Preserving the Stories of Our Lives by capturing the voices, words, and meanderings of artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, and eyewitnesses to history. Listen, learn, and be amazed! WEB: www.storypreservation.org
Story Preservation wishes to thank Morgan Blum Schneider the Director of Education at the Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center in San Francisco for allowing us to use and share with Learning Lab partner schools the original lesson plan, which she developed, titled Surviving Hitler: A Love Story. The lesson plan follows the story of Jutta and Helmuth Cords and their involvement with the plot to assassinate Hitler. Jutta and Helmuth Cords daughter, Claudia Cords-Damon, shared her parents’ story with SPI. As has been said on numerous occasions, the resulting recording “reads like a novel.”
The JFCS Holocaust Center is dedicated to the education, documentation, research, and remembrance of the Holocaust. The Holocaust Center is Northern California’s primary resource for Holocaust education, leading the effort to increase awareness among the general public about the causes and consequences of racism, anti-Semitism, intolerance, and indifference during the Holocaust and today.
Story Preservation wishes to thank playwright Tom Anastasi for allowing us to use and share with Learning Lab partner schools his script for the play Surviving Evil. The play is a theatrical depiction of the life of holocaust survivor Stephan Lewy, whose oral history is part of Story Preservation’s collection.
What better way to teach young people about the holocaust than to have them listen to the stories of those who survived it and then, as we are now able to offer, have them take on the roles of victims, witnesses, and perpetrators.
From Stephan’s Story Preservation oral history relative to Kristallnacht:
“What they did, the Germans, they took the kids. We were about roughly fifty girls and fifty boys. They put us into the synagogue, and they couldn’t torch it, because we had Gentile people living on either side. So, above the arc, there is an eternal light burning in every synagogue, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ours was a gas-fired light. It could be electric; it could be a large candle that burns for seven days, and so on. But ours was a gas-fired light. What they did, they cut the gas line to this eternal light and let the gas escape. We were all sitting in
these seats —one hundred kids. They walked out, locked the doors on us, and walked away, hoping that we would suffocate in the process. So, fortunately, one of the boys, who probably was about fourteen years old, had enough sense to take a chair and break some windows, figuring he would be punished for breaking the window, but that’s what saved our lives that night. There were 279 synagogues that were either burned or demolished that night.”
The children of the Baruch Auerbach orphanage; Stephan Lewy, third row, far left. Photo courtesy of Stephan Lewy
This is a Learning Lab project and play well suited as a way to observe the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which took place on November 9 and 10, 1938, and to observe Genocide Awareness Month, which in many states is observed during the month of April.
WORDPRESS GLITCH! If you aren’t seeing the audio bars and want to listen to this recording, click on the post title “Holocaust Survivor Stephan Lewy / One of the World’s Most Unlikely Soldiers.”
Stephan Lewy was born in Berlin in 1925. His father was Jewish, his mother protestant. When Stephan’s mother died in 1931, Arthur Lewy, Stephan’s father, was left to raise the boy alone. He was unable. So Stephan was placed in the Baruch Auerbach orphanage.
Stephan’s father remarried in 1938. That same year, shortly after Kristallnacht, the family made plans to leave Germany for the States; however, due to a health issue with Arthur, their request was denied. Fearing for his son’s life, Arthur agreed that Stephan should instead leave Germany on a kindertransport. It was then that Stephan and his parents lost contact.
Stephan was transported to unoccupied France, where he stayed for a period of four years.
Stephan’s parents made it to the United States in 1940. Stephan, finding them through the American Red Cross, followed two years later. He was seventeen years old. He arrived with America already at war with Germany and so, Stephan, upon landing in the US, was considered an enemy alien. At eighteen, he was called upon to serve.
Stephan joined the army and was placed with a group primarily made up of German immigrants.
As teenagers they had escaped the Nazis. They trained in intelligence work and psychological warfare, and returned to Europe as US soldiers – with the greatest motivation to fight this war: They were Jewish. They called themselves “The Ritchie Boys”.
Stephan was assigned to General Patton’s Army with the 6th Armored Division. He landed in France ten days after D-Day and was present when Buchenwald was liberated.
This is a fascinating story, beautifully told.
Stephan has shared family and historical photos to accompany his personal narrative.
Helmuth and Jutta Cords. Used with permission of the family.
Claudia Cords-Damon tells the captivating story of her parents, Helmuth and Jutta Cords.
