Holocaust survivors say they have an obligation to never forget

"I don’t know why God saved me."
MCT Regional News
Jun 2, 2014

They lost everything: family, homes, possessions. But miraculously, inexplicably, they survived.

Ohio survivors and an American liberator shared their stories leading to today’s dedication of the Statehouse Holocaust and Liberators Memorial.

Auschwitz survivor

Moniek (Murray) Ebner never thought he was going to die, even when he was sent to Auschwitz, the infamous camp where tens of thousands of Jews were gassed to death.

“I don’t know why God saved me,” he said. “I always had hope. I was always optimistic. I felt every day I would be able to be free and to see my family.”

Freedom eventually came, but Ebner, now 85, never saw his family again after being snatched off the street near Krakow, Poland, when he was 13. The “happy, comfortable life” he enjoyed with his parents and three brothers was shattered when the Nazis invaded Poland.

“We were told we had to leave our home. We had no idea where we were going to go, what we we’re doing to do,” he said.

The frightened Jewish boy was taken to the Plaszów concentration camp, built on the site of two Jewish cemeteries and run by Amon Goth, a brutal SS commandant featured in the movie Schindler’s List.

One of Ebner’s jobs was digging up graves and removing gold teeth from corpses.

Eventually, he was placed in three other camps, including Aushwitz, where Ebner inexplicably avoided the gas chamber.

He was marched out of the death camp as the war ended, escaping when he hid in a barn, burrowing deep into a pile of hay. He was free for the first time in four years.

Ebner came to America searching for family and found a distant cousin living in Springfield, Ohio. He moved to Columbus in 1948, married, had three children and began Ebner Properties, a property-management company.

During an interview at a Holocaust exhibit honoring him at Jewish Family Services, 1070 College Ave. in Bexley, Ebner pulled up his left sleeve to show where his concentration camp tattoo had been before he had it removed.

But the number is burned in Ebner’s memory: “B2992,” he said quickly.

A hidden child

She was not yet 5 years old when the Nazis came in the middle of the night to Fran Silberstein Greenberg’s home in occupied Paris and took her father away in his pajamas.

“It was so frightening. We were all crying. ...We never saw our father again.” She learned later that he died at Auschwitz on July 8, 1942.

It was the beginning of years of persecution, fear and hiding for the daughter of a Russian shoemaker and Polish dressmaker.

Now the sole breadwinner for the family, Jeanne Silberstein first put her girls in day care and later reluctantly sent them away to safer foster homes.

“If you were a Jew,” Greenberg recalled, “you had to wear a Star of David if you were over 6. We were the enemies. Everybody blamed us for starting the war. They would spit on us.”

Greenberg and her sister were called back to Paris to see their mother, who was gravely ill in the hospital. She died when Greenberg was 9 years old and is buried in a mass grave in Paris.

She recalled one of the last things her mother told her: “Someday you will be able to be a Jew again.”

Greenberg, who now lives in Grandview, said she remembers going to a bomb shelter when her city was under siege by the Allies.

“We could see the bombs dropping from the skies. We went to the bomb shelter and it was wall-to-wall people. My sister held me as the bombs fell.”

Greenberg made several stops in other homes before being sent to the United States to live with her sister’s family in Cannonsburg, Pa.

“I always felt like I was second class. Nobody wanted us. The war was over, but it wasn’t over for me.”

Eventually she met Dan Greenberg, married, and had three sons.

“It’s a miracle I survived,” the 82-year-old said. “I can’t say that God protected me. Why would he protect me and not everyone else? I have a hard time with God.”

Seconds from death

She stood with her mother on the edge of a freshly dug pit.

Sofiya Karpovich was a child but knew that with Nazi soldiers pointing guns at her head, she was about to die.

Her father had been taken from the family home in Khmelnik, Ukraine, and killed. On two consecutive Fridays in Jan. 1942, known afterward as “Bloody Fridays,” the Nazis murdered 8,000 residents, the majority of them Jews.

“I remember what I thought,” Karpovich, 75, said at her Bexley home. “??‘In a minute, I will not exist.’ I thought about my mother and how she would weep.”

Suddenly, a Nazi officer came out, shouting in German. The execution was off.

Karpovich later learned the killings were stopped because there weren’t enough Jews to fill the pit. The soldiers were ordered to round up more Jews and return the next day.

“It was a miracle. My mother took me in her arms and she ran.” That night, she, her mother and older brother fled. A former housekeeper in a nearby village sheltered them for the remainder of the war.

She later moved to Kiev, where she went to engineering school and met her future husband, Edgar. The couple have been married 50 years and moved to Columbus in 1992.

