Dozens of Inland Northwest students wrote essays for the Eva Lassman Memorial Creative Writing Contest, which is named after a Spokane Holocaust survivor. Lassman died in 2011 at 91.
The essay-writers were asked to imagine what it might have been like to be a Jewish child escaping Nazi Germany in 1939 as part of the Kindertransport. That was a rescue effort which transported thousands of Jewish children to Great Britain from Nazi Germany. Many never saw their families again.
Easton Benson, a 10th-grader at University High School, won first place in the high-school division. Elizabeth Palmer, an eighth-grader at Sacajawea Middle School, won the middle-school division.
Becca Jacobson and Bryn Hines, both Lewis and Clark High School juniors, were the second- and third-place winners, respectively, in the high school division. Shilo Stuart, an eighth-grader at Freeman Middle School, and Ellie Huffmanparent, a homeschooled sixth-grader, were the second- and third-place winners, respectively, in the middle-school division.
Their essays are reprinted below.
Easton Benson, University High School
The war is over, but I do not hear the sound I expected to hear. Instead of victorious celebrating in the streets, I hear the deafening silence of mourning. I try to remember my life before. It seems so long ago, but then an image comes to my mind. I remember seeing a yellow butterfly, and it reminds me of the world I once knew.
Although it all seemed so sudden, this crisis happened to my people little by little, bit by bit. I don’t understand why my people are persecuted to such an extent; I do know that Hitler subtly brainwashed people. My parents were smart people who saw past Hitler’s lies. However, as a seven year old, all I knew of Hitler was that he was “a bad man” who made “new, unfair rules.” Soon I got a taste of these “unfair rules.” One day at school, my teacher taught a new lesson, that I and the other Jewish children were bad people, born bad, and would never be good. He also used a funny word- “inferior”- and although I didn’t know what it meant, I knew it was bad when I saw my parents’ outrage to this teacher’s new lesson. However, things changed drastically after Kristellnacht. I don’t know how, but somehow my parents knew exactly what was going to happen and began to make plans for me to leave the country. Thus, I became a Kindertransport child. I still remember the last moment I saw my family. They all went with me to the train station, including my two sisters who were too old to be Kindertransport children, to say goodbye. I tried to control my tears but couldn’t. My mother told me to be a good girl and behave, and my father told me to be a “brave kleines mädchen.” It was his special nickname, and it means “little girl.” After that, we all embraced. They were my blanket, keeping me happy and safe from the dangerous world outside. As my mother pulled away, I could no longer control my heartbroken tears as I climbed into the train, crying for my mother. I watched them until I couldn’t any longer. Then my eyes found a new sight: a sweet, yellow butterfly, flying against the blue sky. That was the last bit of color; from that moment on, my world was a blur, a world void of any vibrance. Nothing happened to my eyesight, but my world became dull, gray, and empty of the familiar love and warmth I knew. Even the sunshine progressively became unrelenting, comfortless, and cold.
Although the train ride was lonely - the air filled with the cries of scared children - I didn’t really meet Loneliness until I arrived in Britain. I had a young married couple taking care of me, but my only friend was Loneliness, and a miserable friend it was. When I cried myself to sleep, Loneliness was there taunting me. When I struggled to learn English in a new land, he was with me there to remind me that the better I got at English, the longer I had spent away from my home. When once I had kind Jewish teachers to guide me, now I had my unforgiving company to take joy from my life. My world was like a living nightmare, but it was the kind where you can’t scream and you can’t wake up. What was worse was that with all that was happening around me, I had little hope of my family being alive by the end of the war. Two weeks after the war ended, any hope that I had was crushed.
I was able to get in touch with a distant cousin of mine. She was in the same concentration camp as my family. She survived. My mother and sister had been taken to the gas chambers upon arrival; my father didn’t survive the first selection. Although I was devastated, what burned itself into my mind was the look in her eyes: destroyed, broken beyond healing, and even guilty. I could see the thousands of deaths in her eyes. I could see the moral, physical, and emotional sickness that resided in the camps. I remember her saying over and over, “Why didn’t I die? I should have died. Why did they have to die?” I didn’t understand how one person could be so wishful for her own death. I saw ugly scars, scars that she could never hide from the world, inside of her shattered heart. The pain in her eyes made my heart break for her. Although I suffered my own devastation, I knew that what she suffered was far worse: the sights, sounds, smells, and fears that she would never forget and wake up with every day. However, as my heart shattered right along with hers, I remembered a few simple words: “be a brave little girl.”
