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Leon Heller: “Nobody should have to experience what I saw again. The Holocaust was the most terrible thing that could have possibly happened. I was so young seeing it. I learned that we must never let something like this happen again, we must be forever watchful”. Leon Heller is a Jewish liberator who has told his story to the Holocaust Documentation Center of Southeast Florida. Dr. Siegel viewed his tape with him and witnessed how very emotional these memories still are for him. I was born in Chicago to a Conservative Jewish family in an assimilated neighborhood. Still, I experienced anti-Semitism as a youth. At the synagogue we attended. I was told of the atrocities going on in Europe, and we were encouraged to take care of "our own" and to do whatever we could to help the European Jews. I graduated from high school and then went to Wright Junior College. I was drafted into the army at age eighteen. My brother was already in the army in France. I wanted desperately to go to Europe but was sent first to Texas to be part of the Tank Destroyer Battalion. I was nineteen when I was sent abroad to fight on the front lines in Germany. As a private assigned to the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion. I was part of the unit to liberate Buchenwald on April 11, 1945. When we entered camp, I vividly remember the skeletal men in stripes, joyous that the American soldiers were there bringing freedom. I spoke in Yiddish to one small man and asked about family members I knew had been taken from their homes. This man told me of how he was to carry the bodies to and from the crematorium. The captives were giving us whatever they had. I wish I had given them my clothes. I was completely unprepared for what I encountered there. The vivid memory of the bodies in the crematorium and the stench will never leave me. I was so enraged that upon entering another German town on a raid the next day, even though it was empty of Germans, I destroyed anything of theirs that I could find. One week later I went to Dachau but no victims were left. We visited the barracks and saw the horror of the spaces including the meat hooks, the showers and the crematorium. I returned to the United States to Roosevelt College and went into the family shoe business. I married in 1953.and we had three children. Two of my children have married second-generation Holocaust survivors and so I have been able to share my experience with my family. Why did this happen? Education is so important but it is all difficult to express.
Brenda Senders: Born in Sarny, Poland " This is not a Jewish problem today; it is a human problem. If hate arises, then one must move above the crowd and shop off hate; there is no place in society for hate. We will live in peace or we will die as fools." I was born in a small town on the border of the Ukraine and the Soviet Union. I like to think of myself as "one gutsy lady." As a member of the underground as a partisan fighter for the Russians. I f ought with guns and grenades. keeping the Germans very busy. Much of the work was done in the surrounding forests where I hid. I know that I was lucky to have survived without a scratch. Since that time. even the United States Government National Security Agency has sought my experience. After the war, I went to a displaced persons camp in Austria in preparation for going to Israel.and married. But instead of going to Israel I moved to the United States. where I lived outside of Washington. For the past fourteen years. my home has been in Florida. I fought for my life and for the decency of humanity. This should never again happen.
Ilona and Maneck David Werdiger; Ilona: I was born in Przemysl, Poland. My father was a highly educated man and also a Talmudic scholar. In 1939 the war started, and my town was divided between the Germans and the Russians. The river was the dividing line and I lived in the section occupied by the Russians. In 1941 the Nazis invaded the town and deportation started in shifts. My family stayed together in the ghetto until 1943 when someone gave us up, and on one day, I lost everyone. The Germans began rounding people up, chaos broke loose, and I was separated from my entire family. I was fifteen years old and I never saw them again. We were moved in trucks to the railroad where we were loaded one hundred at a time into cattle cars. Everyone was panicked and crying. I saw an opening at the top of the car and convinced the others to help me get out. I made it through the opening but fell to the tracks unconscious. I don't know how long I remained that way, but, when I awoke, I made my way back to my town, to friends of my parents, who still remained in their factory as supervisors and they took me in. The Gestapo then began to liquidate all the illegal workers from this factory, but left fifteen of us to serve the ones that remained. Eventually the fifteen of us were sent to Plaszow in Krakow and from there to Auschwitz Birkenau. In Auschwitz. Dr. Mengele chose me to go "to the right." Those sent "to the left" were immediately gassed. Those of us who went to the right had our heads shaved, were tattooed, and were made to labor. Some were then sent to the gas chambers, but I was not. In 1944 I was sent to work in a munitions factory in Villisca. Germany and from there to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. In May 1945, the Russian army liberated us. I went to Prague and there found that all of my family had perished. Having no one at all, I traveled to Austria, where I found employment applied for a visa for either Canada, Palestine, or the United States, and met my husband. In 1948 we received visas to the United States United States. We arrived in February 1949. We owned nothing at all. We had only ten dollars in our pockets. In the background of our portrait, we have chosen to place a photograph of the Statue of Liberty.
