Millions of Souls
I’m writing this on Remembrance Day, a befitting time considering Holocaust survivor Philip Riteman’s hope for the publication of his story. He hopes people, young people especially, will recognize that “... we owe our lives and our freedom to the Allies, to those brave soldiers who fought Hitler’s madness. Soldiers need to be honoured with our presence at the memorials on Remembrance Day.”
I suspect fewer and fewer of us remember, or at least reflect on, the unprecedented horror perpetrated by Adolf Hilter and the Third Reich. I further suspect that the majority of young people, particularly those still in school, are not aware of Hitler’s maniacal attempt to create a master race partly by the complete annihilation of anyone who did not fit his master race profile, most specifically, Jews.
For two decades Philip Riteman has been educating audiences as vastly different as soldiers and school children about the history of Hilter’s persecution of Jews. Riteman’s medium was mostly speaking engagements before the publication of this book. His memoir is the most recent means by which Riteman has chosen to “... speak for the millions and millions who cannot speak.”
During the Second World War Riteman spent years imprisoned in German concentration camps — Auschwitz, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buna — enduring miseries that most of us born and raised in Canada since the Second World War cannot imagine,even if we strain our brains.
We cannot fathom starvation, slave labour, fatal beatings. We cannot conceive of millions —Millions! —of innocent people being systematically murdered in gas chambers and their corpses then being burned in crematoriums built for that sole purpose.
“ There would not be enough pens and ink in the world to write about all the senseless murders of the Nazi regime,” says Philip Riteman.
While Riteman has inked some details of this senselessness, it is still almost impossible to picture, to absorb the diabolical nature of One of the foods used to aid the human beings who could have digestion of the undernourished inflicted such horrifying inhumanisurvivors of Nazi atrocities and to ty on their fellow man. “put flesh back on their bones” was
Speaking of the slaughter of the — and here’s the smile, I hope — innocent, here’s the most gutCarnation milk. wrenching image from Riteman’s Yes b’ys, Carnation milk! pages. I hesitate to write it but feel I Eventually, Philip Riteman should. Consider this sentence a arrived in Newfoundland, at the cautionary advisory. time a country that was — I s’pose
Imagine, if you have the stom— itself learning the nutritional ach, a pile of dead babies, beaten to benefits of Carnation milk. death by Nazi soldiers. Imagine Forgive me. what follows and know you are picIn Newfoundland, Riteman turing a hellish scene of fiendish became an industrious peddler and depravity:“A few Germans came later an even more successful busiwith pitchforks, hooked the babies nessman. Although to this day he is by their diapers and threw them haunted by past horrors, Riteman aboard the truck which left with its says, “ The people of Newfoundland heart-wrenching load.” were the ones who helped me to
Philip Riteman, along with many look at life in a different way.” other prisoners, was saved by the I come to think of this: I was a American army during a forced pup during the first decade followmarch in the Tyrolean Mountains. ing the end of the Second World Facing imminent defeat, their GerWar. Along with the rest of the vilman guards abandoned their equiplage pack, I raced about sometimes ment and fled. playing war, yellingThe Germans’ll
Time to lighten up, to ease this get youand — sorta — fearing the pain in my stomach. improbability of a German subma
A smile might help. rine surfacing off the head of the government wharf.
It’s not impossible that at the same time we boys obliviously played war and shot imaginary Nazis —Nazzies,we didn’t even know how to pronounce the word — Philip Riteman was peddling his goods up in Clarenville.
And we didn’t know. And we didn’t know.
You’re prob’ly reading these scribbles somewhere around Christmas, long past Remembrance Day. However, lest ye forget,Millions of Soulsexists to remind you of debts we owe.
Hey, p’raps there’s a copy under your tree.
Thank you for reading. Let’s constantly remember and stand on guard against evil.