Although I always tried and still try to be brave, I will never be as brave as my parents were. They sent me away, not knowing what the future would hold. I will never be that brave. I have no doubt that they died in bravery too. I didn’t understand why I had to be sent away; it wasn’t fair and none of my friends had to be sent away. I didn’t have much bravery then. Now a young lady of fourteen, I remember my parents and how their bravery impacted me to live my life and never give up on myself and my heritage, but also to never give up on my dreams. I dream of a world that is vivid, like my yellow butterfly; it is colorful with all kinds of races, religions, and diversity all living together. I dream of a world that is brave. I dream of a world that is brave enough to fight evil, stand up tall when evil is all around, and brave enough to keep fighting when evil knocks us down.
Elizabeth Palmer, Sacajawea Middle School
To say that I don’t have nightmares would be a lie. I dream about my parents all the time. The only facts I know are that they died in Auschwitz, and my sister and I didn’t. I am Elizabeth, twenty- one years old, attending medical school, child of the kindertransport, and survivor of the Nazi regime. These are my experiences, yet they are not for you to learn my legacy; but that of my family, the other survivors, and the persecuted who can no longer speak. This is a story, ultimately, about small actions and how they do make a difference.
When I was nine, I brought home the newspaper for Father. It was a cold, grey January day - the 30th to be precise - and on the cover it read that Adolf Hitler had been elected as German chancellor. Around April I started to notice the propaganda. On April 25th Hitler declared that Jewish students could make up no more than 5 percent of the total student population in any public school. Rebekah, a girl in my class and fellow Jew, had to leave. Her family moved to Poland that summer and I never heard from her again.
Small things started to happen. I was little, but I understood that our world was changing. There was the first book burning, the passing of the Nuremberg Race Laws, and the opening of concentration camps. I remember how fear, hatred, depression, apprehension, and grief seemed to cling to everyone.
My family consisted of my father, mother, my ten-year-old sister Rose, and me. The last time I saw my parents was May 2nd, 1939. To protect my sister and me, my parents told all of our neighbors, friends, and family that my sister was ill; and that she and I were being sent to live with our “grandparents” in what had been Austria to see if the countryside would improve her health. My parents, a doctor and a teacher, stayed behind in Berlin while my sister and I went to stay with an elderly Jewish couple we had never met before. While saying goodbye, I think we all knew that this might be a permanent separation. Mother gave each of us a gold necklace with the Star of David - one passed down from her grandmother, the other one from Father’s. Father gave us each three of his favorite books. I was fourteen and Rose was ten. My parents disappeared shortly after we left; two years later I received a letter from a former neighbor informing me that they had heard my parents had been arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Mercifully, Rose and I were accepted into the British kindertransport program the June after we left Berlin.
Rain was pouring down incessantly when my sister and I arrived in Harwich, England. We had traveled first to Vienna, then a port in Belgium; and finally, after two long days of travel, we were in England. The Chases, our foster family, were waiting. Dr. Chase was a doctor like my father and Edward Chase, his seventeen-year-old son, was aspiring to be a doctor as well. However the detail that will forever strike me about that day was Mrs. Chase’s eyes. They were deep evergreen, so kind and warm. I was exhausted that day from the worry, tragedy, and traveling. Mrs. Chase looked at me with so much love and compassion I felt like I exhaled for the first time in ages. The Chases were a Quaker family working with the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany. They, like much of the British public, had supported the Kindertransport program that allowed so many of us under seventeen to immigrate to England.
After only three months in England, war broke out in September 1939. Dr. Chase went to serve; and when he turned eighteen, so did Edward. Mrs. Chase worked as a nurse in a hospital because most of the men had gone to war and so many bombings were taking place. Not only did she work, but she taught my sister and me English and raised us. At age eighteen, I decided I wanted to train to work in the medical field like my adoptive and biological fathers. Because so many of our men were off fighting, medical schools were slowly being opened to women. In ‘43 I set off to become a doctor, in one more year I will graduate.
