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Impact Resources: Children and the Second World War


John Simkin
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Kim Malthe-Bruun

Kim Malthe-Bruun was born in Denmark in 1923. He was only sixteen when the German Army invaded Denmark but he soon joined the resistance. A sailor, he was arrested in December, 1944, while transporting weapons from Sweden to Denmark.

Malthe-Bruun was tortured by the Gestapo before being executed on 6th April, 1945. After the war his mother, Vibeke Malthe-Bruun arranged for Kim (1949) to be published. The book included sections of his diary and a collection of his letters to his mother, aunt and his girlfriend, Hanne.

(1) Kim Malthe-Bruun, wrote a letter to Hanne about his experiences of being tortured by the Gestapo (3rd March, 1945)

However, though I am afraid, though I do not yield ground, my heart beats faster every time someone steps before my door. One strange thing. I felt absolutely no hatred. Somewhat happened to my body; it was only the body of a boy, and reacted as such. But my soul was occupied with something completely different. Of course it noticed the little creatures who were there with my body, but it was filled so with itself that it was not closely concern itself with them.

(2) Kim Malthe-Bruun, letter to his mother, Vibeke Malthe-Bruun (4th April 1945)

I know that you are a courageous woman, and that you will bear this, but, hear me, it is not enough to bear it, you must also understand it. I am an insignificant thing, and my person will soon be forgotten, but the thought, the life, the inspiration that filled me will live on. You will meet them everywhere - in the trees at springtime, in people who cross your path, in a loving little smile - that is the great gift for which our country thirsts - something for which every humble peasant can yearn, and which he can joyously feel himself to have a part in and to be working for. Finally, there is a girl whom I call mine. Make her realize that the stars still shine and that I have been only a milestone on her road. Help her on: she can still become very happy.

(3) Kim Malthe-Bruun, letter to his girlfriend Hanne (4th April 1945)

Today I was put on trial and condemned to death. What terrible news for a little girl only twenty years old; I obtained permission to write this farewell letter. You must not busy yourself in sorrow, for you would become arrested, sunk in a worship of me and yourself, and you would lose what I have loved most in you, your womanliness. One of these days, Hanne, you will meet a man who will become your husband. Will the thought of me disturb you then? Will you perhaps then have a faint feeling that you are being disloyal to me or to what is pure and holy to you? Lift up your head, Hanne, lift up your head once again and look into my laughing blue eyes, and you will understand that the only way in which you can be disloyal to me would be in not completely following your natural instinct. You will meet this man and you will let your heart go out to him - not to numb the pain, but because you love him with all your heart. I should like to breathe into you all the life that is in me, so that thereby it could perpetuate itself and as little as possible of it be lost. Yours, but not for ever.

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Moshe Flinker

Moshe Flinker was born in the Hague, the Netherlands, in 1926. The country was invaded by the German Army in 1940 and when the Gestapo began to round up the Jews they decided to flee the country.

The Flinker family settled in Brussels, Belgium, but they were eventually arrested by the Germans in 1944. Moshe and his parents were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered in 1944.

(1) Moshe Flinker, diary entry (22nd December, 1942)

Last Friday afternoon, as I was about to finish my Arabic studies, my father came in and told me that he had some bad news. He had heard that many Jews were dying in the East, and that a hundred thousand had already been killed. When I heard this, my heart stood still and I was speechless with pain and shock. I had been fearing this for a long time, but I had hoped against hope that they really had taken the Jews for forced labour and that therefore they would have to feed, clothe and house them enough to keep them alive. Now my last hopes have been dashed.

(2) Moshe Flinker, diary entry (7th January, 1943)

Last night my parents and I were sitting around the table. It was almost midnight. Suddenly we heard the bell: we all shuddered. We thought that the moment had come for us to be deported. The fear arose mostly because a couple of days ago the inhabitants of Brussels were forbidden to go out after nine o'clock. The reason for this is that on December 31 three German soldiers were killed. Had it not been for this curfew it could have been some man who was lost and was ringing at our door. My mother had already put her shoes on to go to the door, but my father said to wait until the ring once more. But the bell did not ring again. Thank heaven it all passed quietly. Only the fear remained, and all day long my parents have been very nervous.

