What was it like to experience antisemitism leading up to the Holocaust?
Holocaust survivor Abe Foxman, born in Poland in 1940, now lives in the U.S. In his campaign video post he shares his thoughts on the origins of the Holocaust, saying “The crematoria, gas chambers in Auschwitz and elsewhere did not begin with bricks, it began with words…evil words, hateful words, antisemitic words, words of prejudice. And they were permitted to proceed to violence because of the absence of words.”
Yisrael Meir Lau
Holocaust survivor Yisrael Meir Lau, born in Poland in 1937, now lives in Israel. His hometown of Piotrkow Trybunalski had more than 10,000 Jews before the war, but most were deported to Treblinka in 1942 and killed. “They thought they could eliminate a people with words,” he says in his video post. “And then it turned out that it indeed happened.”
Holocaust survivor Charlotte Knobloch, was born in 1932 in Munich, Germany where she still lives. In her video post she shares her first memory of being treated differently because she was a Jew. “It began with words. They came before the horrific acts, the murders, the crimes…” she says. “I was four years old, when I was in the courtyard of the house across the street, I wanted to play with the neighbor’s children. I did that almost every day. But now the gate was suddenly locked. My friends looked at me silently, before I could understand what was going on, the concierge’s wife came in and started yelling at me, ‘Jewish children are not allowed to play with our children.’ I was four years old. I didn’t even know what Jews were.”
Holocaust survivor Sidney Zoltak, born in Poland in 1931, now lives in Canada. In his video post, he remembers witnessing hate at a particularly young age: “When I was four years old in 1935, I visited my grandparents in a village where they ran the general store. In front of their store there were young Poles with signs ‘Don’t Buy From a Jew.’ I didn’t know what antisemitism was, but that was the first act of anti-Semitism that I witnessed. Anti-Semitism in Poland at that time was not only tolerated, but it was encouraged.”
Holocaust survivor Aron Krell, born in 1927 in Lódź, Poland, now lives in the U.S. In his video he explains, “We heard the words… the Jews were cursed, the Jews are traitors and all of the problems in the world starts with the Jews, therefore what we have to do is get rid of the Jews.”
Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, born in Austria in 1929, now lives in the United Kingdom. She was nine years old during her memory that she shares about her best friend’s mother.
Learn more about Eva’s life by watching the film, 116 Cameras and by viewing Eva’s oral history interview from USHMM’s digital archives.
Holocaust survivor Colette Avital, born in 1940 in Bucharest, Romania, now lives in Israel. In her video post she remembers the words that were spat at her and her family. “They were usually words, like dirty Jew, as well as threats. ‘We will kill you, we will eliminate you all. You are the scum of the earth.’” She reflects on the outcomes of those words saying, “Those words transformed into acts.”
Holocaust survivor Shraga Milstein, born in 1933 in Piotrków, Poland, now lives in Israel. In his video message, he remembers being called a “Jyd” (Jew) while out walking with his father, so they moved to the other side of the street — his father told him to ignore it. Shraga reflects back on where those words led, saying, “In retrospect, these were the seeds of hatred from which the Holocaust began.”
“As I grow older, I can understand that the most important thing is – everything starts with words,” says Roman Kent, Holocaust survivor and beloved Claims Conference board member, who was born in Lodz, Poland and survived the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz.
Before the fighting of World War II began, he was taunted and called a “dirty Jew” on his way to the Jewish gymnasium. “We have to pay attention to the people,” Mr. Kent says in his video message. “What they say and how they say it. Because everything starts with words.”
Ruth Herzberg Sirkes
Holocaust survivor Ruth Herzberg Sirkes, born in Germany, now lives in Argentina. In her video message, she recalls, “The park near our house, where we used to stroll, couldn’t continue being our daily refuge because there were signs on the park’s benches that read, ‘Jews, Do Not Sit’.” For Ruth, #ItStartedWithWords in that Berlin park near where she lived with her parents and older brother, Fritz.
Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter, born in Lodz, Poland, now lives in Canada. In his video message, he remembers the hateful words hurled at his mother while he was walking with her. A man mistook her for a non-Jewish woman and said, “How dare you, a Polish-Christian woman, work for these dirty Jews?” Also, for Pinchas #ItStartedWithWords when young Christian boys shouted at him, “Zydzi do Palestyny!” “Jews go to Palestine!”
Holocaust survivor Irene Weiss, born in Hungary, now lives in the United States. In her video message, she recalls how #ItStartedWithWords when she was 12 years old and traveling on a train with her father, “They gathered around my father and began to taunt him. What shall we do with this Jew?“
Holocaust survivor Eva Szepesi, born in Hungary, now lives in Germany. In her video message, she recounts how the Shoah began for her when she was eight years old and her “best friends” shouted at her while eating bloody meat, “The way the blood flows here, so will the blood of your father soon flow.”
For Eva, #ItStartedWithWords before she was forced on the run, long before she was imprisoned in Auschwitz, and well before her mother, father and brother died in that same death camp.
Holocaust survivor Maximilian Lerner, born in Austria, now lives in the United States. In his video message, he recalls how #ItStartedWithWords when he was expelled from the prestigious school he attended in Vienna because he was Jewish.
Max explains that all of the Jewish students were called to a special assembly, where one of their favorite teachers explained to them that they belonged to an inferior race and had no right to be in a German school.
Holocaust survivor Wolfgang Kotek was born in Wuppertal, Germany and now lives in the Netherlands. In his video message, he recalls how the abuse he suffered as a Jew escalated from taunts to being spat on, to being locked in a basement with his tormentors — the Hitler Youth.
After the events of Kristallnacht, Wolfgang fled Germany and survived in hiding in the Netherlands. He was reunited with his family after World War II.
Ruth Posner survived the Holocaust living under false identity as a Polish-Catholic girl and was even arrested by the Germans as one. In her video message, she recalls the words, You killed our Lord and you have to be punished for it being spewed at her by her Polish school “friends”.
Ruth says, “Those were the words that changed my mind, my heart, and my whole situation.”
Holocaust survivor Regine Lippe was born in France. In her video testimony, she recalls the time at school when a little girl called her a dirty Jew; Regine was just 8 years old.
Fortunately, two years after the 1940 German invasion of France, Regine Lippe’s father’s foresight saved his family; she and her pregnant mother were able to escape a June 1942 roundup of Jews and find hiding until the end of the war.
In her video message, Vienna-born Kindertransport survivor Gabriele Keenaghan recalls when she was a young girl and all of the sudden, she was forced to change schools, being called a ‘dirty Jew’, and seeing the words ‘Juden Verboten’ written on the gates of the park where she used to play.
Not long after seeing them written and hearing them uttered, Kristallnacht took place. It was on the eve of her 12th birthday and the events of that night in 1938 caused her father to go missing. Records indicate that he ended up in the Lodz ghetto. It is believed that he did not survive the war.