Many people have been asking for my thoughts now that the war is over. I suppose they can be summed up as this: never, ever let any injustice slide by, and never underestimate the power of a small action of good. Nazi Germany happened because we let our humanitarian rights be eroded. Everyone let another small law be passed, then another. By the time everyone woke up they were already living in hell. However I am alive because of small acts of compassion. The public of Britain rallied together to allow so many of us Kindertransport children into their country. Whenever I hear people talk about the insignificance of an act of good or bad I just want to scream. A wonderful day can be ruined by a harsh word and a million harsh words can do appalling things. But a smile, a Mrs. Chase at the end of long tragedy, can transform one’s outlook on life. A million noble acts could start a million chain reactions that could ultimately change the world. George Santayana, a philosopher, has said that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We cannot forget what has happened in Germany. To do so would disgrace the lives of millions now passed. We will mourn; we will remember; and we will take it upon ourselves to teach future generations the importance of little actions.
Becca Jacobson, Lewis and Clark High School
During World War II, the Holocaust took place as thousands of Jewish residents of European countries were driven into concentration camps. Hitler used an immense amount of propaganda to manipulate Germany and the rest of the world. Some of the countries, including Great Britain, realized the urgency of the situation as Jews were disappearing overnight and collected into death camps. Kindertransports was the act of rescuing thousands of mostly Jewish children from capture by the Nazis. The transporters took the unaccompanied children to Great Britain where the kids were sent to foster homes or refuges. All of the children were under the age of seventeen and only a few were fortunate enough to see their parents again.
I was one of the children who were driven out of Germany and into Great Britain where I found my foster family. Before any of us were removed, many changes were occurring in Germany as Hitler took control and manipulated his population. The mindsets of different people involved in the Holocaust were extremely varied shown through the German population, the German military, and the Jewish community. Patriotism and nationalism became the main focuses on Hitler’s speeches. Many people, including us, did not believe Hitler stood capable of decimating an entire population; however the Holocaust existed because of the propaganda war. Hitler succeeded in convincing all of Germany to follow his commands.
Most German people did not understand the enormity of how horribly our families were being treated; the public would listen to Hitler, an amazingly powerful, persuasive speaker, and soak in every word he professed. Hitler became successful by not telling the whole truth. Hitler blamed the Jews for the economic problems Germany faced at the end of World War One. Germany faced enormous debt and humiliation as the Treaty of Versailles, created at the end of WWI, limited Germany’s ability to enlarge their territory and further develop their military. Hitler convinced the German people to believe the Jews should be eliminated from Germany, yet few knew his true intentions. Following Hitler’s commands, the German people happily participated in ripping us away from our homes. The public was split as the discrimination against us became more concrete as they insisted on us wearing the yellow Star of David on our clothing indicating our ethnicity. About a month before they began removing us from Germany, Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) occurred where my father was one of the first people to be beaten to death in the streets of Germany. This awful night consisted of the Nazis breaking into our homes and shops and grabbing the men and beating them. After this night, the British government made the decision to get involved and aid all of us who were in danger of Hitler’s wrath. Great Britain had been contemplating on whether or not the situation needed involvement from other countries. “In response to the events of November 9 and 10, the British Jewish Refugee Committee appealed to members of Parliament and a debate was held in the House of Commons…The words of British Foreign Minister Samuel Hoare swayed the government to permit an unspecified number of children under the age of 17 to enter the United Kingdom (“Kindertransport Association”).”
My particular experience was not unique as many of us shared a similar experience. I was taken from my mother as my sister and I were loaded on a train and taken to Liverpool Street Station in London. The hardest part of the experience was saying goodbye to my mother; although we were young, my sister and I understood these were our final words with our mother. My sister, at only four years old, and I at nine years old, did not fully understand the enormity of the luxury of escaping the Nazi’s grasp. I lost track of the days as we traveled across the countries. We did not know what to expect of our foster parents, but we were fortunate enough to have arrangements already made with a nice British couple before we had even left Germany.
Others, who we had made acquaintances with on the train, were not as fortunate; they had to stay in a refuge until a family was willing to take them in. The new country was different from our familiar Germany but the fear of discrimination vanished and life became much easier as time went on and we got used to the routine of our new lives.
