Mothers: given the same scenario would you smother your baby?

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Concealed in a common hiding place built on the second floor of a house in the Sokolow Ghetto are a gathering of terrified Jewish families and neighbors; friends, mothers, fathers, sons, sisters, cousins, grandparents. Frozen still silent they listen to the Ukrainian guard and Gestapo storm thru the house in search of Jews. A baby starts to cry. The mother is asked to quiet her child. There is no way the mother can leave the hiding place without her capture and subsequent reveal of their hiding place. If the baby continues to cry the Ukrainians and Gestapo will hear. As it was the baby was silenced in vain — they were all discovered, herded out into the street, shot at and struck with clubs.

The opening title paragraph is taken from the book I Still See Her Haunting Eyes: The Holocaust and a Hidden Child named Aaron by Aaron Elster and Joy Erlichman Miller, PhD.

Aaron was 10 years old when he saw the mother smother her baby. Aaron’s own mother gave him a pair of earrings and a ring, told him to run off on his own, find the house his older sister is staying at, see if the family will take him in. His mother, with a strange man companion, leaves Aaron alone to fend for himself. Ten year old Aaron; he just escaped a bloodbath on the streets, leaving his father and younger sister in the deadly chaos; his mother apparently deserts him, without an embrace, keeping her distance, the only physical contact is from the strange man with his mother, he pushes Aaron away, go Aaron, go.

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Aaron escape the Nazis while enduring 2 years hiding in an un-insulated attic with a tin roof; he froze in the winter, fried in the summer, was given the bare essentials, water and scant food by a family that were reluctant to give him any shelter or care. He spent 2 birthdays, from age 10 to 12, in the attic, never leaving, no visitors except rare brief visits by his sister who lived below him in the house itself with the family. She tells her brother Aaron: “Now the Gorskis have to worry about hiding two of us.”

“Aaron Elster’s story is told with power and integrity. The memory is fresh, the experience searing. His work retains the tone of the child who lived the story, untainted by adult cynicism … a rare work of survival with a truthful immediacy that leaves the reader stunned but not numbed. It is not easy reading, but urgent reading, recommended reading.”
 Michael Berenbaum, Director, Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious implications of the Holocaust.

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Infanticide In the Ghetto

If the mother who made the sacrifice by smothering her child was slain during thesaintchild bloodletting the last glimmer of thought she’d carry with her to eternity was the death of her infant by her own hands, knowing, knowing that it didn’t make a difference to the outcome. If she lived thru the Holocaust she’d carry that awful moment with her day by day. If still alive will her God forgive her? Will she forgive herself? Is her act beyond forgiving? Not required? Forgiving not required. She requires sainthood. If you’re not into sainthood give her your love. If love is too much to ask them empathy, we can spare that much, our empathy for her.

The crying infant ghetto scenario — this grotesque, insufferable, impossible, cruel decision forced upon a parent was played out time and time again given the number of ghettos, number of hiding places Jews have built, the years the Nazis devoted to decimating ghettos and the years evil reign over the mass slaughter of infants and children. Jewish babies aren’t allowed to cry in the Ghetto.

 

“Look into the camera meine Kinder”

Photo: Central State Archive of Film, Photo and Phonographic Documents / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

The children’s parents, family, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents the whole mishpocha upon mishpocha are taken to a ravine or pit. If there was no pit they, the Jews, had to dig one. After stripped of their clothing, naked, they line up side-by-side facing the pit where they are shot in the neck just below their skull or shot by machine gun; they collapse on top of the previously slain, body upon body, layer after layer until the pit was full to the brim and the Einsatzkommando ran out of Jews.

She is rushed to her death to stand naked before the pit she just help dig, stand naked before a sea of the naked dead swimming before her. She knows a German bullet is about to pierce her skull. Her words are lost among the barking dogs, the angry shouts, the gun blasts, the terrible cold, the chaos: “Oh God, please save my children. I love you husband, I love you father, mother, I love you, I love you, Oh God don’t take my children, let them live, mother, mother, sister, sister I love you, I love you, I love you, God save my children ….” Her words to God are lost among the 6 million lost souls who all pleaded to God during the holocaust.

The finishing touch: the Einsatzkommando bring the children to the incomprehensible, the abominable, the horror, the nightmare, the carnage and throw them onto the top of the pile. Tumbling in air or landing on the pile of bodies they are gun-down, the Germans showing off their shooting skill.  Some of the killers, laughing, toss candy to the children during their “target practice.” If the Einsatzkommando should decide to burn the stack of bodies before covering them with dirt they throw the children alive into the flames.

