First Published as a Guest Blog in 2015
In 1890, my great grandmother, Manya Seidenberg, then a girl of 15, received some disturbing news from her father, Avram. Manya, the tenth of 12 children born to my great, great grandparents, lived with them in the small, rural town of Boguslav, a few miles southwest of Kiev, capital city of modern-day Ukraine. Thanks to the industrial revolution, which had finally reached the area a few decades earlier, Kiev had grown into a prosperous city on the western edge of the vast Russian Empire. It was also the largest city Manya had ever seen.
My great, great grandfather, a dealer in pelts, sat down with his daughter, the apple of his eye, and reluctantly told her his news. His business had suffered unexpected losses, he explained, and sadly, that meant he would not be able to furnish her with a suitable dowry. The news hit Manya hard. Without a dowry, she would not be able to make a good match for herself. Her choice of desirable, available husbands instantly evaporated, along with her dreams for the future. And so, out of necessity, my great grandmother made a courageous decision. This girl, who had never ventured more than a day's journey, by horse, from either shore of the nearby Dnieper River, decided to emigrate to America.
About a year later, she learned of a local family, with relations in America that planned to resettle there. Manya met with them, and they agreed to let her accompany them on their journey, when the time came. Manya's decision was courageous, because it required her to leave behind everything, and everyone, she knew. What's more, the break would be both immediate and permanent. Manya must have known she would never see her parents, or her brothers and sisters, again. She was trading the familiar, and comfortable, for the complete unknown. Ahead of her lay America, a strange and distant place, where people spoke a completely different language and where she would have no family, friends, or relations to rely on.
Manya could not even fortify herself with a long, tearful, loving 'goodbye' from her father. Her mother, Lea, who financed Manya's journey by raiding her considerable stash of "pin money," warned her not to tell Avram of her plans. "Your father would never let you go," she sighed. "He's much too attached to you!"
So, Manya had to leave Boguslav on a day when her father already had headed east, across the Dnieper River, to do business in the market town of Kharkov. Manya, and the neighboring family, traveled west, by train, first, to the German port of Hamburg, and from there, across the Atlantic Ocean, to America, in the steerage section of an ocean liner.
Manya landed at Ellis Island, NY, in 1892, a Russian-speaking, Jewish girl of 17, fresh from the Ukraine. She knew how to sew, and somehow, landed a job in a clothing factory, where she worked for six months before she and her newfound friends, the Friedel family, left New York for the slightly less bustling city of Baltimore, Maryland. A few years after that, she met my great grandfather, Bernard Feikin, a furrier, who had left Moscow for America some years before. And, the rest, as they say, is history.
When my grandmother told me her mother's story, she said Manya had an optimistic, "What's next?" outlook on life. That attitude, along with my great grandmother's personal moxie and character, allowed the Seidenberg line to merge with the Feikins and take root in American soil. It was a good, and fortuitous, thing that sprang out of her unwillingness to let a bad turn of events dictate her destiny.
Forty-nine years after my great grandmother first set foot in America, the Wehrmacht swept through the Ukraine as part of Hitler's massive operation Barbarossa. Behind them came the Einzatsgruppen death squads, intent on realizing the murderous goals of Hitler's "Final Solution." They found enthusiastic partners waiting for them among the newly indoctrinated units of the Ukrainian state police.
The area where my Great Grandmother's family had lived quickly became the site of some of the most ruthless, brutal mass-murder campaigns and atrocities ever committed against the Jews. The bloodletting, brutality, deprivation and exploitation in that area were so sudden, so intense and so complete, that few survivors ever lived to bear witness to it. I imagine most of my great grandmother's family, and my distant, faceless relatives, perished there together, in that awful place and time.
By Jon Reisfeld
(Originally published 4/18/2011)
After Israeli agents captured Adolf Eichmann, in 1960, and charged him with crimes against humanity for his role in implementing Hitler's Final Solution, the unrepentant former Nazi head of Jewish deportations shared several reveal-ing anecdotes with his captors concerning events from those dark days.
One story eventually found its way into CIA files, only to resurface, after declassification, in a 2009
National Archives report about Nazi War Criminals, U.S. intelligence agencies and the Cold War.
The story has special significance for all of us who pause today, on Yom Hashoah, to remember victims of The Holocaust. It also further refutes the claims of the stubborn, hateful few, who despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, continue to insist that The Holocaust never happened.
Eichmann said that while he was in Budapest, in the fall of 1944, he received orders from Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo, to prepare a report about the exact number of Jews the Nazis had killed since taking power, in 1933. Because he did not run the death camps or command the death squads in the field, a point Eichmann, no doubt, wished to impress upon his interrogators, he said he had to rely on estimates previously provided by concentration camp commandants and death-squad unit heads in order to prepare the report.
Eichmann's report estimated the number of murdered Jews at six million. Of these, he said, two-thirds (or 4 million) had died in the camps while the remaining 2 million had perished during special killing actions conducted near their homes in Poland and Russia.
Eichmann submitted his report and waited. Eventually, Himmler's assistant, Hoettl, informed him that his boss was dissatisfied, believing that the numbers should have been higher. Himmler ordered Eichmann to forward a copy of the report to the head of his statistical office (apparently, so that he could then review and revise it.)
Himmler, who had been closely involved in implementing the Final Solution, believed Eichmann had grossly underestimated the efficiency of the Nazi killing machine. Six million murdered Jews? That number, he insisted, was not even close.
The six-million dead included one million Jewish children, two million Jewish women and three million Jewish men, two-thirds of the estimated nine million Jews living in Europe prior to the war. They represented civilian deaths -- unarmed people whom the Nazis had singled out for slavery, endless brutality and slaughter, strictly because of their familial and religious heritage.
The number of dead may not have satisfied Himmler's blood lust, but 6 million is such a large number that it is difficult to fathom. How do we put it into perspective? If it took just three seconds to repeat each Holocaust victim's name aloud, a single person, reading the names of the dead non-stop, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, would need 208-and-a-third days -- or nearly seven sleepless months -- in which to complete the task. Of course, no single person's voice or body could long withstand the strain, so hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals would be needed, working in tandem, to complete the vigil.
Time has not lessened our sense of loss. Instead, it deepens with each new generation, as we note the conspicuous absence of millions of victims' descendants. The six million Jewish lives lost in The Holocaust continue to represent unspeakable tragedy and pain, horrifying in its scope and impossible, even for those of us alive 70 years later, to fully accept and comprehend.
UN honors Holocaust Remembrance Day with new exhibit (timesofisrael.com)
Some Nazi leaders betrayed by Zionists (middleeastatemporal.wordpress.com)
Yom HaShoah / Holocaust Rememberance Day (promoteliberty.wordpress.com)
Who is Adolf Eichmann? (rianputra84.wordpress.com)
A rare peek into Mossad's capture of Nazi Adolph Eichmann (thestar.com)
Eichmann exhibit gives glimpse of Israel's Mossad (ndtv.com)
Never Again! (golanskistreasures.com)
Mossad's hunt for the other Adolf: Spy agency's search for Eichmann revealed (cnn.com)
Adolf Eichmann's capture, as told by the Mossad, in Israel exhibition (guardian.co.uk)
The pernicious cycle of Holocaust denial (blogs.timesofisrael.com)