Holo­caust sur­vivor shares story with youth

The Calvert Recorder - - Front Page - By SARAH FALLIN sfallin@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @CalRecSARAH

Klaus Zwilsky had to skip fifth, sixth and sev­enth grades be­cause of the Holo­caust, but now he’s a part of dozens of stu­dents’ his­tory les­sons, both in Calvert County and abroad.

Zwilsky, 85, of Port Re­pub­lic, has spo­ken about his ex­pe­ri­ences to about 20 lo­cal groups over the years and is sched­uled to re­turn to Ger­many Oct. 7 to speak with a group of high school­ers.

Many times, the stu­dents at events will ask him, “How do you feel about us?” And Zwilsky says he has to an­swer with his head and his heart. His head an­swers that the stu­dents are three gen­er­a­tions re­moved from the peo­ple who car­ried out the hor­rors of the Holo­caust. His heart tells the stu­dents that he lost so many rel­a­tives in the Holo­caust that he does not want them to for­get that part of his­tory.

Zwilsky was born in 1932, when Hitler was al­ready in power. But, he lived a rel­a­tively nor­mal life his first six years. He said his par­ents shielded him pretty well from what was go­ing on, and that at that age, he prob­a­bly wouldn’t have un­der­stood any­way.

His ear­li­est mem­ory is Kristall­nacht in Novem­ber 1938, when win­dows of Jewish stores, build­ings and syn­a­gogues were smashed and peo­ple were killed through­out Ger­many.

Then, in 1938, Zwilsky’s fa­ther, Erich, lost his job as a phar­ma­cist as the Nazis de­creed that Jews couldn’t work un­less they were in a Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion. He was un­em­ployed for awhile but later found work as a hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tor. Zwilsky’s mother, Ruth, was a forced la­borer. She couldn’t go shop­ping be­cause she worked dur­ing the only hour Jews were per­mit­ted to, from 4 to 5 p.m.

Dur­ing that time, Jews also couldn’t use pub­lic trans­porta­tion and re­ceived fewer ra­tions than ev­ery­one else. Each Jew was re­quired to carry iden­ti­fi­ca­tion as such and adopt “Is­rael” or “Sarah” as their mid­dle name.

Zwilsky and his par­ents were part of a small few who “legally sur­vived the Nazi regime,” he said. Out of 160,000 Ger­man Jews, Zwilsky said many em­i­grated be­fore the war started and most who re­mained were among the more than 6 mil­lion to­tal Jews killed dur­ing the Holo­caust. Some sur­vived the con­cen­tra­tion camps, oth­ers went into hid­ing and oth­ers were spared be­cause of spe­cial cir­cum­stances like that of Oskar Schindler, who is cred­ited for sav­ing the lives of more than a thou­sand Jews. But the num­ber of Jews who sur­vived is minute com­pared to the num­ber killed, Zwilsky said.

The Zwilsky fam­ily lived in the hos­pi­tal where Erich worked as an ad­min­is­tra­tor, and that’s how they es­caped death. The hos­pi­tal be­came a hold­ing place for Jews. Still, the Gestapo would come into the hos­pi­tal pe­ri­od­i­cally and he and the other hand­ful of chil­dren who lived there were sent to hide in the base­ment. There were also bomb­ings in the area. The es­cape from death was nar­row, though. Mere days be­fore they were sched­uled for de­por­ta­tion, the Rus­sians came.

Rel­a­tives in the United States found out Zwilsky and his par­ents were still alive af­ter the war through an ar­ti­cle in the New York Times on the hos­pi­tal they lived in. There was no way to com­mu­ni­cate af­ter the war, as 70 per­cent of Ber­lin was de­stroyed. The fam­ily sent pack­ages back and forth through sol­diers and mil­i­tary mail.

About 15 years ago, Zwilsky do­nated his doc­u­ments to the Jewish Mu­seum in Ber­lin. Now, classes of high school­ers in the area spend time pour­ing through the doc­u­ments and writ­ing re­ports on him, his mother and his fa­ther. Some years, he goes to the mu­seum to meet with the stu­dents. He also has pre­sented at Calvert High School, Hunt­ing­town High School, North­ern Mid­dle School and The Calver­ton School.

Zwilsky said he doesn’t have a stock speech he gives to ev­ery au­di­ence. He caters his re­marks to the spe­cific age group.

“My pride-and-joy speech was [as] a key­note speaker at Sunderland Ele­men­tary,” he said, where he was tasked with telling fourth- and fifth-graders about the Holo­caust. He wanted it to be hon­est and ac­cu­rate, but age-ap­pro­pri­ate.


Holo­caust sur­vivor Klaus Zwilsky, 85, of Port Re­pub­lic looks at the copy of the New York Times that alerted his fam­ily in the United States that he and his par­ents sur­vived.

A WWII ra­tion book for Jews had some items crossed out, as Jews didn’t re­ceive as many ra­tions.


In ad­di­tion to wear­ing a yel­low star of David, Jews were re­quired to carry iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and use “Is­rael” or “Sarah” as their mid­dle name.

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