2022 First Person with Holocaust Survivor Arye Ephrath
Holocaust survivor Arye Ephrath credits his life to the kindness and courage of strangers.
When he was just two years old, his parents chose to trust a couple they’d just met. For the next eight months, Arye lived in a small village in Slovakia with a shepherd, his wife, and their four daughters.
If caught, they could have all been killed, but Arye’s rescuers did not hesitate to hide him. Hear Arye share his story.
Artifacts Unpacked: The Steamer Trunk
Kristallnacht was a “wake-up call” for the Berg family. The fear they felt during the widespread, N**i-coordinated attack against Jews in November 1938 led them to seek refuge outside Germany.
After several months, sisters Inge and Gisella and their parents secured visas for Kenya—packing their belongings in this steamer trunk—and said goodbye to relatives staying behind.
“We didn’t know that we wouldn’t see them again, but it was a very, very sad parting,” recalled Inge, who was 10 at the time.
After living in Kenya for several years, the Bergs once again packed their trunk when they immigrated to the United States in 1947.
Decades later, the sisters donated the trunk that helps tell their story and became Museum volunteers.
2022 First Person with Holocaust Survivor Frank Cohn
When Frank Cohn escaped N**i Germany at the age of 13, he could never have foreseen his return to Europe nearly six years later, as an American soldier. Hear Frank share his story.
Helga Gross was among 400,000 Germans forcibly sterilized under a N**i law targeting people with disabilities. Born to a hearing family in 1923 in Hamburg, Germany, Helga was sterilized at age 16.
"They explained to the deaf children that they didn’t want deaf children—that they had to be sterilized because they didn’t want deaf children to have children who would grow up and be deaf as well," Helga recalled.
Helga didn't realize the significance of being sterilized until almost 20 years later when she met her younger sister's baby.
"The baby was so beautiful, I got to hold the baby. And that morning, my sister was feeding the baby, and then I realized what I felt, when I realized I couldn’t have any children. I started to cry, and I—I ran into the bathroom, and just cried and cried," Helga recalled. "When I came back out, my sister said, 'What’s wrong, what’s the matter?' I said, 'Oh, I’m just crying because I’m happy for you because you have a beautiful child.' Then the next day I saw other people … with babies, and I cried. And as I got older, I tried to forget about it."
The forced sterilization law was only the first step in the N**i eugenics program. Just six years later, the regime began murdering people with perceived physical and mental disabilities in a systematic program that killed approximately 250,000 adults and children.
Watch Helga describe the moment her mother told her she was going to have to be sterilized and Helga's surprising reaction.
Video: USHMM, gift of Simon Carmel
N**i Book Burnings
#OnThisDay in 1933, university students across Germany tossed thousands of books into bonfires. Materials deemed “un-German” or “degenerate” were thrown into the flames.
The students targeted books that went against N**i political ideology such as those authored by prominent socialists and communists. Helen Keller’s essay "How I Became a Socialist" was among the books torched.
Jewish authors were targeted as well—including the writings of 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine whose family was Jewish. His play "Almansor" contained the line, "Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people."
In Berlin, N**i students and stormtroopers raided Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science and collected research, clinical files, and books from the library and archives. The German Jewish doctor’s groundbreaking research about gender and sexuality went up in flames the night of the Berlin book burning.
In attendance that night was N**i Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. "You do well at this late hour to entrust to the flames the intellectual garbage of the past," he told the crowd.
A Mother’s Love: Sacrifices in Times of War
For as long as there has been war, mothers have risked their lives to protect their children. In N**i-occupied Poland, Olga Litman did everything she could to save her daughters as they were hunted by the Germans. They moved between towns, hid with farmers, and took on false identities. “I don't know anybody who was as brave as my mother when it came to her children,” recalled Olga's daughter, Halina Peabody. Discover stories of mothers’ devotion during the Holocaust and sacrifices mothers are making today in Ukraine.
2022 Days of Remembrance Commemoration
To remember victims of the Holocaust, we keep their stories alive. Watch live as the Museum leads the nation in observing Days of Remembrance, established by the US Congress as the country’s annual Holocaust commemoration. Together we remember the six million Jews who were murdered and honor the survivors.
