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Iowans in Holocaust

April 17, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Holocaust program revealed parallels to today's challenges

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

Article Photos

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles on Lessons of the Holocaust, stemming from the presentation at the Estherville Public Library. The presenter, Brad Wilkening, provided a wealth of material with parallels to things happening in the world today, and we wanted to explore them in a longer form.

Doug Wilkening presented at the Estherville Public Library earlier this month. Those who attended the program expressed their agreement that the content in the program carried a great number of parallels to things happening today, from school shootings to racial tension to a culture of fear.

Wilkening said sending Jews to labor camps began almost immediately upon Hitler's rise to power, and the conditions in the labor camps eliminated many inmates from typhus, overwork, starvation, malnutrition and weather.

Fact Box

"From the 1940s to the mid 1970s, Americans didn't know about the Holocaust. None of the survivors was talking."

-Doug Wilkening

It was at the Wansee Conference, a 90 minute meeting on January 20, 1942, that the labor camps were converted to concentration camps.

This left Jews with what Wilkening called "choiceless choices."

They could leave the ghettos, but where would they go? If they were discovered by Nazis, they'd be killed anyway, in isolation.

They could try to pass as Aryan, but what if they failed?

They could try to hide, but they posed a threat of death to anyone who would hide them, if they were discovered.

They could travel to the east or west, but still risked being killed.

With those options, Wilkening said, it might have seemed most pragmatic to stay in the ghettos, hoping to survive.

Wilkening said, "From the 1940s to the mid 1970s, Americans didn't know about the Holocaust. None of the survivors was talking."

Between Kristallnacht in 1938 and 1940, Britain arranged a program called Kindertransport, accepting a certain number of Jewish children under age 18 to enter Britain from Germany and German occupied territories, including Austria and the Czech lands.

Private citizens or organizations had to guarantee payment for the care of each child, their education, and a plan for their eventual emigration from Britain. The infants included in the program were cared for by other children on their transport, because parents and guardians could not accompany the children.

Even some of these children were interned as enemy aliens, about 1,000 of them, Wilkening said. They were held in internment camps on the Isle of Man, Canada and Australia. Some of the boys held in these camps later joined the British Army by special dispensation to fight in the war.

More of the children became citizens of Great Britain or emigrated to Israel, Canada, Australia, or the U.S. Though the plan was to return the children to their families after the war, most of them would never again see their parents, who were murdered.

The United States did not ease immigration restrictions. May 13, 1939, when the St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba, 937 passengers were in flux when the Cuban government admitted just 28 passengers. Twenty0-two had valid US visas; the remaining six were not Jewish; four were Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals with valid entry documents. One passenger attempted to commit suicide and was evacuated to a Havana hospital. One passenger died of natural causes en route. The remaining 908 passengers were denied entry to Cuba, and even denied a chance to disembark from the ship.

The ship sailed away, at one point, Wilkening said, sailing so close to Florida the passengers could see the lights of Miami.

Some passengers cabled President Roosevelt. He did not respond. The State Department had decided to not take extraordinary measures to admit the refugees to the U.S.

June 6, 1936, the St. Louis sailed back to Europe and were dispersed to Britain, Netherlands, Belgium, and France.

Wilkening showed a video of Holocaust survivors who came to Iowa.

Fritzie Fritzhall was 13 when he and his mother were deported in a cattle care to Auschwitz. Fritzhall said, "We honestly thought we were going to be relocated, until the door closed and we heard the lock go on from the outside. I believe that was the first we knew, wherever we were going to be taken to, it was not going to be freedom."

Fred Lorber died at his Des Moines home in 2014 at age 91. Lorber escaped Vienna in 1939 as Jews, including his father, were being captured and imprisoned. Lorber saw Adolf Hitler in the back of an open Mercedes parading through occupied Austria. Later there was a knock on his parents' door.

"The Nazi storm troopers came to the house and took my father," Lorber said on the video. "They wanted to take me also, but my mother begged them. I was so young. "

Lorber's father was taken to Dachau, but later released. The family fled to New York City and Lorber eventually settled in Iowa.



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