Skip to main content

an icjw survivor speaks in berlin

Evelyn Ascot, an ICJW representative from France and a survivor of the Holocaust, delivered the following speech at the Berlin Jewish Cemetery on Sunday 29th April 2012, at the start of the ICJW European Conference:
  
"When I first heard that the European ICJW conference 2012 would take place in Berlin, my initial reaction was strongly negative :  no, I could not go to Germany, physically and emotionally. I, a Holocaust survivor, could not to go to Germany to attend a conference, any conference. Back home, I gave it another thought and finally decided I would go, but I had to speak out, to give a testimony, as one of the few surviving  victims of the Shoah.
 
So  here I am to-day, Evelyn born Sulzbach, daughter of my late father Jacob Sulzbach and my mother Anny Seligman, both born in Germany, respectively Frankfurt am Main and Speyer am Rhein, both descendants of German Jewish families, established in this country  since the 14th century.

These German Jews, integrated, physically and psychologically, more German than the Germans,  yekes, as they are called, have practically vanished from the country in which you, my dear ICJW friends, live today.

I will not speak about the intellectual contributions of the Jews to German culture, writers, philosophers, psychologists, musicians and art collectors, prominent in all walks of life. I want to speak about the  daily lives of a few of these German Jews, my great grandparents, my grandparents, my uncles, aunts, all of them proud German citizens, loving  their Vaterland;  my grandfather, Julius Seligman with his “Kreuz” a distinction which he obtained having been an obedient soldier for 4 years during World War 1.

The daily, normal life, the family meetings, the celebrations of birthdays, with the grandparents, the cousins, the piano lessons, the concerts, the school festivities, the falling in love, the opera in Frankfurt for my father, the swimming in the Rhine, the swimming in the Main, the “just living like normal German citizens”.

And then, suddenly, in 1933, they became trash, just trash. They had to leave their beloved country, Germany, and all of  Europe had to be Judenrein and so it was, it became clean, cleansed of all the Jews.

In the beginning both my grandparents did not understand and believe this. In Speyer, my grandmother and grandfather said : “They cannot and will not do this to US, we are “normal Jewish persons”, we are not like the Polish Jews, we are normally clad, we have lived normally for centuries, we are totally part of Germany, we are Germans".

But it did happen and the Rheinland, where the parents of my mother lived, was the first province to be totally “Judenrein”. My grandparents fled away from Speyer and in January 1939 they arrived in Buenos Aires, where they have remained for the rest of their lives.

As to the parents of my father, in Frankfurt, they too did not grasp and understand what was happening. They came to Amsterdam where my father had found refuge, thinking that Holland would stay out of the war, just as in 1914. He found in Amsterdam many Jewish young bachelors, trying to have a new life, he met my mother, I was born, but all these Jews became outcasts in Holland too: not Dutch, not German anymore, and when the war started in 

1940 in Holland, they were considered as the enemy. My grandfather, mercifully, died in a bed in Westerbork, my grandmother, together with a group of rabbis, elderly, mostly religious men and women, was sent to Sobibor from where there was no return.

The remaining of this part of my life is: the camps, the shuttered lives, the loss of family but also the loss of decency, the loss of being a “human person”, the right to live. For memory: out of the 200,000 Jews having lived in Holland, totally integrated in the whole society of that country, only 20,000 came back, but this is another story.

You will speak at this European Conference about the revival of the Jewish community in Germany, which is indeed growing fast, becoming again a truly large and important Jewish community, having absorbed a huge influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. It will certainly be fascinating to hear how you manage to build up this Community on the ruins of the once flourishing community that is no more.

Starting with Konrad Adenhauer, the first post-war Chancellor who acknowledged the guilt of his country, it is evident that all German governments have gone a long way to help the survivors, and the newly founded State of Israel. They also accepted and even welcomed the important wave of Jewish immigrants. Moreover they constructed and initiated memorials, such as the one where we are standing today.

I realize this very well and the aim of my presence is not to be a living reproach. On the contrary, life is going on, and that is exactly the theme of this European conference, and our symbolic gathering in Berlin for this event. We certainly are forward-looking when we celebrate here the 100th anniversary of the founding of ICJW.

Still, I am standing in front of you, a living witness, having survived at a very young age three years of camps - Vught and Westerbork in Holland as well as Bergen Belsen - while others among my friends who are here at my side today, like Lonnie who was hidden with a Christian family for two long years, while her deported parents were with us in Bergen Belsen. All of us, who have been deprived of our childhood, though too young to understand, were yet not too young to undergo the trauma of the unfolding incomprehensible events.

Consequently, I feel, we are not quite the same as other people, somewhat more fragile, emotionally and psychologically and at the other hand, stronger too, though it may not be so obvious to outsiders.

We can and shall never forget. We have this duty to remember, because we are the last living survivors and, when we will not be there anymore to bear witness, the Shoah will be history and history is not reality.

So let us together respect one minute of silence, while we remember the 6 million Jews who were slaughtered, who vanished from the earth’s surface, wiped out ….. and make sure that this can never, never, happen again. All of us, at ICJW, are part of the vast movement of people of good will, who are working for Tikun Olam!

Thank you for your attention."