2022 First Person with Holocaust Survivor Peter Gorog
Enduring antisemitism, occupation, and arrest, Peter Gorog’s brave, resourceful mother managed to find safe haven for herself and her son.
Watch live to learn how Peter and his mother survived.
#WeRemember: Vilma Grunwald
Vilma Grunwald wrote a letter to her husband and son just before she was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In December 1943, Vilma and Kurt Grunwald and their two sons, Jan and Frank, were deported from the Theresienstadt ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau. At Auschwitz, they lived with thousands of other Czech Jews of all ages in the so-called Czech family camp.
In July 1944, the SS chose to liquidate the family camp. While a few were selected for labor, Jan, then 16 and walking with a limp, was among the thousands selected for death.
In an unimaginable state of mind, Vilma made the choice to voluntarily accompany him to the gas chambers so that he would not go through the ordeal alone.
Before she was sent to the gas chambers, Vilma managed to smuggle a note to her husband. She understood her impending fate: “You—my only and dearest one—do not blame yourself for what happened. It was our destiny. … Take care of the golden boy and don’t spoil him too much with your love.”
Kurt and Frank survived, as does Vilma's memory.
Watch actor Daniela Ruah read the note Vilma smuggled to her husband and younger son.
#WeRemember: Dr. Elkhanan Elkes
In 1941, Dr. Elkhanan Elkes, a successful physician, chose to accept a role no one else wanted: head of the Jewish Council, or Judenrat, in the Kaunas (Kovno) Ghetto.
Despite his own failing health, he provided moral leadership, assisted the medical community in caring for the sick, and helped advance underground resistance efforts.
In 1943—as the SS took control of and dismantled the ghetto—he wrote a letter and had it smuggled to his children, who were safe in England. "We have learned that in the very near future our fate will be decided: the ghetto in which we find ourselves will be cut to pieces," he said. "Only God knows whether all of us will be destroyed or whether a few will survive."
It was the last letter they ever received from their father. Elkhanan died in Dachau in October 1944.
Watch actor Mandy Patinkin read Elkhanan' last message to his children. #WeRemember
Fires of Hate
Beginning in May 1933, university students in N**i clubs across Germany orchestrated a destructive campaign to burn thousands of books and other materials considered “un-German.” The works of Jewish writers including Sigmund Freud and political activists such as Helen Keller were among countless others scorched in festive ceremonies celebrating N**i ideology. Even children's books were destroyed.
The N**i regime’s early efforts to control the thoughts and lives of its citizens foreshadowed more brutal threats on the horizon. As campaigns to ban books and control information resurface today, join us for this timely program.
Gerda and Kurt Klein Describe Liberation
"I was the only one from my family who survived," Gerda Weissmann Klein recalled. "The only one of my dearest friends."
In August 1939, 15-year-old Gerda returned from a summer vacation to her family home in Bielsko, Poland. She was to begin school within a few weeks. On September 1, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. The peaceful city of Bielsko was soon overtaken by the German army.
Within weeks of the invasion, the able-bodied Jewish men of Bielsko, including Gerda's brother, Arthur, were ordered to register and then expelled from German-occupied Poland. She never saw him again.
Gerda and her parents were forced to move to a ghetto. In 1942, Gerda was separated from her parents and sent to work in a forced labor textile factory in Bolkenhain. She quickly became close with other women her age, making dear friends who gave each other strength and support.
Gerda spent the next three years in forced labor camps and survived a death march.
The US Army liberated her in May 1945 on the eve of her 21st birthday. She weighed 68 pounds. One of her liberators was American soldier Kurt Klein. Gerda eventually married him and immigrated to the United States. She and Kurt reflect on meeting each other for the first time in this video.
For more than 60 years, she wrote and spoke about her experiences during the Holocaust. “One Survivor Remembers,” the documentary adaptation of her memoir, won an Oscar in 1996. In 1997, President Clinton appointed her to serve on our Museum’s US Holocaust Memorial Council.
In 2011, Gerda was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and shared these words:
"I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives, but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember, never ever give up."
She died on Sunday, April 3, at the age of 97.
Child survivors of Auschwitz display their tattooed arms
"I remember the time when my mother had to hold me, and they put the tattoo on me," Holocaust survivor Sarah Ludwig (born Sarah Racimora) told Courier News (Somerville, NJ) in 2017.
