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Kiss Every Step

A few weeks ago, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I walked into our local Barnes & Noble in Escondido for a little browsing. Near the door was a little old lady with a display easel and a stack of books. She looked up at me, held one of the books, and said “This is my book!”

Kiss Every Step 1

[picture credit: The Charterian]

It took me a few moments of talking with her before I realized that she was Doris Martin, and she pointed to herself on a photograph of prisoners in front of a cattle car in Auschwitz.

Doris Martin is 90 years old, and she spends her afternoons standing in the lobby of our book store telling her remarkable story of survival. I had the honor of buying a signed copy of her book, and talking with her for a few moments. She was 13 years old when World War II started.

It won’t be long now before all eye witnesses of this terrible time in the history of humanity will no longer be alive. I am grateful for every book they wrote, every story they told, and every tear they shed. Because those stories need to be told, as an everlasting lesson to those of us lucky enough to be born decades after the maelstrom of evil we now call the holocaust.

I find it despicable that there are actually people around today, called holocaust deniers, that claim the entire thing didn’t actually happen. It’s a spit in the face of every living Jew, it’s a trampling on the graves of every one of the 12 million Jews that were slaughtered, and it’s a terrible insult to those who lived through this awful time and survived to tell the story.

Doris Martin is one of those. She spent three years in a labor camp in Ludwigsdorf as a young girl. The book tells the story of her parents and her siblings, a Jewish family lucky enough to have all members survive the war and reunite afterwards. The odds must have been one in a million. Perhaps they were the only ones.

Kiss Every Step is a book everyone should read. It illustrates what happens when a minority, in this case a religious one, gets ostracized and cast out of society, initially through subtle regulation, soon through brutal discrimination and racism, and finally by outright, open, unfettered, blatant murder.

It happened in 1933 in Germany.

Unfortunately, and frighteningly, traces of this are happening right here, right now, in 2016 in the United States of America. Watch out!

Rating - Four Stars

Link to the official website of Kiss Every Step

Other posts related to the holocaust in this blog:

Visualize 12 Million People

Movie Review: Sarah’s Key

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – by William Shirer

Book Review: Auschwitz – by Miklos Nyiszli

Book Review: Five Chimneys – by Olga Lengyel

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning – by Viktor E. Frankl

Book Review: Yellow Star – by Jennifer Roy

Rantings of a Kook: Holocaust Denier – Ingrid Rimland Zundel

Holocaust Memorial in Iowa

Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See – by Anthony Doerr

Book Review: Der Gelbe Stern – by Gerhard Schoenberner

Book Review: Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl

 

 

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Trump said: There should be systems to track Muslims. He is suggesting that we issue ID cards to Muslims.

When WW II broke out, we imprisoned innocent Japanese people in the United States. Our leadership and our media are all frothing at the mouth because Muslim extremists have killed hundreds of people in France.

That is tragic. Out-of-control terrorism is tragic. But for our nation to get all worked up about one religious minority and lump them all in with terrorists is outrageous.

Hitler did just that in 1933. The German people were suffering economically. Hitler, pretty much on his own, decided that it was the fault of the Jews (a religious minority) and then he systematically started persecuting this minority.

Eventually they had to carry IDs (a yellow star on their clothing), just like Trump is now suggesting we do with Muslims (carry an ID). If I were a Muslim, I would be deeply, deeply offended, that a clown like Trump can accuse me on national TV of being suspicious of terrorism and introduce measures where I have to publicly identify myself as part of a religious or ethnic group.

Forming special badges or IDs for a religious group does not end well.

We call it Holocaust.

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Yellow Star

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.

Wroclaw

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!

Rating: ***

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Olga Lengyel was a young woman in Transylvania during WW II. Her husband was a surgeon, she helped as a nurse, and together they built a small hospital in Cluj, the capital of Transylvania. She had two small children. They were Jewish.

Germany occupied Transylvania. One day in 1944, the Nazis came calling and Olga, her family and even her elderly parents were all hauled away in a cattle car fit for 8 horses. And so starts the first chapter: 8 Horses – or 96 Men, Women and Children.

Olga tells the story of her journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she lived under utterly dehumanizing conditions as an inmate of the concentration camp.

In the beginning, those who were condemned to death at Birkenau were either shot in the forest of Braezinsky or gassed at the infamous white house in the camp. The corpses were incinerated in a “death pit.” After 1941 four crematory ovens were put into service and the “output” of this immense extermination plant was increased enormously.

