The German Survivor
It’s your grandfather, Jacob. I have been through so much in my lifetime that you may never know. It is time that I tell you what I and your great uncle went through so many years ago. It began in my hometown, Munich.
I was sixteen at the time. Your great uncle Franz was twelve. Myself, my mother, my father and Franz all lived in a house together. I played basketball and was a star swimmer in high school. My father was a steelworker, and my mother stayed at home. Hitler had been in power for eleven years, and the hate for us Jews in Europe was strong. I had seen people I’ve grown up with be forced out of their houses and taken to camp. One day in the summer of 1944, they took us.
The Nazis busted into our house around eleven o’clock. I knew what was happening; Franz was a little young to know exactly what was going on. My mother was crying, and my father stayed calm the entire time. They did not let us take our belongings, and they brought us to a train station. They loaded us up onto the train with other Jews. There were so many of us; we couldn’t even turn around. The train ride lasted ages. People were hungry and dehydrated. We sat in our own feces, urine and vomit like animals. We finally stopped, and got off of the train. They herded us out like sheep and made us change into prisoners’ clothes. They took me and my brother one way, and they took my mother and father away from us. My mother was howling, and my father had tears streaming down his face. We would never see each other again. Franz and I were taken to a cabin. The place smelled rotten, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the stench was. We worked for months and months; every day we seemed to work harder. People would be taken by the Nazis just to go shower and they would never come back. During the nighttime I would cry myself to sleep, but I couldn’t let Franz see or hear me. I felt so alone and so hopeless, and I missed my parents desperately. I felt like my will was slowly being broken with every passing day.
Six months had passed, and my strength had been sapped. I once weighed 180 pounds, and I had been reduced to under 100. The Jews who were too sick to work were beaten; some to death. I was walking around the camp one day and I sensed a horrible smell. I began drifting towards the scent, and what I saw horrified me. Hundreds of men, women and children were aflame in a huge pit. I was stunned, and I began stumbling backwards towards the camp, but then I saw my father. My calm, collected father was burning before my eyes. I fell to the ground and wailed. It was like being shot in the stomach. How could this be? How could God have let this happen to his children? I couldn’t tell Franz, or he would be too stricken with sadness to work. I forced myself to keep my composure and walked off.
Once I got back to the camp, I saw my brother on the ground vomiting violently. His face was bright red with sweat was pouring down his face. A Nazi guard strode over and whipped my brother until there was a pool of blood surrounding him. I remember running over and screaming for the man to stop, and he shifted his focus from Franz to me. The whip felt like a white-hot iron that intensified with every strike upon my back. Franz and I were left there motionless with blood seeping out of our bodies. As I drifted out of consciousness, I thought of the ring King Solomon once got; a ring that read “This too shall pass”. The saying gave me a sense of serenity, knowing that one day this pain and suffering will be over. It wasn’t too long before the King’s ring was correct again.
The Russians liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. My brother and I cried and hugged. We were no longer subject to the horrific practices of the Nazis. It was like a weight being lifted off of our shoulders. However, life was still atrocious after we were liberated. Most Jews had no money and nowhere to live. On buses, people would throw coins and small pieces of bread at the Jews just to see them kill each other over it. My brother and I often slept outside or on a bus with other Jews. We had no family, and we were hundreds of miles from our home in Munich. Several cruel people would attempt to toss coins and food at us as well, but we wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of fighting with the other Jews. We had been living like this for six months, and we were still in our clothes from the camp, which were torn and had a horrible stench. We laid down to rest in the woods near a neighborhood.
The next morning, I remember waking up in a bed. I shot up and screamed. I had no idea what was going on. I had fresh clothes laid next to the bed where I slept. Franz wasn’t in my room. I slowly walked out of the room. There was a delicious smell of soup coming from downstairs. It was like a warm blanket being wrapped around me. Franz was laying on a couch with a damp towel on his head and a bowl of soup next to him. Who were these people who brought us into their house? I heard footsteps coming from the kitchen, and a tall, middle-aged woman appeared. She was tall, had blue eyes like the ocean, and had a few wrinkles on her face. She introduced herself to me; her name was Roza. She introduced her husband, Otto, who followed her into the kitchen. Roza woke up in the middle of the night to pour a drink of water, and she saw our white clothes in the woods near her home. She said that she woke up Otto, and together they carried us out of the woods and into their home. I couldn’t have thanked them enough. I told them our story, from being taken from our house to Auschwitz, to the lonely nights, to seeing my father’s burning body, to being liberated, and to living on the streets. They were stunned after hearing the story. Roza broke down and cried, and there were tears in Otto’s eyes. Once they regained their composure, Roza asked if we wanted to stay there. We couldn’t believe it. God reached down with his hand and blessed these two people with everlasting kindness. We stayed there for about a year. Otto was a steelworker, like my father. I made extra money working in Otto’s steel mill. By the time of my eighteenth birthday, I had made enough money to buy tickets for myself and Franz to go to America. The difficult part was breaking the news to Roza. We were the children she never had. Roza cried and hugged us and asked us if we were sure. Roza and Otto took the train with us to the port that would take us to America. Roza cried again as we said our final goodbyes. Otto hugged us and wished us well. We were on to a new life with new opportunity.
Once the boat left the port, Franz and I walked around the small boat. There were several other families who joined us. While we were walking, I suddenly stopped. I saw possibly the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. I was captivated. She was like an angel. She began walking over. With every step, my heart beat a little faster. She started talking to me. Her name was Anna. She was also a German Jew who had lost her family. I at least still had Franz, but she had no one. She was taken to Dachau, near my hometown of Munich. She was stuck there for six years. I couldn’t have imagined what that would be like. I talked to her every day we were on the boat. One morning, I saw New York. It was the biggest city I had ever seen. There were a million sparkles on the water. The Statue of Liberty was a majestic lioness in the sky. The air smelled of freedom. We were moved to a very poor part of town with the other Jews, but I didn’t care. Anna stayed with Franz and I. I was determined to find a job when I stumbled upon Wall Street. I begged for a job. They reluctantly agreed, and I got a job in selling penny stocks. I worked twice as hard as everyone else to elevate my status on Wall Street. After a few months, we were no longer living in a slum and in our own apartment. I was twenty one at this time; I felt the new apartment was an opportune time to ask Anna to marry me, and thankfully she said yes. It was a very small ceremony; just me, Anna, the rabbi, and Franz.
I continued working hard, and saw my pay raise continuously. My brother was eventually hired and began riding his path to eventual success. I had bought a house in the suburbs for the three of us to live in. By the time I was 35 I had made a comfortable lifestyle for me and my family. Franz was 31, found a wife, and had his own house near us. One day I came home and Anna was crying. I asked her what was wrong. She was not sad; she was crying tears of joy because she found out she was pregnant. I was so overwhelmed with joy I cried with her. The day she went into labor, I brought her to the hospital. We waited for hours, and finally in the wee hours of the morning, your
father was born, Joseph. We named him David Johann Müller, David after my father and Johann after Anna’s father.
Joseph, I’m very sick and I don’t know how much longer I will be on this
earth. You’re just a baby now, but when you grow up and I am no more, I wanted you to know my story. I wanted you to see the resilience of the Jews during trying times, and to be proud of who you are.
"Concentration Camps, 1933–1939." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 29 Jan. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
Frank, Anne. The Diary of Anne Frank. London: Pan, 1954. Print.
"The Holocaust." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
"An Introductory History of the Holocaust." Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.
Wiesel, Elie, and Marion Wiesel. Night. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, a Division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Print.