Sofiya Karpovich said she believes she was spared so she could recount her Holocaust story for future generations.

“It is not easy, but it is my mission, my obligation to do this. Never, never again must this happen.”

American liberator

Bill Ruth, a native of Johnstown, Pa., and a radio operator with the U.S. Army 3rd Armored Division, had no idea of the hell he was about to enter as his unit approached the Nordhausen concentration camp in central Germany on April 15, 1945.

“After a bitter battle with these fanatic Germans,” Ruth wrote in his diary at the time, “ Nordhausen has fallen and what we encountered is sickening, atrocious and mind boggling.

“What we saw is hard to describe. ... Bodies heaped on piles with barely enough flesh to hold the skeleton together. What looked like hundreds of dead bodies on a pile, you would see a hand move, or leg or a muted groan. These poor souls were literally starved to death and left to die on this pile.”

Ruth, now 92, said he went to war when “President Roosevelt sent me a real nice invitation.” It was 1942 and he was 20 years old.

Ruth said he survived “five near misses” before arriving at Nordhausen.

While he has vivid memories of other wartime experiences, Ruth said he doesn’t want to remember but cannot forget the horror of liberating a death camp.

“So much happens during the war and you don’t think about it until years later,” he said at his Worthington home. “I felt like a lot of guys did. It was our duty.”

Nordhausen was an extermination camp where prisoners were left to die of illness and starvation.

Ruth, a Roman Catholic, remembers praying the Rosary after witnessing the horror there. “I wondered if the Germans were praying for the same thing as I was — that the war ends soon.”

The orphan train

There are blank spaces in Trudy Blumenstein’s memory.

“I have this vacuum in my life. I don’t really understand what happened or why,” she said. “A lot of my memory is blocked out.”

Blumenstein knows that her parents, Salomon and Klara Hochmann, died in Auschwitz because their names are in Gedenkbuch: Memorial Book for the German Victims of the Holocaust, an official publication by the German government listing all known Holocaust victims.

She bookmarked the page so she can find her parents among the millions of others.

Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, Blumenstein, her brother and parents fled the country for France after the Nazis came to power. Eventually, she was put on a train headed for a Roman Catholic convent in Chimay, France.

“All I remember is, one day I was sitting on a train holding a ball and I was going somewhere,” she said. “I was totally numb. Nothing mattered anymore. I knew I would never see my parents again."

At the convent, Blumenstein was one of 125 children, 25 of them Jews.

She received a different name, Therese Hogge, a Catholic education and upbringing. She was solemnly forbidden from telling anyone she was Jewish, lest she or the nuns be killed by the Nazis.

One of her few clear memories is the war in the skies: U.S. warplanes flying overhead to bomb Germany, and German V2 bombs she thought looked like stovepipes heading across the channel to Great Britain.

Her brother, sent elsewhere, also survived the war.

Blumenstein moved to New Jersey after the war and married and had two children. She recently moved to Columbus after her husband died, to be near her daughter.

“How I made it this far, I have no clue,” she said. “I don’t remember love. I remember hunger, cold and incredible fear.”

Like many other Holocaust survivors, Blumenstein asks herself, “Why me? I don’t believe in God anymore, so I can’t say God saved me.”

Set on survival

“I was 6 years old when I killed the first guy.”

Irv Szames, who owned the now-closed Bexley Kosher Market, suffered a stroke in 2005 but still remembers how he and his family were forced to flee their home in Poland when the Nazis invaded and began systemically killing Jews.

Hiding in the dense forest, the family foraged for food, stealing eggs, cabbage and potatoes from farms, taking scraps from pig troughs and eating roasted rats when there was nothing else.

One day, Szames and his mother were hiding in a house when a Nazi soldier discovered them.

“My mom begged with him and pleaded. She offered him jewelry and gold. He said, ‘If I kill you, I get a medal and a bottle of vodka each month. What are the odds of letting you go?’"

Szames had just one thought: “If I don’t kill him, he will kill me.”

When the soldier lowered his gun, Szames grabbed a pitchfork. “I held it real tight and I stabbed him in the chest. He was bleeding like a hog.”

The boy had been forced to become a man quickly after the Germans forced his father into duty as a soldier, fighting in the rear guard against the Russians. He was killed in 1940 when Szames was 5.

Later on, Szames said, he and his uncle were recruited to join Polish partisans who undertook guerrilla missions against the Nazis, blowing up trains, bridges and creating chaos for the occupiers.

Szames later immigrated to the United States and was soon drafted into the military. In an odd twist of events, he was stationed in Germany, guarding the border against the Russians who had once been an ally against the Nazis.

