Tag Archive for: Holocaust Remembrance Day

What to Remember—T. K. Thorne



Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.

Holocaust Remembrance Day was a month ago. But it has so many echoes to the current day, I am still thinking about it.

There is so much to remember, but I am plagued by two questions at the moment. How do people believe things? Why do they believe things?

Let’s start here:

We are humans. We are emotional beings. Our brains evolved in stages. Scientists tell us that the part our cognitive structure that makes us thinking beings (i.e. organisms that can project possible futures and plan for them) formed literally on top of the reptilian brain, which was responsible for flight/flight reactions and keeping us alive in a threatening world.  We still have that reptilian part of our brains; it is part of us, and it is often in conflict with the “thinking” part of our brain.

But our amazing mind/body has adapted a strategy to integrate both brains and all the different parts of our brains. It does this with the bridge of STORY.

Story is the structure by which we not only integrate the various parts of ourselves (different parts of our brain) but also our place in the world. It is how we know we “are,” as opposed to everything we are not. “I” has boundaries that end with my skin. I am not the chairs I sit on, the air I breathe, the other people in my social orbit. But my story about myself allows me to include other things and people as connected to me. This is my chair; my house; my family. I “am” angry; I “am” sad.

These things and relationships are not real. They are stories.

Images that fall on our retinas at the back of our eyes are upside down. Our brain rewrites the story of what we are seeing by flipping the image over for us and telling us that is what we see. Have you ever looked at something or a picture of something and it took several moments to figure out what it was?  You are “seeing” without the brain’s interpretation (story) about what you are seeing.

Ultimately, everything is connected to everything. We are all bits of energy dancing in a temporary form.  It is story that gives everything context.

In earlier times, probably before the sophistication of language, we may very well have communicated through body movements and dance, perhaps accompanied by sounds mimicking animals. Perhaps hunters acted out how to spot and stalk and kill prey. Perhaps they figured out a way to explain where a crop of berries grew (as bees dance to give the location of flowers.). We still see these types of communication in Native American dancing. This was rudimentary storytelling. Its usefulness in survival is obvious.
Many psychologists have pointed out the powerful influence of “the story we tell ourselves about ourselves.”

“I am a victim of abuse vs I am a survivor of abuse vs I am an overcomer of abuse.” How we tell our stories matters.

But the point I want to make here is that our brains are designed to interpret via story. If we are told something when we are young, it can become subconsciously incorporated into our perceptions, our story about ourselves. Even as adults, we susceptible to stories, especially if they are ones we are primed to believe.

Here’s another important fact. Science is indicating that there are literally different portions of our brains that “speak up” at different moments and that one of the functions of our consciousness is to determine which one to “listen” to. Have you ever had conflicting voices in your mind? That chocolate looks so good! At the same time a different voice says, It is not healthy; don’t do it! Ultimately, you have to decide which story to believe in.

Science says we are more likely to believe bad news than good, which makes sense. It is more important to pay attention to the information that a tiger is prowling close than that nothing has been spotted in the tree canopy. Thus, the story that other types of people are dangerous or threats to us finds easy access in our brains.

We also pay more attention to information that aligns with what we already believe (the story we already tell ourselves). Thus, people who have religious faith are more likely to believe in a story about a miracle. Soldiers who have trained for war and know the people they face are willing to kill them are likely to believe the story that the enemy is not like them and to depersonalize them into creatures it is okay to kill. They are not a human beings with emotions and values and families; they are “Japs,” “Chinks,” “Kikes.” 

Survival obviously increases when you are able to kill an enemy before they kill you. But if we are convinced the “enemy” is among us, this kind of label-story allows us to hurt them with a free conscience.
It also apparently matters how often we hear a story.  We humans are herd animals, at least in the sense that if we observe that a lot of people want something, we want it too. Trust me, advertisers make billions of dollars off of that principle. This also makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. If everyone is running in one direction, our survival chances are higher if we run too and in the same direction.
These things are programed into our central nervous system.

