An author has provided a powerful insight into what it was like to grow up in the generation of children whose parents survived the Holocuast.
New Jersey-born Jerry Bagel, 67, explains in the foreword to his new book The Numbers on My Parents ‘Arms that his bedtime stories were gruesome stories from his parents’ time in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
He also reveals how he learned to count using the tattoos from his concentration camp and was told how his father lost a testicle during Nazi medical experiments.
The author said that his parents’ struggles put more pressure on him to be successful, and told how his parents said they would ‘kill’ themselves if he didn’t marry a Jewish woman, which he did in the 1980s .
The Numbers… is a striking retelling of the Holocaust using the stories his parents told him as material, as well as testimonials from other survivors who opened up to Bagel about their most painful memories.
In a conversation with Femail, Bagel, now a doctor and professor, talked about his upbringing in the shadow of his parents’ trauma, saying that he had “felt driven for years to share this story from not only the meaning of the Holocaust, but also out of human interest ‘.
Jerry Bagel, 67, from New York explains in the preface to his book The Numbers on My Parents’ Arms that during the Holocaust, his parents often told him horrific stories from their time in Auschwitz-Birkenau
Jerry, aged 20, with his parents Helen and Sam Bagel in his brother’s Bar Mitzvah in February 1973
His mother Helen, who unfortunately passed away a week ago, lost her sisters, parents and cousins in the camps. His father, Sam, who was married before the war, lost his wife and young child, as well as all his brothers and parents.
Sam and Helen Bagel changed their name when they immigrated to the United States, and the book calls them their birth names. Sam is Szlama and Helen is Chaja.
The Numbers … follows the couple of their lives before the war until their time in the camps and after Europe was liberated until their move to the US.
Bagel admitted that he grew up feeling “ashamed” of his parents because of their thick accents and the fact that they barely spoke English, and preferred to speak Yiddish at home.
He was only seven when his parents started telling him stories about Auschwitz before falling asleep at night.
The Numbers on My Parents’ Arms, by Jerry Bagel, is published by iUniverse
“So my bedtime goes like this,” he said, “my mom would say” I had a beautiful sister named Peyru, and they put me right and they put her left with my mom, and she said “I will never see my sisters again ‘. ‘
This scene is told in the book, when Chaja and her family undergo ‘selektion’ upon arrival in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the process by which SS soldiers would choose the men and women strong enough to work and the old and weak mothers and young children to the gas chamber.
“While other children fell asleep through bunny and train stories, my parents told me almost everything about how their lives had been in Poland,” he recalled.
My bedtime stories contain all the fantastic elements of the most terrifying fairy tales. As with Hansel and Gretel, an evil entity tried to lure innocent children into a burning red oven.
Pictured: Helen and Sam’s documentation when they reached the US and changed their names after the war
But my parents’ stories weren’t just words in a book, they ended the way a child’s last words would end before bed – with a happy ending and a good night kiss. The characters in my parents’ stories did end up in the oven. And even more terrifying, they were my family. ‘
In another case, Chaja told Jerry that she witnessed a baby ripped in two in front of his horrified mother.
The unconfused cop reached forward to grab the baby. Before he could touch it, the woman put his gloved hand away and clawed his face. Enraged, the officer slammed her to the ground and at the same time grabbed the baby by his clothes, “Jerry wrote in The Numbers …
“Carrying the wailing baby at arm’s length, as if it were a piece of smelly garbage, he turned it upside down with a foot in each of his fists and ripped the baby in two.
Jerry said he was always ashamed of his parents for not speaking English and being “different” from others
“With his gruesome trophy at his feet as blood dripped onto the snow, the guard sang a song about the blood of the Jews. The nearby dogs got excited by the smell of blood and started barking, their growls drowned by the screams of the baby’s mother.
The guard threw the meat on the ground, marched back to the hysterical mother, and continued beating her.
“This is when Chaja lost her faith in God,” concluded Jerry.
Chaja was confronted with unimaginable horrors in the camp, where she spent a year. After the death of her mother and young sister Peyru, she had her other sister and her cousin at her side.
However, when her sister fell ill and was killed by the Germans, Chaja lost her will to live and became suicidal.
In the book, Bagel told how many women were driven to suicide and attempted suicide by jumping on the camp’s electric gates.
Sam sings on his 70th birthday. Sam died in 1991. Unfortunately, Helen passed away last week
Meanwhile, his father Sam survived the camps by volunteering for all the physical tasks the German would need Jewish prisoners for.
Bagel reveals in the book that Sam was one of the men selected to be neutered and studied.
As part of Nazi plans to prevent Jews from reproducing, thousands of men and women were castrated in the camps, often using radiation or more barbaric techniques such as the ablation of their private parts.
Infections were common after such procedures were performed, and many men did not survive.
WHAT WAS THE AUSCHWITZ CONCENTRATION CAMP?
Auschwitz was a concentration and extermination camp used by the Nazis during World War II.
Located in Nazi-occupied Poland, the camp consisted of three main sites.
Auschwitz I, the original concentration camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, a combined concentration and extermination camp, and Auschwitz III – Monowitz, a labor camp, with a further 45 satellite sites.
Auschwitz was an extermination camp used by the Nazis in Poland to murder over 1.1 million Jews
Birkenau became an important part of the Nazi’s “Final Solution”, where they tried to free Europe from the Jews.
An estimated 1.3 million people were sent to the camp, at least 1.1 million of whom died – about 90 percent of whom were Jews.
Since 1947, it has operated as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.
Since 1947, it has operated as the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979
Although Bagel said that his father never spoke about it, he confirmed in the book that Sam had lost one testicle during the German experiments.
Growing up in the US to two parents who didn’t speak the language well and only spoke Yiddish at home, Bagel admitted he blamed his parents for being “different.”
He talked about cases when as a teenager he kept them from going to school because he was ashamed of it.
He also talked about his strict upbringing, revealing that his father would sometimes impose corporal punishment if Jerry disobeyed as a child.
Despite these harrowing experiences and having to share in the trauma of his parents, Bagel said that writing The Numbers … helped him reconnect with his father, who died in 1991.
He also said in his mother’s eulogy that despite the traumatic experiences she had in the camps and later in life, Helen was able to live a life full of happy moments.