jueves, 26 de junio de 2014

Belzec: Past and Present

It's not exactly a household name.
But during World War II, Belzec, a small town in southeastern Poland, was one of the main Nazi death camps in the occupied country, along with Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.

As many as 500,000 Jews were murdered there by the Nazis. Astonishingly, the camp operated for no more than 10 months.
By the end of 1942 it was shut down, and an extensive effort was undertaken to hide any trace of it.
The Nazis almost succeeded, helped by the jarring fact that only two people were believed to have survived Belzec. One was killed in a postwar pogrom in Poland, the other took his own life years later.
For decades after the war, the camp, the size of a couple of football fields, was little more than an open area strewn with litter, used as a shortcut in the town, and marked only by a modest plaque.
The communists, who ruled Poland at the time, had little interest in highlighting the Holocaust as a genocide against the Jewish people, though it was the Soviet army that liberated Auschwitz. The Kremlin and its satellites were not eager to generate potential sympathy for the Jews.
But after the remarkable events of 1989-1991, when the USSR, Warsaw Pact, and Berlin Wall all saw their last days, dramatic opportunities emerged to write new pages of history -- and revisit old ones.
Miles Lerman was a Polish-born Jew who had fought with the partisans against the Nazis, while losing most of his family at Belzec. After the war, he came to the U.S., but never forgot what happened from 1939 to 1945. That explained his drive to help create the Holocaust Museum in Washington, and then, he hoped, a memorial to the victims of Belzec.

Knowing of AJC's close ties with Poland after 1989, he approached us and asked if we would undertake a project at Belzec, in partnership with the Polish government.
What had previously been unimaginable became possible.
In an entirely new spirit of Polish-Jewish cooperation, we worked together over the course of several years. It was a massive undertaking, fraught with any number of challenges.
Throughout, there were two driving forces.
For Poland, it was Andrzej Przewoznik, the Secretary-General of the Polish Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom sites. Tragically, he was on the plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his entourage that crashed near Smolensk in 2010.
For AJC, it was Rabbi Andrew Baker, who heroically persevered, through thick and thin, to spearhead the effort.
In June 2004, a thousand invited guests, including the president and prime minister of Poland, the ambassadors of Israel, the United States, and several other countries, a special envoy of Pope John Paul II, Jewish and non-Jewish survivors of the Nazi camps, and 150 officers of the Israel Defense Forces, gathered at Belzec.
More than 60 years after serving as the location of mass murder -- where nearly 2,000 women, men, and children were killed daily -- the site had been demarcated, protected, and memorialized, with a museum added to educate future generations about what had happened there. (See the AJC film about Belzec.)
As several speakers noted at the time, the project was unique, arguably the most ambitious, creative, and fitting effort of its kind anywhere.
This week, we mark the tenth anniversary of the Belzec project, with Polish, Israeli and American guests in attendance.
Somehow, the gathering seems even more timely and necessary than ever.
To be sure, it is an occasion to recall what happened in 1942, lest anyone forget -- or trivialize, rationalize, or deny -- the lives that were extinguished for the sole reason that they were Jews.
It is also a stark lesson that we must never suffer from a failure of imagination about man's capacity for evil.
And it is an opportunity to remember that, had Israel existed prior to the Second World War, many Jews might have found refuge there instead of deportation to the gas chambers of Belzec.
But, alas, there was no Israel. Nor were the ruling British in Mandatory Palestine ready to ease entry for Europe's trapped Jews, nor were other nations lining up to issue visas to Jews, when emigration from Europe was still possible.
The event at Belzec also has lessons about the present. There are clouds on the horizon. However different the times may be, there's reason for concern.
As President Barack Obama noted, we are witnessing a "rising tide of anti-Semitism" today, most notably in Europe (the tide has always been dangerously high in important parts of the Muslim world).
EU surveys document the growing anxiety of Europe's Jews. Anti-Semitic attacks are on the increase, including the murder of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May. The New York Times (June 21) reported that emigration from France to Israel, driven largely by fear for the future, is running well ahead of previous years. Several neo-Nazis and other racists have just been elected to five-year terms in the European Parliament.
Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has chosen this moment -- when vast swaths of the Arab Middle East are experiencing chaos and mayhem, when three Israeli youngsters have been kidnapped by terrorists, and when Israel's putative peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, has entered into a "unity" government with Hamas, a group openly bent on the Jewish state's total destruction -- to single out democratic Israel, of all the world's nations, for divestment.
Moreover, despite the international community's hopes for a credible diplomatic solution, Iran continues to advance its nuclear ambitions and develop its ICBM capability, while calling for the elimination of Israel -- and its eight million citizens -- from the global map.
And, reflecting a troubling moral fog, New York's legendary Metropolitan Opera is planning eight performances of The Death of Klinghoffer. The opera takes the 1985 murder by Palestinian gunmen of a 69-year-old, wheelchair-bound American Jew, on an Italian cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea, and, in the words of his two daughters, "rationalizes terrorism and tries to find moral equivalence between the murderers and the murdered."
In other words, the gathering at Belzec this week is very much about remembering the past -- but also about grappling with the present and preparing for the future.
Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-harris/belzec-past-and-present_b_5519148.html