Mobile killing units, Einsatzkommandos are smaller units of the Einsatzgruppen, responsible for systematically killing Jews in small villages throughout the Ukraine. About 1.3 million Jews (nearly a quarter of all the Jews who died during the Holocaust) were killed, one by one, by the 3000 men who were organized into the four Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) that headed toward Russia in the summer of 1941 on the heels of the German military.

Evil? Sadist? Cruel? Twisted? Inhumane? Sub-human? What do we call them: What names do they go by: German? Einsatzgruppen? Einsatzkommando? Nazi?
 SS? Getaspo?    Did Hitler know German men had it in them to do such work? Or did he have to draw from a special breed, part of the criminal element, depraved to begin with, soulless.

It seems that Hitler had the best of the German citizens for recruitment, not the dregs but the cream of the crop, educated, bright. Einsatzgruppen officers were professional men. They included lawyers, a physician, and even a clergyman. Postwar trials brought some of them to justice. Arrested in April 1959, an officer said of himself: “I was always a person with a heightened sense of duty.” Yes nothing stood in the way of him killing children. What does this tell us? That Hitler and these professional educated Germans are of one mind, of one evil, cruel, atrocious, malignant predilection to bloodletting,  murder, genocide? It seems so.

The Ukraine people, witness to the mass killings, knew the Einsatzkommandos as Germans. For more on the Ukraine mass killings and Father Patrick Desbois a French priest who travel from village to village interviewing and documenting witnesses to the slaughter read my post: “Required Reading: subject: “Holocaust By bullets”

Required Reading: The Holocaust by Bullets

The quote taken from Father Patrick Desbois’s book
The Holocaust By Bullets
A priest’s journey to uncover the truth behind the murder of 1.5 million Jews

Patrick Desbois, a Roman Catholic priest from France, spent four years in the Ukraine hearing witnesses’ accounts of mass executions while searching for the hidden remains of the victims — 1.5 million Jews shot point-blank dead by the Nazis from 1941 to 1944.

Those witnesses he interviewed were children and teenagers during the time of the mass executions.  Their parents were forced to work as diggers of mass graves, cooks who fed Nazi soldiers, seamstresses who mended clothes stripped from the Jews before execution; some including the children were forced to participate in the slaughter of the Jews.

Photo: Guillaume Ribot/Yahad-In Unum

They live today in rural poverty, many without running water or heat, nearing the end of their lives. Patrick Desbois has been seeking them out, roaming the back roads and forgotten fields of the Ukraine. His goal: to identify and record the mass execution of Jews, Roma and other victims, so that “The Holocaust by Bullets” along with the extermination camps are an enduring, glaring record of the Holocaust, are forever a part of world consciousness and that the dead along with the very earth covering them are memorialized to acknowledge, visit, ponder and mourn.

Desbois with a small crew traveled from village to village where he usually found one senior, sometime two or three seniors a village each laden with a singular childhood experience of mass murder they finally, nearing the end of their life might purge by its telling.  They often took him to the site of carnage, the site for some being out their window, their backyard, laden not only with bones but spent German cartridges.

 A CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCE

Petrivna, an elder women from the village of Ternivka, tells Desbois how she witness the Jewish children and handicapped torn from their families, children torn from their mothers, carting them off to be killed later after the Germans finished off the adults. The adults were place into a large pit — 20 by 20.  They were all naked. They had to lie down on the dead bodies from the previous shooting, then shot in the head or nape of the neck.

Petrivna tells how after each shooting she and 2 friends had to walk barefooted ­­­over the bodies to pack them down so to make room for the next group. She explains, “we were too poor for shoes, we had to walk barefooted.”

After finishing pressing they poured a layer of sand over the bodies. Many of the Jews were wounded and still moving. “You see its not easy walking on bodies,” she tells Desbois.  Petrivna saw a Jewish classmate who sat next to her in school in the pit, naked, shot in the head.  Petrivna had to step on her classmate’s body along with the others. She and her 2 friends were force to continuously press the victims flat non-stop without rest, food or water — from 10am to 4pm, 6 hours of carnage and immense suffering as the Germans continued to relieve each other for lunch. Note: she describes them as Germans, not Nazis.

At the end of the day, after all the adults were slain, the German soldiers threw the children and babies onto the top of the pile.  “They threw them in the air. They threw them any old way,” tells Petrivna.