Sarah was just four years old when she was deported to Auschwitz with her parents and grandparents in late summer or early fall 1944. Born to a Jewish family in the city of Radom in German-occupied Poland, Sarah spent the first years of her life in the Radom ghetto, and later in the Pionki labor camp, before her deportation to Auschwitz.
Upon arrival, Sarah was tattooed and then separated from her family and placed in a children's barrack. In January 1945, Sarah and the other surviving children were liberated by Soviet troops. She is seen in this footage taken after Auschwitz's liberation displaying her tattoo.
Sarah reunited with her parents after the war. She was one of about 500 children under the age of 15 liberated at Auschwitz. Their survival was an exception. Most Jewish children deported there were murdered.
Footage: USHMM, courtesy of National Archives
Subverting Stereotypes: Women who Resisted
Hannah Szenes was just 23 years old when she parachuted into enemy territory in an attempt to help her fellow Jews. Five years earlier she had left her home in Budapest, but she risked her life to return to N**i-occupied Europe. In the Netherlands, Marion Pritchard sheltered a Jewish family. One day, a local N**i collaborator came to her door when the children were out of their hiding place. He threatened to expose them, and Marion fought back. Learn about these courageous women who resisted the N**is and their collaborators during the Holocaust.
Artifacts Unpacked: The Star Badge
Born in Berlin in 1927 to a Christian mother and a Jewish father, Fritz Gluckstein was raised within the Jewish faith.
Under the N**i regime, his family was subjected to the discriminatory laws imposed on the Jews of Germany. His father, a prominent judge, was dismissed from his position.
In 1941, Fritz and other Jews in Berlin were compelled to wear a yellow star badge, meant to mark and humiliate Jews—a prelude to deporting them to ghettos, killing sites, and killing centers.
Watch to learn about Fritz’s experiences and the badge he was forced to wear, which he donated to our Museum in 1991.
2022 First Person with Holocaust Survivor Susan Warsinger
After about two weeks at sea, the children gathered on deck. The fog lifted like a curtain revealing the Statue of Liberty. Holocaust survivor Susan Warsinger and her brother Joseph would soon see their parents after two years of separation.
"We were going to be free," said Susan. Hear her tell their story of survival.
Artifacts Unpacked: The Girl Scout Sash
Ruth Hendel got a second chance at childhood when she and her family arrived in the United States in 1944.
She recalls the joys of attending school, joining the Girl Scouts, baking Girl Scout cookies, ice skating, and swimming, while housed by the US government at Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York.
“It was a great relief not to be hiding anymore ... to be stable … to have a life,” said Ruth, now known as Tamar Hendel-Fishman.
She donated a memento of that time, her Girl Scout sash and pin, to the Museum. Watch to learn more about her experience.
How the War in Ukraine is Shaped by Its Past
Today, the Ukrainian people are under attack. The story of their nation is forever linked to the 1.5 million Jews who were killed in the region during the Holocaust and millions of other Ukrainian civilians who died in the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin has twisted that history to justify an invasion, falsely claiming to be waging war against N**ism and genocide. Join us to learn the history of this land and people, including Holocaust survivors who are under threat once again.
The White Rose: Young Germans Who Took on the N**is
In a matter of hours, they were tried, convicted, and beheaded for the crime of treason. These young friends had dared to oppose the N**i regime—and were caught in a crucial moment, when the N**is feared their grip on the public was slipping.
In urgent, pleading messages, copied and mailed to thousands of Germans, the members of the “White Rose” resistance group begged their fellow citizens to rise up. Their voices went unheard then, but today the group is a symbol of righteous rebellion. On this anniversary of the ex*****on of three members, learn their story.
Black Artists Under N**i Persecution
Jazz musician Freddy Johnson refused to let racism in America stall his career. He embraced opportunities throughout Europe until the United States entered the war and he and other Americans were arrested. At the Tittmoning internment camp, Johnson continued to play music and met Black portrait artist Josef Nassy, who depicted their daily life as prisoners.
Life was even more precarious for Black German artists. While Bayume Mohamed Husen once acted in a N**i propaganda film, he was eventually arrested for violating N**i racial laws and died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. During Black History Month, learn about artists’ experiences in N**i Germany.
