Learning love from the Holocaust
“Hate is nothing. Love is everything”.
This is the message Henry Golde, a holocaust survivor, wishes to proclaim to the world.
The New London High School Bilingual Class has devoted much of this last year to learn the life of this man. From their time spent with him, they wrote a biography of Henry Golde.
The funds for this project were provided through a mini-grant, applied for by their instructor, Lori Manning. Golde also has written his autobiography, Rag Dolls.
Golde was born approximately 100 kilometers from Warsaw, Poland. Of the 3,000 Jews living in this region, only 50 survived the torture to which the Jews were subjected during World War II.
Golde shared his experiences in a seminar organized by Menning’s students and held at the New London Public Library on Thursday, May 24.
“I was 11 when the war started,” Golde explained. “I became an adult and five years later I became an old man.”
During these five years, Golde lived in nine concentration camps in Poland, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Even before the war began, anti-Semitism was strong and the Polish Catholic Church preached against Jews. Golde recounts the times of leaving school on Sundays, when the Christian children would wait to beat them up on the way home.
One day, he was hit by a rock, which gashed his head. He ran to his father, who was a barber but also served as a doctor because there was a shortage of doctors.
As his father cleaned him up, Golde asked him why this had happened to him.
His father replied, “You are different. You are one of the chosen people.” Within himself, Golde asked God, “Why didn’t you choose somebody else?”
At the beginning of the war, Golde remembers all the city “cheering” the Polish soldiers off to the war. The German army didn’t bother them at first, but then field police and SS came and all hell broke loose overnight. Steps were taken to require that all Jews register and wear yellow stars.
It took the Nazis longer to confiscate the ghetto and take over Poland because the Jews made homemade bombs that would immobilize the tanks. The Germans eventually gassed the sewers to get all the Jews out.
Golde recalls being taken to a ghetto that was one block wide. He lived here a few months with two or three families occupying one room. There was a decree declaring that they were being moved to a new location, but then the soldiers said they had to stay. That same night, they chased the inhabitants out of this ghetto to a concentration camp. Everything of value was taken and they were to live in horse stables. The bathroom for the whole camp was a hole at the back of the barracks.
“We were next taken to a new town that was all Jewish. All the public buildings in the city were opened for housing but there were cramped quarters,” Golde said. “One day, the soldiers told everyone to go to the market place. They said the healthy young people were going to go to work, but the children and old were going to go home. Iwas small and a German officer chose me to go home, but another officer accidentally pushed me onto the work truck. There were only two types of concentration camps. One camp meant death and the other meant work until you were ready for the death camp. That officer saved my life when he accidentally pushed me onto the work truck.”
Golde was taken to a complex of two ammunition factories and three concentration camps. Eventually he would spend time at all three.
“One might ask ‘How did I survive? Fate? Miracle?'” Golde states. “I had many encounters in which I should have been killed but was not. One such instance occurred when I had to go to the bathroom one night. Even though you could die for any reason-or no reason-at any time in the concentration camps, the we were told that if they left the barracks during ‘black-out’ this meant automatic death. This particular night, I went out to relieve myself. I walked out of the barracks into the muzzle of a rifle. The guard immediately told me it was a ‘black-out’ and he was going to shoot me.
“The guard told me to walk towards the fence with my hands up,” Golde said. “My life flashed before my eyes, and one moment I thought, ‘I want to die. This is a horrible life.’ Then the next moment I thought, ‘I haven’t lived yet’.
“Then, there were footsteps of another guard, and the two guards starting arguing about me being shot while I stood at the fence with my hands in the air,” Golde said. “Eventually, the second guard won the argument and pushed me back to the barracks with his rifle.”
Typhoid fever ran rampant in the camps. The Jews were able to shower once a month. The showers were in Camp A, which was a five mile walk for Golde. To house those Jews taken ill with the fever, there was a Hospital Barrack. Once the hospital was full, the soldiers took the sick to Camp C, where they were shot.
One day, Golde began to feel sick. It went on for three days and on the fourth day, he couldn’t get up. The Jewish doctor came and sent him to the hospital.
“Without medication, typhoid fever is 99 percent fatal,” Golde states. “Over the night, I felt like the fever was getting to be too much. The next day in preparation to vacate the hospital, the commandant and Jewish doctor came past my bed. The commandant asked what was to be done with this boy and the Jewish doctor replied ‘Oh, he is getting better and is leaving tomorrow.’ This saved my life; I was the only one in the hospital that wasn’t taken. Three days later, I felt much better and was able to leave the hospital.”
The Russian front was now moving towards them and the war was coming to an end. The German commandant told them the camp was going to be evacuated. He said the strong would walk but the weak would be taken by train. They called names for those to go on the train but the commandant never stopped to make sure they were coming forward.
Golde heard his name called and thought ‘I have to hide.’ He remembered at the back of the hospital barracks there was a heap of dead bodies. He thought, ‘Everyone is busy today; they will not transport the bodies.’ So, he snuck back to the hospital and hid himself on the pile of dead bodies all day.
Screams, shouting and shooting was all he heard all day. At the end of the day, he got up and went back to the barracks. Half of the camp was gone. Others told him that the soldiers had begun shooting people indiscriminately.
“The next day we were taken in the train to a concentration camp that had one ammunition factory and a steel mill,” Golde recalled. “The work was hard but the conditions were OK. Then we were taken to a concentration camp in Germany. We arrived in the middle of the night, and dogs were biting at us as they marched in.
“There was a barrack at the front of camp with a tall chimney on which was written ‘The only way out is through this chimney. No work was given to us but we were counted twice a day for the soldiers enjoyment,” Golde said. “If someone were absent, the soldiers went to find them and they were thrown onto the ground where the dogs would tear them apart. The wife of the German commandant of this camp loved watching us Jews die, and once stated that she needed more bodies for her ‘human lampshade.'”
Finally, Golde was taken to a medieval fortress. As they marched them inside, there were children playing and Jews just sitting there. This was the “ideal city” that the Germans showed the rest of the world, in an attempt to make it look like the Jews were being treated humanely.
Soon, Golde and the other Jews were liberated by Russians. The German commandant told the Russians the truth of the camp in exchange for passage to Switzerland. The Russians took them to a children’s home and tried to brainwash them to go to Russia, but Golde says he knew he didn’t want to live in Russia. One day, a Jewish doctor came and told them he would take them to England.
Golde was taken to England and lived there from 1945-1952. This is where he was married and his first son was born, but he wanted to come to America, and in 1952, Golde and his family moved to the United States. Golde worked in New York for a while and then became an entrepreneur, eventually coming to Wisconsin and living in Appleton. He started sharing his story when a broadcaster from Merrill asked him to be on the radio.
“My story highlights the worst prejudice and bigotry the world has ever known,” Golde said. “It’s all about hate. I go around speaking at schools and different places, trying to help children understand what hate will do.
“When you love, you make a better world for yourself and everyone around you,” commented Golde. “After all that has happened to me and my people, am I not entitled to hate? But I choose to forgive, and when I forgive, I start to love. The Ten Commandments are the smartest words that were ever written. I also believe we must love our neighbors as ourselves, regardless of their ethnicity. Hate is nothing. Love is everything.”