martes, 24 de junio de 2014

The Man Who Warned The West About The Holocaust, At A Time When No One Would Listen

WARSAW -- Thanks to American film director Steven Spielberg, many people may think of German businessman Oskar Schindler as the man who did the most to save Polish Jews during World War II. 

But in Poland, efforts are under way to bring Schindler-style recognition to a lesser-known figure -- Jan Karski, an eyewitness to the Holocaust whose daring wartime attempts to call attention to the slaughter of Polish Jews were largely ignored by the United States and Britain. 

In a year when World War II anniversaries are focused on Normandy in the West and the end of the Leningrad Siege in Russia, Poland is honoring the centenary of the birth of its own wartime hero with commemorative coins, political lectures, and the reissue, in Polish and English, of Karski's 1944 memoir, "Story of a Secret State." 

"It's an enormously complex task for Karski to get more recognition, because he remained silent for decades," says Wojciech Bialozyt, a young history buff who directs the Jan Karski Educational Foundation from an elegant office in Warsaw's diplomatic quarter. "He started being recognized in the beginning of the 1980s, and from then it was quite a short period while he was still alive. And in Poland, he was 100 percent unknown." 

'This Sin Will Haunt Humanity'

Karski, who died in 2000, spent most of his life in the United States, where he established a distinguished postwar career as a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. But he is better known for his years as a member of Poland's WWII-era Underground State, the network of secret resistance organizations fighting the dual occupation of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, which individually invaded Poland from west and east within weeks of each other in September 1939. 

Karski, who was born Jan Kozielewski in 1914, grew up in a large, working-class Catholic family in the city of Lodz. He went on to join Poland's diplomatic corps and served as a cavalry officer in the early days of the war. Following an escape from a Soviet detention camp, Karski changed his name and joined the underground, where he quickly became a high-value courier, carrying memorized strategic information from Poland to Allied leaders and the Polish government-in-exile in France and London. 

A member of the Nazi SS inspects a group of Jewish workers in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943.

In 1942, as hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews were being deported to Nazi extermination camps, Jewish members of the underground asked Karski to carry the news to the West, where the Nazis' anti-Jewish atrocities had received little attention. 

To understand the scope of the killings, Karski adopted a disguise and visited the Warsaw Ghetto, where the Germans were holding captive as many as 400,000 Jews, nearly two-thirds of whom would end up in concentration camps. He also traveled to the Izbica transit camp, where he watched in horror as 46 train cars lined with corrosive quicklime were packed with starving, terrified Jews. 

