2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust, the worst event in human history. This story makes it more real.
The sounds of the last departing convoy had long since died away. The scene was oppressive, as was the sudden emptiness of the vast stores which had so recently been brimful of treasure.
In a corner, spread eagle on the floor and covered with dust and snow, lay a Teddy bear, ignored in the haste of the convoys departure. An old Teddy bear he appeared to be, with one leg missing, his fur torn and mildewed, straw trailing from his burst seams and his squeak long ago reduced to silence. For four years he had lain at the bottom of a huge pile of toys, thousands and thousands of toys from all over Europe. For these were no ordinary stores. This was Auschwitz, evil smelling and pestilential. The year was 1944.
Mis (pronounced Mish) was not really so very old at all, although it seemed to him that more than a hundred years had passed since his world had come to an end. Before that, he had been a proud and happy bear; he had known a white house, and sunlight, picnics on the grass, the laughter of children, the joy of sleeping in cool white sheets with Stani.
Mis felt the need for tears when he thought of his young master, the little boy with the tousled head and wide grin, who had whispered secrets to him in the dark, and had hugged him tight, calling him darling bear, and vowing never to be parted from him. It had been Stani’s fourth birthday, he remembered, when the soldiers came. The honey cake had been left uneaten and the presents were still in their gay wrappings, for there had been no time to open them. Stani, not understanding, had run for his bear and held him close as the family had been herded into the street. With hundreds of others, they had been marched to the station. Mis had thought it was a game at first, though Stani had held him clutched close to his heart. But at the station it was a game no longer. They had been forced into trucks as though they were cattle, and hell had begun. No air, no water, no light, no hope. He could still hear the cries of the children, the despairing curses of the men. A few had died there, others had gone mad. How could one ever forget the appalling fetid stench, and the fear, the terrible fear?
How long the journey had lasted Mis did not know, it seemed to be several weeks because this had become but a part of the greater nightmare. He didn’t know whether it was night or day when they arrived at the station and, bewildered and terrified, were lined up on a ramp alongside. He remembered the doll a soldier had snatched from a child and stamped on the ground. Then had come the parting. Stani’s father had been dragged away with the other men, and Stani and his mother, clinging together, had been stripped of their possessions. How Stani had screamed and fought to keep him, but it was no use, even though Mis had lost a leg in the struggle. He had watched and had heard the hiss of escaping gas, the agonizing cries, and even though he had waited and waited in conditions too terrible to describe, he had never seen either of them again.
Now, having heard the curses and awful talk of the guards, he knew that the only way out of Auschwitz was through the furnaces whose chimneys smoked day and night.
Mis now found himself in the store house in an indescribable scene. There were thousands of toys, dragged like himself from their sorrowing owners; but there were stranger things besides . . . piles of clothes, shoes, spectacles, human hair, photograph albums, even gold teeth and artificial limbs.
Was it really only four short years ago? The soldiers had cleared most of the store houses now, and sent their loot to Germany. With their going, Mis sensed obscurely that the long night was passing, but he felt too tired and too old to care. Thoughts and memories so crowded in on him that he only gradually became aware of a new sensation. Smoke was filling the store and tongues of flame were already licking greedily at the walls. Mis’s eyes were stinging, and as the swirling fire roared nearer, the past and present became a confused blur in his mind. This was how it had to end: he felt almost happy now. As the flames scorched his fur, his last thoughts were with Stani, the cool sheets and the white house, a world ago when life had been sweet.
Epilogue: Some of Mis’s companions who survived today lie in huge piles in glass cases together with babies bottles, booties and dolls. They are there as a part of the museum at Auschwitz for those people who never suffered in the concentration camps to come and see. The world forgets that Stani was only one of twenty million who died in Auschwitz and other camps. (Told by Sue Ryder and Mary Craig of the Forgotten Allies Trust) Margaret Hutchings, Teddy Bears and How to Make Them, New York, Dover Publications, 1964.
The atrocities of World War II are beyond description. Yet, within those atrocities, there were people who positively responded to Gods grace and became beacons of hope to those around them. The love of Christ impelled them to embrace the cross with love in their hearts. Edith Stein was Jewish. She was a philosopher, writer teacher, and convert to the Catholic Faith. When she was forty-two, she entered a Carmelite monastery in Germany and became a nun. Along with her sister Rosa, she was killed at Auschwitz in 1942. During her week of imprisonment at Auschwitz, Edith showed remarkable interior strength that encouraged her fellow prisoners. She helped mothers feed and bathe their little children, even when the mothers had given up and were neglecting these tasks. During this war, people risked their lives to aid those who were persecuted by the Nazis. An unknown number of them offered assistance. Corrie ten Boomwas a Dutch Christian, who with her father and other family members provided shelter in their home for Jewish and other refugees and helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust. After the war she became an inspirational writer and speaker. Titus Brandsma, a Dutch Carmelite priest and professional journalist, said: “The one who wants to win the world for Christ must risk coming into conflict with it.” He refused to silence the religious press and spoke openly against the Nazis. For this he was arrested and sent to a succession of prisons and concentration camps where he brought comfort and peace to his fellow prisoners and did good even to his tormentors. In 1942, after much suffering and humiliation, he was killed at Dachau. Jeanne Damman, a young Catholic teacher before the War, served as principal of an underground school for Jewish children in Brussels. When the school closed because it had become too dangerous for the children to attend, she joined the Jewish Defense Committee. She rescued many children. Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty had extraordinary intellectual gifts, which he used in the service of the Church and the Jewish community in Rome. His main Nazi rivals, and assassination attempts, could not stop his efforts to assist the Jews in Italy through a vast, complex underground network. A Polish Franciscan priest and publisher, Maximillian Kolbe, was sentenced to hard labor at the death camp in Auschwitz. He offered his life in exchange for that of a family man. He is remembered for his prophetic words, “Hatred is not a creative force. Only love is a creative power.” Let us remember those words.