Issues of Faith and God

Freda p. 12

Did you raise your children Jewish?

I took that as my inheritance from my family, the joy of the Friday night and holidays. I kept that and I gave it to my children so we continue to be a very traditional and culturally connected Jews and we celebrate the holidays very joyously but we're not religious at all. No, and in fact I feel that if it weren't for all the gods that are in this world, it might be a better world.

Gloria p. 13

Did you witness any spiritual or religious resistance when you were in any of the camps.

Oh yes, I think all of has. Some of us went totally this way or totally that way. There were extremes about our feelings. Most of us were angry many times at God. We'd say "Please God, if you are there, please help us, this is the time for your miracles that read about. Why can't you show us your miracles?" I know that I was angry, not throughout the camp life, but when I had very, very bad times, and when I had to hack it alone. It was hard, and then I realized that in fact, God really is my closest friend. In spite of everything around me that I have to believe in God because God must be there and that God only knows what this means and why and I am too young to know the answers. And this is how I just didn't permit myself after awhile to do that because I always felt weaker when I lost hope, just a short time even.

I saw women who were very devout. They would go to the corner of the barrack and they would pray so deeply. It was really touching. Some other inmates would say, "She's crazy, there is no God anymore. When you see that, and there are gas chambers, that couldn't be any God." Here I am hearing both sides, I'm seeing this, and I think she is really saving herself by doing this. I really knew that in the end this person is going to survive. And that person is just not, because it took a lot of strength to believe that God is not there. And you just can't keep up that strength, you just couldn't keep up that strength. Somehow the woman, or the women, there were a number of them, and they even prayed like men, they would close their eyes and they would move back and forth in prayer. I didn't hear a sound but I could just hear the prayer in my imagination. I knew they were talking to God, and they felt satisfied. It will better as if they were thoroughly convinced that we are going to get out here when it looked totally hopeless.

Was there any point in your times in the camp where you thought there might not be a God or you questioned God?

Yes, I questioned God, and I was angry at God but I always came back while I was in camp. There were many inmates just didn't, gave up on God. And to this day I know some survivors who never could find God again. Thank God I felt that I couldn't live that way early enough before I destroyed myself from within. God is a very important part of my life today. Even though I am secure I feel I need God, God gives me strength in a way I could never explain. And I feel good after, it's nurturing, it's nourishing. It leads me to the right path. It teaches me to live a good, righteous life. By righteous I mean just do the good things in life, things that help humanity. It's always in the uppermost in mind that whatever I do in life has to be to improve the status quo.

Did you have any religious rituals that you practiced in the camp?

Yes, actually I've, many times, before I would go to sleep I would say the Sh'ma, the Sh'ma Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad. It means Hero, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. So this is the concept of one God, which was passed on to Christianity and Muslim. Because, you know, before that there were idols that were worshipped and I would go to sleep to that. And this is the prayer that a Jew says before he goes to sleep forever. And not having known when we would wake up or whether we would wake up or not in the morning, it just gives you solace and peace of mind just knowing that you said it.

And there were other little prayers. Sometimes something good would happen and I would say another prayer just to myself. But there were actually inmates who went close to the wall, and they would pray devoutly, you know, in the back, or the side of the barrack. They would pray devoutly, shaking, you know moving back and forth, eyes closed, and you could see that they're really praying. They would be so emaciated, and sometimes I'd wonder how can they stand up anymore, and I think there was some inner strength that these people had who believed that kept them going, you know? Whereas many times, people who were, who still had a little meat on them, would just collapse and die, or they didn't want to live, they would give up. Now, I cannot, I do not have a clear-cut answer as to how many or which, but this was very obvious to me, as a young girl. And I felt this myself. Faith, I think is very important.

Bill p. 13

How were religion beliefs influenced or changed from the experience you had in the Holocaust?

That's a very good question that's an important question for me, in the recent years more so. I was born up to believe in God, my parents were religious, like I said a little earlier, and I would say deeply religious to the point that they believed in their religion, they would not marry outside their religion, I do not know anyone in the family who did, that was important I believe. In Auschwitz, where I saw the biggest tragedy of humanity, people were still screaming and praying to God while they were marching to the gas chambers. I still pray almost every day, I may forget one day maybe, but I still I pray. I pray at night before I go to bed.

I think about it more so in recent years when I said, "Is there a God?" And then I think, and I still pray, and I believe that if we don't believe there is a God this world would be in trouble. I believe you should have respect for God, you should believe there is a God. And then I ask the question, "Why do You let this happen? Why are so many people being killed constantly because of their religion, their ethnicity, their color, their beliefs?" But on the other hand, in as much as I think about it a lot, I also believe that without believing in a God, life would be very difficult. I think an atheist is a person who is, to me, an atheist is someone who really doesn't get the point because the world had to be started by someone in life, in history. So I believe in God.

I must tell you that survivors, I'm talking about people who went through the same similar situation like I did, I know very few, if any, who don't believe in God. They may not be religious, they might not go to temple all the time, but they do believe in God. My answer basically is yes, there is a God and I believe in it and I don't want to change. I question Him, sure I question Him, I say, "Why did you let this happen?" But then I also know that He is not going to talk to me, God. But then He has talked to me, He has. And that is He's kept me alive, he has made me a successful business man, he has given me a fantastic family. So there's got to be a God. I didn't do it all by myself, had to have a God somewhere hanging over me. So I believe, yes, I don't want to lose that.

