Personal accounts by survivors of the Holocaust are powerful. They connect us, person to person, with an era in history that is difficult, yet necessary, to comprehend. Survivor testimony translates the countless unimaginable victims into a single person's feelings and thoughts.
There are 350,000 survivors of the Holocaust alive today...
There are 350,000 experts who just want to be useful with the remainder of their lives. Please listen to the words and the echoes and the ghosts. And please teach this in your schools.
--Steven Spielberg, Academy Award acceptance speech
Inner Exile: Life in Hiding
Some victims found that they were in danger from Nazi persecution too late to leave their countries. Others thought the Nazi dictatorship could never survive. For many, Nazi racial policy was too irrational to even comprehend. Many Jews felt that they were as much German, Dutch, French, or Polish as anyone else in their communities.
Life in hiding from the Nazis was a daily struggle. Those hidden lived in constant terror of being discovered. People in hiding were discovered frequently. The consequences of being found for hiders and those hiding them were grave, often resulting in brutal death at the hands of special police squads.
My parents, my brother, and I ran through the kitchen into the pantry outside. In an open bicycle shed behind the house, we tried desperately to hide on the floor between bicycles and pieces of wood. Our luck had run out. Within minutes the house was surrounded by Nazis.
Bronia Beker tells how her family hid in caves they dug themselves.
Ernest and Elisabeth Cassutto's story of survival is told by their son George.
Sally Eisner survived a search by Ukrainian police by hiding under a bed with her brother.
Joseph Heinrich was born in Germany. Soon after Kristallnacht he left for Holland, where he lived in hiding. He traveled from Holland to Spain, much of the way on foot. In 1944, he emigrated to Palestine.
Alfred Lessing recalls childhood memories of hiding in the Netherlands.
Yettie Mendels was born in Holland and lived underground for the duration of the war.
Bram Pais' account of his life during the Holocaust describes his years of hiding in the Dutch underground. Near the end of the war he was arrested and imprisoned.
Agnes Vadas describes losing her father to injuries incurred during an air raid in Budapest.
Erika Van Hesteren, a Dutch woman, recounts the years she lived in hiding during the war.
Sophie Yaari, born in Germany, tells about life in Germany in the 1930s. She remembers Kristallnacht. She and her sister went to Holland, where they survived by living in hiding for years.
Exile: Flight in and through Europe
Many survivors either sensed the danger awaiting them if they stayed in their hometowns accross Europe, or were forced to leave their homes. For those who left, it often meant that they would see their friends and relatives for the last time. Life in exile was full of fear and uncertainty. It consisted of dependence on the charity of strangers and a lot of luck. One had to keep one step ahead of Nazi hunger for Lebensraum.
So, on August 10, one day before my birthday, my father and my sister--I had an older sister who did not go to England because she was too old to go as a child and she would have had to go as a servant and my father didn't want that--we went to the railroad station in Berlin. There were maybe 50 or 100, I don't know the number, other children. All were Jewish. I think we were the only half Jews on this Kindertransport saying goodbye to their parents.
Ernest Drücker tells his story of escape from Vienna as a teenager.
Marietta Drücker tells her story of rescue from Vienna on a Kindertransport.
Betty Grebenschikoff tells her story of escape to Shanghai.
Marie Silverman tells her story of escape from Antwerp.
Helga Waldman tells her story of leaving Germany on a Kindertransport.
Suzanne Klein was born in Romania. In November, 1944 she was deported and eventually sent to Russia.
Kurt Lenkway paddled a kayak to freedom from Germany to Switzerland in 1938. His family made its way to the United States in 1941.
Oskar Blechner sailed on the ill-fated SS St. Louis, but was granted refuge in Great Britain when the ship was returned to Europe.
Shanghai was a refuge during the Holocaust for thousands of Jews who had nowhere else to go.
Christine Damski was a journalism student in Poland in the late 1930s. She moved throughout eastern Europe eluding the Germans.
Renata Eisen credits her survival to the strength and perseverance of her mother and the assistance of Italian villagers.
In an interview format, Walter F. describes in great detail life in Germany during the rise of Nazism. He was arrested during Kristallnacht and went to Buchenwald. He tells of his time in Shanghai, China.
Helen L. tells the story of how she and her sister survived as two young girls living in the woods of eastern Europe.
