WHAT WE CARRY

The watchword of Holocaust lessons is, “Never Forget.”

But once there are no longer survivors to recount their personal stories, what then?

 

Two Emmy-winning television producers from Los Angeles, Amber Howell and Janice Engel, and New York-based photojournalist Josh Rothstein came to Hampton Roads in March of 2010 to extensively interview and film survivors David Katz, Dana Cohen, Hanns Loewenbach, and Kitty Saks. Using new and archival footage, as well as photos of all of the artifacts and memorabilia the four still had from their Holocaust experiences, they created four short films, one based on each survivor’s experiences and reflections.

 

 

Sadly, because David Katz and Hanns Loewenbach both passed away in January 2012, What We Carry could not have come at a better time. Until they literally no longer could, they repeatedly shared with others the often terrible realities of their experiences during the Holocaust, to teach the message that Hanns stated so brilliantly: “Evil does not need your help; just your indifference.” 
 
In 2014, the filmmakers returned to film survivor, Alfred Dreyfus, liberator, Bill Jucksch, and rescuer, Dame Mary Barraco, and we added their stories to our What We Carry library. But time has taken its toll, and by 2021, we had also lost Bill, Mary, and also Kitty Saks.

 

Trained volunteer docents have presented the films to schools, community groups, and military audiences since 2012, in combination with a vintage suitcase filled with replicas of their treasures, created by graphic designer and artist Perry Deglandon. Docents travel up to an hour’s drive to share these presentations. We will work with you to meet safety protocols of your organization, or can provide a docent for a live Zoom presentation as well. To schedule one for your school or organization, email info@holocaustcommission.org.  

 

We pivoted to online presentations (with live Zoom docents) during the pandemic. As things open up, we will work with you to meet safety protocols of your organization. 

 

A traveling version of the program is also available to educators outside the local area. Please contact the Holocaust Commission at info@holocaustcommission.org to schedule a presentation today!

 

 

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DANA COHEN

Dana Cohen spent her early childhood in Lvov, Poland. The daughter of a sawmill owner, she and her mother, Freda Sygal enjoyed the comforts of their society. All of that changed on the morning of April 13, 1940, when Russian soldiers stormed into their house, confiscated their apartment and personal belongings, and sent Dana and her mother on their nightmarish journey through Russia, Siberia, and Kazakhstan.

 

They spent their first year of exile in a village of Kazakhs, natives of Mongolian descent. In the village, the Russians formed labor gangs consisting of women and children to build stables, dig foundations, and perform other fieldwork – all without payment and little food. If the Russians did not consider their work to be of the highest standard, they were denied their food rations. Dana and Freda survived the hard labor on “care packages” from family members left in Poland.

 

As the Germans advanced into Russian territory, the Jewish families were released, and the surviving families made plans to escape to Uzbekistan. When the train arrived, Dana’s mother paid a local Kazakh to hold her trunk with all her food, clothing, and identification papers until she boarded. By sheer force, Dana and her mother were pushed inside the train, but the Kazakh vanished with their possessions.

 

After many harrowing experiences which often separated the two, including Dana being hospitalized and then evacuated in a weakened condition from a hospital in Tehran, Dana and her mother ended in Koja, Uganda on Lake Victoria. At sixteen, Dana left for Nairobi, where she attended Remington College.

 

In 1958, Dana moved from Nairobi to Washington, DC, where she met her future husband, William Cohen. Dana’s mother, Fryda, joined Dana and Bill in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1965. Dana and her son, Michael still reside in Norfolk.

 

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DAVID KATZ

(1930-2012)

  

David Katz was born in Leipzig, Germany on February 12, 1930 to parents who were both professional classical musicians. After Hitler assumed power in 1933, David and his parents fled first to Belgium, and then to France, where they were arrested and spent two years in a number of camps operated by the Vichy collaborationist government.

  

In 1942, his parents were sent to Auschwitz, and David, at the age of 12, was sent to an orphanage run by a French children’s aid organization. After a year in the orphanage, he escaped as a group of Nazis was raiding the orphanage, and ran for his life. At 13, he was on his own to survive.

  

Miraculously, he made it with the help of a righteous priest and an elderly farmer, who both took him in when he needed help. He became a member of the French Resistance, and helped them as a courier until the war was over.

  

He emigrated to the United States in 1946 to live with relatives who had escaped Europe in the early 1930s. David and his wife MaryAnne, an artist of renown, raised four children who then gave them grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They lived in Chesapeake, since his retirement there in 1994, until his death in 2012. MaryAnne and their son Sam and his wife still live in Chesapeake.

  

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KITTY SAKS

Kitty was born in Vienna where she lived with her parents and grandparents. One day, an officer in the Wehrmacht walked into their home, liked what he saw, ordered the family to leave, and took their home from them. So began her family’s plans to cross the border into Belgium, trying to stay ahead of the Nazis. Her father crossed the border first, while grandparents decided to stay behind. They were later deported and killed.

  

After a number of failed attempts to cross the border, which included armed guards, bribed mercenaries, and a strip search, Kitty, aged 6, and her mother, finally reached Belgium and rejoined her father in Brussels.

  

At the age of 9, Kitty’s physical education teacher convinced her parents that in order to survive she must be moved to a Catholic school and take on the appearance of being a Catholic child - so began a journey of hiding “in the open,” while moving from convent to convent, from school to Catholic orphanage and back.

  

In the early days of September l944, the British troops entered Brussels and liberated the country from the Nazi stronghold. Shortly afterward, Kitty was reunited with her parents who had survived in hiding, not far from the orphanage from which Kitty was ultimately liberated.

