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JordanBennettArnold / On the go... / Irving Roth: Survivor and Educator
Irving Roth: Survivor and Educator
22 October, 2009 0 comments On the go...
Our trip would be guided by a number of excellent people, one of whom was Irving Roth: Irving Roth is a fine gentleman who lives in New York. He looks much like others from his generation, only he is more smartly dressed and he smiles a lot. His smile is very warm. When he grew up in a Slovakia his family made railroad ties and lived what must have been a beautiful life. The Roths lived in a small village, the town's Protestant Minister was a neighbor, living just across the street. But, before he reached adulthood, he and his family were run out of the country he called home and then deported to the Aushwitz Death Camp. He explained to us how one day he went to school and was told, "Roth, go home. You can't come here anymore." This was when he was just a teenager. Remembering his thoughts as a boy, he said with a little bit of a smile, "Well, I didn't have to go to school! I went home and figured out what I would do." Roth was a fine soccer player, in fact I'm told he was best fullback in the area. What must have hurt more was going to the park to join his team and hearing, "Roth, go home. We don't want Jews on our team." When Irving Roth talks about these things it's difficult for me to imagine them. How could a group of people be persuaded to hate so much? How could they allow their classmates to be barred from the school because of their religion or ancestry, then again these values were not always so foreign to the American mindset. Nazi ideas were spreading across Europe, and Jews were being systematically pushed to the margins of society. Mr. Roth explained, “the objection was to isolate the Jews so that they would not infect society.” Somehow much of the population of Europe was convinced that Jews were both 'selfish capitalists' and 'Marxists'; this is a complete oxymoron. In fact, the Jews were exiled from Israel when the Romans decided they couldn't remain there. They were spread across Northern Africa the Middle East. As they faced a large amount of persecution among these people they moved to across Southern Europe, finally coming to Eastern Europe where they lived for nearly one thousand years. When Irving Roth explains how his family went from a respected part of the local community, to being pushed out of schools then marked for extermination, he makes it seem like a simple process. “They [the Nazis] began by organizing small little groups at first, something called the Einsatzgruppen. Their objective was very clear, to go into towns and cities and kill people; Jews. What they realized was that machine gunning was not a very cost effective way to do this.” Roth adds, “Also there were people [Einsatzgruppen Death Squad members] who had volunteered to do this and they became tired of this. After a while it becomes tiring to kill fish in a barrel.” Before any of that came plans. In January of 1943, a number of powerful German men including scientists, doctors, military officials and members of the Nazi high command met in a large home in Wannsee, in Brandenburg. At this conference fifteen officials of the Nazi State met to discuss the issue of how to deal with the Jews of Europe. The conclusion they reached was that they would kill every last Jew across the whole of the continent. We all know the means they used. In the Warsaw City Center lived 350,000 Jews. Today there are less than five thousand remaining. There were 300 temples, today only one remains. Nazis made sure to destroy any trace of Jewry from the city. “How was this accepted by people? It’s hard to tell." He pointed at a girl in the room, "If I would tell you to kill her, you wouldn’t do it. But if I can change what she is in your mind. If you no longer see her as a beautiful young woman then you might....there was no logic, the step by step was to begin by the demonization, then to the separation [of Jew and non-Jew], then bullets and when that didn’t work well, mass gas chambers.” It was a step by step process. Never again, is our mantra when remembering the Holocaust. But how do we make sure of this unless we look at how it was perpetrated? Roth puts it well, “We need to recognize the sign posts on the way to Aushwitz. We need to recognize the sign posts on the way to the Rwandan Genocide. There are signs along the way and when we come to the first sign post, we must do something about it.”
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