Six million Jews were murdered in World War II, one-and-a-half million of them children. As Israelis do every year, on April 19 at 10 a.m., they will step out of their cars on highways, or leave offices, schools and shops for a silent vigil. Air raid sirens will wail during Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.
Here in Belmont, along with a memorial service at the , the Beth El Brotherhood distributes Holocaust memorial candles to the Congregation. The Brotherhood uses donations from the candles to support organizations honoring the victims, teaching Holocaust history or examining the dangers of anti-Semitism and despotism.
This year, they are donating a book, a Holocaust memoir, to local libraries and schools. In Branded on My Arm, Abraham Landau describes how he survived the Holocaust to be a witness for millions who did not.
After the invasion of Poland in 1939, the Nazis gave Landau’s small Jewish community an hour’s notice to leave their homes for a ghetto, whose inhabitants were eventually murdered. Landau escaped this fate for another just as risky.
At 17, he was conscripted as a slave laborer, and from then on, survived 13 Nazi slave labor and death camps in four countries for nearly five years. In 1943, Landau was transferred to the infamous camp, Auschwitz. There he received a tattoo – the only camp to do so – number 141262. Landau resolved to survive. His oppressors never expected anyone with this branding to live to tell the tale.
Hear an audio recording of Abraham Landau speaking of his experience.
They were almost right. In 1945, when the British liberated Landau, he weighed 88 pounds and was sick with cholera. Later, in line waiting for rations, Landau met another survivor, a young woman named Freida. Both had lost most of their families in the war. The couple married in Germany and started their own family.
In 1950, the new immigrants arrived in New Bedford, where Abraham opened a tailor shop. One day a curious teenager asked about the tattooed number on Landau’s left arm. Abraham explained the tattoo as part of Holocaust history and started a lifelong friendship. Decades later, Joe Thomas, the teenager, publisher of Spinner Publications in New Bedford, brought Landau’s book to print.
Landau decided to write a memoir after years of speaking to civic and religious groups. He was concerned that people would forget about the Holocaust, and was particularly worried about those who deny that it happened at all.
Thomas, along with the other editors, added useful maps, charts, and pictures, including one of Landau’s circuitous routes through camps in Poland, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, a kind of overview to Holocaust history.
Neither Landau nor his wife Freida lived to see the publication of his book, which he dedicated to his granddaughter, Lauren, and the children of the world.
The first two copies of Landau’s memoir went to our local library. The Brotherhood plans to send 25 more.
Emily Reardon, who coordinates public services at the Belmont Public Library, says, “We're very pleased with this gift. As the first-person story of a remarkable survivor, Abe Landau's memoir is a significant addition to our books about the Holocaust.”
Holocaust memorials, like the one at the Dachau concentration camp museum outside Munich, have a motto: “Never Again,” never repeat such a calamity, for Jews and all mankind. In his understanding of the atrocities he witnessed, Landau warned that the potential for mass murder lies not in nationality, but in human nature itself.
Six decades after Auschwitz, the Cambodian killing fields and Rwandan tribal warfare show that mass murder of a people is still possible. Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of some regimes or groups might threaten another Holocaust in a blinding flash. Honoring Yom HaShoah is one way to remember and resolve, Never Again.