He later described the experience, in harrowing detail, in "Story of a Secret State:" 

"My informants had minutely described the entire journey. The train would travel about 80 miles and finally come to a halt in an empty barren field. Then nothing at all would happen. The train would stand stock-still, patiently waiting while death penetrated into every corner of its interior. This would take from two to four days." 

Karski traveled west with a plea to make the prevention of the Jewish slaughter an explicit goal of the Allied Powers. He urged both British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to consider military strikes against rail lines used for the Nazi deportations and even, at the worst, against Germany's own cultural institutions. 

It was a strategy the Allies would ultimately adopt later in the war. But neither official was prepared to take such measures in time to prevent the deaths of 3 million Polish Jews. Karski, one of a handful of people to warn Western leaders of the Holocaust, and its earliest eyewitness, was largely ignored. 

Thirty-five years later, the memory still sparked passionate anger in Karski, who used his speech at a 1980 conference of concentration camp liberators to begin a self-described second mission to remind the world of its deadly indifference to the Holocaust. 

"The second original sin had been committed by humanity," Karski said, nearly shouting. "Through commission, or omission, or self-imposed ignorance, or insensitivity, or self-interest, or hypocrisy, or heartless rationalization. This sin will haunt humanity till the end of time. It does haunt me. And I want it to be so."

Modern Lessons

Karski went on to be awarded honorary Israeli citizenship and Poland's highest civilian honor, the Order of the White Eagle, which was presented to him personally 1995 by then-President Lech Walesa. 

In 2012, he was posthumously awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, who said of the Holocaust, "We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen -- because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts; because so many others stood silent." 

Karski's supporters are now working to promote his principles of compassionate engagement as a model for foreign policy worldwide. 

Poland, which has led efforts to defend neighboring Ukraine throughout its crisis with Russia, has emerged from its World War II occupation and forced transition to communism to become one of the European Union's most vocal advocates of its post-Soviet neighbors and a stubborn counterbalance to rising Russian influence. 

Bialozyt says Karski's legacy serves to remind the international community of the responsibility to protect its most vulnerable members.  

"His message was neglected. So this is about indifference," he says. "The world was simply indifferent. You can recall a number of examples after the Second World War when the world remained indifferent -- Bosnia, Rwanda, Syria. So this is the great lesson of the Karski mission for the world of today."

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/the-man-who-warned-the-west-about-the-holocaust-at-a-time-when-no-one-would-listen/25430245.html

lunes, 23 de junio de 2014

War stories from a Nazi interrogator, now a Mill Valley retiree

Ed Holton was 21 years old when he found himself face-to-face with Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, Adolf Hitler's second-in-command. It went nothing like what he'd expected.
Holton was a U.S. Army intelligence officer interrogating the imprisoned Nazi in preparation for the postwar Nuremberg trials, but Goering wasn't cracking loose about his slave labor programs or how many Jews he'd ordered gassed.
Goering, speaking only in German, just wanted to complain.
Little did he know he was whining to a Jewish refugee from Nazi-controlled Austria - a refugee who was now a Ritchie Boy, one of the most valuable interrogation units in the Allied forces.
That unit is largely forgotten today, and all save 300 of the 3,500 members have died. But their adventures live on in the memories of survivors such as Holton, 90, who according to the sketchy available records is the only one living in the Bay Area.
And when it comes to memories, he's got whoppers few can match - like interrogating Goering in a military prison in 1946.
"Goering was very upset that day and said, 'I don't want to talk,' and I said, 'Why, Herr Goering, what is wrong?' " Holton recalled. "He said soldiers had plundered his villa in Germany. I translated it to the other officers as 'looted,' and he understood that little bit of what I said.
"The next thing I know, he jumps up and shouts, 'Nein! I said plundered, not looted!' " Holton recalled, chuckling. "And I suppose he was right, since looting is a civilian action and plundering is military.
"So I said, 'Herr Goering, since you are the known expert in both of those fields, I will defer to you.'
"Afterward, one of the other officers said, 'Do you think he knew you are Jewish?' and I said, 'I certainly hope so.' "
Even seven decades later, as he sat in his retirement home in Mill Valley, Holton got a kick out of being able to get stroppy with the high-ranking Nazi. Not many soldiers had that opportunity.
But the Ritchie Boys did.