At first, Jews and non-Jews were sent to the crematory equally, without favor. After June, 1943, the gas chamber and the crematory ovens were reserved exclusively for Jews and Gypsies. Except for reprisal or by error, Aryans were not sent there. But generally, Aryans were executed by shooting, hanging, or by poison injections.

Of the four crematory units at Birkenau, two were huge and consumed enormous numbers of bodies. The other two were smaller. Each unit consisted of an oven, a vast hall, and a gas chamber.

Above each rose a high chimney, which was usually fed by nine fires. The four ovens at Birkenau were heated by a total of thirty fires. Each oven had large openings. That is, there were 120 openings, into each of which three corpses could be placed at one time. That meant they could dispose of 360 corpses per operation. That was only the beginning of the Nazi “Production Schedule.”

Three hundred and sixty corpses every half hour, which was all the time it took to reduce human flesh to ashes, made 720 per hour, or 17,280 corpses per twenty-four hour shift. And the ovens, with murderous efficiency, functioned day and night.

However, one must also take into account the death pits, which could destroy another 8,000 cadavers a day. In round numbers, about 24,000 corpses were handled each day. An admirable production record—one that speaks well for German industry.  — (Kindle Locations 1041-1054)

The entire book is a string of one shocking paragraph after another. She describes the utter evil committed by the Nazis on millions of innocent people whose “crimes” were in some cases completely trivial: Stealing a loaf of bread; helping another person in need; having a different religion or viewpoint; disagreeing with the regime; and of course, the most vicious crime of all – being Jewish.

Reading about her journey, I found it hard to believe that anyone at all could survive these ordeals. I kept reading, of course, because I knew that she would make it out – I held her book in my hand, and somewhere in that wasteland of the absolute dregs of humanity, there was a good end. The author would survive.

She published the book in 1947. Her commitment to getting out, surviving and telling the story to the world of what really went on behind the gates of the lie “Arbeit Macht Frei” was the only driving force that kept her from giving up. There was nothing else to live for but the need to bear witness of the monstrous crimes of the Nazi regime.

Five Chimney’s is a crushing account of the horrors of the Holocaust. After reading this book, the adversities in my own very fortunate life seem but trifles compared to the gargantuan tortures inflicted by the Nazis upon millions of innocent beings.

I am changed.

Rating: ****

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Watching Sarah’s Key slapped me around, punched me in the gut, shocked me to the core, and when it was over, and I came to, I realized I’d just watched one of the most difficult movies I can remember. And yet, I was uplifted by the human spirit.

The Vel d’Hiv round-up was a little known, hardly publicized and possibly swept under the rug episode in French (and German) history. It took place in Paris in 1942. About 10,000 Jews were arrested by police in their apartments, taken away by force and rounded up in a Paris velodrome. No sanitation or toilets, no food, no water, nothing but stadium benches for days, thousands of Jewish families were imprisoned and then taken away, one by one, into camps, never to be seen again. And the perpetrators were not the Germans but the French.

Sarah was a little girl, about 10 years old, who locked her younger brother into a closet in their apartment to hide and protect him when the police came knocking on their door. Sarah made her brother promise to remain there until it was safe and she came back for him. She was with her mother and father when they were hauled away. Eventually, the men were separated from the women and children, then later the mothers were separated from their children, and Sarah found herself in a concentration camp frantic with fright for her brother and no way to rescue him.

A modern-day journalist uncovers the story of Sarah quite by coincidence, and through sheer perseverance and some good luck she uncovers the terrible secret Sarah had carried with her and the knowledge of the horribly destroyed lives of generations of people.

Although 1942 is only 70 years ago, a very short time in history, the children that were alive then and witnessed these atrocities covered them up in their own minds and hid them from their descendants, to protect them, and to protect themselves. Their parents and grandparents, and their tormentors, are all passed away, and a new age and new generations have forgotten the horrible injustices and evil deeds of their ancestors. It does not seem real anymore.

Sarah’s Key is a powerful, captivating movie, with large portions in French with English subtitles. The Holocaust scenes are gut-wrenching. It is a very difficult movie to watch, and thus a very important one to experience.

I kept having to think of my own parents, who were children in Germany during the war, born in 1935, exactly Sarah’s age. I wonder what they cannot and will not ever tell me, or anyone else, of what they had to endure, just to grow up and have a chance to have their own lives, and give me mine.

Yet, history is with us, and it sleeps in places like old apartments, attics, basements, shoeboxes with pictures, books and keys to hidden closets – Sarah’s Key amongst them.

Rating: ****

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