[Editor's Note: Rachel Catherine has written many articles for Youngzine as a Young Editor. While in Washington D.C over the summer, she had an opportunity to interview Susan, a Holocaust survivor, whom she met at the Holocaust museum. Rachel's two-part article captures Susan's incredible story.]
Susan was born in the small town of Vacha Germany in 1926. Susan’s father owned a general store while her mother stayed at home to care for Susan and her sister, Brunhilde.
When Hitler came to power in January of 1933, things began to change for Susan’s family. Susan was excluded from things that she had always done. She was not even allowed to play with many of the other children her age.
She recalls one instance in 1933 when a party member came to organize Vacha under the Third Reich (the government Hitler established in Germany). The member moved into the house across the street from Susan’s. “They had a little girl, and me not knowing any different, I just went up there and I wanted to play with her. I was, at that time, 6 years old. So I was there one day, and then another day, the third day, he found out I was a Jewish child, he said you are not welcome here. Get out of here. Just like that.”
From then on, horrible changes ripped through Susan’s life. In 1938, Susan was forced to leave her family to attend a Jewish school that was 150 miles away. In November 1938, during an outbreak of attacks against Jewish communities, known as Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” Susan’s father’s store was damaged and her father was imprisoned in Buchenwald (one of the concentration camps established during the Holocaust.)
Fortunately, he was released, but he had to leave Germany. He was eventually able to reach the United States, leaving Susan and the rest of her family behind.
Life in the Camps
Try to imagine being forced to move away from the place you called home; ripped from the life you knew; separated from the people you love, because of what you believed. This was the reality millions of Jewish people in Europe faced during the Holocaust.
When Hitler rose to power, he promised to “purify” the German population. Hitler set off on a cruel mission to eliminate everyone he believed to be unfit to live with “pure” Germans. Among others, Hitler discriminated against Gypsies, communists, Slavs, and Jewish people. These groups were interned in concentration camps where they endured horrific conditions and treatment.
Susan’s family was moved to the Riga ghetto in 1942, which was liquidated (meaning all the people in the ghetto were relocated, mainly to work camps or death camps) soon after. Susan’s family was moved to Kaiserwald concentration camp where Susan was separated from her mother and sister. From there, Susan was transferred to Stutthof and then Sophienwalde.
Everywhere she went, she was forced to do labor for the people who were persecuting her. When I asked if her experiences made her grow up faster, Susan said it did. “I was 16 when I went into the camps,” she said. “So for me for sure it was growing up right away. I was responsible for myself.
[Continued in Part 2 next week]