Is there too much about the Holocaust? Let's see... Well, I don't think so. Here are some stories from that terrible time.
21. Alice Lehmann and Bernie Sapir (£):
They were two Dutch Jews, both 18, from Scheveningen, a suburb of The Hague. For both, it was first love, blooming in 1942, the horrible year when the fate of many European Jews was hanging in the balance. Their romance lasted all of six months: Alice was forced into hiding with her family and parting from her beloved.
In September 1943, someone informed the Germans of the hiding place of Bernie and his family. They were sent to Auschwitz, where he was murdered a year before the camp was liberated.
On November 6, 1942, Bernie Sapir wrote the last lines of his diary. Under the heading, "A letter to my darling," he wrote the following to Alice, the girl he'd met the previous winter: "In closing, I'd like to address a few words to you directly. It's been almost four months since you left me, four terrible months that have been dark and difficult for all of us. My darling, I have to be brief. I'm leaving tonight. I'm facing a period of many dangers and difficulties. Even if I don't survive, I've made sure this diary will find its way to you."
The last diary entry ends with dramatic words: "If these are the last lines I will ever write you, my Alicia, again accept my love, a love I cannot express in words, and my belief, hope and resolve that one day I will be lucky enough to have you as my wife." (Altered paragraph order - NG.)
22. Shlomo Venezia:
Shlomo Venezia was born on Dec. 29, 1923, in a poor Italian-Jewish community in Thessaloniki, Greece. Early in the war, occupying Italian authorities provided protection to his family. But on March 24, 1944, after the Germans took control, the Venezias were deported to Athens and then Auschwitz.
Shlomo Venezia was one of the first Jews to climb out of the freight car when it came to the end of the line at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland on April 11, 1944, his mother crammed behind him. Two blows from a German guard's baton struck him in the back of the neck.
"When I turned around to try to find my mother, she wasn't there anymore," he recalled. "I never saw her again, she wasn't there, and neither were my two little sisters, Marica and Marta."
... A sturdy 20-year-old, he was ordered into the Sonderkommando, a unit of prisoners forced to direct thousands of other victims of the Nazis into the gas chambers and to bear their bodies into the crematories.
For nearly 50 years he remained haunted and virtually silent about his role in the horror. "Not because I didn't want to talk," he said, "but because people didn't want to listen, didn't want to believe it."
"When the job of cutting the hair and pulling out the gold teeth had been completed, two people came to take the bodies and to load them onto the hoist that sent them up to the ground floor of the building, and the crematorium ovens." (Altered paragraph order; bold added by me - NG.)
23. Charlotte R:
Perhaps it is a good thing to tell the story of Charlotte R. It isn't the kind of thing that gets into the history books or is related in TV documentaries or dramas, but it is typical of what many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of well-meaning people were doing to prevent a mere handful of Jews from being obliterated in what came to be called the final solution.
I learned of Charlotte through my correspondent's aunt, who had promised her a safe home in a little Lancashire town. She had set off from Berlin where she had worked as a greetings card artist until sacked, as a Jew, by her "prudent" employer. She reached Harwich, but was turned back. Legal immigration was virtually impossible for German refugees. There was massive unemployment here and refugees were only allowed in as visitors.
Charlotte had been unable to prove she was a bona fide visitor, so she went back to what seemed to us almost certain death. Charlotte, gentle, timid, short-sighted, half-Jew, was not by nature a survivor.
It was agreed that I should act as her guarantor. It was the hardest and most worthwhile battle I ever fought. At first it seemed hopeless - a young unmarried woman claiming to be able to give three months holiday to a foreigner. What turned the scale for the immigration officer was the discovery that I was earning £400 a year. That sounds ludicrously little now, but it was the equivalent of £5,000 or even £6,000 today, and in fact slightly more than my prospective husband was earning.
I could clearly afford to maintain Charlotte and I clearly didn't need a domestic. So the immigration officer signed her in. He turned to me and said quietly, "She's safe now." I couldn't even thank him properly; it wouldn't have been seemly. But I was full of gratitude to the man who, with a typically English genius for bending the rules when they can be bent in the direction of a good deed, virtually saved Charlotte R. from the gas chamber.
24. Hava Shilo:
A native of Lvov, Poland (now Ukraine), Shilo counts herself fortunate to have survived the Shoah and emerged with her nuclear family intact: her parents, Arnold and Roza Greenfeld, and her brother, David. But the Nazis and their collaborators destroyed her extended family: her paternal grandparents; her father's sister and two brothers, including one, Bernard, who, like Arnold, was a physician, their three children; and her mother's brother (a rabbi in the Polish army), sister and their spouses and two children.
A farmer in Brzerzany had hidden the Greenfelds. They awoke one winter night in 1944 with the farmhouse aflame, torched by the Ukrainian underground. The farmer was dead. Arnold and Roza grasped their children's hands and led them outside - the first time they had emerged from 13 months in hiding.
In fluent Ukrainian, Arnold informed the mob leaders that he was a physician and offered them medical care. With weapons trained on him, his quick thinking saved their lives.
(For an index to the whole series, see here)