Because of my experience of being a Kindertransport child, I appreciate the life I live much more than I would if I had lived peacefully in Germany. I know what it is like to be mocked and discriminated, I know what it is like to be ripped away from your father and watch his blood be shed in front of our house, and I know what it is like to say final goodbyes to your mother. I grew up very quickly when I was only nine years old. Most children do not know what it is like to have that great of a past weighing on your shoulders at only nine years old. This world is a cruel yet wonderful place. Depending on whom you are and what sort of dark past you possess, your life can be altered in a blink of an eye. At the time of my departure from Germany, I was angry and confused by the world, yet I have come to understand that being taken away from my house was truly the best experience I have had. The Kindertransport truly was a rescue mission and I thank Great Britain every day for taking me out from under Hitler’s appalling reign. If any situation becomes as horrid as the Holocaust, I hope our nation and others around the world will save the children and give them the opportunity Great Britain gave me and my sister.
—”Kindertransport, 1938–1940.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States
Holocaust Memorial Council, 10 June 2013. Web. 01 Mar. 2014.
—”Kindertransport Association | History.” Kindertransport Association | History. N.p., n.d. Web.
02 Mar. 2014.
Bryn Hines, Lewis and Clark High School
We left after the riots. It was early-morning, but the sharp December air kept me awake. I’d packed the night before: two sweaters, two skirts, my new passport. Sylvia had written a letters, the paper folded horizontally so I could carry it within my shoe. She said the Nazi wouldn’t like the letter, and they might search me before I leave. I didn’t understand why. I listened though, and kept it hidden. While we walked, the sunrise peeked from behind the city, its rays distorted by the shattered glass littering the streets. The broken city reminded me of a monster; the window shards still hanging were like fangs, the collapsed wooden walls like claws reaching out to me. Mother held my right hand, and Sylvia the other. Sylvia wasn’t able to come with me. I was nine, but as of November, she was seventeen. And England didn’t want a seventeen-year-old. I didn’t understand why. But once, laughing, Sylvia said that she was with me under my feet, reminding me, after a moment of confusion, of the note stowed neatly in my shoes.
In the few years before I’d left, Berlin had changed. Prior to my birth, the Great War and the depression had torn through the city. While the economy and politics had changed before me, the people, they changed right before my eyes. I’d gone to school with Werner, a sweet and engaging boy, for three years. We walked to school together, and during the summer we jumped rope and flew kits. Werner came from a poor family, one hit hard by the war, and my mother baked extra bread for him. In return he collected strands of lace and ribbon and wove them extravagantly into bracelets and necklaces for me. We honored out “trade,” but I knew he was ashamed. Over time, our friendship slipped away. I didn’t understand why. We stopped walking home together; he said he needed to stay and talk to our teacher. We stopped siting together during lunch; he said boys should talk to boys, not girls.
One day after school, I stayed late so I could pick flowers from the field behind my school. I’d nearly left the school when a group of boys, including Werner, cornered me, the leader snatching the bouquet from my hands. “These are Germany’s flowers, you filthy Jew. And now you’ve ruined them,” he hissed, meticulously ripping each thin, golden petal in half. Werner stood expressionless. His eyes wouldn’t twitch, his lips stayed pressed. I searched for life, but he’d become hollow; he’d become nothing. Then suddenly, the other boy blurted out, “Right Werner? She’s just a filthy, smelly Jew. Right?” We all turned, and the others boys’ laughter grew silent. Werner’s lips slowly curled up, and the words slithered out. “Is that not the only kind?”
Sylvia said the other kids are just confused. She told me not to be angry. I didn’t understand why. I wanted to be angry. That was a year before I stepped on the train. A year before I’d last held mother’s hand, or seen the swirls of her thick brown hair. I wish she could have been smiling the last time I’d seen her. Sylvia was strong though. She instructed me to behave for my new family. And to keep track of my stories for when I return home. Everyone would want to know all about my grand adventure. After our last embrace, she reminded about her letter.
I met many other children on the train. Some acted cheerful and excited, while others were quiet and some angry. We all faced the same uncertainly though, and the same danger. The older children knew about England. They talked about organizations like the British Committee for the Jews of Germany and the Movement for the Care of Children from Germany, who, along with private citizens, financed our transport, and also spearheaded the political pressure to allow us children in on temporary visas. They told me our destination was a town called Harwick, and that those with sponsors, including me, would find their foster family in London.
