David Bruce: Holocaust Heroes

Luba

The very first night Luba Tryszynska was in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in December of 1944 after spending time at Auschwitz, she thought she heard a voice crying, “Mama! Mama!” She investigated, going outside on a winter night, and heard the cries more clearly. They were coming from a field. In the field she found 54 children, some of them babies in pillowcases. The children were Dutch, and their parents had been diamond-cutters in Amsterdam. The children were separated from their parents, who were forced to work for the Nazis, and the children were supposed to be killed. However, the two men assigned to shoot the children could not do it, and they left them in the cold field. Luba took them to her barracks, where the other women greeted and comforted the children — and wondered how they could feed them. Nevertheless, they helped Luba to take care of the children during the months before the camp was liberated. Fortunately, Luba was able to get food for them. The Nazis thought that she was a nurse, and so she had special privileges. Since the Nazis in Bergen-Belsen did not know she was a Jew (perhaps because of the mix-up that made them think she was a nurse), she made sure that her long sleeves covered the tattooed numbers that identified her as a Jew, thus allowing the Nazis to think that she was a political prisoner. Her ability to speak both German and Russian also helped protect her. Because of her special privileges as a nurse, she had freedom to move around the camp, and she would ask cooks and bakers for food to feed the children. (Although the children’s existence was kept secret from the Nazis, many of the prisoners in the camp soon learned about the children.) She was able to hide the food under her coat and carry it to the barracks. The children were grateful to Luba, and for her birthday they wanted to give her a present. The price of the present was two loaves of bread, and they were able to get two loaves of bread by giving up one-half of their daily slice of bread for two days. The present they gave her was a red scarf. (Luba probably would have preferred that they eat the bread, as food was scarce, but she appreciated the gift — and the poem the children wrote to accompany it.) As the war wound down, food grew scarcer, but in April of 1945 the Nazis left and the British arrived. Luba and the children and all the surviving inmates of Bergen-Belsen were free. Of the 54 children whom Luba found, 52 survived the Holocaust. Luba accompanied the children back to Holland, where the children joined their surviving family members. Luba was a hero in Holland, and the Dutch called her “the Angel of Bergen-Belsen.” Queen Wilhelmina asked Luba to stay in Holland, but Luba went back to help other survivors and to try to find any surviving members of her family. Unable to find any surviving family members, she went to the United States and married Sol Frederick, who had also survived the Holocaust, and raised a family with him. In April of 1995, 40 years after liberation, the children she had saved — who were now middle-aged — flew her to Amsterdam so Queen Beatrix could present her with the Silver Medal of Honor for Humanitarian Services. Luba says, “I never thought of myself as a particularly brave person, certainly not as a hero. But I found that inside every human being there is a hero waiting to emerge. I never could have done what I did without the help of many heroes.”

When the Germans defeated France in World War II, lots of Jews went to Bordeaux, where they hoped to find passage away from France before the Nazis arrived and took them to concentration camps. The ship Kilissi arrived in port with a cargo of bananas, and the captain was astonished to see 600 people, all of whom were begging to be taken away before the Germans arrived. The captain of the Kilissi spoke to his crew, asking them whether they were willing to risk their lives in trying to save the Jews on shore. Every member of the crew was willing. The crew then dumped most of the bananas overboard, since they had no time to unload them. The Jews crowded on board, and the Kilissi started to sail them to freedom. Almost immediately, however, the ship’s engines stopped. Fortunately, the ship had stopped only to allow to get on board two men and one woman who were in a rowboat and screaming to get the ship’s attention. The ship took the Jews to Portugal, but authorities there would not allow them to disembark. However, they were allowed to get aboard a French warship that was going to Morocco. Terry Wolf was one of the 600 Jews saved by the captain and his crew. She calls him “a gallant man to whom the value of human life meant more than bananas, profit, comfort, and personal safety. Whenever his final voyage, I hope it is to Paradise.”

Alicia Jurman survived the Holocaust with much luck and determination. At a prison near Chortkov, Poland, she and other prisoners were given contaminated water to drink. She fell ill with typhoid fever and lapsed into a coma. When she woke up, she discovered that she was in the home of Jules and Sala Gold. They told her that she was now in the Jewish ghetto of Chortkov and that she had been in a coma for two weeks. The German prison guards had thought that Alicia was dead, and they had taken her out to be buried. They forced the Golds to bury Alicia and some other prisoners who were really dead. The Golds noticed that Alicia was still alive. They put her in a grave, but left an airhole so she could breathe. When the guards left, they dug her up, took her home, and nursed her back to consciousness. Much more, and much of it bad, happened to Alicia, but she survived the Holocaust, came to the United States, and married Gabriel Applebaum.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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