Were there any religious rituals that people followed while they were in the camps?

Not to that extent. People who were religious stayed religious. They prayed by themselves or within their families. There was no such thing as a temple or prayer services – organized, everybody did their own. Holland by itself was a fairly religious community.

Bill p. 14

I was unusually lucky. I believe in God. Do I talk to God and say "What the Hell are you doing?" Yes. And, "Why did you do that?" I argue sometimes with Him, I argue with myself. But I still believe in God because I couldn't live without believing in it. I can tell you, He was on vacation in the '30's and '40's. I've said it, I'm not making a big issue of this. But you know, you think about it sometime, "Where the Hell was God?" I can tell you about people like my friend Elie Wiesel, whom we all have heard of and read about, and others, we talk about that. Where was God? There's no one who can answer that. You can say, "To Hell with it, I don't want having a thing with religion." I can't live this way. I pray every night, only a couple of lines. But I pray to God every night because I want to maintain that relationship because I know my parents would want me to, not to give that up.

Were you proud to be Jewish during the time you were experiencing.

Not particularly [laughs]. I don't know, we didn't think about those things. I had a religion, I was born that way, my parents and grandparents were born that way. They were respectable people. I wouldn't change. There was maybe a moment in my life after the war. It certainly isn't easy to be a Jew in those days. I said, even if I wanted to change my religion, which people do, I couldn't do it out of respect for my parents who were killed because of their religion. And my grandparents, etc. I never had the feeling. You're born, your born, you make the best of it.

Are you proud of being Jewish today?

I have a lot of respect. Yes! I am proud to be an American today and proud to be a Jew. I don't know what's first, it's equal. That's the way I am today. I feel very strong about my religion as you well know. I would never change it. I hope that my children and grandchildren stay the same religion.

Did you pray when you were in the camps?

A little bit. I had about three lines I kept on saying often.
What were the lines?

How do I explain that, in Hebrew. Well the first one is part of the daily prayer. Sh'ma Israel, you know what I'm talking about. It's "Hear O' God, you are the one and only," all abbreviated. The other line I used to say a lot in the camps, it's part of the morning prayer – the end of the morning prayer. "I believe in God," it's hard for me to translate it for a moment, I have to think this out.
Say it in Hebrew
I'm trying to translate it. I understand it better without a translation. "There is no God but you and I believe in you." That's a very crude translation but it has to do with wanting to believe in God.
Say it in Hebrew.
I pray it in Hebrew, yes, not in English.
Can you say it in Hebrew?
You want me to? Adonai le vlow iru, bane biruruchi g'biyusi, Adonai levlow yiru. Look in the prayer book, I can show it to you.

Then I said the first sentence of one of those prayers. It's just that my mother used to tell me that once. I do it because – everybody says something different maybe – but it gets me enough feeling that I talk to God and thank Him, I thank Him a lot because I believe that without a God – if you don't believe in God there's something missing in your life because you have to have something to believe in. It's nice to believe in good health and a good bottle of wine, but that's not important. But you got to believe that there is a God. In any religion, I'm not talking about Jewish religion, I'm talking about any religion. It's important. I tell it in the classes when I talk to a big class of kids. It can't hurt, let's put it that way.

Lucille p. 10

In the ghettos and the camps, did you have religious practices? Did you keep up with any of that? did you know anybody who did?

No. I knew somebody who did, some very Orthodox - ultra Orthodox - Jews. I did not. As Ellie Weisel was quoted as saying, and I think it was his first book, "After Auschwitz there is no religion." And he only was in a camp for six months. From May to January. So, that should tell you a lot.

So did you lose all faith in continuation of your life, in a sense?

I don't think there was much faith to lose but if there was any hope for anything, at that point, it was gone.

Lucille p. 13

How did the war affect your faith?

That's difficult to answer. I was brought up an Orthodox Jew. I can read and write Hebrew. I could speak when I was younger. I can translate Hebrew. My great-grandfather was a Rabbi. My grandmother wore a wig. How did it affect me? I'm not the person that I was before. Because my question is, why did this happen? Why did this happen to the children? And nobody has been able to answer this.

As you were enduring all of this, did you at ever point wish that you weren't Jewish?

No, that was really useless. You are what you are, and there were people that were baptized, there were people that claimed not to have been Jewish, it didn't make a difference. It never really entered my mind.

How about any of your family or friends, did you ever hear anybody utter anything like that?

Yes, those who either had a Jewish mother, or Jewish father, they were very resentful. I have a friend in Petaluma, who has a big Auschwitz number, and I don't know who was Jewish in the family. I know that his aunt and uncle were Jewish because I knew them, and he is very resentful to this day: "I never was Jewish, I never knew anything about it, and I’m not a full Jew on both sides of the family," and it's a topic I find difficult to discuss with him.

Max p. 16

Do you have more faith in the religion now? Are you more religious now after what you've been through or less or the same?

I don't believe in any organized religion. Whether it's Jewish or non-Jewish, Catholic, Shiite, Sunni, or whatever. If it's organized, I don't want to have any part of it. I believe but I don't believe religiously.

Issues of Faith and God

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