The liberation of Europe at the end of World War II was complete on May 8, 1945, with Germany’s surrender. However prior to the surrender American, Russian, and British troops rolled across Europe and came upon sights and scenes that remain embedded in the minds of those still living 70 years later. The unspeakable and unbelievable inhumanity of mankind was revealed again and again, in the early months of 1945, as soldiers found their way upon the result of the Nazi’s deranged and tyrannical 12-year rule. While survivors emerged from forests, barns, attics, and concentration camps, Allied soldiers discovered horrors that even war could not match.
Jack Pariser is busy – and he is difficult to get hold of. At 85 he teaches a course on genocide at Chapman University, but he has not always been comfortable talking about his experience. Born in Jablowa, Poland, Pariser went into hiding shortly before his 13th birthday. In September 1942, he and his family hid in the woods and was eventually hidden by a Polish family. But like many during the war, the family was betrayed and sent to jail. “We escaped by cutting through the wall…,” says Pariser. They returned to a Polish family and hid under floorboards of a barn until liberation by the Russians in January 1945. “People continued to kill Jews [in Poland],” says Pariser, so the family fled, making their way through Russia, Czechoslovakia, the American Zone, and eventually to the United States in 1949.
Pariser would not speak about the Holocaust, “Until the deniers came along.” When Holocaust denial groups, like Orange County’s Mark Weber, erupted, Pariser got involved. In addition to teaching classes on preventing genocide, Pariser supports a man in Poland who finds mass burial graves left over from the Holocaust and buys the land to design and place monuments on the area.
Walter Lachman was born to a middle class family in Berlin, Germany in 1928. When the Nazis came to power in 1933 Lachman was just getting started in school. “I didn’t notice much of what was happening around me,” he said. Life continued to grow more difficult. At the age of nine, his mother died of Leukemia and two years later his father died of Tuberculosis. Taken in by his grandmother, the Nazi restrictions continued to grow more severe until they eventually ended up in the Riga Ghetto in Latvia. One day after arriving home from work sorting clothes, Lachman discovered his grandmother was gone. “I had been a sheltered and needy child… And all of a sudden my grandmother was gone.” Lachman found out that the Nazis had taken her along with other elderly Jews, and murdered them in the forest. “It was the most difficult days of my life. There was no one to tell me what to do. At 14, I was suddenly responsible for myself.”
At 16 Lachman was sent to Bergen Belsen to die. With little food and even less water, prisoners were full of lice and most had typhus. “The hardest days of my life were the day I discovered my grandmother was gone and the last few weeks in Bergen-Belsen.” After liberation Lachman eventually made it to America, married an American, and had two daughters that live in Orange County. His wife died four years ago. Lachman was another survivor who never talked about the horrors of the Holocaust. “… But as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized it’s time to speak up.”
Ralph Carbaugh may have seen Walter Lachman at Bergen-Belsen, but he cannot be sure. An Army Engineer, Carbaugh was part of the 9th American Army that followed the British into Belsen. “The Brits had liberated the camp and needed our equipment for disease control.” Carbaugh had just had his 20th birthday and 70 years later he still remembers the sights, sounds and smells.
The concentration camp was not expected – the 9th Army had been building bridges across Europe to help the push into Germany. Three days after the British liberation of Bergen-Belsen many of the survivors were still wandering around in tattered clothes, some were naked. “We didn’t know what to make of it,” says Carbaugh. “We were just kids.” What Carbaugh did know is “It took a tough person to come out of that and work his way back into humanity.”
Like the survivors, Carbaugh was not prepared to talk about his experience at Bergen Belsen and spent many years trying to forget it. But he has since opened up to his family and told his story. Decades after those awful days in 1945, Carbaugh met Lachman at a gathering in Orange County. However, neither recognized the other. “Even if I had seen [Lachman] I don’t know that I would have recognized him.”
The stories shared here are limited by space and so much more can be said for the lives featured in this article. But the message is clear: Never again… And even now, 70 years after the Holocaust, we should be mindful of why every Pesach we dip, eat and sing in memory, and celebration of, our liberation.
According to Cally Clein, Coordinator, Holocaust Survivor Services at Jewish Federation & Family Services, approximately 300 survivors reside in Orange County. Many may not realize they may qualify for some sort of assistance. JFFS is reaching out to all Holocaust survivors (those born or who lived under Nazi occupation – country specific, January 1933 to February 8, 1946).
Dr. Lisa Grajewski is a therapist with Jewish Federation & Family Services in Orange County and an Adjunct Professor at Argosy University and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Grajewski has been with Jlife Magazine since 2004.