I will always come back to life.

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Dec 2 1941: most every Jew from Brno Czechoslovakia including Franta Bass and family were deported to the Terrizen ghetto; called by the Germans Theresienstad. The Jews shouldered as much of their material life as they could carry, packed it in sacks, luggage, pockets; most of their life left behind for the blue-eyed vultures to pick over.

The Franta Bass family had no idea what was in store for them; they were forced to live in a German Nazi sponsored ghetto. The concept of a ghetto is historically understood by Jews: “What could be that bad, it’s only a ghetto.”

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That same day, December 2, 1941, on the transport arrival to Theresienstadt along with the Bass family and other Jews was Jacob Edelstein, appointed by Otto Adolf Eichmann, SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel), to chairperson the Council of Jewish Elders, responsible for the “self-administration” of the Theresienstadt ghetto-camp. Edelstein along with fellow appointees dealt with municipal services, housing, water, sanitation and policing.  They also saw to educational activities, cultural events and religious celebrations. This all feels and looks like a Ghetto. “What could be so awful?”

This: Council of Elders had to ration a meager food supply to those who could work, leaving the elderly and disabled more vulnerable to disease and starvation. (The Nazis had to build an unplanned for crematorium on the grounds of Theresienstadt to dispose of those who died from starvation and disease, 200 a day.)

“What could be so awful?” This: the Council Members had to choose who would be deported to the gas chambers or labor camps and who would remain — who might live and who might die. Not a great job, not easy to live with, a no win situation.  None of the council survived. If they did, in the days to come, living with oneself could be a chore.

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The Council of Elders allotted several large houses to accommodate children. Attention was given to the welfare and education of the children. The idea was to keep the children separate from the adults to reduce their vulnerability to depression and despair. Overall the children were housed and fed better than the adults.

The children learn from some of the most sophisticated teachers in German-speaking Central Europe, who were among the prominent Jews to arrive in Theresienstadt. That was one of the defining features of the Theresienstad ghetto-camp; the best artist, musicians, composers, authors, thinkers were in the mix.

All that special attention given the children. And look what Theresienstad ends up with. Out of 15,000 children who spent time at Theresienstad 100 survived. Still, in no way in vain; see and hear what the children gave to themselves and what they left to us: “Children’s Exhibit” at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. Collection of the children’s art and poetry from Terezin in the book titled “I never saw another butterfly.”

Franta Bass under the guidance of teacher found an outlet for coping with the awful, frightful, depressing conditions he lived with day-to-day by writing poetry. His poetry gave him the courage to face his imminent death. It gives me, us, us Jews the will, strength, determination, focus to string-up evil by its throat, strangle it, look it in the eye and say, “Never, never again, in the name of Franta Bass and his poetry, never again.”

As Franta wrote in his poem, “I am a Jew.” … “I will always come back to life.”

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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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