Miriam Fridman: Born in Lodz, Poland " As we approach the liberation anniversary, I thank America for liberating us and giving us an opportunity of freedom for a better tomorrow. We raised our families here and gave our children the best education possible. President Ronald Reagan said that we were "The best immigrants America ever had" I am proud of the achievements of each of the survivors and now we have the ability to help others". I was born in Lodz. Poland. My father was in the dairy business, which meant that we were affluent. and I attended private Jewish schools. In those days, I was involved in Zionist causes. I spent my youth in the ghetto. I can remember my hair freezing to the wall because it was so cold and we did not have wood to burn for fire. I spent time in various concentration camps even Auschwitz. where my job was to clean the bricks of the crematorium. On May 8, 1945, I was liberated and found my way to a displaced persons camp in Italy. A distant cousin gave me sponsorship to come to the United States. Miriam married in 1948, and her husband died in 1994. She has been honored many times for her educational work dealing with the Holocaust. "By teaching about our past, we can prevent history from repeating itself" She has spoken to the Shoah Foundation. She states that it is important for Israel to survive. She became a founding member of the Holocaust Survivors of Southeast Florida and is serving her third term as president.
Professor Hans Heilbronner: Dr. Siegel met Dr. Heilbronner after visiting Temple Israel in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He agreed to meet with Dr Siegel immediately, even though he was going on vacation the next day I grew up in Memmingen, Bavaria, Germany. On a single day, January 30, 1933, life immediately changed. I went from an assimilated Jewish family life to being prevented from entering my own home by Brown Shirts. My father, an affluent merchant who was president of our congregation, in November 1938 was sent to Dachau. My mother, hoping for the release of my father, went to the Gestapo chief and agreed to give him fifty marks and the keys to our Mercedes in exchange for my father. In March 1939, my brother and I were sent off to Zurich, Switzerland, and spent time in the care of a Swiss organization established to save German Jewish children. At first I was placed in a school for delinquent boys, but I ran away. A relative then found more appropriate living conditions for my brother and me, and we ended up living with a widow. That was a happy time. We knew no anti-Semitism and got to spend some of our mealtimes at a local elite boarding school for girls. Upon my father's release from Dachau, he and my mother came to find us, and, in August 1939, we escaped to London. We took the last ferry that sailed from France to England. War broke out the next day. Through it all, I didn't feel as if I were suffering. Life just felt like an adventure. My parents, in order to avoid living in the ghetto, moved the family to Detroit where my mother's uncle lived. Still our family remained poor. My father was a cookie salesman, and my mother, who had always had maids in Germany before the war began, cleaned houses. My brother and I served in the armed forces and then, because of the Gl Bill, both of us were able to get an education, and I received my PhD. Hans won a Fulbright scholarship as a Russian History scholar He was accepted by the University of New Hampshire, but disappointingly found there an atmosphere of anti-Semitism. He describes lecturing to a local women's organization in a country-club setting where no Jews were allowed. When he announced that he was Jewish they were forced to accept him on his merit, and from then on was well respected. He maintained his Jewish heritage and is a member of the board of the synagogue. He believes his survival was pure luck. He is a positive person who believes that if you come to grips with the fact that life is tragic and the essence of existence is tragedy, everything else comes into place. His story is part of Shoah. Now retired, an endowed lecture series on the Holocaust has recently been founded at the University of New Hampshire in his name.
Betty Ventura: Born in Oshmiany, Poland I was ten years old when German forces entered the small village of Oshmiany where we lived. They led the Jewish men into the forest and murdered them. My father was among the dead. Taken to Lithuania by way of cattle car. I was kept there among the Jews in a temple of worship and subsequently was sent to a work camp where I remained until its liberation by the Russians. An aunt, who was also in this camp, protected me and kept me safe, even through severe illness. My Jewish name was Basha Prusak. Following the war, I wanted to go to Israel where an uncle was in a kibbutz. but my aunt refused and wanted me to go to America instead. I eventually went to an orphanage in the Bronx. I married a shipping clerk and had three children. but I felt that my marriage was a failure. and we divorced after twenty years. Three years later, I met the love of my life. an Italian man. and we married. In 1986. as I was boarding a subway, I was mugged and remained in a coma for eight days with three blood clots on my brain. While in the hospital. my husband, in his despair. became a "born again Christian." I could not live with him, so once again. I divorced. The Jewish Family Service and Jewish Federation have helped Betty maintain her current living, and she asks nothing from her children. She states she has had the worst and desires nothing. In the painting. Dr. Siegel has col/aged her family photograph and her cherished Jewish star necklace.2nd Generation
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