Individuals featured in Parallel Journeys: World War II and the Holocaust through the Eyes of Teens
Born to a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, Gerhard Beck was considered to be “Mischling” or “mixed” by Nazi authorities; he was also gay. Both Gad and his twin sister Margo became members of the Hehalutz Zionist movement in Berlin when they were denied access to public schools because of their heritage. In 1943, he joined another resistance movement, Chug Halutzi, and eventually became its leader. He was arrested in March of 1945 and injured in jail when the Allies bombed Berlin. On April 24, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the hospital where he was recovering. After the war, Gad was appointed by the Soviets as their first representative for Jewish Affairs in Berlin. He eventually moved to Munich to help in organizing illegal immigration to Palestine. Finally in 1947, Gad, along with his sister and parents, emigrated to Palestine, where he remained until 1974.
At age seventeen, Masha Bruskina lived in the Minsk ghetto and worked in a hospital for Soviet prisoners of war. To aid the underground resistance movement, Masha secretly supplied clothes and false documents to escaping Soviet officers. Masha and other members of her group were arrested by the Nazis in 1941. Although faced with torture, Masha never revealed any secrets of the resistance movement. She was executed by the Nazis in October 1941, before her eighteenth birthday.
Alan Davies spent his London childhood running from the Nazis. He was evacuated from his East-End neighborhood along with other children and teens by the British government three times during the war to avoid the Luftwaffe bombings of the city. A native of the city, Alan found himself alone in the countryside without friends or family during these evacuations. He did not see his father, who was serving overseas in the army, for four consecutive years. At the end of the war, at age 14, Alan became a copy boy for a London newspaper office, then later served in the Royal Air Force. He became a U.S. citizen and civil servant, eventually going to work in Germany where he met his wife Julianne. Alan published his memoirs, A Life In Shadows, in 2005.
One of the most famous victims of Nazi oppression, Anne Frank was born in Germany but fled to the Netherlands with her family when she was five years old. Anne was given a diary for her thirteenth birthday, and used it to chronicle her experiences and feelings during the war. When Anne’s sister Margot was told by the Central Office for Jewish Emigration to report to a work camp, the family, including her father Otto Frank and mother Edith Frank-Hollander, went into hiding in a secret annex above Otto’s factory, Opekta Works. The family was betrayed in August 1944 and deported. Anne died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. After the war, Anne’s diary was recovered by her father, who published her story. Today, Anne’s diary has been translated into 67 languages and is one of the most widely read books in the world.
Although born a Jew, Stella Goldschlag’s appearance allowed her to pass as an Aryan in Berlins’ Nazi society. In 1943, at the age of twenty, Stella was arrested when she was betrayed by a Jewish friend. Faced with her own mortality, Stella chose to become a “Jew catcher” and report other Jews to the Nazi authorities. After the war, she was arrested by the Soviets and tried, ultimately serving time in a hard labor camp. Throughout her life she refused to accept any blame for her actions during the war.
Despite her father’s stance against the Nazis, Irme Grese became an ardent member of the Nazi SS at a very young age. She was assigned as a guard at Bergen-Belsen, where she was in charge of 18,000 women prisoners. Known as the “Bitch of Belsen,” Irme had a reputation as a cruel warden who often beat and murdered some of her prisoners. In 1945, Irme was tried and found guilty of war crimes and was executed.
Edith Hahn, a Jewish law student, survived the war by posing as a Christian nurse named Grete Denner and marrying Nazi officer Werner Vetter, who knew Edith’s secret. When the war ended, Edith presented her true identity papers to the Soviets and became a judge. Werner left Edith, and she, along with her daughter, managed to leave Germany for England to live with her sister.
Alfons Heck and Helen Waterford
Born within a hundred miles of each other in Germany, Alfons Heck and Helen Waterford saw very different sides of the Holocaust. An ardent member of the Hitler Youth that served in both the Luftwaffe and German infantry, Alfons became disillusioned by Nazi ideology after the war. He served as a translator for American forces before being arrested by the French. He emigrated to Canada in 1951 and began writing about his experiences. Helen Waterford was deported to Auschwitz with her husband in 1944, having hid her young daughter with friends in the Netherlands. She was separated from her husband and survived three “selections” by Dr. Josef Mengele before she was sent to the Kratzau work camp in Czechoslovakia where she was liberated by Soviet troops in 1945. She and her daughter came to the United States in 1947. In the 1980s, Helen began reading the articles written by Alfons about his war experiences. The two came together to lecture about the Holocaust. Their stories are told in the book, Parallel Journeys
Traudl Junge was 22 when she was selected over 10 other women to be Hitler’s private secretary. She worked for Hitler from 1942 to 1945, following the German leader into the bunker where he committed suicide. After the war, Traudl was interned in a Russian prison camp. Once freed, she returned home to become a secretary once again. She remained out of the public eye until her autobiography, Until the Final Hour
, was published in 2002.
Jan Kostanski was fifteen when the construction of the Warsaw ghetto separated his family from their Jewish neighbors and friends. As part of the relief effort, Jan and his mother smuggled goods from their home on the “safe” side of the wall to their Jewish friends inside the ghetto. Jan himself fell in love with Nacha, a girl close to his age, and even smuggled her outside the ghetto to attend a movie. Even after a brief period of imprisonment, Jan remained dedicated to the cause; smuggling former neighbors out of the ghetto and hiding them in a secret room in his home and hiding in an underground bunker with his friends during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After the war, Jan married Nacha and moved to Australia. In 1984, both Jan and his mother were given the honor of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem for their heroic relief efforts during war.