Fled Europe

The interrogation unit was composed of young German and Austrian Jewish men who fled to America as World War II broke out, got drafted as foreigners and were trained to be intelligence officers. Army brass reckoned they would be good interrogators because they not only hated the Nazis with a personalized fury, but they knew how to wheedle German prisoners of war in their own tongue.
The nickname came from the base where they received their eight weeks of intelligence training, Camp Ritchie in Maryland.
After graduating, the Ritchie Boys fanned out across the European war theater, and their biggest push came right after D-Day. They were embedded with the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy so they could not only interrogate freshly captured Nazi prisoners, but also use loudspeakers to shout at the enemy that all hope was lost.
Holton was a second lieutenant when he came ashore several days after D-Day, and his first assignment was raiding the vacated Gestapo headquarters. His training for spotting improvised explosives paid off right away.
"The only thing the Gestapo left behind as they fled was booby-trapped toilet seats, and I could tell by the elevation of the seat," he said. "We had to do our business on the floor of their headquarters. Interesting way to start out."
He soon found himself at the Battle of the Bulge, interrogating prisoners, civilians and defectors to discern troop movements and other tactical nuggets. The gentler approach worked best.
"We'd ask the newly captured prisoners what they had for dinner," Holton said. "Then we'd say, 'Gee, only sauerkraut for five days? We've got eggs, tuna and Hershey's chocolate - come on in the tent and eat!'
"It almost always worked. We treated them with respect - they were draftees, like us. After they got that chocolate, soon they'd be telling you everything."
By the end of the war, he had made captain, earned a Bronze Star - and was made a U.S. citizen, like the other Ritchie Boys, for his service. Then came Nuremberg.
His next assignment after Goering was SS Brigadefuhrer Walter Schellenberg, who told Holton his main regret in the war was that the portable-trailer gas chambers he ordered up to kill Jews had a design flaw.
"He said the company put the loading door on the right rear, so when gas was pumped in the people rushed to that side and the chamber fell over," Holton recalled. "He was very angry about that. When he made designers redo it, he did not pay them."
That chamber also earned Schellenberg a special medal from Hitler, "and he was very proud of that," Holton added. "I asked him how many people he gassed, and he said 345,245 was his weekly total at one point.
"He was very happy to tell how he did such a wonderful job using his initiative to solve a problem. He was a terrible man."
Holton's interrogation helped send Schellenberg to prison for two years after the war - he was released shortly before dying of cancer in 1952. Goering cheated the hangman by swallowing cyanide.

Glowing report

After the war, the Army ordered up an assessment of the Ritchie Boys by Col. Robert Schow, who concluded in a lengthy report that the unit was "extremely valuable to all commands to which they were attached."
Holton takes great pride in that.
"When you do a job like we did, you determine what your strengths are," he said. "After you learn how to handle Nazis, other people are no problem for the rest of your life."
A German-made documentary in 2005 traced the history of the Ritchie Boys, but other than that there's been little mention of the unit. Among Holton's comrades were writer Klaus Mann, son of Nobel-winning novelist Thomas Mann, and Fred Howard, who invented L'eggs pantyhose.
Holton became an accountant, raised a family, and after retirement did travel consulting in San Francisco until he finally gave that a rest a few years ago.
He spends a lot of time now studying World War II and has 300 books on the subject. But as for the Ritchie Boys? There is no legacy organization, no annual gathering, no steady correspondence.
Holton finds that a little sad.
"Once the war was over, we all just wanted to go home to America and take advantage of the GI Bill," he said. "We didn't contact each other until about a dozen of us had a reunion in Detroit 10 years ago. But nobody keeps in touch.
"It's all dwindled away. It was an amazing thing we did, but in 10 years we will all be gone. We will truly be just history."
Source: http://www.sfgate.com/world/article/War-stories-from-a-Nazi-interrogator-now-a-Mill-5568737.php#page-1