TV evangelists have been using these story principles for a long time to bilk people out of their savings. Politicians use them to sway people. Stories repeated and appearing to be believed by others can influence people to act in a manner they might never have considered. Hitler told a story about how Germany could become “great again.” And how Jews were despicable and less than human.

Writers are powerful because they understand the power of stories.

Story is intrinsically neither “good” nor “bad.” Once we understand the principle, we are not compelled to believe it or act on it. We can compare it to facts we have confidence in. We can stop and evaluate the story being told, whether from others or from one of the “voices” of our own brains. We can decide to swallow it or change it or reject it. We can choose another story, tell ourselves another version. “I am a bad person” can become “I am doing the best I can.”

 We have that ability, but only if we recognize that everything is story.

And that may be the most powerful thing to remember today.


T.K. is a retired police captain who writes Books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.  Visit TKThorne.com

Susan’s Story –by T.K. Thorne



Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.




Susan had never told her family about her experiences. In fact, before Louisa Weinrib called her in 1990 for an interview, she she had never talked about what happened to
anyone other than those who had gone through it with her. Hers is a true story of
amazing strength, resourcefulness, and friendship.


Susan Eisenberg’s childhood was full of promise. An only
child, she was born in 1924 into a family that proudly traced their Hungarian
lineage back a hundred years. She grew up in the small town of Miskolc, where
her father had a successful business buying and exporting livestock and grains
for a farming cooperative. 


Susan was aware of anti-Semitic sentiment, but it didn’t
touch her early life. The Jewish community was well integrated into Hungarian
society, and she had many Christian friends. She spoke Hungarian and German, loved to ice-skate and ski,
and wanted to go to college, but by the time she was of college age, Jews could
not attend.


Her loving and close-knit family gathered after synagogue at
her home, where they also celebrated the Seder. On weekends, they offered a
tradition of high tea for family and neighbors. 


Trouble began in 1938 with a small Hungarian Nazi party that
grew in strength, paralleling the party’s growth in Germany. After Germany’s
invasion of Poland in 1939, Polish refugees fled into Hungary, bringing what
seemed unbelievable stories of what was happening in Poland. Without a birth
certificate validating birth in Hungary, officials shipped the fleeing
civilians back to Poland. An army friend confided to Susan that, in reality, the
Poles were taken across the border and shot. Even when people began wearing
brown shirts with swastika armbands and spouting slogans, Susan recalled, the
Jewish community just ignored it. 


In 1940 Hungary became an Axis power. Hitler, who invaded
the Soviet Union in 1941, demanded that Hungary join that war. Susan’s uncle
died when he was forced to walk with others into a field between the German and
Russian armies to test for the presence of land mines. Her father was taken to
a work camp. Released the following year, he was ill and depressed and died soon
after at 44. After his death, Susan and her mother moved to the city of Budapest
to live with relatives.


Although the Jews in Hungary suffered under tightening
restrictions, Hungary’s regent protected them for a time from Hitler’s “final
solution”—extermination—until Hitler discovered the regent was secretly
negotiating an armistice with the US and the UK. On Easter Sunday in March
1944, Susan was having coffee with a friend on a cafe terrace and saw German
panzer tanks rolling over the bridges into Budapest. The Germans occupied and
quickly seized control of the country.


The Nazis rounded up her family members who were still
living in the countryside. The relatives sent postcards—which Susan and her
mother later learned the Nazis forced them to write—advising they were well and
going to Thersienstadt (a concentration camp/ghetto in Terezin). All of them
perished in that camp.


In Budapest, Allied forces regularly bombed the city.
Everyone carried bags of food at all times, never knowing when they might have
to run into the air-raid shelters. Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch
on their clothing and live in designated housing. Restrictions dictated when
they could leave the house and forbid them to go to public parks or even walk
on the sidewalks. They could work only in manual labor positions. Jewish professionals,
doctors and dentists, could only practice on Jewish patients.


