Sunday, September 18, 2016


I was born in 1944, so Jay Winik’s 1944: FDR AND THE YEAR THAT CHANGED HISTORY, was a must read.

On September 29-30, 1941, the Jews of Kiev were instructed be the Nazi to gather at the Jewish cemetery, with all their possessions. More than thirty thousand, fathers, mothers, and children, came. The panic-stricken victims were formed into a long, snaking line. The line ended into a ravine and machine gun placements. The killing squads did their bloody work. Over two days, this became a blind, wanton slaughter. This was BabiYar, a deep ravine whose name would live in infamy. My grandmother on my mother’s side was born their in 1897.

The Final Solution had at one time been conceived as a territorial solution. Hitler originally planned to resettle the European Jews to the freezing, windswept wastes of Siberia. There they would be worked to death as slaves and starved to death. The reality was far different. Killing squids were told to exterminate all “Jews in the service of the Communist Party”. Different elements of the German Army had different interpretations of “service to the party”. By August 1942, 12,000 male Jews had been murdered in Lithuanian villages. One of the first pogroms that set the tone took place in Kovno (Kaunas), on October 29, 1941. When it was over, an entire segment of the town had been annihilated. This is the town where my grandmother on my father’s side was born.

Kovno, Lithuania had a Jewish population of 35,000-40,000, about one-fourth of the city's total population. Jews were concentrated in the city's commercial, artisan, and professional sectors. Kovno was also a center of Jewish learning. The yeshiva in Slobodka (Vilijampolė), was one of Europe's most prestigious institutions of higher Jewish learning. Kovno had a rich and varied Jewish culture. The city had almost 100 Jewish organizations, 40 synagogues, many Yiddish schools, 4 Hebrew high schools, a Jewish hospital, and scores of Jewish-owned businesses. It was also an important Zionist center. It is the second largest city in Lithuania and a former temporary capital.

On January 20, 1942, as the Wannsee Conference came to an end, and Eastern Europe was mostly sealed off from the rest of the world and SS were scouring remote villages west of the Bug River on the former boarder between Germany and Poland. They were looking for old labor camps to covert to death camps. The first converted, of four, was Belzec, and these encompassed the whole of the Polish Galicia. The Final Solution had commenced with stunning speed. My two grandfathers were born in Galicia. My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in 1898.

Jews were the third most numerous ethnic groups in Galicia, after Poles and Ukrainians. At the time that Galicia was annexed by Austria, there were approximately 150,000 to 200,000 Jews residing there, comprising 5–6.5% of the total population. By 1857 the Jewish population had risen to 449,000, or 9.6% of the total population. Most of Galician Jewry lived poorly, largely working in small workshops and enterprises, and as craftsmen: including tailors, carpenters, hat makers, jewelers and opticians. Almost 80% of all tailors in Galicia were Jewish. The main occupation of Jews in towns and villages was trade: wholesale, stationery and retail. However, the Jewish inclination towards education was overcoming barriers. The number of Jewish intellectual workers proportionally was much higher than that of Ukrainian or Polish ones in Galicia. Of 1,700 physicians in Galicia, 1,150 were Jewish; 41% of workers in culture, theaters and cinema, over 65% of barbers, 43% of dentists, 45% of senior nurses in Galicia were Jewish, and 2,200 Jews were lawyers.

On August 1, 1944, in Amsterdam, Gestapo agents with boots pounding through the streets went up the stairs to the secret annex where the family of Otto Frank had been hiding. Awaiting them was Otto’s daughter Anne. She with the rest of the family, would board the last deportation train from the Netherlands to Auschwitz. Four days before I was born. In October 1944, She and her sister, Margot, were two of the first to leave Auschwitz and transported west to Bergen-Belsen, where both past away from illness, where typhus was common.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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