A German native, Wolfgang Kusserow and his family were targeted by the Nazis because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Kusserow home was often the center of the congregation, holding secret Bible studies even after Hitler banned Jehovah’s Witnesses from worshiping in Germany in 1933. In 1941, 19-year-old Wolfgang refused to enter the German military on religious grounds. He was arrested and condemned, then executed at Brandenburg prison at the age of 20.
Gretel Bergman had become the 4th ranked German high jumper at age 16 in 1930. When Jews were banned from athletic clubs and sporting events after Hitler took over, Gretel fled to London. When the United States expressed doubts about competing in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin because of Nazi racial restrictions, Gretel was forced back to Germany to be part of the women’s high jump team.
Once the athletes for the United States began their trip to Berlin to compete, Gretel was notified that she wasn’t good enough to compete on the German women’s high jump team. That year, the gold medal was awarded to the high jumper that matched Gretel’s previous record. Gretel fled to the United States in 1937, married, and changed her name to Margaret Lambert.
Murray Lynn was fourteen years old when he and his family were deported from Hungary and sent to Auschwitz in 1944. When he entered the camp, he weighed 140 pounds. After a death march and liberation in 1945, he weighed a mere 65 pounds. After spending time in a hospital, Murray returned briefly to Hungary before moving to the Czech Republic to study in a theological seminary. Murray was brought to England and then to Ireland, where he and 120 orphans who had survived the concentration camps were housed in Clonyn Castle. He remained there for two years before coming to the United States. After completing his bachelor’s degree at City University of New York and an MBA at New York University, Murray moved to Atlanta in 1956 and enjoyed a successful career in business.
Preben Munch-Nielsen’s valiant efforts during the war helped transport 1,400 Danish Jews safely into Sweden. When the Nazis invaded Denmark in April 1940, Preben, only fourteen-years-old, joined the resistance as a courier. In 1943, Preben became more active in the resistance by smuggling Jews in a boat across a four-mile strait between Copenhagen and Sweden. Preben survived the war, and in 1997, Preben was honored for his heroism by President Bill Clinton.
Miriam and Eva Mozes
Twins Miriam and Eva Mozes were only ten years old when their family was deported to Auschwitz from their small Romanian village. Once the girls were identified as twins, they became subjects of Dr. Joseph Mengele’s cruel and inhumane medical experiments. Miraculously, the Mozes twins survived the experiments and were liberated in 1945, but suffered physical and psychological problems from their experiences well into adulthood.
On the eve of Solly Perel’s bar mitzvah, his town was attacked by the Nazis. Solly fled to an orphanage operated by the Soviets in Poland. When Poland fell to the Nazis, Solly used his fluency in German and Russian to adopt the false identity of Josef Perjell. He joined the Nazis as a translator and was eventually sent to an elite Hitler Youth school where he learned Nazi ideology and feared that his Jewish identity would be discovered. Solly’s Nazi military unit was captured by American forces in 1945, on his twentieth birthday. His true identity revealed, he was released. He emigrated to Israel in 1948. The German film Europa Europa chronicles Perel’s extraordinary experiences during the war.
A member of the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist underground in Poland, Rosa Robota remained politically defiant of the Nazis even after she and her family were deported to Auschwitz in 1942. In 1944, Rosa and other women forcibly employed at a Nazi munitions plant smuggled gunpowder to members of the Sonderkommando who used the supply to destroy Crematoria IV in the Auschwitz uprising. Because of Rosa’s efforts, another teenager featured in this exhibition, Alice Lok, was saved. Rosa was arrested and executed in January 1945 after refusing to divulge information about the uprising.
William A. Scott, III
William A. Scott III moved with his family to Atlanta at the age of five in 1928. His father founded the Atlanta Daily World, one of the most influential African American newspapers in the nation. W. A., as he was known, studied business administration and mathematics at Morehouse College. Drafted into the army, W. A. served as a reconnaissance sergeant, photographer, and part-time historian in the intelligence section of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion. In April 1945, he was one of the first Allied soldiers to enter and photograph survivors of Buchenwald concentration camp. In 1991, a year before his death, W.A. was honored for his valiant service in World War II and was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council by President George Bush.
A well-known author and lecturer, Elie Wiesel was deported by the Nazis at the age of fifteen. He survived the horrible conditions at both Auschwitz and Buchenwald before liberation in 1945. In order to make sense of his wartime experience, he published his most famous book, La Nuit (Night)
in 1958. Wiesel has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and the Medal of Liberty Award, the Nobel Peace Prize, and the rank of Grand-Croix in the French Legion of Honor.
Born in Belgium, Jan was just twelve-years-old when he left home in search of a group of Roma (gypsies) known as the Lovara, who lived on the outskirts of town. For the next six years, he traveled widely and was informally adopted by a Lovara family. When the war began, Jan joined the British army and recruited his Roma to assist Allied intelligence units in smuggling arms to the resistance. He and his Roma friends were arrested and sentenced to death, but a case of mistaken identity set Jan free after six months. With assistance from the Allies, Jan impersonated an S.S. officer and helped rescue many intelligence officers, pilots, and others from behind enemy lines. He was arrested again and sent to the Miranda concentration camp until the end of the war. In 1950, he established an art studio in New York City. He published four books, including The Gypsies
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