Olympic Torch Relay
At the Olympic Games this week, you’ll see a well-known tradition—the torch relay.
But did you know that the N**is initiated the modern-day tradition of the torch relay at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin?
As host of the 1936 Olympics, the N**i regime exploited the games for propaganda purposes. This included using the relay as an opportunity to promote an image of a strong, peaceful Germany, while masking the persecution of Jews and other groups.
As we watch the torch relay continue today, we cannot allow China to use the spectacle of the Olympic Games to obscure its ongoing persecution of the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority in China.
For decades, the Chinese government has persecuted Uyghurs, and in recent years, it escalated to crimes against humanity and repression, using facial recognition and other surveillance to control every aspect of Uyghur life. As many as three million Uyghurs have been held by the Chinese government in secret detention camps.
The Difference between Life and Death: Choices That Saved a Young Boy
From the moment he was born, Arye Ephrath was in danger. His mother gave birth to him with the help of a housemaid in spring 1942 while hiding from the first wave of deportations of Jews from their hometown in Slovakia. Later, a shepherd and his wife took in Arye on the condition they could disguise him as a girl so that he would blend in with their daughters. As we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, learn how others took risks and sacrificed to help Arye survive the Holocaust.
2022 International Holocaust Remembrance Day Commemoration
Eighty years since the Holocaust began, violent antisemitism remains a threat—as we witnessed at a Texas synagogue this month. It is more critical than ever for us to remember the lessons of the Holocaust and pay tribute to its victims and survivors.
As people worldwide pause to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day—designated by the United Nations to be January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—we hope you join us for the Museum’s virtual ceremony. This solemn event featuring the reflections of survivors will honor the lives of Europe’s Jews, who were targeted for annihilation, and other victims of N**i persecution. #HolocaustRemembranceDay
#WeRemember Aunt Gizela
“It was a moment that I will never forget,” Theodora (Dora) Klayman recalled of the last time she saw her aunt Gizela.
After Dora’s parents were arrested by N**i collaborators in Croatia in 1941, Gizela and her Catholic husband, Ljudevit, protected Dora and her young brother, Zdravko.
To avoid arrest, Dora and her brother were frequently taken by train, often with little warning, to a nearby town, and at other times they would spend a few days with different neighbors. Sometimes they would not be allowed to leave the house for fear of attracting attention.
Ljudevit was arrested on suspicion of supporting the resistance and by 1943, Gizela was denounced as Jewish. Before Gizela was arrested, she ran to a neighbor with Dora and Zdravko.
“That took an enormous strength,” Dora recalled. “I remember her running with my brother and me, each by one hand, and taking us to our neighbor and saying, ‘Please take these children.’”
The neighbors took in Dora and her brother and did not reveal their Jewish identities. Upon his return, Ljudevit reunited with the children, and they remained together until the end of the war.
After liberation, Ljudevit learned the children’s parents did not survive and Gizela died shortly after her arrival at Auschwitz. He decided to legally adopt them. Dora immigrated to the United States in 1958.
"I will continue to speak about my past, in the hope that a reminder of that past may inspire us all to see that tolerance, compassion, empathy, and respect for others makes for a better world for all," Dora said. #HolocaustRemembranceDay
Photos: USHMM, courtesy of Dora Klayman
#WeRemember Árpád Grünwald
Peter Gorog knows his father, Árpád Grünwald, through treasured family photos and the recollections of his mother.
"I know that [he] loved my mom and me because I have the postcards he sent from forced labor camps. He finished his letters with this sentence: 'Millions of kisses to you and my precious Peter.'"
When Peter was born in Budapest to a Jewish family in 1941, his father could not be there. Like other Hungarian Jewish men, Árpád had been sent to perform forced labor. He was allowed to come home for a visit when Peter was three months old. It was the last time he saw his young son. Peter’s father died less than two years later while performing forced labor in horrific conditions for the Hungarian army in occupied Ukraine.
"In spite of the tragedy that … took my father away, I am thankful for the memory of [his] unfinished life.” #HolocaustRemembranceDay
Photos: USHMM, courtesy of Peter Gorog
#WeRemember Tante Anna
“She made us feel loved and important. She made us feel safe when antisemitism was rampant in Germany,” said Holocaust survivor Susan Warsinger, remembering her great-aunt Anna.
