The effects of Hitler’s attempt to eradicate the Jewish people are still felt today, in our community.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi regime committed unspeakable atrocities on innocent people they deemed “Untermenschen”– subhuman. In Germany and across Nazi held territories, Jewish men, women and children were systematically imprisoned in concentration camps and murdered. Although to some young people, The Holocaust is just a historical event that happened in the distant past, they don’t realize how the horrors that unfolded 80 years ago across Europe have shaped the lives of their neighbors here in Iowa. As the philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The legacy of The Holocaust must be maintained, if we are to prevent such inhumanity in the future.
As early as 1933, the Nazis began passing anti-jewish laws in Germany, and by 1938, anti-semitic actions were reaching horrendous proportions. November 9-10th, 1938 is known as “Kristallnacht”, or “The Night of Broken Glass.” Journalist and Coe College graduate William L. Shirer was a witness to these events, and wrote about them in his landmark book, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
It was a night of horror thoughout Germany. Synagogues, Jewish homes and shops went up in flames and several Jews, men woman and children were shot or otherwise slain while trying to escape burning to death…815 shops destroyed, 171 dwellings set on fire, 119 synagogues set on fire…30,000 Jews arrested.
By the time the concentration camps were liberated in the spring of 1945, Hitler’s regime had murdered six million jews, along with five million other “Untermenschen,” Roma Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, homosexuals, disabled and political prisoners.
Several area residents directly experienced the tragedy of The Holocaust. Some were survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. Some escaped imprisonment, but lost family and loved ones. A few Iowans were also among the American soldiers who liberated the camps. As the years pass, fewer and fewer are alive to tell their stories, but their families and friends keep their memories alive.
Although Fred and Ann Gilbert are gone now, their daughter Lena Gilbert of Springville recounted their story to the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2012 (Link).
“It’s one thing for me to talk about the Holocaust,” said Lena Gilbert. “It’s another thing for my father to sit there and roll up the sleeve and show the tattoo on his arm that he was given at Auschwitz.”
The Polish Jews — Fred from Warsaw, Ann from the smaller town of Szydlowiec to the south were caught in the Nazi pogroms and sent with their families to the camps. They met the day the Dachau camp was liberated in April 1945… They married in 1946 and came to Cedar Rapids three years later, after the birth of Lena’s older brother Jack Gilbert. The family was one of several sponsored by Temple Judah.
“It took several years for them to be comfortable with public speaking, but once they made the commitment to become public speakers, they spoke out with a lot of devotion and passion,” Gilbert said.
Two Cedar Rapids men were among the American troops who were the first to reach the gates of Dachau. A 1992 AP article told their story (link).
From the road, the soldiers say, it looked like a college campus. Or a religious school.
Up close, Ted Johnson, Henry ”Hank” DeJarnette and the other soldiers of the U.S. Army’s 42nd Rainbow Division saw the barbed wire and moats. Then they saw the emaciated inmates of Dachau.
”I can truthfully tell you, I was hugged and kissed by living, walking skeletons. Bony hands reaching out to touch me,” DeJarnette said.
”We were all a bunch of kids,” said Johnson, ”a bunch of young guys, and we’d seen enough of death in the months before that you might think we’d be inured to it. But you cannot be inured to that kind of senseless slaughter.” The Nazi death camp was liberated on April 29, 1945. Forty-seven years on, some 40 to 50 of the American soldiers are expected to return, along with 500 former inmates.
Marianne Bern of Cedar Rapids was a 16 year old music student when Kristallnacht changed her life forever. From the Marshalltown Times Republican: (Link)
As a teenager, she narrowly escaped Hitler’s Germany on the eve of the great war.
Marianne Bern and her sister fled Nazi Germany for England in 1939 though Kindertransport, a movement to evacuate primarily Jewish children from out of harm’s way. At 16, Bern said she was one of the oldest allowed to go.
Bern eventually reunited with her parents. For that, and for her own survival, she considers herself one of lucky few.
The stories of the Gilberts, Marianne Bern, Johnson and DeJarnette and the others who experienced the Holocaust need to be preserved, and the history of the 20th century’s darkest hour needs to be taught to future generations. With the help of the Thaler fund, the legacy will be maintained for Eastern Iowans.
Wrap up paragraph here- perhaps a quote from Rabbi at Temple Judah?