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Sender, Ruth Minsky

Ruth Minsky Sender

Excerpt from The Cage

Published in 1986

Germany was in a state of political and economic chaos at the end of World War I (1914-18). (See Winston Churchill entry in chapter one for more information on Germany before World War II.) Future German leader Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) spent much of the 1920s building up the Nazi Party (pronounced "NOHT-see"; taken from the full German name of the National Socialist German Workers' Party) to restore order and glory to the German nation. The Nazis organized a strong nationalistic movement in Germany—a movement that glorified all things German—and demanded blind devotion to their party's teachings.

After becoming the leader of Germany in 1933, Hitler launched a frightening campaign of suppression built on fear and hatred. Hitler was an ardent anti-Semite, meaning he held a deep-seated hatred for Jewish people. He blamed the Jews for the depressed economy in Germany and the nation's stunning defeat in World War I. The Holocaust was the Nazi campaign to persecute—and eventually eliminate—all Jews from Europe.

Although Hitler's wrath was directed primarily against the Jews of Europe, he also targeted his political adversaries (socalled "enemies of the state"), Roma (often called Gypsies), homosexuals, Poles (including Polish Jews and Catholics), Jehovah's Witnesses (a Christian denomination), the physically and mentally disabled, and others he deemed "racially inferior." Hitler and his Third Reich sought to completely dominate Europe by silencing their perceived opponents and removing all obstacles that lay in their path to power. (The Third Reich was the name given to the Nazi-controlled government in Germany, which held power from 1933 to 1945. The word reich, pronounced "RIKE," means "empire" or "kingdom.")

With the growth of the Nazi Party came a renewed emphasis on German expansionism (adding to a nation's territory) and rearmament (building up arms for warfare). Hitler demanded more Lebensraum (space for living) for the German people, whom he deemed a superior "master race," and set out to claim chunks of European territory for Germany. His armies moved into Austria, which had voted to become part of Germany, in March of 1938. Then the Germans occupied the Sudetenland (the western section of Czechoslovakia, where most people spoke German). By March of 1939 the Nazis had taken over the rest of Czechoslovakia. About six months later, on September 1, 1939, German forces invaded Poland, triggering declarations of war from Great Britain and France against Germany.

Persecution of German Jews had begun in earnest even before the start of World War II (1939-45). Widespread anti-Jewish sentiment had fueled an extensive anti-Jewish movement in Germany. Jews were stripped of their citizenship and their political rights and even forced to give up their jobs. Approximately three hundred thousand Jews left Germany in the 1930s. But after 1939 it was virtually impossible for the Jews of German-occupied territories to escape from the Nazis. The Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) gathered up all the Jews in Germany and in the territories they had conquered and segregated them in ghettos. (The Jewish ghettos were isolated sections of various cities in Poland and other German-occupied territories in Eastern Europe. The most infamous of these ghettos were located in Warsaw and Lodz, both in central Poland.)

In 1942 the Nazis began implementing what they called the Final Solution to the so-called "Jewish problem." The Final Solution called for the extermination (mass murder) of Jews in all the German-occupied territories of Europe. Jews in the ghettos were rounded up and transported by rail to death camps in out-of-the-way sections of Poland. Equipped with murderous gas chambers and crematoriums (huge ovens for burning dead bodies), the death camps were designed specifically to murder all the European Jews. The Naziengineered genocide (a deliberate and systematic effort to destroy an entire body of people) had begun.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from The Cage:

  • More than one hundred concentration camps were established by the Nazis during World War II. Jewish prisoners of the concentration camps faced a harsh future. They were starved, overworked, beaten, humiliated, and exposed to all kinds of filth and disease. Prisoners who became ill or weak were killed. Aside from the concentration camps, the Nazis set up six special "death camps": the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau and five others—Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka. An estimated three million adults and children were killed at these six extermination centers; about 1.25 million died at Auschwitz alone.
  • Camp survivor Ruth Minsky Sender named her moving wartime memoir The Cage because of the Nazis' practice of housing Jews behind barbed-wire fencing. The Cage recounts the author's haunting memories of the Holocaust.
  • Sender's book is filled with a host of characters. The following is a guide to the names that appear in the excerpted text: Riva Minska is the author; Motele and Moishele are her brothers; Mrs. Boruchowich is the mother of Sender's friends Laibish and Rifkele; Mrs. Mikita is the mother of Sender's friends Karola and Berl; Tola is another friend of Riva's.
  • After Riva's mother is taken away by the Nazis in September of 1942, Riva and her brothers are left to mourn and to survive the best they can in the Lodz ghetto. In time the remaining family members are herded off to Auschwitz and separated.
  • The words of Riva's mother—"If hope is lost, all is lost. As long as there is life, there is hope"—stand as a symbol of strength and comfort for Riva as she struggles to endure each day of her captivity.

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Ruth Minsky Sender

Holocaust survivor and author Ruth Minsky Sender (1926-) was born Riva Minska, May 3, 1926, in Lodz, Poland. She came from a tightly knit family headed by a strong, loving, and deeply devoted mother. While living out the nightmare of the Holocaust in the Lodz ghetto, at Auschwitz, and later at German work camps, Riva never forgot her mother's words of inspiration: "As long as there is life, there is hope." The Cage tells Riva's story.

