A Survivor’s Memory, an Ill-Fated Peace Process
John and Michael survived Mauthausen and were assisted by the Red Cross in writing letters to their family in Chicago. The family then wrote to Sid, who as fate would have it was stationed in Austria not far from the complex of refugee camps where John and Michael were located. Having been born in Europe, Sid had a passable knowledge of German, and as German prisoners were surrendering he was recruited as a translator and was promoted and transferred, which was how he ended up in Austria.
Sid’s commanding officer let him take a jeep to look for the twins in the set of camps where they were thought to be, but he gave him a strict deadline for returning to base. After a long day, the search was beginning to prove futile and Sid was calculating how much longer he could look and still return to base on time. The driver who accompanied him was getting anxious and wanted to turn around. Sid insisted on continuing. In the next camp, Sid described the twins to several people. One man volunteered that he knew the twins. They had a cart with a donkey, played endlessly with it, and were about a half-mile up the road.
Minutes later, Sid found John and Michael. He later bought them airplane tickets and had them flown to live with another cousin in Manchester, England.
They were seventeen when they arrived in England. They had no high school education and did not speak English, although they were literate in Polish, Yiddish, and Hebrew. After a year of schooling, both twins passed the examinations for admission to college. John received a degree in chemistry, and in later life would get a master's degree in engineering. Michael became a psychiatrist and moved to America, doing a residency in Chicago, and later settled in Canada.
What would have happened to the twins if Sid had not found them? Would they have been repatriated to Poland to die in one of the brutal pogroms launched after the war by Poles who did not want their Jews back? Would they have been smuggled into Palestine as tough fighters to battle for Israel’s independence in a world that still closed most of its doors to Jewish immigration?
Fortunately, by sheer happenstance after incredible suffering, John and Michael were given a chance at a semblance of a normal life. Michael died of a heart attack in October of 2012, and John followed him by nine months, also of a heart attack.
The Holocaust left its scars on both of them, and that is a less pleasant and less hopeful story and one perhaps for another time.
Today, Israel and the Palestinians negotiate peace. The Palestinians are led by Mahmoud Abbas, a man who received his doctorate from a Russian university and wrote a dissertation denying the Holocaust. Hitler’s Mein Kampf is a best seller in Arabic, as is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The grand mufti of Jerusalem, Hitler’s personal guest in Berlin during the war years, created a Croatian, Muslim, Nazi militia and vowed to continue the denied Holocaust after the war in Mandate Palestine. He had earlier been successful in fomenting the Farhud, the pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad.
As the Johns and Michaels pass from among us, we should not forget those who caused their suffering and those who promise to recreate it. We owe that to their memory.