The Dina Babbitt Story

Experience the amazing story of Dina Gottliebova Babbitt, an artist who survived two years at Auschwitz by painting for the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele.


miércoles, 18 de junio de 2014

U.S. Arrests Philadelphia Man Said to Be Guard at Nazi Camp

In what could prove to be the last Nazi case on American soil, federal officials on Tuesday arrested an 89-year-old immigrant in Philadelphia who is accused of having been a Nazi SS guard at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during World War II.

Johann Breyer, a retired tool maker born in Czechoslovakia, is the oldest person ever accused of ties to the Third Reich by United States authorities who for decades have hunted for Nazis who escaped to America after the war. Mr. Breyer is accused of joining the Waffen SS at age 17 and working as a guard at the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Mr. Breyer is accused of working as an armed guard at Auschwitz and taking part in the murders of “hundreds of thousands” of Jews from Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Germany in 1944. Officials said he had worked at the part of the camp known as “Auschwitz 2,” or Birkenau, a section that was particularly notorious. While the Nazis used other parts of Auschwitz for slave labor, the Birkenau section was used exclusively to kill victims in gas chambers.

Mr. Breyer, who immigrated to the United States in 1952, was arrested at his home in Philadelphia, and on Wednesday he was in Federal District Court there to face charges. Germany is seeking to have him extradited to stand trial under a sealed German indictment made public on Wednesday. Germany is charging him with 158 counts of aiding and abetting Nazi atrocities.

Mr. Breyer was held in detention Tuesday night, and was led into the courtroom late Wednesday morning wearing a purple jail uniform with his hands shackled. Appearing pale and thin, he was stooped over and walked with difficulty with a cane. He looked around frequently and waved to his wife, Shirley, who was also in the courtroom.

He seemed puzzled at times, and his lawyer told Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice that he suffered from a number of health issues, including mild dementia.

When the judge asked him if he understood that Germany was seeking to extradite him, Mr. Breyer answered: “Yes.” He also said, responding to another question from the judge, that he understood that the man with him at the defense table was his lawyer.

As the case moves forward, there will no doubt be further legal debate over Mr. Breyer’s mental and physical condition, but Judge Rice said that for now he was satisfied. “It seems that Mr. Breyer does have the ability to understand the nature of the proceedings against him,” the judge said.

Because of what he called “the serious nature of the crime,” the judge refused to free Mr. Breyer on bail.

His arrest revives a case that has been dormant for years. The Justice Department first accused Mr. Breyer of Nazi ties and tried to deport him in 1992, but he was ultimately allowed to stay in the country after a legal fight that hinged on his claims that he was born a United States citizen. (His mother was born in the United States.)

While he acknowledged being at Auschwitz for a time, he insisted his service there was “involuntary.”

In the current case, the authorities are using a different legal route against Mr. Breyer, with the Germans seeking to have him extradited to stand trial there. After years of inactivity over people accused of having worked with the Nazis, the Germans in the last several years have mounted a renewed push to charge men who are now in their 80s.

Mr. Breyer’s arrest will most likely reignite a debate in the United States over prosecuting elderly defendants for crimes they are accused of committing decades ago.

In past cases, opponents of the aggressive Nazi-hunting efforts have maintained that the time has passed for prosecuting World War II war crimes. But advocates for an aggressive stance insist that crimes as heinous as those of the Nazis demand justice, no matter how old the defendant.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/us/johann-breyer-accused-of-working-at-auschwitz-and-buchenwald.html?_r=0
Photo: http://enconv.org/pars_docs/refs/18/17108/17108_html_m496b363f.jpg

jueves, 12 de junio de 2014

DARRELL HUCKABY: Dachau brings us face to face with evil

I have now seen evil.
I have read about it all my life and thought I understood. I thought I was prepared for what I would see, hear and experience when I stepped through the gate of Dachau, the horrific Nazi concentration camp near Munich, Germany, Sunday.