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November 11th Remembrance Day & Post-ukraine Reflections
By Guest Blogger, Geneviève Blouin

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THOSE AMONG US

What subspecies of German citizen could enact those atrocities?  I can’t believe as Father Patrick Desbois suggest, that they were once humane citizens only to be corrupted by an aggressive inhumane ideology — once loving, caring fathers with children of their own, but corrupted so as to enjoy their role as butchers in human abattoirs. All they needed was encouragement, thank you Adolf Hitler, he gave them the final solution, that’s all they needed, no threats, no intimidation, they were raring to go from the get-go, moral equivalents to the worst our country harbors — bigoted, righteous, Ku Klux Klan look-a-likes easily convinced to kill in the glory of white or Nazi supremacy.  Rush Limbaugh ranting away over the air waves would look right at home in a Nazi uniform; there’s plenty more where he came from.

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The Holocaust by bullets – Shoah Memorial 
Hanna Antonivna Gonovaltchiouk Born in 1921
Interviewed at Berditchev, Zhytomir region on the 16th October, 2005
Eye-witness. Witness 251
© Guillaume Ribot

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Grave n. 17: the remainds of a child under 10 next
to those of an adult.  ©Guillaume Ribot

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Sacrificial Children

CHILDREN’S DEATH TOLLS:
NOT AN EASY NUMBER TO FIND.
ASSUME THAT IF A POPULATION IS TORN ASUNDER BY WAR AND ITS INDIVIDUALS ARE COUNTED AMONG THE DEAD, CHILDREN EITHER ORPHANED, STARVED OR MURDERED ARE A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF THAT COUNT, POSSIBLY 20 to 30%

Darfur Death Toll: from 100,000 – to 400,000.
The Death Toll in Darfur, by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

Palestinian Death Toll: 6,473. (Dec 2000 to April 2010) http://old.btselem.org/statistics/english/Casualties.asp

Iraq War Death Toll: 1.1 million. Doesn’t include the Gulf War.  http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3321

Holocaust Death Toll: Six million Jews murdered; out of that number 1.5 million Jewish children murdered, 100,000 or more Gypsy children murdered, thousands of handicapped children murdered. http://www.deathcamps.info/

Total number of children tallied from the above? God knows. And maybe even he doesn’t know, spending all that time in eternity he could have lost count.

The following reporting, though it dates 2006, is currently replicated day to day in Sudan. If you read nothing else about Africa’s chronic pain read this. It covers a lot of ground and time in a short trek. You’ll get the picture, all you need to know.

The haunting story of Chad’s children
Orphaned and in constant danger, all they have is each other
By Mike Simon Cameraman NBC News 3/15/2006 

Orphans Samiyah, Safiyah and Gamara live in Eastern Chad, near Darfur

I close my eyes and I see them. The girls I met on a recent NBC News assignment in Chad are in my dreams. I think about what they have seen. I worry for their continued safety. In the picture above, you see everything that they have: Dirty clothes. Streaked faces. Each other.

Their names are Samiyah, Safiyah and Gamara. They live near the killing fields of Darfur. But they are not Sudanese. They are Chadian. Their only crime was an accident of geography and the color of their skin. The genocidal monsters of Sudan have changed everything about their lives. Starting with their mother and father.

The village of Gongour in Eastern Chad is a 200-year step back in time. Families wake up under thatched-roof huts over mud floors. Children ride donkeys on their way to the communal water well. Other children are assigned the day’s other major task: finding firewood for cooking the evening meals. The children sometimes walk for miles with huge bundles of firewood on their backs. Most of them have never experienced the modern luxuries of a hot water shower, their own beds, refrigerators or a Western toilet. There is schoolwork for the boys, but not always for the girls. Each day has its own hardship, but there is always a great sense of community.

The girls are Masalit, descendents of the harsh southern Sahara desert tribe. To reach them, one must travel to one of the most remote, dusty spots on earth. Our journey begins with a plane ride across the Atlantic to France. Another five-hour plane ride from Paris to the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. Transfer to a United Nations relief flight from the nation’s capital to the regional capital of Abeche. From there, it’s a torturous drive over tracked dirt that passes for a highway in Chad. It’s a four-hour drive to the eastern trading post of Adre. In my time in Chad, I saw two concrete roads. Both of them were runways.

Adre is tense. A cross-border raid in January brought most of the government’s troops back to defend this vital crossroads. Army tanks routinely run through town, kicking up huge amounts of dust. Toyota pickups are filled with young, eager faces holding onto AK-47s. In the countryside, the Sudanese militias step into the power vacuum. The villagers are defenseless. War seems imminent.

