March 2003 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
HOME
 Articles:
Lest We Forget...
(A graphic look at
nuclear horrors)
The Star Family Picnic
Masquerades of March
Survival of the Spirit:
Holocaust Survivors' Son
 Features:
Book Review:
The War on Freedom
March Star Watch
Conscious Community
March Interactive
Calendar
 Contributors:
Newsletter committee, writers, & contact info
 More:
Metamorphosis
Index of All Articles
Volume 2, Number 3

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.

Holocaust Survivors’ Son

by Eran Spitz
 

    In this issue, Metamorphosis continues a series of personal stories about how individuals learned to cope with tragedy and loss ... and how they found spiritual strength to carry on in the face of adversity and sorrow. In this second article of the series, site member Eran Spitz reflects on his parents’ history as survivors of Hitler’s Holocaust.

My parents and family are Holocaust survivors. My father was born and raised in Vienna, Austria. He was constantly beaten and brutalized by the Nazis as a child and while growing up, all because he was Jewish. At 17, he was ready to go to the university but couldn’t, again because of his religion, because no Jews were allowed to attend.

He fled Vienna in 1938 right after Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) to Palestine, where he was recruited for the British Army. My grandfather was missing one day and never heard from again. It is assumed he either perished in the camps or was killed by the Nazis some other way. Nobody knows. My grandmother survived, fled and lived in Israel. My father’s uncle had a wife and two children who also were taken away and never heard from again. It is presumed they died in one of the concentration camps.

My mother was born and raised in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), a city in western Russia that came under Nazi occupation and, as such, was considered part of Hitler’s Germany. When my mother was 17, she watched in horror, along with her aunt and uncle, as the Nazis marched in front of their synagogue and torched it, while the family and others stood by, helplessly. They had belonged to this synagogue for many, many years. This was only one of 200 synagogues that were destroyed during Kristallnacht. My mother’s family was just a middle-class German working family - far from being rich. But, like all the Jews, everything they owned was taken away. Everything!

My mother’s aunt and uncle managed to escape to the United States, but my mother was left behind in Germany because there was no money for her trip. Then Hitler’s government decreed that no more ships could leave Germany.

Eventually, my mother caught up with the Jewish Agency, an organization that was part of the underground resistance, which provided ways to escape Hitler’s Germany. The final destination of the escapees was Palestine, and the Jewish Agency’s goal was to take only the “strongest” to help build Israel. There were only so many people the group could rescue. The agency refused to take my mother because, of all things, “she was too skinny.” But my mother had a friend whom the agency wanted to take to Palestine. She said that if my mother weren’t allowed to go, she wouldn’t go either. Finally the agency and the underground relented.

In September of 1940, about 3,000 Jewish refugees from Vienna, Prague and Danzig were attempting to reach Palestine. In a convoy of four river steamers, they set sail down the Danube and reached the Romanian port of Tulcea where they transferred to three Greek cargo ships named the Atlantic, Pacific and Milos. Conditions onboard these three ships were horrendous. Eventually the ships reached Palestinian waters, but the British Colonial Office refused them permission to land. The British government had decided to take drastic steps in order to put an end to the illegal immigration of European Jews into Palestine, so the government announced the following day that the would-be immigrants were to be deported to Mauritius instead, where a special camp was to be built. Their fate would be decided when the war ended.

When the ships arrived in Haifa, their passengers were transferred to yet another ship, which the British intercepted earlier, called the S/S Patria. The Patria was under repairs in the harbor.

As the last passengers from the Atlantic were boarding the Patria, a tremendous explosion ripped the liner apart. The death toll amounted to 267 refugees killed. The Haganah (the Jewish underground army) had decided that the British expulsion of the illegal immigrants must be prevented at all costs, and had succeeded in smuggling a mine aboard the ship. The Haganah had meant only to damage the ship to prevent its departure, but they miscalculated the destructive force the explosion would have on the aging craft. The ship was not merely disabled but sank rapidly. Within 15 minutes, the 12,000-ton liner plunged to the bottom of Haifa Bay.

Children were left orphaned and parents lost their children. There was not a single home in the city of Haifa that was not affected by the disaster, and the city responded with an outpouring of donations of clothing and furnishings for the survivors. The British colonial government reversed its deportation decision, declaring that survivors of the Patria and Atlantic could stay in Palestine under “special dispensations of mercy on the grounds of the horrors they had just experienced board the S/S Patria.” The roughly 1,700 Jews were interned in a detention camp at Atlit. They were permitted to stay in pre-state Israel and were released in groups throughout 1941. My mother was one of those 1,700 survivors.

My parents rarely spoke about the Holocaust. Their story was told to me only recently, several years after they died. I wish they had discussed it more with me. I, personally, will only stop talking about the Holocaust when others in this world of ours stop saying the Holocaust never happened, and when I can be assured that other genocides of any kind will never again happen, ever. With such a family history, I take the issue personally.

But I also like to reflect, in troubled times, on the writings of Anne Frank, the 15-year-old Jewish girl whose diary was published after her death in the Holocaust. She did not survive the genocide, but her idealistic words did.

“It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical,” she wrote. “Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

She was aware of the near-hopelessness of her situation. “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality,” she wrote. Yet, she resolved to hold onto her ideals with unflagging optimism and the belief that peace would triumph.

“I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death,” she wrote. “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

Anne Frank’s eternal optimism, no matter how dire the circumstances, made her a lasting example of a spirit that could not be crushed. Somehow, my parents endured their experience of the Holocaust. I still don’t know how my parents did it, but they made it through. The family continues on.