Both German citizens, Jutta and Helmuth met during the Nazi era, fell in love, and eventually – wanting no part of Hitler’s Germany – joined the underground resistance movement and participated in Operation Valkyrie – the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler.
Both Helmuth and Jutta were imprisoned, as were Jutta’s parents. Somehow, miraculously, they all survived. A love story for the ages, theirs was the first wedding in post war Berlin.
This link from the Beinecke Library at Yale provides digital access to more than 500 letters, long thought to have been lost, exchanged during the 1940s by poet Maxine Kumin and her husband, Victor, a soldier-scientist working at Los Alamos.
Both Maxine and Victor’s oral histories are part of the Story Preservation Initiative collection.
Those that I record are wonderfully generous to share personal family photos with Story for inclusion in the Learning Lab.
These images (and I receive many, these are just two that I chose to share) support the audio narrative. The photographs are one-of-a-kind, personal treasures.
Used with permission of the Family. Restrictions apply.
Some of the “Hidden Children of the Holocaust” who were separated from their parents, took on false identities, and lived in seminaries. This photograph was taken in Jamoigne in the Ardennes, Belgium. Henry Weinstock, who we recorded, is top row, far right.
Used with permission of the family. Restrictions apply
This of Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum in his studio with his son, Lincoln. After Gutzon died, Lincoln continued work on Rushmore.
With fully embedded audio. To listen, click on links below.
Henry Weinstock was one of the Hidden Children of the Holocaust. He was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1934. Hitler’s army occupied Belgium in May of 1940.
In 1942, when Henry was eight years old and with Jews being deported to “areas in the East,” (later, of course, it was known that these were death camps) his father “gave him away” to a Catholic priest by the name of Edouard Froidure, better known as l’abbe Froidure. This, perhaps, the greatest act of love.
Used with permission.
L’abbe Froidure baptized Henry and changed his name to Henry Albert Gerard. At great personal risk, l’abbe Froidure housed Henry – now a good Catholic boy – and other young Jewish boys who had also assumed new identities – in a camp outside of Brussels.
The story is complex (fully told by Henry in Story Preservation’s audio, available for listening below) but on October 9, 1942 Nazi soldiers came to the camp and l’abbe Froidure was arrested and ultimately sent to Dachau.
Henry – still known as Albert Gerard – went on to other homes run by Catholic nuns and priests. All put the lives of the children ahead of their own, creating elaborate stories to protect those in their charge.
Fast forward to 1945. Henry was miraculously reunited with his father who, shortly after he left Henry with l’abbe Froidure, was arrested and sent to Buchenwald. Few of the hidden children ever reunited with family. L’abbe Froidure also survived his imprisonment in Dachau. Henry and his father immigrated to New York.
In 1946 l’abbe Froidure visited the city. Somehow word got out that a young boy that he had baptized and hidden lived nearby. The two were reunited. The New York press had a field day.
Audio is a production of Story Preservation Initiative. All rights reserved.
More on the Hidden Children from the NY Times.
Who were the ‘hidden children’ and why have we not heard about them until recently? Though widely known within circles of academia and described more thoroughly in Holocaust literature, hidden children in general are the least known group of survivors from World War II. These children, anywhere between their infant years and their late teens, were given away either temporarily or permanently by their parents in order to save them from the concentration camps. Although there were several variations on the child’s hiding situation, they were usually sent to live with Christian families with whom they took on false identities throughout the duration of the war, or were physically hidden until the danger of arrest and deportation had passed.
In 1991 there was a Gathering of the Hidden Children in New York.
I spent yesterday afternoon at the Monadnock Regional Middle-High School in Swanzey, New Hampshire meeting with teachers and students who are working on a nature-related Story Preservation Learning Lab project. Talk about fun! They’re creating THE COOLEST nature journals that include daily observations, written reflections, and drawings. Lots of good learning going on.
Jennie Calnan, the lead teacher, whose bio you’ll find below, has coordinated learning opportunities with other teachers and specialists in the school, including those from the biology and art departments. MRMH is also supporting the project by offering library resources and tech support.
As part of the project, later this winter the students will be creating their own oral history of Rick Libbey a/k/a MOOSEMAN! (my friend, happy to say), who has volunteered his time for this project. Rick has spent the past 35 years observing and photographing moose and other northern New England wildlife. Going back to the same places year after year, Rick knows his moose individually – yes, he’s named them – and has watched many grow from baby to adult.
This moose looks a little scary to me! – hoping it’s a long lens – but it’s all in a day’s work for Rick.