Somehow it was strangely appropriate that we were there on the Lord’s Day. The grounds outside the camp were deceivingly beautiful. It was a warm day. The sun was shining and the birds were singing. The skies were a beautiful shade of blue.
I can’t explain it, but once we stepped inside the gate, which bore the lie “Arbeit Macht Frei” — work will set you free — there was a distinct chill in the air and before we had taken very many steps, our surroundings had taken on a grayish hue. It felt like we were in a black-and-white movie, like Dorothy before the tornado whirled her away to Oz.
But we were not exploring a movie set. We were in a real place, a bone-chilling place where we were introduced first hand to the very worst humanity has to offer. We saw the barracks where as many as 30,000 living human skeletons at a time struggled to exist on a daily basis — crammed into a space created for 16,000. We saw photographs and film clips and interviews with some of those who managed to survive that living hell.
We saw the parade ground where the unfortunate souls who fell prey to the SS troops that ran the prison forced them to stand for hours at a time — barefoot and barely clothed in heat and cold and snow and icy weather — just because they had the power to make them do so.
We saw the rudimentary possessions the prisoners struggled to maintain — a cup, a spoon a bowl. Primarily they struggled to maintain a semblance of human dignity, which was what their tormentors really coveted. We saw it all.
And yes, we saw the crematoriums — the ovens — where thousands upon thousands of bodies were burned to cinders. We saw the original ovens and we saw the larger, more efficient ones that were required to be built when the original crematorium was no longer efficient enough to keep up with the death rate at Dachau.
We saw, and heard, about the experiments that were done at Dachau — experiments designed to see just how much the human body can withstand. We saw a series of photographs of one man whose brain was injected with an air embolism, just to see if he could survive. He couldn’t.
His crime? Choosing to be born to Jewish parents.
We saw records of people who were forced to drink seawater until they died or were exposed to hypothermia until death was preferred over life at the hands of their evil captors.
Our dark day didn’t end at Dachau. We continued to Nuremburg and visited a museum — the Reichsparteitagsfield — that vividly told the entire story of the rise to power of Adolph Hitler, who mesmerized an entire nation and bid them do his evil will, and we learned about atrocities at the death camps, like Auschwitz, where the horror was even worse than the horror of Dachau.
Then we visited Courtroom 600 at the Nuremberg Palace of Justice and saw where the victorious Allies attempted to provide justice to the 6 million victims of the Holocaust and the incalculable victims of World War II. In the upstairs museum each bit of testimony was more horrible than the last. Witnesses spoke, through film, of unspeakable atrocities. I felt filthy by the time we had finished our day, and not just from the grime of traveling on a warm day. I couldn’t wait to get to our hotel and take a bath.
The last exhibit I saw at Nuremberg hit me pretty hard. It showed scenes of modern examples of crimes against humanity. Things that are going on right this very minute. We saw pictures of Muslim girls who had been mutilated. Their crime? Having their face exposed to a man not their husband or father. We saw a 16-year-old boy drawing pictures in an attempt to explain how he was forced to serve in a foreign army during an African tribal war.
We saw photographs of entire populations on the move, being forcibly displaced from their homelands, and we saw evidence of genocide and human slavery. I am not sure if the massage parlor sign was along I-75 in Georgia, but it could have been.
We who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Did I see anything I liked in Dachau? Yes. A photograph of 30,000 prisoners, tears in their eyes, welcoming the GIs who had come to set them free — and the American flag they were carrying.

