Sidney (Sevek) Finkel was born in Poland in December 1931. When he was 7 years old, Germany invaded Poland and his family was forced to live in a ghetto where 20,000 Jews were crowded into only 182 buildings. You can read Sevek’s full story in an article in a Chicago newspaper here. Finkel is now 80 years old and for more than 15 years, he has been educating 8th graders in America on the Holocaust.
The title of my blog post today comes from a line in the Chicago newspaper article in which Sevek tells the story of his sister Ronia and her new-born baby. An ordinary German soldier threw the baby out of a second-story window and then shot Ronia.
How does Sidney Finkel explain this monstrous behavior of the German people? This quote is from the newspaper article:
“People want to believe the Germans were monsters,” he said. “They think they had horns growing out their heads.
“But they were ordinary people. I would not be surprised if, after tossing my niece out that window and murdering my sister, he went home and read bedtime stories to his own children as he tucked them in.
“That’s the lesson to be learned. That ordinary people can do monstrous things.”
Virtually every Holocaust survivor has a similar story to tell. Babies were thrown up into the air and shot like clay pigeons. Babies were grabbed out of their mother’s arms and their heads were smashed against a tree or a wall. Babies were torn in half like a phone book, as witnessed by Rutka Laskier. Live babies were thrown into a burning pit, as witnessed by Elie Weisel on his first night in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I previously blogged here about Sidney Glucksman who saw babies stuffed into bags and soldiers swinging the bags against concrete walls, killing the babies.
I once attended a Holocaust art show in which there was a painting that showed babies being thrown out of a window. This story is so universal that I would be suspicious of any Holocaust Survivor who did not include, in his or her story, some mention of babies being killed in some monstrous way by ordinary German soldiers.
Here is a quote from the Chicago newspaper article which tells the details of Sidney Finkel’s story about his sister Ronia and her baby:
He calmly told me the story of his favorite oldest sister, Ronia, a beautiful woman with blond hair and blue eyes who had married before the war.
She became pregnant but was smuggled into a Catholic hospital outside the ghetto walls by a kindly village resident. Shortly after giving birth, an informer betrayed her to the Gestapo.
“A Nazi soldier came into the hospital and threw her baby out the second-story window,” Sidney recalled. “And then he took my sister outside and shot her.”
Sidney Finkel has written a book: Sevek And the Holocaust: The Boy Who Refused to Die. The cover of his book shows a photo of 13-year-old Sidney standing in the door of a British bomber that brought him to England.
At 13, Sidney would have been a “Buchenwald orphan,” as this quote from the news article reveals:
Finkel would later be sent to a slave labor camp with his father and brother. His mother and a sister were sent to the Treblinka concentration camp, where they died.
And eventually Finkel would be separated from his father and brother and forced to shift for himself in the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Finkel’s story is unusual in that his family members were separated; his father and brother were sent to a labor camp, while his mother and his other sister were sent to the Treblinka death camp to be killed. In a YouTube video, Finkel said that he was in Buchenald when he was 11 years old. He said that he walked “ten miles” to the railroad station in Weimar when he left Buchenwald. (Finkel was among the group of Buchenwald prisoners who were marched out of Buchenwald on April 10, 1945, one day before Buchenald was liberated, and taken to Theresienstadt.)
It may have seemed like ten miles to a 13-year-old boy, but I’ve been to Weimar and the railroad station is only five miles from the camp, unless the station was moved after the war.
As with most Holocaust survivors, Finkel did not tell his story until 50 years after the fact.