(Editor’s Note: Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, began last night as a solemn observance of the more than six million European Jews who died at the hands of their Nazi oppressors between 1933 and 1945. Established in 1953, the day is observed on the 27th day in the Hebrew month of Nisan. This year that date is today April 19, 2012. It began, by tradition, at sundown April 18, 2012. Many observances are schedule this weekend throughout the United States.)
By NORMAN M. COVERT
My first experience and understanding of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, came April 17, 1991 when I had the privilege of being master of ceremonies for a joint observance at the U. S. Army’s William B. Strough Auditorium, Fort Detrick, MD.
It allowed me to meet and interview Holocaust survivors and descendants of many who died in German Chancellor Adolph Hitler’s infamous “Final Solution.”
I experienced a deeper understanding of this epic human tragedy after having the opportunity to participate in successive observances.
Retired Rabbi Morris Kosman and the Frederick, Md., congregation of Beth Sholom Synagogue presented a memorable program in tandem with the U. S. Army that day. It included a dramatic reenactment coordinated by Dr. Harvey Levy of Frederick, who with his family is a survivor of the Holocaust. His grandparents perished in the gas chambers. His parents were allowed to emigrate to New York City shortly after World War II ended.
On hand at that ceremony was a World War II veteran, whose unit had liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp near Munich, Germany.
Keynote speaker was well-known Holocaust survivor, Mrs. Deli Strummer, 91, who still lives near Baltimore.
Mrs. Strummer spoke eloquently and movingly of the indignities and horrors she and a childhood friend experienced at the hands of Nazi SS guards at Mauthausen, Austria. It was one of the most notorious camps in the network of death camps in Nazi occupied Europe.
In recent years, critics have questioned Mrs. Strummer’s recollections of being in several death camps and recorded in her book, “A Personal Reflection of the Holocaust.”
Historians concur, however, that the former Fraulein Adele Aufrichtig is on record as having been interned at the Theresienstadt, Austria, Auschwitz, Germany, and Mauthausen death camps. Her recollections contain errors in time sequence and inconsistencies in her incarceration narrative.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Strummer bears the scars of her brutal treatment by SS guards before she was liberated by American soldiers May 5, 1945 at Maulthausen.
Allied troops liberated the first Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany, in 1945. The American 11th Armored Division of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s Seventh Army was approaching Linz, Austria, when it discovered the Mauthausen main camp. The complex included 49 permanent sub-camps and approximately 10 temporary camps. More than 150,000 were victims of its brutal Nazi overseers.
A window into the horror of Mauthausen opened with the confession of SS Standartenfuehrer Franz Ziereis, who commanded the camp and cadre. He was interviewed while suffering multiple gunshot wounds from trying to escape his U. S. captors. It is quoted from the Yom Hashoah website:
“The following posts and camps,” he dictated,” were under my command: Mauthausen, Gusen, Linz, Ebensee, Passau, Ternberg, Gross-Raming, Melk, Eisenerz, Beppern, Klagenfurt, Laibach, Loibl, Loiblpass, Heinkel, W. Wiener-Neustadt, Mittelber and Floridsdorf with approximately 81,000 inmates. The garrison of the camp Mauthausen numbered 5,000 SS men. The highest number of inmates in Mauthausen was 19,800.
“On the order of SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Krebsbach a gas chamber was built in the form of a bathroom. The inmates were gassed in this gas chamber. All executions were carried out on the order of the Reichsfuehrer SS and Chief of the German Police (Heinrich) Himmler, SS Obergruppenfuehrer Kaltenbrunner, or SS Gruppenfuehrer Mueller. Finally 800 inmates were gassed in Gusen I Block 31. I do not know the whereabouts of SS Oberscharfuehrer Jenschk; he murdered 700 inmates in Gusen.”
Recounting other grisly murders of inmates, SS Standartenfuehrer Ziereis dictated, “(SS Obergruppenfuehrer) Pohl sent me 6,000 women and children who, without any food and during very cold weather, had been in transit in open freight cars for about ten days.
“I was ordered to send the children away. I believe that they all died. Thereupon I became very nervous. On orders from Berlin 2,500 inmates from a transport from Auschwitz were bathed in hot water and during very cold weather had to stand in the open until they perished.
“Gauleiter Eigruber did not send any food, but ordered that 50 percent of the food for the inmates was to be handed out to the civilian population. Gluecks ordered that the inmates, occupied in the crematory, were to be relieved at least every three weeks and to be killed through shots in the neck, because they (knew) too much. Furthermore it was ordered that all physicians and the nursing personnel (were) to be sent to an alleged labour camp in order to be killed….”
Zeireis died shortly after dictating this confession, which was authenticated by Austrian court records.
Yom Hashoah was established by Israel’s Knesset in 1953, signed into law by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.
There has been no single rite established to observe the day, which includes seminars, historical films like Schindler’s List, and first-person accounts from survivors and families of victims who saw their loved ones taken away to the death camps. Activities often include lighting memorial candles and reciting the Kaddish, a prayer for the departed.
Never again!—©2012 Norman M. Covert