The Jews of wwii

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The Jews of WWII
During the early days of WWII, we often heard the propaganda stories of how the Jews were being oppressed by Hitler after he took over in Germany. Then more horror stories came out of Poland after the Blitzkrieg in 1938.

Hardly anyone took these stories real seriously, as the stories sounded like just pure propaganda and it was thought that no humans could possibly commit such atrocities!

Only after Hitler invaded Holland in 1940, did more stories about the persecution of the Jews become more common and believable.

The full impact of Hitler’s anti Jewish laws began to fill the lives of all of the Jews in Holland with a great deal of anxiety. Between 1938 and 1939, many of the Jews fled to England and America, but after 1940, the good times for the Jews evaporated.

First there was the war, which started in 1938, then the capitulation of the governments, followed by the takeover of the governments by the German occupiers. From this time onwards is when the suffering of the Jews really began, and more believable stories came out from behind the Nazi curtain of secrecy.

Anti Jewish decrees were issued and more followed each other in quick succession. Jews must wear a large yellow star on their outer garments at all times; Jews must turn over their bicycles to the German police immediately; Jews were banned from public transportation, were forbidden to drive their car. Jews were only allowed to do their shopping between the hours of three and five o’clock on each week day, and then only in authorized shops which were indicated by a placard showing that this was an “authorized Jewish Shop”. Jews must be indoors by eight o’clock in the evening and they could not even sit out in their own gardens after that hour. Jews were forbidden to visit theaters, cinemas or any other places of entertainment. Jews could not participate in any public sports. Swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey rinks and other sports grounds were prohibited to them. Jews were not allowed to visit Christians. Jews must go to Jewish schools, and many more restrictions of a similar kind were imposed upon them.

Gradually, many of the Jews tried to escape via the underground, assisted by sympathetic groups and members of the resistance, to Belgium and France, and then onwards to England and America. Very few escaped undetected, and were put to death immediately without trial of any kind. Some went into hiding, protected by some sympathetic non-Jews, but they too were subject to immediate death if they were caught harboring any Jews in their homes.

Such persons hiding any refugees had to be very careful about their food purchases and the usage of water and electricity, as the Germans monitored everyone’s usage, and if an increase was noted, an immediate investigation took place. A thorough search was made of the premises, and if hidden Jews were found, the entire household was executed in public.

Each evening the green and gray lorries of the German Army would pass up and down the streets, with German soldiers ringing the doorbells of any suspecting families, searching their homes, and dragging the occupants to the waiting lorries, never to be seen again.

As with all civilization, money played its part in the bribery of the soldiers to overlook this house or that one, and thereby saving the Jews hidden within – for a few more days, perhaps. And, on the other hand, many innocent men, women and children were accused of various deeds against the regime, by their informant neighbors, and they were marched off, never to be seen again.

To what fate were these Jews doomed? Why? No one ever seemed to know their fate until near the end of WWII.

Upon entry into Germany, when our American troops came upon some of the slave labor and concentration camps, we then began to realize the extent and scope of the Nazi tyranny against the Jews. The propaganda that we had been reading and hearing was truly mild as compared to what we were to discover. Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen, the major concentration camps, and almost daily, some of the smaller slave labor camps, were found to be harboring these “Lost Jews”, and of course many other political prisoners, as well as Allied and American Prisoners of War.

Only upon the discovery within the concentration camps, did the horror of the demise of the millions of Jews who had suddenly disappeared, become known publicly. Many had been worked and starved to death, while many more who were considered ‘not fit for hard labor’, such as young and pregnant women, children, and old men and women, were condemned to the gas chambers.

Upon opening of these camps, and learning of the atrocities that had been committed, many of the German officials and citizens of the adjacent towns, who pleaded innocent and unknowledgeable about such activities, were ordered to march through these camps and witness the aftermath of these atrocities, and in many cases, they were ordered to bury the dead, and assist in caring for the starved victims who were still alive.

It took extraordinary courage and stamina to cope with the situations that were found in these camps, and to try to re-establish the lives of these people, to feed, clothe and house them and to give them the needed medical assistance, then try to unite them with other members of their families, and try to repatriate them back to their original homelands. Most never found any other members of their families, as they had died or had been executed. It was an exception for two relatives to ever again be reunited.

May we never again witness such an ordeal during the extent of our civilization!!

© Frank W. Towers 2005

Veteran of WWII

30th Infantry Division

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