Holocaust Remembrance Day: From Hitler’s Terror to our own Backyard

By Sheryl Hamlin

Presented by the Blanchard Community Library in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, healing Annette Halpern, Santa Paula High School ESL teacher, Ventura County Teacher of the Year and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Mandel Teacher Fellow presented true stories of Jewish survivors and refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe who settled in Ventura County.

Mr. Halpern’s interest in history and particularly the Holocaust moved her to create a Spanish language website El Holocausto. On this site, she asks “What was the significance of the Holocaust?” and “What were the repercussions of the Holocaust?” Covering the historical antecedents leading to Europe’s anti-Semitism, she also reviews the rise of Hitler and “The Final Solution” on her website.

Her research took her to the possibility that there were Holocaust survivors in Ventura County. She was given 13 names. That list grew to 18, of which 16 agreed to be interviewed. She has not obtained a release of all names for publication purposes and spoke from her notes, of which there are only three copies.

Although Germany’s Jewish population was only about 1% of the population, anti-Jewish rhetoric around the early 1930’s led many Jews to sell their businesses or properties at fractional values and leave the country, often paying enormous “exit fees”.

One of Mrs. Halpern’s stories described Bernard Simon, who recently passed away at 94. Simon’s mother was forced to clean streets in Essen, Germany, the corporate headquarters for the Krupp Dynasty, who provided steel and arms for Germany over many generations and wars. Simon was able to leave Dachau with false documents his mother obtained. He went to Cuba and then to the United States, where he joined the army and worked providing war disinformation. After the war, he worked to uncover Nazis who would subsequently be tried at Nuremberg. Mrs. Halpern shows a picture of a court scene from Nuremberg on her Holocaust website.

Holocaust survivor Bill saw electrifying Nazi rallies. Many of his relatives died in the Warsaw ghetto. In 1982 he moved to Ventura.

The Kindertransport between 1938 and 1940 rescued thousands of German children by transporting them as refugees to Britain. At least one of the interviewees was rescued via Kindertransport. One of the interviewees escaped to Shanghai, where 20,000 Jews took refuge, living in squalor, although creating a vibrant community with no awareness of the mass exterminations in Europe. Mrs. Halpern showed a picture of the elaborate and famous synagogue in Danzig, now Gdansk, Poland, which the Nazis destroyed in 1939. Some of the Jewish synagogue rituals were shipped to New York City.

1389.4 Holocaust E

Picture source  http://elholocausto.org/introduccion.html

Interviewee “Inge” was on the German ocean liner “St. Louis” that was filled with Jews escaping Germany. Cuba denied the passengers entry, as did the United States and Canada. The ocean liner returned to Europe and landed in Antwerp. A small percentage of the passengers of the St. Louis survived. Those who did survive held reunions, which Inge attended. The story of the St. Louis became a book and a movie by the same title.

One of the amazing stories of survival highlighted a 9 year old boy, who was tattooed and is considered one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz. He did not know his actual name or anything about his family. Through the Child Survivor Database archive, he was reunited with relatives in Israel, where he studied agriculture and because an avocado expert, now living in Ventura. His mother hid him under the floors giving him a breathing tube and a white kerchief to wave at the liberators.

Considering the malnutrition, lack of medical treatment of any kind, no sanitation facilities, tortuous labor conditions, whipping, burning, rape, humiliation, it is amazing there were any survivors. Tom Lantos, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who became an American Member of Congress, said that we must teach our children so that this never happens again. Mr. Lantos died in 2008 at the age of 80.

One of the survivors will give a personal reflection Wednesday, April 15 at 6:30 pm at Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road. Hear history from the mouth of a survivor.


Work Makes (you) Free


When asked about the theme of her work, Ms. Halpern said that it is inconceivable how so many were annihilated in such a short time with so little awareness around the world.

Lest we forget.  Arbeit Macht Frei.




Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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