Apr 20, 2011

April 19, 1943 at the Dallas Holocaust Museum

When John and I were in Dallas, I visited the Holocaust Museum. They are in the process of raising money for a new building for their museum but meanwhile they have made the maximum use of their small space. They took an interesting approach to the Holocaust by featuring the events that occurred on one day in three different places. That day was April 19, 1943. Each place had a unique reaction to what was happening to the Jewish population in Europe.

The museum’s slogan is “Be an Upstander not a Bystander” so they focus on three different responses to the Holocaust. They highlight two acts of bravery and courage while at the very same time the powerful decision-makers in the Allied governments remained indifferent.

In Poland the Jewish people had been confined to a ghetto. On that day in April it was the Jewish feast of Passover, 1200 Jews armed with smuggled in pistols, rifles, a few machine guns, grenades and Molotov cocktails engaged in a battle with over 2000 Waffen SS soldiers under the command of SS General J├╝rgen Stroop who attacked with tanks, artillery and flame throwers. The first attack by the SS was repulsed by the Jews, leaving 12 Germans dead. The Germans renewed the attack, but found it difficult to kill or capture the small battle groups of Jews, who would fight, then retreat through a maze of cellars, sewers and other hidden passageways to escape capture. The Jews in Warsaw resisted for a total of 28 days.

On that very same day in Belgium three young men risked their lives to rescue Jews from a deportation train bound for Auschwitz from Belgium. As part of a resistance unit, Georges Livchitz, a young Jewish physician, forced the train to stop, held the engineer at bay while his two non-Jewish comrades, Robert Maistriau and Jean Franklemon, forced open the doors of several cars allowing some of the Jewish deportees to escape. Of the 1631 Jews on the deportation train 231 managed to escape. Livchitz was later captured, tried and executed. Maistriau and Franklemon were arrested and deported to Bergen-Belsen. Both survived their time in the concentration camp and lived a long life. It was the only time during the Holocaust that a train was attacked on its way to one of the notorious camps.

Meanwhile a group of officials representing the British and American governments met in a plush hotel on the beautiful resort island of Bermuda to discuss the question of Jewish refugees who had been liberated by Allied forces and those who remained in Nazi-occupied Europe. They basically decided to do nothing but agreed that the war must be won.

The museum shows the actions of those who rose up to defend themselves and those who risked their lives to help others in contrast to the politicians who chose to do nothing. Prominently placed at the entrance of the museum is the quote by Albert Einstein: “The World is too dangerous to live in - not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen.”

Sadly persecutions continue today even though people vowed “never again.” Today the museum makes their message timely by referring to bullying, racism, and other forms of discrimination. They maintain that “A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”