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Eva Heyman

Eva Heyman was born in Nagyvarad, Hungary in 1931. When she was thirteen the country was occupied by the German Army. The family were at great risk because they were not only Jewish but were active in left-wing politics.

Eva and her grandparents were arrested and deported to Auschwitz were they were killed in October 1944. Eva's mother was sent to Belsen but was rescued by Allied troops in 1945. After arranging for her daughter's diary to be published, her mother committed suicide.

(1) Eva Heyman, diary entry (25th March, 1944)

I was on my way home when the German soldiers came marching in, with cannons and tanks, the kind I've seen in the newsreels.

Grandma says that the Aryans are greeting her coolly in the street, or turning the other way. There is a new government already, and Sztojay is Prime Minister. I don't know the rest of it, but Agi says that this is the end of everything; we won't see the end of the war.

(2) Eva Heyman, diary entry (26th March, 1944)

On the radio they keep announcing all kinds of regulations about the Jews, all the things they are not allowed to do. Agi spoke to Budapest today, too. She says that all their friends have already been captured by the Germans, who kill all of them, including children.

(3) Eva Heyman, diary entry (28th March, 1944)

Aunt Friedlander was just here. Early this morning the German and Hungarian police took Uncle Sandor and everyone they knew who is a Socialist or Communist.

We heard on the radio this evening that in Budapest all the books ever written by Uncle Bela were taken to some kind of mill, because his books mustn't be read anymore, and they are harmful to people. But not only Uncle Bela's books are harmful, also those written by other people. For example, those of Ferenc Molnar, of which I've already read "The Pal Street Boys." I really don't know how that can be harmful to people.

(4) Eva Heyman, diary entry (31st March, 1944)

Today an order was issued that from now on Jews have to wear a yellow star-shaped patch. The order tells exactly how big the star patch must be, and that it must be sewn on every outer garment, jacket or coat.

(5) Eva Heyman, diary entry (9th April, 1944)

Today they arrested my father. At night they came to him and put a seal on his door. For several days now I've known that a few hundred people are being held prisoner in the school in Koros Street, but until now they only took the very rich people.

(6) Eva Heyman, diary entry (20th April, 1944)

Every day they keep issuing new laws against the Jews. Today, for example, they took all our appliances away from us: the sewing machine, the radio, the telephone, the vacuum cleaner, the electric fryer and my camera. I don't care about the camera any more, even though they didn't leave a receipt for it, like when they took the bicycle.

(7) Eva Heyman, diary entry (5th May, 1944)

Agi and Grandpa went out into the street between nine and ten in the morning to hear the latest news. The city was divided into sections, and a German truck would wait in front of the houses and two policeman would go into the apartments and bring the people out.

The two policemen who came to us weren't unfriendly; they just took Grandma's and Agi's wedding rings away from them. Agi was shaking all over and couldn't get the wedding ring off her finger. In the end, Grandma took the ring off her finger.

One of the policemen saw a little gold chain on my neck, the one I got for my birthday, the one holding your key, dear diary. Don't you know yet, the policeman said, that you aren't allowed to keep anything made of gold? This isn't private Jewish property anymore but national property!

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Macha Rolnikas

Macha Rolnikas was born in Vilna in the Soviet Union in 1927. The family were Jewish and Macha's father was a lawyer and a well-known opponent of fascism. When the German Army captured Vilna in 1941 he left to join the partisan underground.

Soon after the Germans arrived all Jews were rounded up and forced to live in the Vilna Ghetto. Macha was moved to Stutthof where she was employed by the Germans as an undertaker in the crematory furnace. This involved removing the gold from the teeth of those who had died in the ghetto. As this was an important job Macha was not murdered and was one of the few Jews left alive when the Red Army liberated Stutthof in 1944.

