Miraculous Survival During the Holocaust

Miraculous Survival During the Holocaust

The kindness of strangers and luck allowed a handful of Jews to escape the Nazis.

Harold Kirtz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.
Harold Kirtz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.

The community will hold its annual Holocaust commemoration at the Memorial to the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 23. We will hear a story of miracles from our keynote speaker, Manuela Mendels Bornstein.

Through the miracle of survival, she escaped the Nazi onslaught that crushed the lives of 6 million Jews. The Nazi war machine and extermination plan were too effective for many to escape, but some did.

Those who survived are our witnesses to the degradation and decimation of our people. Bornstein is one of those witnesses. A tale of luck and perseverance, it is one of our guideposts for finding a light out of the darkness.

Others experienced miracles of survival as well.

Philip Maisel described when he was a 17-year-old in Lithuania, hiding from soldiers as they swept through the ghetto, rounding up people for transport to work camps. Pressing his back against the wall of a darkened room and trying not to breathe, he heard footsteps climb the stairs, then felt a soldier’s hand on his chest.

“I was fully aware of the danger which threatened me,” he said.

But the lights did not go on, and he heard the soldier report that the room was empty.

“This unexpected relief I could never forget,” Maisel said. “Why did he do it? Even today I can’t answer that question. I think about it often, but I can’t answer it.”

Over the next five years, Maisel witnessed unspeakable suffering and cheated death several times before he was liberated from a death march. “I survived due to the kindness and humanity of other people.”

A similar story of miracles concerns Dr. Dovid Landau, a dentist in Poland who was patronized surreptitiously by Nazi soldiers even though it was strictly forbidden to go to a Jewish professional. They befriended him, and through those connections he helped the Jewish community by having a number of harsh decrees annulled. He used his friendships with his Nazi patients to ensure a somewhat easier life for his brethren.

But fortune turned, and one day, at the scene of a public hanging, Landau was ordered to put the nooses around the necks of three Jews accused of a minor crime. He refused, and the German commander instructed two soldiers to take him out to the fields and shoot him. Both men happened to be Landau’s patients.

When they arrived at the outskirts of town, one whispered to him: “Don’t be afraid. We’ll dig a shallow grave. Climb in, and stay there until it gets dark. Run deep into the forest. We know there are Jewish partisans hiding out there, and maybe you can join them. But remember, whatever you do, don’t ever show your face in our town again.”

They took out their guns, shot twice into the air, returned to the site of the hanging and told the commander the job was done.

Landau was then aided by a Polish farmer with food and a place to sleep, and eventually the farmer pointed him in the direction of the forest where the partisans were hiding. When Landau finally found the partisans, they were as excited as he, declaring his arrival to be providential.

Many of them knew him from town and knew him to be a skilled dentist. After they had hidden in the forest so long, their teeth had become neglected, their gums badly swollen.

The next day, two of them ventured out of the woods to steal dental equipment and medicine, and Landau began a second thriving practice — in the forest. In addition to his dentistry, he fully participated in partisan activity against the Germans and was involved in skirmishes where many of his comrades were mortally wounded.

He was nearly captured or killed several times himself, but somehow he always managed to escape death at the last minute.

Miracles are all around us. They come in many shapes and sizes. Some people directly experience them, many in the depths of horror or despair. Come hear Manuela Bornstein’s story.

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