Midway through the trip, I opened Sylvia’s letter. She hadn’t written to tell me anything new, she’d only written to remind me. There was our family trip to the ocean, where we decided we didn’t need a sand castle, for we were already princesses, and the water was our kingdom, and the fish our subjects. And then there was the time that we bought one piece of everything for Berlin’s largest candy shop. We grabbed the widest basket we could find, ran up the tallest hill, and ate our candy, just the two of us and the warm, swaying grass. I traced her writing with my fingers, feeling the memories reemerge. She said she was sorry. Sorry that I had to leave. Sorry for the blind cruelty. She apologized for those who hate me. I didn’t understand why. Sylvia’s last sentence wrote, “Never give into hatred. You must never acquiesce.”
My new family was wonderful beyond words. I was the oldest child of the family, like Sylvia. I enrolled in school, and taught my new friends how to jump rope. But of course, it was all just mearely a forced and incorrect reality. I must remember though, that I was one of the lucky. One of the nearly 10,000 saved by Kindertransport. Not one of the 1,500,000 children who, along with my family, died beneath the Nazis. While I’ll move on, I will never forget. I’ll hold tight to the comfort of my mother, the generosity of my foster family, and the love, the universal love, of my sister. I’ll try to sift through this tragedy, try to pick apart my questions, my confusions. But I will never understand the hatred that stole my family.
Shilo Stuart, Freeman Middle School
I can never understand why someone would chose to end a life. Of course, I have heard what the grown- ups say. We are Jewish, we look different, and we aren’t up to standard. How does someone condemn a person to be thrown away like a piece of rusty metal?
My family was not rich, and I am aware of that. My dad was a shopkeeper, my mom a seamstress. We were Jewish, although we never practiced our faith.
When my parents died, my sister and I were sent to an orphanage for the Jewish. I thought nothing of it, too overwhelmed with the feelings of sadness surrounding me.
The night before we left was awful. I remember being awoken to the sounds of glass breaking, the smell of gasoline, and the red flames jumping out from every corner. I vividly recall the screams of the children on the first floor. My little sister, being one of them. The haunting noise of children being burned to death still keeps me up late at night.
Sometimes, I think, that if I hadn’t closed my eyes those few seconds I might have saved her. But, instead of thinking of her, I thought of myself. I jumped through the window, holding hands with a girl I had never met before.
There were some 300 of us there, in our little orphanage. Only 198 arrived in Great Britain.
It was clear as we boarded the train that we were not going back. My sister’s body would stay in that wretched building while I continued to live my life. The girl I jumped with had stuck with me. We sat together on that long train ride, and although our bodies were there, our minds were somewhere else entirely. She too had lost someone; I didn’t dare to ask who as I hadn’t even accepted the fact yet myself that my sister was dead.
They offered us food along the way, little pastries, sweets, sandwiches. We ate nothing. We did not count the hours, too wrapped up in our own sorrows to even acknowledge the fact that time was moving on without our loved ones.
After some time had passed, we reached a great body of water where we boarded a ship. The girl and I stayed in our bunk, alone. We still had not spoken. I knew it was too soon, much too soon, yet I took a risk, because I could not bear the loneliness that had been suffocating me like a heavy cloak.
“I’m Hanna”, I said, my voice shaking from not talking for so long.
The girl turned and faced me, her big brown eyes looking straight into mine.
“Gabriella”, she said, her voice a whisper so soft that it could be blown away by the wind.
And that’s the way it remained. We did not say more after that, just sat in the same quiet room.
December 2, 1939, the ship made it to Great Britain. As it seems, I was chosen to be in a foster family. Gabriella was too. We held hands as we made our way off the dock; we needed each other’s strength to make it.
It’s all a blur after that. I was given to a family, who seemed shocked that a nine year old could be so peculiar. The mother was Emma and her husband was Ralph. They were kind, but elderly. I could see that I was their last resort at having their own family. I must have been a disappointment, with my long brown hair, brown eyes and tanned skin. They had red hair, equally streaked with gray, their light skin showing they did not go outside much. Each one of them took my hand and led me to the place I would learn to call home.
