Schuette, The Real McCoy Staff
only ‘crime’ was being born Jewish. Beginning at the age of 11,
Henry Golde spent the next five years in what he called nine of the
worst prisons — World War II concentration camps — that ever
existed in this world.
The audience at the Fort McCoy
observance of Days of Remembrance gives a standing ovation to
the guest speaker Holocaust survivor Henry Golde. (Photo
by Val Hyde)
a Holocaust survivor, spent an hour April 23 telling members of the
Fort McCoy community about his experiences and thoughts of that time
in a serious talk, filled with irony, humor and hope for the future,
as part of the installation’s Days of Remembrance (Holocaust)
observance. Those experiences included losing members of his family at
the infamous Treblinka death camp in Poland to the attitude he takes
today to advocate the triumph of love over hate.
telling about a mostly normal childhood, except perhaps for the
anti-Semitism in the Polish city of Plock where he grew up, Golde told
the audience about how things changed after the war started, his
survival and what led him to the place he is at today.
could talk about my experiences for three days and still not tell
everything," Golde said. "Let me tell you first a few things
about how I did survive — was it luck, fate or a small miracle? I’ll
let you decide."
was not too bad in Plock, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of
Warsaw. Golde said one big problem was that the non-Jewish children
beat up the Jewish children after the Jewish children attended school
in Poland attended schools six days a week back then, and the
non-Jewish children were off because it was the day of their religious
Henry Golde recounts a story from
his concentration camp experiences. (Photo
by Val Hyde)
father explained to me that Jews were God’s chosen people,"
Golde said, when he questioned his father after one beating. "I
asked him why couldn’t God choose someone else."
memory of that time was the Polish army had an artillery and cavalry
brigade in town, that, in his belief, wouldn’t allow foreign troops
to invade the land.
Polish troops went off to fight against the German invaders during the
early days of World War II and returned two days later without their
first German soldiers he saw were the members of the Wehrmacht, who
treated them humanely because they were the professionals and only
cared about winning the war.
the situation became worse and worse as other German troops followed,
culminating with the arrival of the SS or Nazi special police
confiscated businesses," Golde said. "They made you wear the
yellow star of David — one in the front and one in the back — with
the word Jew written in it. Nazis thought all Jews were cowards, which
is why they had us wear yellow, the color of cowardice."
the Nazis tried to put down the rebellion of Jews in the Warsaw
ghetto, the Jews bravely fought back any way they could. Jews kept
retreating, however, and finally took to fighting from the sewers. The
Nazis killed them by putting poison gas into the sewers, but it took
the Nazis longer to win this battle than it did for the German army to
Golde described the deplorable conditions he lived under after being
separated from his parents and brother.
lived in buildings with two to three families put in one room. Meager
food rations, when they were available at all, consisted of bread and
a watery soup. Golde stayed there for several months before they were
gathered and told that some would be sent to work while others were to
be sent ‘home.’
German soldier noted Golde’s youth, and ordered him to the group to
return home. A German officer noted even though he was a youth he
could work hard, and sent him to the group that would work.
officer) saved my life," Golde said. "The people who were
being sent back ‘home’ actually were sent to extermination
in concentration camps worked until they couldn’t work anymore, and
often were treated very inhumanely, he said. When they couldn’t work
anymore at the camp he/she was taken to a forest area and shot and
conditions they lived under were very unsanitary. Golde described how
they were allowed one shower a month and they had to walk five miles
there and five miles back to get it. The people who were too weak to
walk the five miles didn’t shower.
hole dug into the ground served as a group latrine.
underwear and other garments also were in short supply throughout his
incarceration. Golde said they often made do with brown paper to
squalid conditions led to cases of typhoid, filth, dirt and lice.
Prisoners who became sick and were deemed incapable of recovering were
taken out and shot, he said.
recounted several stories of how he felt he was going to be killed,
including when he was sick or broke the rules in trying to go out to
go to the bathroom at night. Each time he was saved by a German who
for some reason that he didn’t know — perhaps because he was a
child — decided to spare him. One time, he even heard two Germans
arguing his fate — one who wanted to kill him for the bathroom
transgression and the other who didn’t — he wondered where he
might be shot and if he would feel pain before the one who wanted to
spare him prevailed, and he survived to face another day.
addition to surviving being sent to nine concentration camps, Golde
also survived forced marches. Included was one where they were marched
two weeks with only two meals, and those were when they stopped at
the end of the war, the Germans knew the war was going badly for them.
One camp commandant told him they would be freed by the Americans.
another twist of irony, the surviving people he was with were
liberated by the Russian army, which took a detour from their original
mission to reach the camp.
Russians were nice to us in the beginning because they wanted us to go
to Russia," Golde said. "But we knew about their political
system and their way of life. No one wanted to go."
Jewish doctor had connections to send them to England, where Golde
lived from 1945-52. He eventually emigrated to the United States,
where he wanted to go all along, and arrived in New York.
a tailor by trade, said he had been told there was "gold in the
streets in New York," but all he found was a sweat shop to work
in. So he took other jobs, and became, as he described, an
he came to Wisconsin, where in retirement he belongs to several
Holocaust organizations and also speaks to school children and other
groups about the Holocaust.
the war, I thought, in my childish mind, that people could learn to
live in peace and this could never happen again," Golde said.
"I was wrong."
Golde came to the decision to tell his story so people wouldn’t
forget. A friend pointed out to him that he still had a lot of hate in
him because of what happened to him and his family, so he decided to
forgive. Students were a natural focus of the story since they will
grow up to be the next generation of leaders.
the students remember just one part of my story, they will never allow
this to happen again," he said "When I forgave, I learned to
love. Love is everything, and hate is nothing."
more information about the program or future ethnic observances at
Fort McCoy, call Master Sgt. Claudia Simpson, Fort McCoy Equal
Opportunity Adviser, at 608-388-3246.