Susan was 19, with light blonde hair and blue eyes. She pulled
off the yellow star from her clothes and snuck out into the country to get
food. Once, on her return, Germans soldiers in a vehicle, not realizing she was
a Jew, picked her up. They asked for a date. Heart pounding, she agreed, lying
about where she lived, and promised to meet them later. Safely home, she looked
down at her clothes and realized that a closer inspection would have revealed
the stitch holes from the star she’d removed. 


When the Russian army was approaching Budapest, the
Hungarian Nazis ordered Susan to report for labor with her age group and sent them
to dig foxholes. Their Hungarian Nazi guards were 14 or 15-year-olds. When a
young girl working at Susan’s side sat down and cried for her mother, those
guards immediately shot her.

For two days and nights in the cold and rain, with no food, the guards ran them
back to Budapest to work in a brick factory where she met two girls her age,
Ferry (Ferike Csato) and Katherine (Katherine Goldstein Prevost). Susan pretended to be crippled and part of a group of sick and injured destined for
Budapest and death. She escaped and made it to her aunt and uncle’s house, but
the following day Hungarian gendarmes (police) rounded her up with others. The
gendarmes forced even mothers from their babies to join with those in the


Their Hungarian guards told them they were taking them to
Germany to die. “The one who dies on the road is lucky,” they said. Over a
ten-day period in October, they walked in rain, ice, and cold from Budapest to
the German border (125 miles) to Hegyeshalomover. Thousands were shot for
lagging behind or collapsing. A few country people along the way gave them a
piece of bread. Others stripped them of their clothes. Guards kicked them. They
slept in flea-invested hay. 


Anyone who had anything of value traded it to the peasants
for food. They fought for a share of rare carrot or bean soup.


One night, the guards packed them onto a barge on the Danube
River. Overwhelmed by the press of dying people, Susan escaped by swimming to
the bank in the freezing river. She begged a man she encountered to help her or
just get her something dry to wear. He agreed but instead returned with police
who escorted her back to the prisoners.


At the German border, they marched another ten miles to
trains. Jammed into cattle cars, they traveled for days but couldn’t see out
because black slats covered the cars. She was only aware of repetitive stopping
and starting. 


Finally, in October 1944, the trains arrived at Dachau
concentration camp in Germany, their destination. The smell of the crematorium
camp would stay in her nostrils for the rest of her life, as would the shock of
her first sight of the skeletal prisoners who mobbed them, begging for bread.
Guards beat the prisoners back.


The newly arrived assembled in a large open field, waiting
to go in. But even with bodies being constantly cremated, there was no room for
them in Dachau. Susan and her two friends, Ferry and Katherine, went with other
girls to Camp Two and then Camp Eleven (nearby work camps). They slept in
bunkers below ground on a wooden floor and a pallet of straw. Camp Two, they
quickly learned, was the “sick camp.” The next stop for Camp Two occupants
would be the crematorium in Dachau.


At the satellite camps, they were given striped uniforms.
About 500 people lived in each barrack with a block leader in charge. Food came
once a day in a big wooden barrel with hot water and big hunks of sugar beets.
At night they received a piece of bread that “oozed sawdust and a piece of
artificial marmalade.” At first, she couldn’t swallow it. The older inmates
encouraged her to “eat it, no matter what.” 


Each day, the prisoners were called out to stand, sometimes
for hours, in the cold for a count and work assignments (Appell). “If you fell
out, you were beaten or shot. If a friend was dying, you made sure that she
stood up, no matter what, and wasn’t left in the barracks.” 


In the first Appell, Susan was picked to work in a kitchen where
she peeled beets. Germans brought in prisoners for punishment, hanging them
from rafters and beating them. She and the kitchen workers constantly cleaned
the blood from the floors. She hid beets inside her baggy shirt and shared it
with her camp mates and the Muselmann—the starving, skin-and-bones
prisoners resigned to their impending death.