(I can’t help but to post this!)
Meet Jennie Calnan, the teacher responsible for bringing Story to her students:
Jennie Dearani Calnan is a reading specialist and literacy coach at Monadnock Regional Middle High School in Swanzey, NH. She graduated from The College of New Rochelle in New York with a B.A. in Psychology, and received a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Keene State College. Her 31-year career as an educator has included positions as a special educator, Coordinator of Special Educational Services, elementary classroom teacher, reading specialist (K-12), lead teacher, adjunct professor, and District Literacy Plan Coordinator. Mrs. Calnan’s diverse background began in CT and continued in Washington, DC, NM, MA and NH, where she has been teaching for the past 13 years. She has extensive experience providing professional development to educators in Co-Teaching practices, Balanced Literacy, Reading and Writing in the Content Areas, Differentiated Instruction, as well as developing lessons and assessments that meet the rigor of the National Common Core State Standards. In 2014, Mrs. Calnan was a finalist for NH Teacher of the Year. She is currently enrolled in the University of New England where she is pursuing a Doctorate in Transformative Leadership in Education.
A remarkable story of survival and of a life spent making art speaking of the unspeakable.
Samuel Bak was born on August 12, 1933 in Vilna, Poland. A few years later the area was incorporated into the independent republic of Lithuania. He was eight when the Germans invaded in 1941 and established a ghetto for the Jewish population. At first he and his parents hid in a local monastery; when the Germans grew suspicious, they escaped to the ghetto. Bak began painting while still a child, and had his first exhibition (in the Vilna ghetto) in 1942 at the age of nine. From the ghetto the family was sent to a labor camp on the outskirts of the city. His mother escaped and took refuge with a distant relative who had converted to Christianity and was living undetected in Vilna.
The Family, oil on canvas, 1974
Then Bak’s father managed to save his son by dropping him in a sack out of a ground floor window of the warehouse where he was working; he was met by a maid and brought to the house where his mother was hiding. His father was shot by the Germans in July 1944, a few days before Soviet troops liberated the city. His four grandparents had earlier been executed at the killing site in the Vilna suburb called Ponary.
After the war, the young Bak continued painting at the Displaced Persons camp in Landsberg, Germany (1945-1948) and also studied painting in Munich. In 1948, he and his mother emigrated to Israel, where he studied for a year at the Bezalel Art School in Jerusalem. After fulfilling his military service, he spent three years (1956-59) at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He then moved to Rome (1959-66), returned to Israel (1966-74), and lived for a time (1974-77) in New York City. There followed further years in Israel and Paris, then a long stay (1984-93) in Switzerland. Since 1993 Bak has lived and worked outside Boston, in Weston, Massachusetts. In 2001 he published a detailed autobiography, Painted in Words: A Memoir (Indiana University Press).
Portrait with a Star, 1973, oil on canvas
Samuel Bak’s paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries and hang in public collections in England, the United States, Israel, Germany and Switzerland. Between Worlds: The Paintings and Drawings of Samuel Bak from 1946 to 2001 (Boston: Pucker Art Publications, 2002), a survey of more than a half-century of his work, summarizes the sources of his vision as follows:
Bak’s life has inevitably influenced his choice of images and themes. The particulars of Vilna and the Holocaust, of surviving and being a wandering Jew, are part of his individual biography; but all are also aspects of our shared human condition. Bak has always sought to find the universal in the specific. His ongoing dialogues with the long-dead members of his family, with his early teachers, with the great masters of all epochs, with contemporary culture, and with the Bible and the diverse host of Jewish traditions—all come from his desire to represent the universality of loss and the endurance of man’s hope for a tikkun.
This biography is taken from the Florida Holocaust Museum’s website, which can be found at: http://www.flholocaustmuseum.org/
AUDIO EMBEDDED. Click on links below.
Copyright Story Preservation Initiative. All rights reserved.
Adam and Eve, What Goes Up Must Come Down, oil on canvas
TRACK 01 INTRO TO RECORDING
TRACK 02 VILNA
TRACK 03 THIS THING CALLED WAR
TRACK 04 THE CONVENT
TRACK 05 THE CHILDREN’S ACTION
TRACK 06 THE ESCAPE
TRACK 07 THE RUSSIAN ARMY
TRACK 08 ISRAEL
TRACK 09 SPEAKING THE UNSPEAKABLE
TRACK 10 RETURN TO GERMANY
To view the video The Art of Speaking About the Unspeakable, copy the following link to your browser.