By Jennifer Bacchus
Jacksonville News Staff Writer
For more than a year, Eugen Schoenfeld was held captive in the Auschwitz and
Dachau concentration camps. It was an experience which taught him not only the
value of respect, but how to be humane.
Schoenfeld shared a few of his experiences with a capacity crowd at
Jacksonville State University’s Stone Center Theatre last week during the
college’s annual Holocaust Remembrance.
The theme of this year’s program was children. Over one and a half million
boys and girls were killed during the Holocaust, many because they were deemed
to young to work in the camps. One of the children killed was Shoenfeld’s
“We marched in front of a guard who was standing far away. Every time I
looked we seemed nearer and nearer,” said Schoenfeld. “All his did was point to
the left or to the right. If you’ve heard the stories you know that if you were
pointed to the right, it meant that you lived, and if you were pointed to the
left that meant that you were not fit, or he thought you were not fit to be
He shared with the crowd that, of his losses to the Nazis, it is his
brother’s death which haunts him most.
“I still dream about the camp,” said Schoenfeld. “There is one persist dream
that I have that I will go to some foreign country and someone comes to talk to
me and it turns out it is my brother. It is not my mother, not my sister. I
always dream about my brother.”
Schoenfeld discussed two days – the day he arrived at the concentration camp
and the day he left. On the day he arrived, he realized for the first time in
his life how cruel people can be to others.
While showering after his arrival, someone took one of his shoes, so he asked
a supervisor, or capo, what he should do about the problem. The supervisor told
him to knock on a window of a nearby building and humbly request a new pair of
shoes. Schoenfeld did this, knowing he wouldn’t necessarily receive kindness,
but hoping they would grant his request.
Not only did they not give him a new pair of shoes, their only
acknowledgement of his request was to rap him twice on the head with a small
club. Following the episode, he went to his father in tears.
“I walked back to my father crying and my father said, ‘What happened?’ I
tell him what has happened and he says ‘Why are you crying?’ I said, ‘Dad, I’m
not crying because it hurt me, of course it hurts. I am not crying because it
hurt me. I am crying because how it is possible that today, in the middle of the
twentieth century, here in what now is Germany how people can be cruel to each
other,’” said Schoenfeld.
This incident became a motive behind much of his writing. He wondered how he
could explain to his readers what had happened to him. He decided there was only
one way to guard against such things happening again and that is to tell others
not to give in to people who say they have all the solutions and all the
answers, explaining Germany had done just that when they accepted Hitler as
May 1, 1945, was Schoenfeld’s last day in camp. The day before, the Jews had
been told they would leave camp the next day. Only the non-Jews or those who
were in the hospital and unable to travel would remain in camp.
“I said to myself ‘I think I’ll stake my claim with the non-Jews, I think
I’ll have a better chance of surviving,’” said Schoenfeld.
He went to the hospital where he found his father and uncle. There they
stayed until the nearby sounds of battle died down. Slowly, they peeked out –
only coming out of the building when they realized all the guards were gone.
He met American soldiers on the road outside camp. One, a lieutenant, offered
him the chance to kill one of the more ruthless supervisors from the camp.
At that moment, Schoenfeld realized what the Nazis had not been able to take
“I was in a camp. They tried to brutalize me. They tried to take away my
humanity. They couldn’t do it. Because what my parents instilled in me was no
matter how bad it was, I remained a human being. To kill him, I cannot do that,”
It took Schoenfeld years to be able to think for himself and to speak his own
mind, one of the side effects of living in the camps which didn’t go away just
because he regained his freedom. As he regained the ability to think freely, he
saw two choices in the way to remember his experience – a negative way, one in
which he would constantly be thinking of ways to hurt those who had harmed him,
and a positive way, where he could learn never to treat anyone like he and the
other Jews were treated.
Lauren Lemmons, the daughter of Dr. Russel Lemmons of JSU’s Department of
History and Foreign Languages, contributed to the program with a candle lighting
in memory of those who died during the Holocaust. Winners of the “Imagining the
Holocaust” writing contest were also recognized.
At the close of the event, all Jews present in the audience were invited to
gather on stage for a recitation of the Kaddish, a prayer usually said by
mourners at the death of a close relative. As Schoenfeld led the prayer, they
recited it in remembrance of those who were murdered during the Holocaust.
About Jennifer Bacchus
Jennifer Bacchus is a staff writer at The
Jacksonville News. She can be reached at 256-435-5021 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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