The drive to Gongour is still another three hours from Adre. It is easy to see into Sudan for most of the drive. In most other countries, the road would appear to end in Adre. But in Chad, the drive continues over tracked desert that feels like driving on the beach. We drive past women and children loading up donkeys with firewood and the occasional camel herd. We drive past many thatched-roof villages. During the day, it looks empty but there is much humanity here. Thousands of Africans live in these conditions, as they have for centuries.

In short order, the tranquil African countryside gives way to more ominous signs. Kilometer after kilometer of empty villages. Where are all the people? We arrive at the village and look for the local sheik. Small, dirty children instantly surround us. They follow us everywhere.

We are told of the nearby village of Ajani that was recently burned. The sheik rides with us to the site, about five kilometers farther south. He warns us to be quick, as there are many Janjaweed still around. As soon as we arrive, we realize we are stepping on hallowed ground. An utterly lifeless village transmits the horror. Several charred holes confirm it. Each piece of ash, each burned pot, each hole was the cornerstone for a family.

On a cool February morning, just two weeks ago, the first sign of trouble comes from a distant sound. Horses running fast.  It’s unusual in the hot desert at any time. But for Chadians, it may be the worst kind of warning signal. It jolts a primal instinct like no other. It the sound of Janjaweed — rebels from Sudan. Most stories are impossible to confirm, but they are all remarkably consistent. Thousands of refugees, many hundreds of miles apart, tell the same story. The Janjaweed ride into town on stolen horses. They wear khaki uniforms and turbans. The villagers run for their lives, but not all can get away.

The Janjaweed catch many. They pull everyone out of hiding places. They kill all of the men first. A quick, but ruthless, execution. They are called Nubi, similar to being called the “N” word in our country. They are told that this harsh no-man’s land no longer belongs to them. It belongs to Arab Africa. Next, they take the mothers. Often times, they force the kids to watch a slow, painful torture replete with the worst kind of violence against women, who are tied spread-eagle and gang raped repeatedly in front of their children. In an instant, they are traumatized for life. When they are able, the survivors run for their lives and retreat to nearby villages. They know no one. Thankfully, the orphans are not split apart. In interviews, we find these girls have not eaten in days. There is no ability to gather food. They are staying with strangers without any family. Alone, but they have each other.

 This is the story of Darfur. The Sudanese government, alongside the Janjaweed militias, is systematically killing all black Africans in this area. First in Darfur, now in Chad. The Sudanese government is complicit in this ethnic cleansing when it uses its helicopter gunships to mow down anything that moves through the village. The villagers have remnants of bomb fragments that they show us.

As I take their picture, I think of my own two children, safe and sound some 8,000 miles away. I think of the nights I spend reading to my 8-year-old daughter. We love the American Girl story of Samantha and her friend Nellie. Nellie and her two sisters were orphans, too. Three girls alone in the world with only each other to hold. The African girls are strangers in a village teeming with refugees. They have no food and no parents. I scan my brain to think of some way to take these kids with me, just like Samantha and Uncle Gard. Yet I’m resigned to knowing there will be no rescue for these girls. It would be an impossible legal nightmare even if the tribes would allow it.

What can be done? Beyond the stories of traumatized children, there must be something more to it. Just giving voice to a powerful story is a good start. When friends and family ask why we go to dangerous places, my stock answer is: It’s a powerful thing to witness courage, to witness bravery. It’s an honor to tell their stories. Here are children who have almost nothing left in the world. And yet they show us the face of courage and their bravery to face each new, unpredictable day. Most of all, they are trying to hold a family together. Their mother must be so proud.

Mike Simon with Chadian troops along the Chad/Sudan border

IN THE NUBA MOUNTAINS, SUDAN
Starving Its Own Children
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
New York Times Published: June 2, 2012

Two hungry children in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains, sleeping inside a cave for protection from government bombers.

PERHAPS hundreds of thousands of people here have no food and are reduced to eating leaves and insects, as Sudan’s government starves and bombs its own people in the Nuba Mountains. Children are beginning to die.

“Yes, my children may die,” Katum Tutu, a 28-year-old mother, told me. She recently lost her 2-year-old daughter, Maris, to starvation and has nothing to feed her four remaining children. “I think about it every day, but there’s nothing I can do,” she said.