Riva married Morris Sender (himself a survivor of the Nazis' brutal reign) in 1945, moved to the United States in 1950, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. The couple had four children of their own—children, Sender writes, of "the Jewish generation that was not to be, proud human beings, the new link in an old chain." Among Sender's other works are To Life and The Holocaust Lady.

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What happened next …

Sender spent seven days at Auschwitz in 1944 before being transferred to the first of two forced labor camps in Germany (first to Camp Mittelsteine and then, just before war's end, to Camp Grafenort). Soviet soldiers liberated Grafenort on May 7, 1945.

It was late 1944 when the tide turned decisively against Germany's military forces. As Soviet troops approached the German capital of Berlin from the east, the Schutzstaffel (or SS; the Nazi protection squad) began to evacuate the concentration camps and death camps of Poland, leaving the bodies of hastily executed victims in heaps. In January 1945 the prisoners of Auschwitz who were still able to walk were forced on a "death march" across Poland's frozen countryside. Nearly seventeen thousand of the sixty-six thousand marchers died before completing the westward trek to Germany.

By the spring of 1945 American and British armies were closing in on the Germans from the west. Realizing that Germany had lost the war, Hitler reportedly committed suicide in his underground bunker (a fortified chamber) on April 30, 1945.

An untold number of people died in the Nazi-run ghettos, concentration camps, labor camps, and death camps; approximately six million of the victims were Jews. British prime minister Winston Churchill concluded that the Nazi's Final Solution was the "most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world."

Did you know …

  • The word holocaust means "destruction by fire."
  • The swastika (pronounced "SWAHS-tick-uh")—a cross with bent arms—is really an ancient religious symbol or ornament representing good luck and well-being. Hitler made it the emblem of the Nazi Party and the national symbol of the German nation; since then, the swastika has taken on a negative meaning and is frequently associated with intolerance, white supremacy, and hate crimes.
  • Between 1934 and 1939, SS membership grew from 50,000 to 250,000.
  • Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, was established in March 1933. Located near Munich, Germany, Dachau originally housed the Nazi Party's political opponents.
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) was established in Washington, D.C., as a testament to Holocaust history and as a memorial to the Nazis' millions of victims.
  • The USHMM reports that the "stated intention [of the United States and Great Britain] to defeat Germany militarily took precedence over rescue efforts" even after reports of the Nazis' Final Solution had been confirmed in 1942. "No specific attempts to stop or slow the genocide were made until [1944, when] mounting pressure eventually forced the United States to undertake limited rescue efforts."

For More Information

Books

Arad, Yitzhak. The Pictorial History of the Holocaust. New York: Macmillan,1990.

Boas, Jacob, ed. We Are Witnesses: Five Diaries of Teenagers Who Died in the Holocaust. Foreword by Patricia C. McKissack. New York: Holt, 1995.

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Doubleday, 1952.

Friedman, Ina. The Other Victims: First Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis. New York: Houghton, 1990.

Friedman, Ina. Escape or Die: True Stories of Young People Who Survived the Holocaust. Cambridge, MA: Yellow Moon, 1991.

Friedman, Ina. Flying against the Wind. Brookline, MA: Lodgepole Press,1995.

Greenfield, Howard. The Hidden Children. New York: Ticknor & Fields,1993.

Gutman, Israel, ed. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York: Macmillan,1990.

Lengyel, Olga. Five Chimneys: A Woman's True Story of Auschwitz. Chicago:Academy Chicago Pubs., 1995.

Niewyk, Donald L. Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival.Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Perl, Lila, and Marion Blumenthal Lazan. Four Perfect Pebbles: A Holocaust Story. New York: Greenwillow, 1996.

Rittner, Carol, and John K. Roth, eds. Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust. New York: Paragon House, 1993.

Rogasky, Barbara. Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust. New York:Holiday House, 1988.

Sender, Ruth Minsky. To Life. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

Videos

Auschwitz: If You Cried, You Died. Indianapolis: Impact America Foundation, 1991.

Genocide, 1941-1945. "World at War Series." Produced and directed by Michael Darlow. South Burlington, VT: A&E Home Video, 1982.

Shoah. Directed by Claude Lanzmann. Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1985.

Triumph of Memory. Produced by Robert Gardner, Sister Carol Rittner, R.S.M., and Sondra Myers. Directed by Robert Gardner. Alexandria, VA: PBS Video, 1972.

Witness to the Holocaust. Produced and directed by C.J. Pressma. New York:National Jewish Resource Center, 1984.

Web Sites

MiamiLINK. [Online] http://www.lib.muohio.edu/inet/subj/history/holoc.html (accessed on September 6, 1999).

A Cybrary of the Holocaust. [Online] http://www.remember.org/ (accessed on September 6, 1999).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. [Online] http://www.ushmm.org/ (accessed on September 6, 1999).

Sources

Adler, David A. We Remember the Holocaust. New York: Henry Holt, 1989.

Allen, Peter. The Origins of World War II. New York: Bookwright Press,1992.

Ayer, Eleanor H. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: America Keeps the Memory Alive. New York: Dillon Press, 1994.

Dolan, Edward F. America in World War II: 1945. Brookfield, CT: Millbrook Press, 1994.

Sender, Ruth Minsky. The Cage. Originally published in 1986. Reprinted.New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997.

Severance, John B. Winston Churchill: Soldier, Statesman, Artist. New York:Clarion Books, 1996.

Something about the Author. Volume 62. Detroit: Gale, 1990.

Additional information for this entry was obtained from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website (www.ushmm.org).

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