Issues of Faith and God
Freda p. 12
Did you raise your children Jewish?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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
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?
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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?
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?
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.
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
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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
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