Susan was transferred to different camps for work
assignment. At one, German engineers of the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces), instead
of SS troops, ran the camp. More humane, their military task masters distributed
pieces of food to the workers, food that kept Susan alive. Barehanded and
dressed only in the thin striped uniforms and sockless wooden clogs, Susan and
her fellow prisoners pulled wagons of wood in the Bavarian winter mountains.
Sometimes she was taken from the camp to wash clothes for German housewives.
She also worked in the Sonderkommando (work groups at crematoriums) to
remove teeth from the corpses of the murdered for the gold fillings.


Her health was deteriorating. She had lost weight and
suffered from reoccurring high fevers. Typhoid broke out in the camp. There was
no medication. To isolate the prisoners, the guards stopped letting them leave,
throwing beets and bread over the fence. 


In early March 1945, after the epidemics, a female guard
beat her for speaking defiantly to a camp commander. People all around her were
giving in to despair, but she refused to do so, vowing she would survive. 


At another work camp, Susan joined women prisoners building
an underground airplane hangar. They were forced to carry 100-pound bags of
cement across a catwalk several stories high. The Muselmann went down
instantly under the burden, falling to their deaths. “There was,” Susan said,
“as much blood and flesh in that hanger as cement.”


An inmate orchestra played as she and other workers left the
camp and on their return. Guards made the orchestra watch and play during
beatings and hangings and while starved prisoners–who had tried to grab
potatoes from a wagon—were strung up between the electrical barbed wire, potatoes
stuck in their mouths.


Once, the Germans spruced up a barracks, putting in
furniture and stocking it with people they found “not in terrible shape” for
the Swiss Red Cross, who had come to inspect the treatment of prisoners. As
soon as they were gone, the Germans took the untouched piles of canned foods,
condensed milk, and chocolate the Red Cross had left for the prisoners.


One barrack’s occupants were expectant mothers. They were
allowed to give birth to their babies and tend them. Then one day, without
warning, all the infants were taken away and the women sent to the work


To use the open trenches to relieve themselves, Susan had to
walk through knee-deep mud at night, sometimes stepping on top of the bodies of
those who had fallen there and died in the mud. Survival, she knew, depended on
not allowing yourself to feel and thinking only of the moment.


Her last assignment was in a dynamite factory. By this time,
the air raids were almost continuous. Landsberg, a nearby town, was under siege
by the Americans. In April 1945, guards took her and her friends to the main
camp in Dachau. They spent a night in the showers at Dachau, believing they
would next be taken to the crematoriums, which were still “going strong.” But
the next day, with thousands of young people, they were marched out of the
camp. As they left, they could see the trains that continued to bring prisoners
from other camps [to keep the Allies from discovering them], many already sick
and emaciated. When the doors opened, dead bodies fell out. Inmates stacked
them like mountains in front of the crematoriums to be burned. But the Germans
had run out of time. The American guns were days away. 


They marched from Dachau, walking at night and hiding in the
woods during the day. Allowed to dig in the fields they passed for roots and
potatoes, they ate them raw. All understood the guards’ orders were to march
them into the mountains and kill them in the forests where the Allies would not
discover their bodies. Guards shot in the head anyone who lagged or fell. Susan
was sick and feverish. She could not walk on her own, but three friends,
Katherine, Ferry, and another supported her, keeping her from collapsing.


As they struggled through the mountains and meadows of
Bavaria, guards began deserting in the cover of night. American planes flew low
enough Susan could read the insignia on the wings. The pilots, who surely saw
the striped uniforms, refrained from dropping bombs.


Five days later, what remained of their group arrived at a
work camp for Russian prisoners in the small German town of Wolfratshausen. The
first task of their remaining Nazi guards was to take the Russian prisoners of
war and shoot them. Knowing they were next, Susan lay on the roadside, too sick
and exhausted to react. Then she heard a roar—the first American jeep of the
Third Army coming down the road—liberators.


The German guards fled, but the liberators were combat
troops, unable to care medically for the freed prisoners. The Americans moved
on, and the liberated were left to fend for themselves.


