Stories of Surviving Evil

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps established during World War II. Two survivors of the Holocaust shared their stories with Crescenta Valley High School students.

Photos by Mary O’KEEFE
LEFT: A student shakes the hand of Holocaust survivor Edith Frankie after hearing Frankie’s stories of survival.
RIGHT:Joseph Alexander points to photo of himself when he was liberated from the Nazi camp.

By Mary O’KEEFE 


How would it be possible that Germany and Austria, the most intellectual nations in Europe – if you could afford to get a prestigious diploma you went to Germany or Austria ¬– how could they burn people alive? Those things couldn’t happen. Germany would not do such a thing.”

Those were Edith Frankie’s thoughts she shared with Crescenta Valley High School students about her survival of four concentration camps during World War II.

Frankie, who is Jewish, lived in Chiesd, Transylvania. Her sister, brother and she went to school and had good friends – some who were Jewish and some who were not Jewish.

“There were only four Jewish families in the whole town,” she said.

She said her family lived a good life even after Germany invaded Hungary in 1944. The invasion included Transylvania. But soon after the invasion, Jewish people were ordered to wear a yellow star to identify them as Jews.

“The next day when we went to school almost all called us ‘dirty Jews,’” she said. “I thought, ‘Why am I dirty today and wasn’t yesterday?’ They called us all kinds of names.”

The children begged their parents to let them stay home because of the name calling and, at times, violence directed at them when children, and villagers, would throw rocks at them.

“My parents said body injury can heal fast but knowledge … no one can take away from you,” she said.

The orders then came down that no Jews were to attend public schools. Then one early morning there was a knock on their door.

“About 2 o’clock in the morning Hungarian gendarmes [police] knocked on the door,” she said.

The gendarmes had been to her house before and knew her father by his first name, but that morning they called out, “Hey, Jew, open the door.”

The family was told to gather some food and clothing.

“We followed orders and were taken to a horse and wagon; there were two other families and they took us to the nearest city,” she said.

They arrived at a brickyard just outside of the city. They were taken to a ghetto where they were crowded in with 6,000 other people. There were a lot of scholars among them who began teaching everyone German.

But then one by one people began to disappear from the ghetto. Then one day Frankie and her family, with about 400 people, were crammed into a cattle car of a train. As the group got into the car inmates were all around them who yelled at them to run away, that they would be killed, that their loved ones would be burned alive. Frankie could not believe anyone would do that, be that cruel. They were taken to Auschwitz. The SS guards then separated them again.

“Boys and men to the left and woman and children were to go to the right,” Frankie said. “That is the last time I saw my father or brother.”

The guards separated the group again, and her mother, two small cousins and her little sister went one way and she and her sister another. That was the last time she saw her mother, little sister and other family members.

She and her sister were put on a work detail. They traveled to three other camps doing day labor and being fed very little. At one of their details they were ordered to go to a Jewish cemetery, break up headstones and use the stones to pave a local street.

She continued in one work detail after another, working in unthinkable conditions and facing unimaginable cruelty, until the Russians and Americans liberated them.

On Thursday, CVHS students heard Frankie’s story in the morning and other classes heard holocaust survivor Joseph Alexander share his story in the afternoon.

Alexander survived 12 concentration camps. He too was placed on work details and he too remembers the last time he saw his family.

Alexander also arrived in Auschwitz by train but he knew of the camp’s reputation; he had already been to about seven camps.

“We got off the train and lined up in rows,” he said.

Many of the people on the train died during the trip. It was Auschwitz where Alexander met Dr. Josef Mengele, the man responsible for many of the torturous human experiments that were conducted at concentration camps during the war.

“Dr. Mengele picked people, [told them] to go to the left,” he said.

Alexander was ordered to join a group that went to the left. He looked around and saw those people were old and sick. He knew from experience in the other camps this was not a group to be in. It was late at night so, when he found a chance, he ran to the right side.

“If I hadn’t run back to the other side I wouldn’t be here today,” Alexander said.

The group that was told to go to the left were taken to the gas chambers.

Alexander talked about what life was like right after the Americans liberated his camp. He was from Poland but couldn’t go back there after the war because people were killing Jews as they returned.

“When Jews left, [people] moved into their houses,” he said. “They didn’t want us back.”

It took some time, but he finally got a sponsor and moved to America, first to the East Coast and then to Santa Monica.

The students, and adults, were visibly affected by the stories shared by these Holocaust survivors. A lot of tear-filled eyes could be seen as they walked past and shook the hands of Frankie and Alexander.

“You are the future,” Frankie told the students. “Make this world a better world.”