After the war Macha graduated from the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow. She then got married and moved to Leningrad.

During the Second World War Macha kept a diary. This was turned into a book, I Must Tell, and was published in the Soviet Union in 1964.

(1) Macha Rolnikas, diary entry (June, 1941)

The Nazis have occupied the town. People are crying and talking about the Nazis' hatred of Jews and Communists. And we, we are both. And on top of it all, Papa has been working very actively for the Soviets.

New decrees have been posted in the town: all the Jews - adults and children - must wear insignias, a white piece of cloth, ten square centimeters, and in the middle the yellow letter "J". Is it possible that the invaders no longer regard us as human beings and brand us just like cattle? One can not accept such meanness. But who dares oppose them?

(2) Macha Rolnikas, undated entry in her diary.

I have been ill. The women were saying that in my fevers I was singing little songs and called the Nazis terrible names. They had never suspected that I knew so many swear words. Luckily my voice was weak and the Nazis don't come in here anymore. That kind of thing gets you shot on the spot.

(3) In 1941 the Germans ordered the fourteen year old Macha Rolnikas to work in the crematory furnace in Stutthof.

In our barrack forty or sixty women die every day. Near the door, stiff and blue bodies are piling up. A cart to which some prisoners are harnessed arrives. Two of them take the dried up and frozen bodies by the arms and feet, swing them and throw them on the heap of naked bodies. The crematory is working day and night. Next to it heaps of bodies are piling up. Every day nearly a thousand people die in the camp.

(4) Macha Rolnikas is eventually chosen to become an undertaker in the Stutthof camp.

The supervisor ordered all of us who had overcome the illness to line up. There were very few of us. The supervisor chose eight (including myself) and declared that we were the team of "undertakers". Up to now there has been so much chaos that the dead have remained in the barracks for several days. Now we were obliged to undress them at once, pull out their gold teeth and put them in front of the barracks door. I don't know how I can carry others when I can hardly stay on my feet myself.

We approach one of our companions who died today. I take her frozen foot, but I can't lift it up. The supervisor slaps me and puts a pair of scissors and pliers in my hands. I must undress the dead woman and take out her gold teeth. With shaking hand I cut the dress. I lift the body to undress it, but it won't stand up and falls backwards. The head knocks against the floorboards with a hollow sound. I hold her close to me. In her mouth gold teeth are shining. I cannot make myself pull them out. Having reassured myself that the supervisor isn't watching, I quickly close the mouth again with the pliers. Perhaps they won't open it to look for teeth.

"You silly fool, what are you doing?" the supervisor yells and then she hits me. I fall on the body. She was just waiting for me to do that and starts hitting me with a club. She always aims for my head. It seems as if my skull is splitting in two. And she doesn't stop. There is blood all over the floor. She beat me until she herself was out of breath.

(5) When the Red Army were approaching Stutthof the concentration camp guards lock the inmates in large barns in the village. Macha Rolnikas wrote about the rescue in her autobiography, I Must Tell (1964).

Behind the barn I can hear men's voices. Soldiers of the Red army? Is it them? I want to go out there! Toward them! How can I get up?

The Red Army soldiers rush into the barn. They come toward us, looking for the living ones, helping them to get up. They take off their caps to the ones who no longer need their help.

"Do you need any help, little sister?" I am lifted up, put on my feet, but I can no longer move forward my legs are shaking so. Two soldiers cross their arms and make a chair and carry me.

Ambulances arrive in the village. One soldier offers to carry me, the other gives me some bread, the third one gives me his gloves. And their kindness makes me feel so good that I feel like crying. The soldiers comfort me, calm me down. One of them takes out a dirty handkerchief and like with a little girl, he wipes away my tears. "Don't cry little sister, we won't allow anyone to harm you again." And on his cap shines the red star. It's been such a long time since I have seen it.

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