Typhoid once again thinned their ranks. Her friends held out
tin cans for food the passing American soldiers threw to them. Survivors that
were able, brought supplies from the town and cooked soups. Reports that
Americans fed and clothed German prisoners, playing baseball and basketball
with them in the prison camps, ignited bitterness and anger. Many Jews took
abandoned weapons and hunted the German SS who had tortured them and killed
their friends and families.The sound of gunfire in the surrounding forests
peppered the nights.


They spent the summer in the woods, slowly regaining their
strength, then Susan, Katherine and Ferry trekked to a displaced persons camp.
Although her friends wished to immigrate to Israel, Susan wanted to go home to
Hungary. And they chose to go with her. 


They walked to Prague, a journey of 145 miles, where a
Russian troop train allowed them to ride. Arriving finally at their destination
of Budapest, they found it devastated. Susan couldn’t find her house in the
rubble . . . or her mother. They tried to find work. Inflation made money
worthless. A friend of her uncle finally gave her a job in the ministry [government]
which paid the workers in potatoes and bread. They lived in a room open to the
elements; bombs had destroyed the windows and doors.


Ferry convinced Susan to go with her, Katherine, and two
Sabra (Israeli) agents who were attempting to get fifty Polish Jewish children
to Israel. The children had survived by hiding in Christian homes. Susan and
her friends rode with them by train to the Hungarian border where they had to
walk about 200 miles.


The friends, with the two Sabra agents and three other men,
accompanied the children through heavy snow in the fields and woods. Twice,
they paid off Russians who stopped them, but the third time, at the German
border, they had to make a run for it. They abandoned all their belongings in
their dash for freedom. Older children carried the younger ones. Russian
bullets followed them. Once safely across, the children continued through
Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Cyprus and then into Israel. But Susan still did
not want to go to Israel. 


Later, Susan said she regretted that decision and felt pride
in what Israel stood for. “You know, even if you have to die, if you die on
your feet fighting, it’s a heck of a lot different than to be shoved into a gas
chamber [to] die like mice or cockroaches, or whatever.”


Susan lived in Germany for three years, then married a GI
and came to America in 1948, becoming a U.S. citizen. She had two children,
Diane and Leslie, and lived on Long Island, NY. Struggled with multiple health
issues, she worked in various factories to pay her medical bills before getting
a clerical job on Mitchel Air Force Base, which turned into a civil service
career of 30 years. 


She divorced and eventually married another serviceman. With
his transfer to Maxwell Air Force Base, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama.


Ferry and Katherine joined relatives in America, and the
three friends kept in touch for the rest of their lives. Finally locating her
mother, who had returned to Budapest, Susan brought her to Montgomery in


Susan Petrov Eisenberg died in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2008.



Note: I had the privilege of compiling Susan’s story. She was one of the survivors who made Alabama their home
after WWII. Others’ stories and a wealth of educational material about survivors and the Holocaust is available
at the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center website—bhecinfo.org




T.K. is a retired police captain who writes books, which, like this blog, go wherever her interest and imagination take her.





Ten Words in April


      Writer, humanist,
          dog-mom, horse servant and cat-slave,
       Lover of solitude
          and the company of good friends,
        New places, new ideas
           and old wisdom.

April is my birthday month. We’re not going to talk about exactly which one. It’s been a hectic month that included working with my editor on my new police witch book, House of Rose. April also is the month for Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in between working on my book, I had the privilege of playing a small role in helping to host “Violins of Hope” in my city of Birmingham, Alabama. It was a unique and amazing experience.

Amnon Weinstein, a violin maker in Israel came to Birmingham this month with his family for a week of concerts and educational programs. Like his father, Weinstein dedicated his life to making and repairing violins. As a child, Amnon never heard his parents speak much about the Holocaust. The trauma of losing hundreds of their extended family was too overwhelming to give it voice, but one day after Amnon’s father had died, a woman came into his shop with a violin that had been through the Holocaust. When he opened it, there were ashes inside. The woman explained that it’s owner had been forced to play it inside a concentration camp while prisoners were marched to their deaths.

