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by James and Patty Hutchens
Imagine whole families being dragged at gunpoint from their homes, marked with yellow stars, herded into a train, and only to arrive at the killing fields of Auschwitz. In large canvas-like bags hanging heavy from their shoulders, were probably some pictures and a few treasures, but more likely what a mother would never forget – food for the children. Here a mother and her beautiful little girl are eating a piece of bread, while the young boy fearfully peers out from behind. Even in this moment of fear, the mother no doubt said the HaMotzei Lechem (prayer for blessing bread) before they took a bite.
This obviously much older woman is carrying her grandson, a handsome young child with a beautiful camel hair coat, emblazened with a yellow star so all would know he is Jewish. Any young mother knows how hard it is to bear the weight of a big strong toddler. However, here the older woman appears to be holding him up without any strain. No doubt, she is helping his mother, perhaps her own daughter, or maybe even a granddaughter. Or the child’s mother may have been selected “fit to work,” while Granny and the toddler were sent to the “not fit for work” line and death If asked to help carry him, she would reply, “It’s okay. He ain’t heavy. He’s my grandson.”
by Pat Mercer Hutchens (Personally signed copy)
Concentration camps for women were especially diabolical. Women and girls endured unbelievable processes of humiliation, including exposure, crude body cavity searches, painful shaves of all body hair, daily mocking or beating, forced prostitution, multiple rapes, rapes with instruments and group molestation. No doubt the three women had experienced one or more before being herded out in the line called “fit to work.” Degrading defenseless women not only became easy for tough men without a conscience–many of the Nazis found great pleasure in it. What human beings are capable of doing and justifying is a stern warning to all of us to keep our hearts sensitive to God. It is also an indictment of the shameful reality of a worldwide tolerance of humiliation and prostitution of women and girls in our own time.
Imagine how people grieved bitter tears of regret right up to the moment of death. If only they had immigrated to Zion. If only we’d gone to another country when we could have. If only we’d seen the signs of the times. If only we’d listened. With countless warnings from history, it is hard to grasp how anyone remained hopeful in hostile places. Yet even today Jews in many countries, European and otherwise, are surrounded by growing attitudes similar to the 1930s. Even in our beloved America, we see open anti-Semitism and some “liberal” American Jews think “it can’t happen here.” It can happen anywhere. Jews are often the first target of blame for stock market problems, unemployment, and crime. Some main line churches, yes, and even synagogues, join in calls for boycott and divestment of Israel.
The undressing rooms of Crematorium IV and V were not sufficient for the masses of Hungarian Jews who arrived in the Spring of 1944. Therefore, the Jews had to wait until the undressing rooms were ready to absorb them. The common waiting place was the grove behind Crematorium IV. The Jews were asked to sit among the trees, “to have a rest,” and wait for further instructions.
Here waiting in the grove for their last moments before being lined up for the gas chambers is Laja Vogel and her sons, Reuven and Gershon. Her daughter, Iren Fogel Weiss, was only 13 at the time but because she looked older, she was sent to the “fit for work” line, stripped, shaved, and worked as a slave laborer. She survived WWII when Auschwitz Berkenau was liberated.
A quarter of a million Jews were crammed in a ghetto in Lodz, Poland at the start of the Nazi’s war. By the time the war was over only 800 survived, including 12 children. The story of one of those children– Sylvia Perlmutter Rozines– is presented in a new book by Jennifer Roy entitled Yellow Star. Reading it, I was moved by something Sylvia said as a little child during the roundup by the Nazis. She asked, “Mommy, is my dolly Jewish?”
That is the title of this painting of women and children standing in front of one of the smoking crematoria in Auschwitz. Among them I placed little Sylvia and her dolly, both with yellow stars.
