Holocaust survivor worried by anti-Semitism in US
TEANECK, N.J. (AP) — When the Nazi dictatorship was new, Carl Hausman’s parents closed the shutters on the living room windows to keep him safe.
It worked, for a little while.
Hausman was born on March 19, 1933, 20 days after a fire in the German parliament building provided the Nazis the opportunity to consolidate power over Germany. His father Ludwig was Jewish and poor, a German army veteran of World War I who sold animal feed. The family lived on a cobblestone street in a poor neighborhood of a village in southern Germany.
On Hausman’s eighth day of life, family members arrived from nearby villages for the brith, to celebrate his circumcision. With the neighbors embittered by anti-Semitic propaganda, Ludwig feared trouble.
He nailed the shutters closed for the day.
A few years later, Carl heard through the open windows the boots of Nazi soldiers pounding the cobblestones outside. His mother leapt across the room and slammed the shutters, making a huge crashing noise.
“That is one of my earliest memories,” said Hausman, now 85, of Teaneck. “I didn’t know what was going on. I was a child.”
Most of Hausman’s early life returns to him like this, in flashes of noise and color. The story behind these flashes he filled in later.
It is the story of hidden children.
Hunted by the Nazis, who murdered more than a million children in their quest to annihilate the Jewish people, thousands of children lived for years in basements, sewers, attics and haylofts across Europe. Sometimes they hid underground. In other cases the children lived in the open, with assumed names and forged documents.
Their protectors risked torture and death to save them, and to save what little remained of humanity in Nazi-controlled Europe.
As the youngest people to live under the Nazis, the hidden children are among the last people on Earth with personal memories of the Holocaust.
Their voices have never been more important.
For decades after the United States helped defeat the Nazis in Germany, their racist and anti-Semitic successors in this country occupied the far fringes of politics, largely mocked and easily ignored.
Things are different now. We have a president who praised some “very fine people” among a mob of white nationalists who carried torches through an American city while chanting “Jews will not replace us!” Last week, President Trump repeated the false and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that George Soros, a billionaire investor who is Jewish, funded a caravan of refugees fleeing poverty and violence in Central America.
Carl Hausman is too young to remember the German precursors to the events of his childhood, the early Nazi provocateurs who stoked fear of Jews beginning in the mid-1920s.
But he’s the perfect age to warn us about where today’s provocations might lead.
“I am a firsthand witness,” he said. “Hopefully it will never happen here.”
Hausman was born in Kirchheimbolanden, a big name for a small town. Most of his memories of the place are bitter, but not all. Hausman remembers playing games with children who were not Jewish.
He didn’t know his family was poor. He didn’t know the neighborhood’s more affluent Jewish families already had fled Germany, leaving his family among the last Jews in town.
He didn’t know of his older sister Gretel, who could have been a playmate. As a young child she had contracted diphtheria. The local hospital refused to treat her because she was Jewish, so she died at home at age 7.
The passport of Carl Hausman’s aunt and uncle, which was marked with a big “J″ for Jew, which they used to leave Nazi Germany in 1940.
In 1938, when Hausman was five, someone set fire to the local synagogue. This he remembers.
“My parents took me to see the synagogue burning,” he said. “That was one of my first experiences that really stuck with me.”
Early one morning in October 1940, the Hausmans were forced onto a train bound for a concentration camp named Gurs, in southern France. There they slept on floors covered in straw, and walked through ankle-deep mud. Food was scarce. Rats, fleas and bedbugs were not.
In Gurs, Hausman and his brother Gunther received food, blankets and clothing from OSE, a French Jewish humanitarian group organized to help Jewish children living under oppression. Eventually the organization removed both brothers from concentration camps, Gunter to a nearby orphanage and Carl, a year later, to a series of safe houses.
“When they arrived at the camp they were gassed almost immediately, all three of them. So at the age of eight I became an orphan.”
In 1942,Gunter mailed Carl a postcard. He was about to visit their parents in another concentration camp called Rivesaltes, he said, while Carl remained miles away, sequestered by OSE.
It was a trap. Soon after Gunter arrived, he and his parents were transported to Auschwitz.
“When they arrived at the camp they were gassed almost immediately, all three of them,” said Hausman, who learned their fate years later. “So at the age of eight I became an orphan.”
At around this time, OSE was forced underground. Hausman was transported to a farm in a mountainous region controlled by the French Resistance. He was given the French-sounding name of Jean Bloise and raised by the family of Albert Masse, a Communist farmer who always kept his handlebar moustache trimmed and his fingernails clean.
“They had one cow, one pig and a lot of rabbits,” he said. “They accepted me as their own.”
He lived on the farm for two years, learning to milk goats and tend rabbits. Technically he was in hiding, Hausman said, but he never had to hide. Hausman didn’t attend school for fear of being discovered, but occasionally he joined the Masse family in a cow-drawn cart for a Sunday ride into a nearby town.
His only contact with the war was BBC radio news and occasional sightings of French rebels carrying American-made submachine guns.
“So these people were my protectors,” Hausman said. “They were very decent people. Wonderful people.”
When the war ended in 1945, Hausman, just 12 years old, had already experienced more than enough sorrow for a lifetime. Two years later he emigrated to the United States, moving in with an uncle in Washington Heights. He learned English, graduated high school, was drafted into the U.S. Army, served in Allied-occupied Austria, came home and started a career as a painting contractor. In 1967 Hausman and his wife Rochelle moved to a ranch house in Teaneck, where they raised three children.
They live in the same house today. It has white shutters for decoration, not for nailing shut.
“Like many survivors, I seldom spoke of my childhood experiences,” Hausman wrote in “Rescued,” a memoir of his experiences as a hidden child.
Hausman began to share his experiences in the 1990s at meetings hosted by the Hidden Child Foundation, which brings survivors together and celebrates the people who saved them.
“Like many survivors, I seldom spoke of my childhood experiences”
“In the beginning it was terrible,” Rochelle Hausman said of the meetings of survivors. “They didn’t go to therapists. So they would come to these meetings and it would all come out.”
When Carl Hausman joined, the Hidden Child Foundation had about 80 members in Bergen County, he said.
“We’re down to about 50 now,” he said, “and most of us are in our 80s.”
Hausman’s family was exterminated. He lived his childhood in terror. He spent decades trying to forget the past.
“Attaining an increasing sense of normalcy in my life in my new country was possible only by suppressing my memories of the past,” he said.
Then he realized his story as a hidden child must never be forgotten. Jews posed no threat to Germany in 1933, the year Carl Hausman was born. They pose no threat to America now. Neither do black people or gay people or Hondurans or Muslims or women or the poor.
Anyone who says otherwise has forgotten the message that Carl Hausman survived to tell us.
“I see almost the same thing happening again,” Hausman said of the rising voices of religious and racial hate in this country. “People sometimes have said it’s behind us. No. It’s important that we remember it.”
Information from: The Record (Woodland Park, N.J.), http://www.northjersey.com