By Katelyn Bussey, Contributing Writer from Chapelle
Photo | COURTESY ARCHBISHOP CHAPELLE
“Now, more than ever, it is important that I tell my story because I’m one of the only ones left and, after me, it will be up to you to share the story and keep our memories alive,” said Jeannine Burk, a Holocaust survivor who spoke Dec. 3 to Archbishop Chapelle students enrolled in the Holocaust Studies elective.
Before she visited, our class had already learned about the aftermath of WWI, the desperate conditions in Germany and surrounding areas and how Hitler was able to rise to power with the Nazi party. We also learned of the Nuremberg Laws that discriminated against Jews and about the prejudice and persecution against Jews leading up to the horrors of the Holocaust. We discussed ghettos and camps – their terrible conditions, the unpredictability of life, the prisoners not knowing at what moment they would be shot or carried off to a gas chamber and even the number of calories prisoners were allowed a day (500 in the camps and 300 in the ghettos). Through videos, we discovered how some managed to survive the Holocaust while others died, risking their lives for others. All seemed to share the attribute of strength through great injustice.
Burk was a toddler living in Brussels, Belgium, when the Holocaust began. While most children her age were playing outside and enjoying a happy, worry-free life, she was hiding for two years in the house of a Christian woman, never allowed outside for fear of being caught.
“That was my existence,” she said. “I had no friends, no toys, so I would make up friends.”
During her story, I imagined my baby sister – not knowing if she could have the obedience that Burk had. At one point, Burk hid in an outhouse while the Nazis paraded nearby.
When Brussels was liberated, her mother, who had disguised herself as a Christian, came for her. Her older sister and brother also survived, but their father was killed at Auschwitz. I could hear the anger in her voice as she told us her story.
“And this was all because we were Jews; we had never done anything to anyone, especially not my father,” she said.
Burk mentioned how anti-semitism is alive today, citing two recent incidents of Jews being shot while praying in a synagogue in the United States.
She said it was important for her to tell her story to keep religious freedom in the United States.
It is up to us to honor the millions of Holocaust victims, to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.
I feel I am doing the victims justice, by hearing their stories and learning what they had to suffer.