Remembering the Past to Preserve the Future

Rivaled only by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Center and the Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum in historical value, Bad Arolsen contains 30 million documents on survivors of Nazi camps, Gestapo prisons, forced laborers and displace persons. One example of the power of preserving the past is George Jaunzemis who received a letter in 2010 from the International Tracing Service in Bad Arsolen which changed his life finding out his real name was Peter Thomas and had a nephew as well as a cousin in Germany. He never knew that the Latvian women he emigrated with to New Zealand was not his mother and had no memory of his early years as he was only three and half at the end of WWII when he separated from his mother as she fled with him from Germany to Belgium. Jaunzemis, 71, told Reuters, “I was astonished, thrilled. After all this time, I was an uncle. You don’t know what it’s like to have no family or childhood knowledge. Suddenly all the pieces fitted, now I can find my peace as a person.” Even though the story has a seemingly happy ending, it took Jaunzemis three decades of searching to find the vast archive in a remote corner of Germany.

Many people don’t even know the archive exists as it was only opened to researchers in 2007 after being widely criticized for overprotecting the original material locked in its facility, but Bad Arolsen still struggles to receive the recognition it deserves says many academics. Only 2,097 people visited Bad Arolsen compared to 900,000 who visited Yad Vashem reports Reuters. Rebecca Boehling, a historian from the Dresher Center for Humanities at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, wants to change this, “We have a new agenda. We’re sitting on a treasure trove of documents. We want people to know what we have. Our material can change our perspective on big topics related to the war and the Holocaust.” Boehling is the first archive director not affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross who managed Bad Arolsen since 1955 who handed the reins over to an international commission of 11 countries in January hoping to open the archives for academic study.  Boehling hopes to open the archive for international conferences, get foreign students to use the ITS, publish research and host teachers’ workshops even though the budget of 14 million euros from the German government may not cover it all. The archive, as Boehling believes should be used as an educational tool for the younger generations as the ITS can provide an abundance of personal stories from victims and hope the events they host will draw more than just the townspeople and groups of pupils from nearby.

The location of the archive site in Bad Arolsen was chosen because of its central location between Germany’s four occupation zones and located next to a site where Hitler’s SS officers once had barracks according to Reuters. The problem now is there are no big cities nearby and connections to Berlin and Frankfurt are slow as the town itself is location on the norther edge of the state of Hesse population of just 16,000. The archive itself hold clues to the fate of 17.5 million people housed in a white building that included 25 kilometers of yellowing paper showing typed lists of Jews, homosexuals and other persecuted groups, files on children born to the Nazi Lebensborn program to breed the master race and registers of arrivals as well departures from concentration camps. A carbon copy of Schindler’s List is even housed here with the 1,000 Jewish workers saved by German industrialist Oskar Schindler. As spokeswoman, Kathrin Flor explains, “At death camps like Sobibor or Auschwitz, only natural causes of death are recorded – heart failure or pneumonia. There’s no mention of gassing. The last evidence of many lives is the transport to the camp.”

The ITS receives 12,000 inquiries a month to and reunites 50 families  a year as the number of Holocaust survivors decrease the work continues as the new phenomenon of grandchildren and great grandchildren want to find out about the fate of their loved ones during the war. The task of digitalizing the records is an ongoing project in order to make the archive user friendly and easier to search the large database. Even though the location is remote, Boehling says the archive will not be moved as it has become a memorial to the Holocaust survivors like Auschwitz inmate Thomas Buergenthal who came in 2012 after getting new information on where his father perished Reuters reports. He himself escaped Nazi shooting squads, Auschwitz gas chambers and a death march before the age of 12 later he was found by his mother found him in a Polish orphanage in 1947 through the Red Cross. As he explains from his home in the U.S. at 78, “This is my hallowed ground. These documents are more important for the future than for the past. They will be the common heritage of mankind of what really happened during that period. (They are) what we need to prevent it happening elsewhere in the world.”

Leon Leyson Dead: Youngest ‘Schindler’s List’ Survivor Dies At 83

Leon Leyson Dead: Youngest ‘Schindler’s List’ Survivor Dies At 83.

Great men and women with great stories to tell. I am sadden to hear that another has passed but with his passing I hope people do not forget his life or story. If you haven’t seen Schindler’s List than I highly recommend this movie it is one of my favorite movies by far about the good that can come from such a horrible time in history.

Leon Leyson, who was the youngest of 1,100 Jews saved from the Nazis by Oskar Schindler, has died in Southern California at 83. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Leyson was 10 and six month later his family was sent to the Krakow ghetto where he survived mass killing and deportation to a concentration camp. He lost two brothers, one fled to the family’s village who died in a massacre of 500 residents and the other was sent to a concentration camp. Schindler called him “little Leyson” and was the youngest of the Jewish workers that Schindler saved by declaring them necessary to produce. Schindler also gave him double rations when he was weak and also put his mother as well as surviving siblings on the list. Leyson rarely talks about his experiences. He came to the U.S. in 1949 and taught at Huntington Park High School for 39 years.

 

 

“The truth is, I did not live my life in the shadow of the Holocaust,” he told the Portland Oregonian in 1997. “I did not give my children a legacy of fear. I gave them a legacy of freedom.” However he began to publicly speak about his experiences after the 1993 movie Schindler’s List came out. In 1974, Leyson saw Schindler along with a group of Jews in Los Angeles shortly before his death. Leyson introduced himself and Schindler remember exactly who he was calling him “little Leyson.” Leyson is survived not only by his daughter but by his wife, Lis; son, Daniel, of Los Angeles; sister, Aviva Nissenbaum, of Israel; brother, David, also of Israel, and six grandchildren.