     

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DAME MARY BARRACO

Mary Barraco was an American teenager living with family in Renaix, Belgium when World War II broke out. Once the Nazis occupied Belgium, Mary and her mother were forced to report three times a day to the Nazi authorities, as they were seen as “the enemy.”

  

Eventually, Mary became appalled at the hateful policies of the Nazis, and began working with the Belgian Resistance. She posed as a Red Cross volunteer and snuck prisoners out of detention; worked on underground newspapers; rescued downed Allied airmen; smuggled documents and passed information between Resistance members about sabotage of Nazi strongholds; and helped smuggle Jewish children to safety after her hairdresser mother worked to change their looks.

  

She and her Resistance fighter fiancé were betrayed, and both were imprisoned and tortured. Her fiancé was eventually executed by the Nazis for his “crimes.” Mary survived the immense torture she was subjected to, and upon release from prison, followed her moral compass and went right back to working for the Resistance.

  

Mary moved to Virginia Beach with her husband in 1950 and, as she had been sterilized in prison, they adopted a daughter in 1959. Mary became known as “Dame Mary” after she was knighted by the Belgian king in 2004 for her service to the Resistance during the war. Much beloved for sharing her story with thousands for over 70 years, Mary passed away in December 2019, at the age of 96.

  

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HANNS LOEWENBACH

(1915-2012)

  

In his own words, Hanns Loewenbach had “the bad luck of being born in Germany in 1915.” In 1934, his father was one of the first Jews to be taken forcibly from his home and transported to a concentration camp. Hanns’ young life was filled with one frightening escape after another – he swam from Germany to Denmark and back to Germany to escape the Gestapo; he witnessed Kristallnacht and was then able to flee to Italy with a false passport; eventually, he escaped to Shanghai with both of his parents.

  

Hanns spoke to thousands of schoolchildren and military personnel about his experiences, because he felt it was his duty to tell his story of survival and remind people that, “evil does not need your help; only your indifference.”

  

Sadly, Hanns Loewenbach passed away in January 2012. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and all who had the pleasure of knowing him.

  

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ALFRED DREYFUS

Alfred Dreyfus was born in Germany in 1923. His father, a factory owner, saw the increasing antisemitism in Germany in the early 1930s, foresaw another war, and thought that in France he and his wife could raise their three sons safely. The reality was bleak, however, and the family found themselves on the run because of their German-Jewish heritage. They knew if they stayed in one place for any length of time they would be killed immediately or sent to labor or concentration camps. Beginning in 1938, they moved often, including fleeing Paris with tens of thousands of others as the Germans approached in 1940. At times they hid in a cave, found shelter with compassionate French citizens, and even bunked in a hayloft and an 8 x 10-foot former pig pen. Frequently, they narrowly avoided being discovered and sent “east” on trains with millions of other Jewish men, women and children, including close family members, who were killed during the Holocaust.

  

Toward the end of the war, the family used the last of their savings to pay a smuggler to get them into Switzerland, where they were immediately arrested. They were lucky to be among the 5% of refugees allowed to stay, but they were not free – they were housed in a succession of internment camps. Dreyfus remembers one of the camps feeling nearly as torturous as he imagined the German concentration camps to be, though without the threat of death. After years on the run without an education, Alfred was able to learn a trade in their last Swiss internment camp. His course in electronics served him well, as he immigrated to America, and eventually founded a technology company.

  

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This film is not intended for anyone under high school age.

WILLIAM JOHN JUCKSCH

(1925-2017)

  

Bill Jucksch was born in McAllen, TX, on October 29, 1925. He was raised in Neosho, MO, Chicago, Cleveland, and New York City (Manhattan and Jackson Heights). With World War II raging, he entered the US Army in January 1944 during his senior year in Neosho High School.

  

After training, Bill served in combat in General Patton’s US 3rd Army in France, Germany, and Austria, in the 71st Infantry Division as Forward Observer/Infantry Liaison Radio Operator. Near the end of April 1945, as the radioman in the forward liaison 4-man element of the 5th Infantry Regiment, Bill discovered the death camp Gunskirchen Lager, containing an estimated 10,000 near-death Jewish prisoners. That event stayed with him for the next 70 years.

  

Bill was awarded two Battle Stars, and later in his life, the French Croix de Guerre for service to the Republic of France.

  

Receiving his education through the GI Bill, Bill became an electronic scientist for the US Navy from 1951 to 1982, working in submarine communications. In 1979, he became a science advisor to the Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Fleet in Norfolk, VA. He retired from government service in 1982, receiving the Superior Civilian Award, “In recognition and appreciation of Superior Service which has been of exceptional value and a great benefit to the Navy.”

  

After his wartime experience demanded it, Bill became an enthusiastic amateur radio operator. As a retirement occupation, Bill became a Certified Real Estate Appraiser in 1985 and founded the Appraisal Center, which he operated until his final retirement in 2016 at the age of 90.

  

Bill married Theresa “Terry” Gemma Cattalani in 1957, and they were together for the next 60 years. Bill passed away in November 2017, leaving Terry, two sons, three grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

  

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Films and associated lesson plans can also be found on EMediaVA.org

 

 

The program has been presented at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, the Virginia Conference of Social Studies Educators, the National Social Studies Conference, and the International Conference at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Since the Holocaust Commission began presenting the program in the fall of 2011, over 42,500 people have experienced it. Your group can too!

 

For more information about What We Carry, or how you can get involved, contact Elena Barr Baum, Holocaust Commission Director, at EBaum@UJFT.org or (757) 965-6129.