Saturday Mar 24 2012
A message that needs to be heard, 70 years later
By: Carol Feineman, editor
Know and Go: Arthur Weil will speak to the Lincoln Hills Shalom Group about his Holocaust-related experiences at 7 p.m. Monday at Kilaga Springs Presentation Hall in Lincoln Hills. The public is invited. A message that needs to be heard, 70 years later Almost seven decades later, Arthur Weil still vividly remembers the terrors associated with being Jewish during the Holocaust in Hanover, Germany. At least six million Jews in Europe were killed in the Holocaust, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum webpage. The Holocaust was the state-sponsored persecution and annihilation by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. “Here you have a highly educated people in Germany (the Jews) and they were destroyed because of hate. I saw, and felt as a child, this blind obedience to Hitler,” Weil said Friday, “as thousands of people shouted how great he was as Hitler drove by during a street parade. It was insanity.” Weil was one of 1,000 children brought to the United States after being rescued from Nazi-occupied Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland during the Kindertransport (children’s transport) operation between 1934 and 1944. The children left their families and traveled by ship to be placed with Jewish families in the United States. In addition, Kindertransport rescued about 10,000 children from occupied Nazi countries and brought them to England between December 1938 and the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. The soft-spoken Weil considers himself lucky to have survived the Holocaust, although most of his relatives died in the concentration camps. “I was the only survivor on my mother’s side and, on my father’s side, there were six or seven cousins surviving,” Weil recalled. "Lucky" takes on another perspective, especially when Weil lost everything – family, friends, a sense of belonging and possessions. Never mind that he was 12 ½, spoke “broken English” and had no family to turn to in what was a terrifying time in history for all ages throughout the world. Kindertransport safely brought Weil from Germany to a Jewish foster family in Chicago. But because of the “bad experiences” he saw as a pre-teen, Weil said, it took him “a couple of years” to feel free once safe in the United States. Those bad experiences, Weil said, were, “No. 1, as a child, hearing of people disappearing. No. 2, in 1936, my father had to go underground. He was a very successful grains sale merchant and sold to farmers’ cooperatives. Two of his non-Jewish friends were arrested because they were seen with him. No. 3, listening to the diatribe of Hitler, seeing all the stuff that was happening, witnessing that Jewish stores were being closed, windows were smashed in, Jewish lawyers and doctors couldn’t practice, Jewish teachers couldn’t teach. I was pulled out of public school in third grade and we had our own Jewish school. Hearing that people were arrested for being Jewish.” Anyone having to suffer through that would be scared and sad. And yet Weil didn't become bitter but “conscious of mankind and suspicious of mankind.” “In Germany, at my Jewish elementary school, they taught us not to hate. Whatever you can get out of it ...,” Weil said. “I, like all the others from Kindertransport overcompensated. I finished college in three years, got my master's, worked extremely hard, married a wonderful Jewish girl from Canada. We came to California not knowing anyone. I worked hard, was a public school teacher for 27 years and later became a real estate broker." The Kindertransport participants would, in their adult years, become social workers, doctors, entrepreneurs, teachers, a Noble Prize winner and music promoter extraordinaire Bill Graham, according to Weil. Bay Area resident Weil will speak Monday about living in Nazi-occupied Europe at the Lincoln Hills Shalom group meeting, which is open to the public. Weil did not start talking publicly about the Holocaust horrors until three years ago. Weil is 86. “I thought it was time to start talking. Most of us are dying off,” Weil said. “The Holocaust is gruesome. I tried to block it off. My uncle and my grandmother went to Auschwitz. My father was interred in a concentration camp in France.” Those days’ 70-plus years ago has never left Weil. “I never got over the fear,” Weil said. “You’re not only afraid for yourself but your family. Innocent people get punished, everyone in the family. You can’t imagine it,” he said. Out of the six million who perished in the concentration camps, one-and-a-half million were defenseless children, according to Weil. Weil is occasionally invited to talk about at the Holocaust at Bay Area schools and to community groups such as Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. But the talks are not as many as he’d like to do. Weil wants more of the public to be aware that the Holocaust killed innocent people. Because it’s still happening seven decades later, around the world, to various populations. “We have it today, the prejudice that goes on between people, the insensitivity of human beings, in the Congo, Sudan,” Weil said. “The extent of prejudice is everywhere; look in our own political system and look at all the hate against Obama. All this hate is learned from childhood.” Arnie London, who is a Shalom Group member, is also Weil's friend. He is bringing Weil to the Shalom group. "People need to hear his story. With all the millions of tragedies from the Holocaust, London said, it’s refreshing once in a while to hear a story with tragic overtones that turned out well for this individual. He did survive." Weil did well in later life, thanks to the efforts of many brave individuals behind Kindertransport. It's hard to reflect on the atrocities committed by senseless leaders and their unthinking followers. But it's reassuring to know that there are many more individuals throughout the world who will stand up for the victims.