Susan was born Susan Hilsenrath in Bad Kreuznach, a city in western Germany, in 1929. After the N**is came to power in 1933, the Hilsenraths, like other Jewish families, began to feel the effects of increased antisemitism. Occasionally, neighbors would throw rocks at Susan as she walked down the street. Her father, Israel, was forced to display a sign warning people that his linen store was a Jewish-owned business. Susan was later forced to leave public school.
For Susan, reflecting on these childhood memories is often difficult. However, when she recalls her visits to Tante Anna’s home, she remembers her aunt’s warm and soft hugs, exploring the house with her brother, and baking traditional family recipes.
Susan, her parents, and her brothers all immigrated to the United States by 1941. After the war, Susan learned that Tante Anna had been deported to the Riga ghetto in December 1941. She did not survive.
Today, Susan and her family keep Anna’s memory alive. “My granddaughter, Lyla, honored Tante Anna when she became a Bat Mitzvah,” Susan later wrote. #HolocaustRemembranceDay
Photos: USHMM, courtesy of Susan Warsinger
How the N**is Manipulated the Masses
The N**is adapted age-old antisemitic lies and stereotypes to dehumanize Jewish people and blame them for Germany’s ills. A steady drumbeat of antisemitic propaganda reinforced the myth that Jews were dirty, deceitful, and dangerous. Some became fervent believers in the N**i solution to the “Jewish problem” while most remained silent as their Jewish neighbors were persecuted. Learn how the N**is exploited preexisting hatred and how similar lies are being repackaged and spread around the world today with violent consequences.
Years before becoming a notorious N**i perpetrator, Heinrich Himmler was a teenager who dreamed of service on the front as an officer in World War I. Much to his dismay, the war ended before he ever got the chance to see combat. Furthermore, the demilitarization provisions of the Versailles peace treaty dashed his hopes of joining the German army.
Instead, he attended university, where he joined a German-nationalist student fraternity and developed an interest in racist-nationalist (völkisch) literature. Shortly after graduating, he joined the N**i Party.
More than five years later, Adolf Hi**er appointed Himmler Reichsführer SS (chief of the SS) in January 1929. At this time, the SS was a relatively small N**i paramilitary organization responsible for Hi**er’s personal security and selling subscriptions to the N**i party newspaper. But Himmler saw an opportunity for the SS to become something more.
Under his leadership, the SS grew into a large and deadly organization. He introduced two key functions to the SS that aligned with N**i ideological goals: internal security and guardianship over racial purity. The SS became responsible for a centralized concentration camp system and was eventually charged with overseeing the implementation of the “Final Solution,” the N**i plan to murder the Jews of Europe.
In a 1943 speech to SS generals, Himmler explicitly justified the mass murder of the European Jews, saying, “We had the moral right, we were obligated to our people to kill this people which wanted to kill us.”
Despite assuring his SS officers and men that he ultimately would take responsibility for all of their actions, Himmler was using a fake identity when he was captured by the Allies. He committed su***de using a cyanide capsule in May 1945 while in Allied custody.
Himmler is shown here on an August 1941 visit to German-occupied Minsk, where he witnessed a massacre and visited a camp holding Soviet prisoners of war.
Video: National Archives
Caring for Children Who Were Abandoned by the World
It appears to be an idyllic holiday moment: two children gaze at a Christmas tree. In fact, the children are Jewish, and the photograph helped save their lives during the Holocaust.
As we approach the holiday season, we honor those who gave the gift of refuge in a time of need. Learn about a Muslim family who sheltered Jews, and a German Jewish refugee who created a sanctuary for children after the war, even as she mourned her own family who died during the Holocaust.
In a time when flagrant displays of hate and antisemitism and inappropriate Holocaust comparisons are becoming increasingly commonplace, we must carry forth the stories of Holocaust survivors and victims and share them to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. It is your support for the Museum that makes that possible.
Please support this critical work by making a gift this #GivingTuesday. Facebook is matching $8 million in donations made on Facebook during #GivingTuesday. Double your impact on our efforts to educate young people, today and for generations to come.