“Never Again Begins With You” was the title of a pamphlet I picked up at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. last week. Although I had been to the museum quite few times, on HGP field trips, Diane had never been there. Our motivation for the trip was a desire to revisit the story of Ragna Hamilton, a Danish Holocaust survivor we met in the 1970s when we lived in New Hope. Ragna became a close friend and almost a grandmother to our daughter, Jenny.
Ragna’s story and friendship, totally altered how we viewed the Holocaust. The phrases, “We shall never forget” and “Never Again Begins With You” now have layers of meaning.
A discovery several months ago of Rachel Saidel’s book and website “The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck” sparked a renewed interest in the Holocaust and more specifically Ragna’s story. Although Ragna’s memoir, “Det Knuste Mig Aldrig” was published in Danish, Diane and I hope we might publish an English edition. Where to start but a visit to the Holocaust Museum.
We spent an entire rainy/snowy day at the museum. Before a ride to the fourth floor in a cold, gray steel elevator, you take an “identification card.” My card read, “Jermie Adler, Czechoslovakia. He lived in Belgium, was Jewish, and was arrested by the Gestapo. Although he lived, most of his family were killed. Diane’s card was for Nina Szuster, born 1929 in Rokitnoye, Poland. Germans occupied her town and “immediately gathered the local Jews into a few houses . . . One night the Germans suddenly began dragging people out of our houses . . . I tried to get some clothes but a Germen grabbed me . . . I tore myself away and ran . . . Then I heard a shot: my uncle was dead. I saw an open window and jumped out. Fortunately, it was foggy, so no one saw me slip through the barbed wire. ” Nina joined Ukraninian partisans, studied in Moscow, and in 1947 emigrated to the United States.
As we tour the museum, I increasingly realized how the Holocaust is a collection of stories — hundreds, thousands, millions. Each is important. Ragna’s is one. We shall never forget.
On previous visits, I was with a few hundred High School students — they move through pretty quickly. On this trip Diane and I move slowly, watching every video, reading each sign. Historical information I have heard before jumps out. Wow. The Christian church was extremely anti- Semitic. In art work, Jews were depicted as Devils. Martin Luther was anti-Semitic. And then Hitler’s rise to power. Was it quick — a corporeal in the Army, a political activist, Chancellor, Dictator. So quick.
There are some parts of the exhibit that really interested me. The 1936 Olympics, the German blitz, genetic research. As I move along, I recall Scott Ralston’s fascination and reading of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Riech” or my first reading of “Exodus” and “Mila 18” by Leon Uris. I can’t watch much of the movie footage of the liberation — Russian, English and American cameras. It’s too much and none of it is from Ravensbruck, Ragna’s camp. I do like the Memorial Hall, Diane and I both light a candle in Ragna’s memory.
The museum has a registry of Holocaust survivors. Ragna is listed. Control number 00078155. Family number 00094416. Are these shadow reminders of the numbers tattooed on camp inmates’ arms. Ragna is listed as Ragna Fischer Horwitz, Copenhagen, Denmark, Marseille, France and Ravensbruck, Germany. I think I registered her in the 1970s. But they did not have a record of her memoir — Danish book or English translation. I am pretty certain that I sent a copy but the librarian was extremely open and friendly and I will get them a copy of the English translation and someday the Danish book. We left with a copy of Ragna’s arrest record– in German of course, I need a translation, and her name on list of Ravensbruck prisioners.
In the 1980s I had Ragna come to HGP to speak. She had just published her memoir and was willing to talk about her experience. For a number of years I attended workshops on Holocaust education and began to bring survivors to HGP to speak. I remember Jack who told how he broke down crying the first time he spoke at Pennsbury High School. He had never even discussed the Holocaust with his family. And there was Leonard Bass, an African American Army officer that was part of the unit that liberated Austerwitz. Each story was a moving and memorable experience. After Ragna’s death, the Holocaust Museum opened, I visited, contributed, registered Ragna and got on their mailing list. I wrote several newspaper articles about her. Now decades later, my involvement continues to twist. “Never Again Begins With You.”
I hope soon to re-read Ragna’s memoir. Diane and I will enter it in a computer, edit it, and maybe someday see it published in English. “We shall never forget.”