The next journey begins CHINA!!

The next journey begins CHINA!!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

ADL- Echoes Day 3

Day three was a packed day held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on Battery Park. We worked with the lesson of the Final Solution fro Echoes and had some wonderful,debatable discussions.  The afternoon began with a tour of the museum, that I personally felt should have been a self guided tour.  The afternoon and evening events were the highlight of the day. We heard the testimony of Auschwitz survivor Bronia Brandmen who survived 5 and a half years of torture until her liberation. The evening was capped with a reception at the Museum where we met our benefactors Charlotte and Jacques Wolf who sponsor the program year after year causing the ripple to continue outward. I recently had a mini reunion from the 2012 Yad Vashem trip with Eva and Russel. Russel, a Franciscan priest turned me on to a rather wonderful tradition that of giving a folded dollar to someone going on travels to do good deeds. The concept is to carry the bill with you everywhere and upon a safe return to donate it to  charity. The funny thing is that I had never heard of this, yet within one week I now have three dollars! Last evening Etzion Neuer- lawyer for the ADL who I had never met before- handed me the dollar once I told him of my upcoming journey!  I have also passed one to my friend Mitch who will be going to Russia this summer.
I will post my notes on Bronia's Testimony if anyone wants to read it.  She also gave us a book about her experiences ( geared yo young readers)  The evening ended with a walk through midtown with a few of my new friends- where we talked about education, our own lives and just got to know each other.

Bronia Brandman (Mandelbaum)- Holocaust survivor
Auschwitz survivor who stands about 4ft 10 with numbers on her left arm. I can see 52643 clearly tattooed on her left forearm
She had rare pre- war photos of her family.  She showed photo of her original home in the Market Square. She was a family of 8 and describes a pleasant childhood filled with many kids playing in the yard. Children’s normal games of: ball, jumping rope, soccer, riding bikes. Coming from a middle class Orthodox family they children attended public school during the day and Religious school in the afternoon.
School was difficult as anti-semantic slurs were the norm. Her father Israel was a Talmudic scholar. Her father , although he did not show it did care about the children. Her mother Ida had 11 siblings who sought out advice from her. She was Orthodox as well. Her passion was dancing she Bronia also inherited this passion. She had an older sister Mila whom Bronia loved, and adored. Bronia showed many pictures of Mila with friends and cousins, followed by photos of her shy older brother Mendek.
Mendek is the only survivor besides Bronia. He was very intelligent man who is an inventor, painter, and poet. Tulek another older brother who tormented her as a youngster, he cut school, always in trouble. He had a perpetual fire in his eyes. He was a leader to his friends. He also could fix anything.
Bronia was smiling, and animated while talking about her pre war life. Her demeanor changed as the story turned to the German invasion. Her mother and 5 children left to go to an uncle that lived further from the German/Poland border.  The remainder stayed however she heard the Germans enter and yell “Jewish Swine” Men were gathered and burnt alive. She was 8 years old and heard people being butchered. She grew up fast. She returned home only to learn that her father was ordered by the Nazi soldiers to go into basement while his  son( Bronia's brother) watched his father be beaten as the soldiers  laughed. The Nazi’s let him go but her father was traumatized never entering the store again. New laws were in place. They had to wear the Jewish star - anyone over 6 yrs old.  To be without it meant death. All valuables were taken and sent to Germany. At 9 she became the bread winner hiding her star and selling textiles to Christians on the black market. She felt that she would be caught and did not reveal to her mother how scared she was. Daily life was terror. They came for Mila: and her brother Mendek at 15 volunteered to go in his sister’s place. At 11 the Nazis made the final raid and took her mother, father and two brothers. Her sister and brother were able to hide. Her mother whispered to her to run- how far could she get? The soldiers, the dogs, etc. Someone would denounce her for a bag of sugar. Her mother knew what would happen. She did run and never saw her parents or brother again. She went to a farmer's house for the night. She asked to say with them, but if she stayed she would have to renounce her Judaism, and she could not do that and did not ask for asylum. She was smuggling live chickens and at  age11because she  was head of the household. For one year they survived. She and her sister hid in a basement and there was a raid. She hid with neighbors who had a baby. The baby began to cry. The mother suffocated her child. But to no avail they were found out anyway and sent to a Auschwitz.
She was in front of Dr Mengle with her sister Mila. He moved his index finger only. He pointed Mila to right and the three of them to left. As an ‘experienced” smuggler she made spilt second decision- she darted to the right to her sister. She realized it meant her two baby sisters would be gassed-  alone. She also put her sister in danger. A Sonderkommando who wrote about the transport told how people were given ‘pep’ talks to  get undressed quickly and they would be showered faster. The last person entering would be shot in order to push forward. Babies were thrown on top .  After the gas when the doors opened, there was a pyramid of people with babies on the bottom. All were dead, hair was shaved, gold taken from teeth. Ashes used for fertilizer and insulation. All parts of the human were used.
She was seen on the line with her sister and was spotted but allowed to stay with her sister. She was made to strip naked for hours in front of men. She was sheared and branded. They no longer had names. Humanity was gone.  They were given a pair of wooden clogs, one dress, no underwear, and one possession: a tin bowel.
In Birkeneau it was mud all the time. Feet became swollen and infected. She did not have any idea of time, not seeing a clock for two years. One blanket was for 10 people. 16 inches per person. Everyday they had to be counted and stood outside in all weather for many hours. Dead and alive had to be accounted for. Breakfast consisted of bowel of hot green water. Work was not productive it was meant to weaken and kill. Food for one day was a slice of bread made with sawdust, and watery soup. “Pain of hunger was never ever still” Covered with lice, Mila came down with typhus.  Being sent to the hospital was a one way trip. Should she go with her? She decided to go with her sister. Lying naked covered with filth, she had to help her sister getting the chamber pot. A Jewish nurse who was in charge came to tell her that all Jewish sick were being liquidated. She singled her out to save her and saying that Bronia was her sister. “how do you say goodbye to your sister?” She said to us describing her leaving her sister Mila in the hospital knowing what would befall her.
 The infamous Dr.Mengele came by for selection and Bronia's number was on the list. Her nurse friend said never has  a name been removed from the list. Bronia followed Mengele and asked him to remove her number. “Call it luck, call it a miracle.”  The Allies were circling overhead .Mengele was paranoid of bombs. When he heard the planes, he turned ashen and shook with fear, as he ran to his car, he told his assistant to remove her name from the list, she was told this was the ONLY time a name was removed from the selection list.
A second bout with Typhus put her in a coma, the Russians were close to liberating Auschwitz. So the Death Marchs began. She survived 5 and half years of the Holocaust at this point. When She slowed down- which was a reason to be shot-  her friend saw a gun pointed to Bronia,  so she carried her so Bronia would not fall and avoid being killed.
Liberation was the ‘worst’ time of her life having to come to grips with the fact that her mother and 11 siblings did not survive. At 14 she was alone in the world . It took her 50 years to talk about her experiences. Her family did not know she had brothers and sisters. 

 She was empowered to laugh once again after visiting Israel and facing her past.

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