The artwork in the Darkness Into Life exhibit at Birmingham-Southern illustrates some compelling stories from Holocaust survivors all over Europe.
The photographs, paintings, and video images show torturers especially evil for delighting in cruelty. It shows good people afraid to do the right thing. It shows crass betrayals. It also shows people who took the risk and reached out to help. They are stories of survival that in the end prove that life is more than that.
But in Czechoslovakia, when the Wermacht marched into the Sudetenland in 1938, it is documented that the Jews lost their jobs and businesses, and these chilling words were recorded, “their Christian friends were afraid to associate with them.”
For two Dutch sisters returning from the concentration camp after the war was over, the numbers tattooed on their arm were their train ticket home.
Before then, they took showers wondering whether water or gas would be coming out. How wonderful when it was water!
They had jobs next to the crematorium, and that’s how they first knew what was happening to their fellow prisoners who weren’t as useful—from the piles of shoes that kept growing outside their workshop door.
The sisters, Ilse Nathn and Ruth Siegler, survived it all by taking care of each other. Ruth saved Ilse’s life one day by making her go to work even though she said she felt too sick and could not make it. Those who did not report were sent to the infirmary and never heard from again.
In the Soviet Union, Anya Itskanova’s family was forced to house a German officer in their home. He told them sadly
of his family back in Germany he feared he would never see again, and offered the starving young Jewish girl some chocolate.
In Poland, Aisic Hirsch witnessed the rabbis being murdered when the Germans arrived in his town while thousands watched.
Many Jews in hiding told of going to Christian homes and being told they were afraid to help them.
Aisic, a soccer star, got other people to stop throwing rocks at him and his Jewish friends by shouting out, “I’m the soccer player.”
For a while he had to hide in a cave and a friend’s son brought him food every other day, but the boy grew alarmed when one day the son who brought the food would not look him in the eye.
The next time food was due he hid in a tree to see who would come, and sure enough the food-bearer brought German soldiers along, betraying Aisic.
One Catholic priest helped the young Jewish boy by teaching him his Catholic prayers. He was able to get a job with the Germans by proving he was not Jewish— the test the Germans gave him, reciting his Catholic prayers.
When the Russians came, the townspeople turned on him because they had seen him with the Germans, and he had to prove he was Jewish in order to liberated and not taken to the Russian POW camp, from which very few Germans returned decades later.
To prove he was a Jew he was forced to drop his pants and was saved by the mark of David. After the war he returned to his roots, migrating to Israel to start over.