Source: http://www.newtoncitizen.com/news/2014/jun/10/darrell-huckaby-dachau-brings-us-face-to-face/

jueves, 5 de junio de 2014

Trice: Discovering a grandfather's life at Auschwitz during Holocaust

 Sara Feinstein was 2 years old when her grandfather passed away in 1986. For years, what she mainly knew about Martin Maiman was that he was an electrical engineer who had built a good life for his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee.

There also had been rumors that his vocation somehow had saved his life and the lives of others during his time in Nazi Germany. But those stories lacked details and were difficult to prove.
Feinstein said her grandfather, a German Jew, never talked about having survived the Holocaust. Her mother told her the only way they discovered he'd been in Auschwitz was that he had a blue tattoo on his arm with a number. It was a fading, yet stark reminder of a horrific experience.
"I remember my mom said that he always told them to have an education because it's the one thing they couldn't take from you," said Feinstein, 31, a Chicago attorney. "Only when we learned about his experience did we understand how meaningful that comment was."
In January 2012, a friend of Feinstein's invited her to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., for a weekend aimed at teaching the younger generation about the Holocaust.
Feinstein said she wanted to learn more about her family's history, so she signed up for the trip, which was a couple of months away. In the meantime, she received a phone call from a museum staffer asking if she wouldn't mind a researcher looking into her family's background using its massive International Tracing Service collection.
The Nazis were meticulous and rigorous about record keeping, and the museum has been receiving a steady stream of new information from an archive opened in Bad Arolsen, Germany, in 2007.
"But they told me that they typically only found in the system one or two documents that the Nazis kept on a prisoner," Feinstein said. "They wanted to moderate my expectations."
Instead, the researcher found more than 100 documents on Martin Maiman.
Feinstein and her family learned that Maiman had been in Auschwitz and five other concentration camps.
"There was a document that showed the results from a death march, and the Nazis had thousands of people leave Auschwitz in January 1945 and wind up in a camp called Flossenburg," she said. "We have a transcript of the people who survived. Out of the thousands, only 25 were left."
Maiman was one of them. His name was No. 21 on the list. The researcher, while trying to learn more about Maiman, began looking into the background of the other survivors. No. 22 on the list was a man named Otto Goldschmitt who in 1995 gave an oral history account of his time in Nazi Germany to the USC Shoah Foundation.
The Nazis sometimes spared the lives of prisoners who had skills they could exploit. In the video, Goldschmitt explains that Maiman saved his life by persuading him to raise his hand when the soldiers asked if any of the prisoners were electricians.
According to transcripts, Goldschmitt said he protested, but Maiman told him: "Don't worry about it. Whatever we have to do, I do it for you and I give it to you."
Feinstein said her great aunt told her that the Nazis forced Maiman to build fences around the concentration camps. "She said he built them with weak areas and with holes to help people escape," Feinstein said.
She added that the family had known Maiman had a brother who fought in the resistance movement and was killed two weeks before World War II ended and another brother who met his wife in a displacement camp. They had a son there and survived.
The museum recovered a photo of the son, then 2 years old, along with a note from his father detailing his experiences.
A ship manifest showed that in 1947, two years after the war, Maiman sailed to New York and then traveled to Milwaukee, where he joined the surviving members of his family. He was 31.
Diane Afoumado, one of the museum's chief researchers, said as the survivors are passing on, many of their stories are getting lost, and one of the key missions of the museum is to help connect family members to those stories.
"We want to help bring closure," she said. "We want to provide families with as much information as possible, especially the second and third generations."
A particular focus has been on Chicago because it has a large Polish community with residents whose family members were probably war victims.
Feinstein said her family is now trying to confirm a story that Maiman helped the U.S. government locate Nazis after the war.
"What's so striking to me is that the Nazis endeavored not just to kill millions of innocent people, but to destroy any memory or them," she said. "What the museum does is help people reclaim that history by re-establishing what was in those gaps."
Source: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-06-02/news/ct-holocaust-trice-met-0602-20140602_1_auschwitz-nazis-trice