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Holocaust Symposium audience urged to pass history along

April 21, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - As Jeanne Jacobs stood at the front of a high school auditorium on Tuesday, two things wore heavy on her heart.

One was the yellow Star of David and the other, a plea that youngsters in the group tell the next generation what put it there.

"It's your turn. Pass the history along, so it's never left to die," she said.

Jacobs, who spent her teenage years living as a Jew in German-occupied Paris, shared her story with a crowd of 60 at a Holocaust Symposium held at Greencastle-Antrim High School.

In her hands were a baggie with a piece of bread and another with a sliver of meat that she had carefully weighed to illustrate her tale.

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During an era of food restrictions - which she called the "cruelest" of restrictions in a country known for its cuisine - Parisians waited in lengthy lines to obtain 125 grams of bread and 49 grams of meat to sustain them each week.

"If you were a Jew, that was just the beginning of the restrictions," said Jacobs, 80.

She told stories of Jews forced to use their three annual clothing coupons to purchase the mandatory identification stars, some risking their lives in hiding and others seemingly disappearing as they were taken to camps with no return.

Despite pictures and talk of those camps, they cannot be fathomed unless smelled, according to Verne Baker, a liberator of Dachau who joined Jacobs at the symposium.

"I never went in because the ones who did said (not to). These hard-nosed guys were crying and going behind a truck and throwing up," said Baker.

Baker, 80, was a student at Chambersburg High School when drafted. As part of the 42nd U.S. Army infantry division, he found himself at the fence of Dachau on April 29, 1945.

"You could look into the camp and see them staggering around," Baker said.

The survivors flocked to the electrified fence upon the troops' arrival, shocking themselves in their haste to be free. They came to the fence in waves, Baker said.

The first wave of the 30,000 survivors was comprised of the healthiest among them. The next was dirtier and skinnier. The next was even worse off, he said.

"They wanted to hug you and shake your hands," Baker said.

What he didn't realize at the time was the Army's desire to have the survivors remain in the camp for medical treatment.

"The United States Army didn't want them to get out because they had Typhus and Tuberculosis," he said.

Baker was surprised that all of the survivors appeared to be in their 50s and 60s. He didn't fully realize his erroneous thinking until returning to the site for a 50th anniversary event, where he was joined by survivors.

"They were just young kids like we were, but they looked old," he said.

Jacobs, who now lives in Hagerstown, said the people who did return from the camps did not live much longer.

"No children came back, of course. They were killed on arrival with most of the women," Jacobs said.

She showed a list of names taken from books found in camps after the liberation. Her friend's name was circled.

"His name is in the book, but his body is in Baltimore, his live body, because he escaped the train," Jacobs said, describing the man's struggle to use a sweater soaked in excrement to pry apart two bars and slip through. Without required identification, the man was hidden in France.

"He made it through the rest of the occupation and, eventually, legally immigrated," she said.

Jacobs told of one of the few redeeming aspects of the Holocaust - the spirit of people like those who hid her friend, a building superintendent who devised a method of warning tenants, and those who anonymously paid an apartment's rent for a 16-year-old whose father was sent to Auschwitz.

Jacobs, who first witnessed the atrocities at age 15, became choked up on Tuesday as she read a poem written by a young boy as he was held in a concentration camp.

At the end of her talk, she urged the students in the crowd to never deny the events, while acknowledging that people like she and Baker won't be living much longer to tell their stories.

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