Death Factories and Forced Labor
The chances of surviving the war in any of the Nazi death, concentration, or labor camps were slim to none. Those who did survive are the sole witnesses to the horrors put into action behind the barbed electric fences surrounding Nazi compounds. Their stories remind us of the atrocities humans are capable of when led to believe those who are different from them are sub-human or otherwise undesirable.
So then we had to march in rows of five, which became the daily norm, and we walked through the night, and we heard music, and we heard all kinds of miserable noises. When it was almost light, we came to the sauna. We came to big low buildings and whoever was left was numbered. I was number two, I can show you. O.K. and they kept telling us how lucky we were that we might be able to live because we have a number.
Anita Mayer tells her story of arrest and life in a concentration camp.
Judy Cohen tells of her life from the time the Nazis occupied her home country of Hungary to her liberation from a death march.
Irene Csillag recalls her life in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Stutthof camps.
Elisabeth De Jong describes the so-called medical experiments inflicted upon her and other women at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In an interview format, Lucille E. gives a lengthy, detailed, and personal account of her life before the war in Germany, during the war, living in several concentration camps, and in her life in America, after liberation.
Alexander Ehrmann tells of life in Auschwitz and other camps. He was also sent to Warsaw after the uprising to help with clean up and salvage operations. (Acrobat and RealAudio files)
Rabbi Baruch G., a Polish survivor, describes forced labor in Mlawa.
Gabor Hirsch was born in Hungary. In his brief account he tells of his time in Birkenau and his liberation there.
Judith Jagermann describes in detail her experience in several concentration camps.
Abram Korn's story is told in excerpts from his book and by means of an interactive map.
Primo Levi, Auschwitz survivor, gave this interview upon his return visit to the camp in 1982.
Filip Muller was born in Slovakia and survived the Auschwitz camp. His brief, but detailed account tells about the crematorium in Auschwitz.
Edith P., a Dutch survivor, was deported to Auschwitz. (Photo, video, audio, and text)
Abraham Pasternak describes life in Romania during the occupation and his experiences in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. (Acrobat and RealAudio files)
Helen R. is a Polish survivor who was deported to Auschwitz.
Judith Rubinstein describes the selection process at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Peter S., a German child survivor, describes a selection at Ravensbrück. (Photo, video, audio, and text)
Anna W. is a Gypsy survivor who was deported to Ravensbrük. (Photo, audio and video in German, text in English and German)
Cyla Wiener recalls her experiences in the Krakow ghetto and working as a seamstress in Plaszow, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen. (Acrobat and RealAudio files)
Rescue and Risk
There are some hopeful and heart-warming stories survivors tell of rescue at the hands of non-victims. Whether officially recognized as righteous gentiles or not, these brave souls risked their lives and the lives of their families in order to preserve a sense of humanity in the brutal chaos caused by Nazi persecution. Many stories of rescue will never be told.
Their lives (my parents) were saved by the gentile farmers in that town. There were some very righteous non-Jewish people who had the courage to speak up. Many, many of them...Many of them lost their lives...Sometimes not enough is written about those courageuous non-Jews.
"A Good Man by the Name of Jeff." The story of one rescuer during the Holocaust as told by Anita Mayer. Herman Feder was in several concentration camps before being rescued by the Chlups in Czechoslovakia. He hid with the Chlup family for years.
Rachel G., a Belgian child survivor, was hidden in convents.
Eva and Henry Galler, Felicia Fuksman, Anne Levy, and Leo Scher relate their extensive survivor testimonies at the Louisiana Holocaust Survivor site.
Erna Blitzer Gorman tells of her experiences in various ghettos and of being hidden in a barn by a Ukrainian farmer for two years. (Acrobat and RealAudio files)
Ibi Grossman survived in a Budapest ghetto thanks in part to the intervention of Raoul Wallenberg.
Henny Juliard was living in The Hague in Holland at the beginning of World War II. She lived under the care of the Bochoves, a Dutch couple, for almost three years.
Alina Kentof was hidden in a Polish monastery as a child. She and her mother were later able to make their way to Palestine.
Dr. Olga Lilien was born in 1904 in Lvov, Poland. She lived through the war with the help of Barbara Szymanska Makuch's family.
Today, survivors who can remember stories of that time are in their sixties, seventies, and eighties. As a group, they are getting older, and fewer and fewer are with us to personally chronicle life under the Nazis. Their testimony is profoundly valuable.
Interactive quiz on Survivors.
Lesson plans, discussion questions, term paper topics, reproducible handouts, and other resources for teaching about survivors are available here.
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
Produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology,
College of Education, University of South Florida © 1997-2013.