Shaken, Ammon looked with new eyes at the numerous violins that had been brought to his father in Israel after WWII because people didn’t want anything that was made in Germany or associated with that country, and he decided those violins had voices that needed to speak and stories that needed to be told.  Some of the instruments, he learned, had kept people alive during the Holocaust, others brought the beauty of music into a dark place and time, and so, they were not just violins of tragedy but violins of hope.

Many Jews in Eastern Europe played the violin, as reflected in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. It is said that the violin is the closest instrument to the human voice and also that it is the easiest instrument to pickup and run with. Professional musicians, called klezmers, traveled from village to village playing for weddings and other events. Amnon and his family came to Birmingham, a city with its own story of violence and repression of a people who loved music. 

In April—the season of azalea, dogwood and redwood blooms—the restored violins were displayed and played by students and professional musicians. Youth who had been studying the Holocaust heard Amnon speak and the violins sing. Their voices honored those before, those who who had held them and loved them and drew beautiful music from them, those who had lived and those who had died. I expected to be touched by the music of the violins, and I was, but it was the words that gave shape to the music’s power—that explained the unexplainable.  

Amnon’s wife, Assiel Weinstein, spoke at the commemoration of Yom Ha Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Though she did not play the violin, with ten words, Assi changed my understanding of the meaning of Israel. Assi’s father had been a partisan in Eastern Europe during the war, one of the famous Bielski brothers who escaped to the surrounding forest and waged guerrilla warfare against the Germans who were murdering the Jews of the villages and taking them away to death camps. At the same time, the Bielski brothers established a refugee camp deep in the woods, harboring those fleeing the Nazis, many of whom were old, weak and sick. Assi’s father, who was in charge of food and raiding parties said, “Let the Russian partisans do the fighting. It is more important to save one old Jewish woman than to kill ten Germans.” Hungry, sick, clinging to survival through harsh winters, the group became a community and kept their humanity. The movie Defiance was based on this historical event. 

Toward the end of the war, in August of 1943, the Germans gathered soldiers to surround the forest, determined to flush out the partisans, the Bielski brothers and their camp of refugees.  Inexorably, they closed in. There was no escape. “All the people wanted to run in different directions,” but Tuvia Bielski, their leader said, “No we stay together. If we die, then we will die fighting, but we’ll do it together.”

Miraculously, two Jews, a forester and a peddler told the brothers that they knew a path through the swamp to an island. Hundreds of men, women and children followed them, as their ancestors had followed Moses, through the swamp to a small island where they hunkered down in absolute silence, waiting while the Nazis came closer and closer. For hours, they were still and quiet, even the children. Assi’s mother was among those who huddled, terrified, on the island, listening to the sounds of shouted orders and bullets flying overhead as the Germans searched all around them, certain they would be discovered and killed at any moment. But they weren’t. At the war’s end, 1,200 Jews walked out of that forest.

After the war, Assi’s mother insisted on immigrating to Israel. She told her daughter, “I came to Israel because I will never run again.” 

I knew, of course, that people fled to Israel for safety, but those words were not those of a woman seeking shelter, but a place to fight from and to fight for. She would take her stand there. And with those ten words, I realized that is what Israel is, not a safe haven to hide, but a place to make a stand and a home for Jews, so they never have to run again. 

Click here for a 1.5 minute video of Amnon and Violins of Hope

T.K. has written two award-winning
historical novels, NOAH’S WIFE and ANGELS AT THE GATE, filling in the untold
backstories of extraordinary unnamed women—the wives of Noah and Lot—in two of
the world’s most famous sagas. The New
York Post’s “
Books You Should Be Reading” list featured her first
non-fiction book, LAST CHANCE FOR JUSTICE, which details the investigators’
behind-the-scenes stories of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing case. Her next
project is HOUSE OF ROSE, the first of a trilogy in the paranormal-crime genre.
She loves traveling and speaking about her books and life lessons. T.K. writes
at her mountaintop home near Birmingham, Alabama, often with two dogs and a cat
vying for her lap. She blogs about “What Moves Me” on her website,
TKThorne.com.  Join her private newsletter email list and
receive a two free short stories at “TK’s Korner.”