———

By Alan Johnson - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Comments

jas

The Holocaust was a horrible tragedy for individuals as well as all of mankind. It is estimated that 9 million people were killed in this effort to eliminate those seen as unfit to contribute to Nazi society. The Jewish people constituted about 6 million of those who were murdered. We should never forget about this horrible example of religious and cultural intolerance.

But what about the other 3 million? The gypsies, the homosexuals, the priests, the nuns, the ministers, the handicapped, and the political dissidents. Who speaks for them? It seems whenever the Holocaust is discussed, it is simply an issue of anti-Semitism. It was not. It was much more and much worse. Let's not forget the forgotten 3 million. Nazism wasn't just about anti-Semitism. It's hatred and intolerance was much worse. As we remember the Holocaust, let's remember all 9 million who were murdered and not just the 6 million. Remember the forgotten 3 million as well.

Cliff Cannon

@ jas : Amen ! Let us also never forget our 'ally' in winning W.W. 2 Stalin murdered some 20 million Ukrainians before the war to solidify his power. Nor forget Russia lost an additional 28 million souls fighting the war. Many simply because they were either 'in the way' or because they were ill equipped soldiers with 'numbers' rather than guns to fight with or that who knows how many Russian nationalist's were sent to their graves via the " Yalta Conference "


Bottom lines : You are totally spot on to remember that the " Holocaust " was not simply anti-Semitic as we've been brain washed to think. Nor was Hitler the worst mass murderer in history. For that less than coveted title belongs to America's ally in W.W. 2 ( whose efforts saved untold American lives ) Josef Stalin. Here's hoping Stalin burns in hades as we speak.

jas

Stalin was no better than Hitler and probably killed more people. His tactics were different but no less brutal. As you mentioned, he sent many ill equipped soldiers into the War against Germany as basically cannon fodder. He also selectively allowed large segments of the population under Soviet control to starve to death. He did not have a string of concentration camps like the Nazis. He didn't need them. Massive starvation took care of it.

The US sided with Stalin under the faulty thinking that "the enemies of my enemies are my friends". The Soviets were never our friends or real Ally but we were not prepared or willing to continue the War by fighting the Soviets or the Chinese. Hindsight is always 20/20 but "Standing up to Stalin" was not such a simple solution as some have suggested. We'll never know how many lives would have been lost if the War was continued instead of ending it with an extremely unsettled and imperfect peace agreement.

Cliff Cannon

" Stalin was no better than Hitler and probably killed more people "


jas I am sticking with my earlier comment in that Stalin was much worse and did kill far more than Hitler did. The massive starvation you refer to,is the 20 million Ukrainian's I refer to,so we are saying the same thing there for example, just differently.

I also, am very glad the Soviets /Stalin were our " ally's " in World War 2. Otherwise, God alone knows how many Americans would have died or how very different the world would've looked. Particularly, if the Nazi's & Soviet's had teamed up. ( Makes one shudder to think of that, doesn't it ? )


In spite of the fact I disagree with large parts of the " Yalta agreement " I find it foolish for armchair quarterbacks to look back and say we should have " stood up to Stalin " for they had the largest army in a very war weary Europe and I seriously doubt a bankrupt England or a still some what isolationist America would have wanted to lose several more millions of lives in an effort to push the Soviets back into Russia.


Further, I've often wondered why the Japanese wholesale slaughter of millions of Chinese or countless other's of their fellow Asians seldom rates a mention. Or for that matter why perhaps the greatest slaughter of their own people by percentage --- Pol Pot's killing fields of Cambodia in our own time. Seldom is mentioned either.

I suppose those answers are never to be found. Still history is always fun to debate for every persons opinion on a matter can be and probably is correct in some way,isn't it ?

theunknownmessanger

wow, what brave yet true comments guys, bravo. Our country is the best at brainwashing.

KURTje

Very true jas. Lest we forget look @ the T-4 program. And Prescott Bush. Or eugenics ( popular in America circa 1920) How about the slaughtered & frozen photos of Native Americans? Or blacks that were lynched? It is all wrong.

jas

The genocide of Native Americans is no less a tragedy than what was done to the Jewish people by Hitler. As we all know, the victors in war write the history books.

Equally tragic is the enslavement of African Americans and yet there are still ignorant Southerners who see nothing wrong with flying the Confederate flag. Flying the Confederate flag is no less an abomination as flying the Nazi flag. Both are symbols of societies based on hatred, ignorance, and government sanctioned murder of innocent people. "States Rights" was and still is used as a smoke screen to hide atrocities committed by State and local governments.