The full statistics of how many little ones perished in the Holocaust is impossible to calculate, but it has been estimated that 1.5 million were murdered. That would include those who died from starvation, exposure, lack of adequate clothing and shelter, those who perished in the ghettos or suffocated on cattle cars en route to various concentration camps, those shot for looking at a guard or asking a question and all those sent to be gassed and burned immediately after arriving at a death camp. At Auschwitz, the children were either separated or sent with their mother or siblings to waiting fields called “not fit for work.” Thinking they were going for a shower, they were then made to undress and crammed like sardines into gas chambers. When the doors were locked, Zyklon B was dropped in from above. Witnesses tell of hearing screams for up to 20 minutes before they finally died. As Hitler’s plan sped up, many children were thrown, clothes and all, into fire pits. The prophet Jeremiah speaks of a “Voice heard in Ramah, Lamentations and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they were no more (Jeremiah 31).” Although nothing could ever replace a single slaughtered precious child, in that same passage in the Hebrew Scriptures, the LORD promised Israel a future, a hope and a return to their Homeland, Eretz Israel. “Your children will come again to their own borders.”
Here was the Nazi process: round up Jews all over Europe, herd them into ghettos, round them up again and stuff them into cattle cars, take them on the long trip to Auschwitz (many died on the train), divide them by male and female, “select” those who would die, or live and be worked to death. Those selected to die were sent immediately to the gas chambers and burned in the ovens or fire pits. Those selected to live were sent to a shower, undressed, (gold teeth pulled), hair was chopped off crudely, delousing powder was poured over them; they picked out an old dress and boots and got in line to work. These three young shorn and shocked women stood in a line of hundreds. (Click here to view the original photo)
Copyright 2009 by Pat Mercer Hutchens.
I was so struck, smitten by this beautiful baby girl. She represents the myriad of babies and small children murdered immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz. Here she hangs her arm peacefully over her mother’s back while being held close, safe and warm at her mother’s breast. This child hasn’t a care in the world and has no idea of what is soon to happen. While another young child and the mothers huddle and gaze at distant dangers, she feels completely safe with her Emma (Mommy).
How many times I used to pull the sleeves down over the arms of my babies because I had no gloves to keep their little hands warm. The longer I painted on this artwork, the more I wanted to reach out and raise her as my own. I so longed to be able to save this Little Pink Rose of Hungary, but must settle for making her precious little face known, remembered and never forgotten.
So many of the moms appear to have some hope that what has carried them though in normal life will surely be sufficient here. The mother in the front appears to be moving out with her children, and two beautiful round loves of Challah bread for Shabbat. She could not even imagine what they were to face. It is totally out of her experience in life to face the kind of evil that she is literally walking into with her children in hand. For sure the children will be killed by night fall. She may be spared to work, but could end up in Block #24 (a brothel). The slow step by step introduction to the very pit of hell cannot be understood by someone who has not seen it. We can only weep and pray. (Click here to view orginial photo)
When Lili Jacobs accidently discovered the Auschwitz Album at the close of WWII, the very first person she saw when she looked inside was Rabbi Naftali Zvi Weiss, the chief rabbi of Bilke, her Rabbi from her home town. He is the man on the left in this painting. The man on the right is not yet identified but obviously is a fellow orthodox Jew. These spiritual leaders of Zion would quickly have their beards and payot chopped off by the Nazis and their hats removed – just for sport – to bring more humiliation and shame a few minutes before they were murdered. I was struck by the Yellow Star on the Rabbi’s jacket; it actually appears to be cringing. (Click here to view original photo)
The beautiful Spring flower got its name from the Greek word, narke, meaning numbness or stupor and a Greek myth. The myth is about Echo, a woodland nymph who could not verbalize her love for Narcissus. Still she waited endlessly for him to love her. Narcissus, however, was enamored with himself in the water’s reflection and Echo became just that–an echo in the distant mountains. Narcissus was banished to become a short-lived Spring flower, beautiful but with a poisonous bulb.
Why this flower when considering this beautiful family reduced to ashes at Auschwitz? All the way from their homes to the gas chambers, they were lied to. They were told to pack their family pictures and any items that they wanted to keep. They were told they were going to “resettle” for work. They were told when the children were taken that they would see them again. Lies after lies! What they were given, like the deadly Narcissus, turned out to be full of poison at the very root.