival.
What bestial people take babies, toddlers, small and older children under 14 away from their parents by force, by the thousands – with the full intent to just kill them? My German ancestors did.
The desperate parents went to extraordinary measures to hide their children. When the soldiers went house to house, they kicked open locked doors and ransacked apartments, looking for children in closets, trunks, under beds, wherever they could possibly be hidden. The agony the parents went through is unimaginable.
The agony for the children – well, you need to read Yellow Star to find out.
Sylvia survived, eventually emigrated to the United States with her family, married, has children, and as of 2006, when the book was written, gave tours as one of the guides at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.
It is tragic that only a few people are still alive today who actually witnessed the horrors perpetrated by the Germans in WWII. Those still alive were mostly children then – my father included. With every book I read about that time and the atrocities committed I am more shocked and more ashamed for mankind in general and Germans in particular.
Totalitarian nutcases must be brought down. We have some now in Syria and North Korea. Will we do something about them and liberate the subjects under their boots?
Read Yellow Star and then tell me!