This week will mark a year since Sudan began its brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the Nuba Mountains, intended to crush a rebel force that is popular here and controls much of the region. Sudan has expelled aid workers, blocked food shipments and humanitarian aid, and dropped bombs haphazardly — and almost daily — on its own citizens.

Sudan bars outsiders, but I sneaked in from South Sudan on a dirt track controlled by rebels. Since my last visit, in February, the situation in these areas has deteriorated sharply: a large share of families have run completely out of food, with no prospect of more until the next harvest in November.

Ryan Boyette, an American aid worker who stayed behind when foreigners were ordered to evacuate, estimates that 800,000 Nuba have run out of food in South Kordofan, the state encompassing the Nuba Mountains. Boyette has created a local reporting network called Eyes and Ears Nuba, and the Sudanese government showed what it thinks of him when it tried to drop six bombs on his house last month. The notoriously inaccurate bombs missed, and he escaped unhurt in his foxhole.

Katum, the woman who lost her daughter, was typical of the dozens of Nuba I spoke to. Like many here, the family has been living in caves for most of the last year to escape bombs, and it ran out of the local food staple, sorghum, a few months ago.

She was blunt about the reason her daughter died: “We had no food to give her.”

Her husband and surviving children showed me how they use bows and arrows to try to shoot birds, and how they try to catch mice. “We eat them whole,” Katum told me. “Even the head and the tail.”

Families are also eating beetles and wild roots, but their diet today is mostly the newest leaves of three kinds of wild tree. New leaves are stripped bare from trees near villages, and you see children climbing high on thin branches to try to find new leaves that remain.

I also came across small children, sometimes just 2 or 3 years old, digging in the ground for edible roots or seeds that they popped in their mouths.

Some 50,000 people have fled their homes and are trekking to Yida, a refugee camp just across the border in South Sudan. But many I spoke to, Katum included, say they just don’t have the strength to walk for days to get there.

“There’s no way we can get there,” Katum told me. “So it is much better to stay and die here.”

At that point, our interview was interrupted by a humming overhead: an Antonov bomber, flying unusually low.

Katum scrambled off, seeking a cave in case a bomb fell. Antonov and MIG warplanes regularly fly over these rebel areas, dropping bombs without any apparent purpose other than sowing terror. Fear of them has kept people from farming and is a main reason for the food shortages.

Some farmers are now planting their fields as the rainy season begins. They can harvest in November and will have to get by on leaves until then.

Many other families, including Katum’s, ate their seed stockpile in hopes of keeping their children alive. So for them, the only hope is humanitarian aid.

Considering how many people are subsisting on leaves, perhaps the surprise is that the death toll isn’t higher. In Katum’s village, Famma, elders told me that about 40 people had starved to death in the last month, out of a population of thousands. Among children arriving at the Yida refugee camp, about 10 percent are acutely malnourished, according to Samaritan’s Purse, an aid group assisting the refugees.

World leaders are mostly turning a blind eye. There isn’t even serious talk about damaging the military airstrips that Sudan’s warplanes take off from before dropping bombs on civilians, or about forcing a humanitarian corridor, or about arranging airdrops of food. As a result, the only certainty is that many Nuba will starve to death in the coming months.

President Obama, you harshly criticized President Bush for failing to stand up to Sudan’s slaughter in Darfur. So now what are you going to do as Sudan kills again — on your watch?

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Don’t worry about my funeral

A suicide note written by 12-year-old Stefan Ciure to his mother, after she left him in Romania to work as a house cleaner in Rome.  Stefan took a picture of himself with his cell phone, pinned the note and picture to his shirt and hanged himself with a leather horsewhip from a cherry tree.

His mother:  “Stefan’s death is the tragedy of my life, but I left because I was poor and couldn’t feed my children.”

Stefan’s suicide note, pragmatic, carefully thought through, considerate. He the young man of the household makes sure his funeral expenses are covered so not to spend any of his mother’s hard earned money. For his sister he gives advice: “Study.” He warns his mother about the harsh world, the stoic voice, he the young man of the household. Then comes the request from the child ”PLEASE CARE FOR MY PUPPY”

Stefan, child, youngman: how could you leave your puppy behind, that’s a tortuous decision I think a 12 year old would never-ever come too. Stefan how could you?

Because; because your mother left someone she loves behind; because the only warmth you’ve known, held and that held you abandoned you to the care of an alcoholic father; because you exist in a small overcrowded unkempt cheerless house with little resource to heat its frigid walls; because you sentence yourself to isolation in your own room for days on end; because.

In Romania, Children Left Behind Suffer the Strains of Migration
The New York Times