It is now 1946, nearly seven years since the passing of my baby sister, seven years since I spoke to Gabriella. I have many friends, but none of them understand what I have been through. It is just easier not to mention it. We talk about silly things, boys and marriage and that sort of thing, but none of them really seem to care about the future.
I do care. I want to live four lives, one full of adventure for my sister, one full of love for my mother, one full of imagination for my father, and one full of hope, for me. I want to try new things. I want to explore the world, maybe go to America and see what it has to offer. I want to be a nurse, so people in pain and suffering will have someone with compassion tending to them. I want to go to a temple, to see what was so amazing, so intimidating about my religion that a monster like Hitler would want to eradicate it.
I am not happy for the wrongs that were done to me. I can never be grateful that my sister was murdered, that my mother and father were run over. But I can say this: I have learned not to hate anyone. Hate is what causes monsters to be made; it’s what causes selfishness and mistrust. When you hate something or someone, you are no longer a person. You are a machine, fueled by your hate like a wood stove is fueled by wood.
I do however believe in love, because love is what causes this world to be such a beautiful place. A place where an orphan like me could grow up to have such high aspirations. A place where the sun rises and falls every morning, giving a million new chances to right your wrongs.
I have also learned to live your life, and live it well. Today could be your last day. Live to achieve happiness for yourself. Live with no regrets. Live, for the people that cannot.
Ellie Huffmanparent, homeschooled
Being a child on the Kindertransport was extremely challenging. You were only allowed to bring as much as you could carry and any valuables were taken from you. Nearly ten thousand Jewish children were saved because of the Kindertransport, but still many were killed because their parents could not bear to let them go. Once you turned 18, you weren’t allowed to take the Kindertransport. All of us had a big red J for for Jew stamped on our passports. We were all awfully scared to leave out parents and most of us were quite young. We were more afraid of Hitler and the Nazis then we were of leaving our parents. We knew that Winston Churchill had to be nicer than Hitler.
I left on the first Kindertransport train which left on December 1,1938 and arrived December 2, 1938. When I arrived in Harwich England I didn’t know a single word of English. Everything was different there than it was back home. The weather was different. It was much colder and rainier than it was in Germany. The food was different too. At home, the bread was very thick and in England the bread was extremely thin. The family I was staying with was nice to me. They paid for me to go to school and for new clothing. I was unhappy though. I missed my home and family very much. I longed for my mother’s kugel and the stories my father would tell about big ships and faraway lands. Eventually I was able to understand more English and I adjusted to the thin bread and the cold rainy weather. On September 3, 1939; England declared war on Germany. Soon after that the Germans started dropping bombs on England destroying homes, churches, and historic buildings. Every night as soon as it got dark we had to turn out all our lights so that enemy bombers couldn’t tell if they were flying over the city or the countryside. People also put black cloth or paper over their windows and doors to be certain that there would be no light. Since the British feared that Germany would use poison gas like they did in World War I, we were given gas masks to bring with us everywhere in case they did. Soon after we received our gas masks we were told that it would be safer in the countryside because the Germans were more likely to bomb the cities. So my classmates and I were taken to a little farm on the countryside. While I was packing my suitcase to leave for the farm, I found an old letter that my mother had sent to me a couple of days after I arrived in England.
I hope that you are well, my dear.
We are missing you already.
I do hope that your sponsors are treating you well.
Are you eating all your vegetables?
We all miss you very much!
It was such a long time since I had heard from my mother but I knew in my heart that no matter what happened Mamen would always stay strong. I also knew that I had to finish packing as fast as I could if I wanted to stay safe. So I hurried up my packing and ran outside.
There was lots of work to be done at the farm, but I didn’t mind. It was fun to help with the animals and chores. Although sometimes it was hard, I still enjoyed it. I especially liked milking the cows. My favorite cow was Claire. She never kicked me when I milked her.
When V-E Day was declared on May 8,1945; we were all overjoyed. We danced and whooped and hugged each other. I hoped I could find my parents. I was thankful that the war was over and I could now start fresh.
Though being a child on the Kindertransport was difficult, I got through. It hurts me so much when I think about how Hitler could be so horrible, hurting and killing so many innocent people just because they were different than him. The Holocaust is never going to be forgotten. I’m thankful for the people that helped the Jews including the sponsors for the Kindertransport, the people that helped hide the Jews, and all the people that died trying to aid us.