'Rage to Live' speaker documents child survivors

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
People who attend presentations about the horrors of war often leave with more questions than answers.

Questions like "How could something like this happen?" or "How could people allow this to go on so long?" and perhaps most frequently "Why?"

But for any children who may have survived the murder of their parents, the hardest question to answer may be "What happens to me now?"

A German historian presented a lecture about child survivors of the Holocaust as part of the Diversity Day celebration at Club Eifel at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Aug. 21, 2014.

Diversity Day represents the Air Force's commitment to foster inclusion and tolerance among all Airmen while eliminating stereotypes that may hinder mission effectiveness in the workplace.

Anna Andlauer, an educator from Markt Indersdorf, Germany, spoke about the legacy of Bavaria's Kloster Indersdorf, which served as an international displaced children's center from 1945 to 1946.

"This is a different topic - it's not the Holocaust but the time after," Andlauer said. "It's important to learn from what Germany did during the Holocaust and that this never happens again."

Andlauer studied the history of the concentration camp at nearby Dachau for 25 years but only learned in 2006 about her village's role with protecting children after the war. Kloster Indersdorf functioned as an old monastery within the American-controlled zone of Southern Germany and cared for displaced children recently orphaned by the Holocaust.

"One of the messages from the International Displaced Children's Center Kloster Indersdorf is those who have gone through something terrible will want to come to terms with it and deal with it," Andlauer said. "They need to talk to someone who will patiently and attentively listen to what they are saying and believe them. To help them come to terms with what they have gone through which, even if in this case, is almost impossible. Perhaps it helps to listen to them and nurture their sorrows and difficulties."

Since then, Andlauer compiled a book - entitled "The Rage to Live" - of testimonials from the dozens of child survivors treated. The book follows their life stories from their birth, the circumstances that brought them to the Indersdorf and their lives afterward even up to the present.

"...the story of the children from Kloster Indersdorf must be told - their will to survive, their indescribable rage to live," said Greta Fischer, who served as Principal welfare officer for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration there. Andlauer played video footage of an interview Fischer gave before her death in 1988.

Andlauer's visit to Spangdahlem represented her first presentation on an American military installation, having previously spoken at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial in New York City, and before the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust organization.

She spoke in the grand ballroom of Club Eifel, which transformed for Diversity Day into a metaphorical kaleidoscope of cultured with multi-colored national flags sprawling from the walls, various regional cuisines awaiting the palates of spectators and posters displaying pioneers' contributions with the hopes of inspiring others to follow them.

The room's collection of a free expression of heritage, cultures, religion and sexual orientation aimed to underscore the collective strengths all people bring as well as fostering tolerance for those very differences. The setting also stood in direct contrast to the forces that led millions to their deaths as part of Andlauer's subject.

And also foreshadowing her presentation, children from Spangdahlem Kindergarten took to the stage before she did to dance the "Hokey Pokey" - almost as a sign of the childhood the Kloster Indersdorf children tried to recapture despite their tragedy.

"It's important to talk to these survivors today," she said. "It's almost our last chance to meet them, talk to them and have them visit schools and talk about their experiences in the Holocaust. They have important messages to tell us, and I've tried to use this chance to do so."

Her connection to Spangdahlem came from the legacy of Moszek Sztajnkeler, a 16-year-old Polish boy who lived at Kloster Indersdorf after the war. He then took the name Morris Stein and lived in America, later becoming the grandfather of U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Erika Stein, executive assistant to the 52nd Fighter Wing command chief and Pittsburgh native.

"Anna tells a really inspirational story because it's about life after the Holocaust and survival," Sergeant Stein said. "My grandfather was a part of that story, and since he passed in between the start of the planning and her coming here, it's brought closure and allowed me to commemorate him here."

Despite Andlauer never having the opportunity to meet Morris Stein, the two exchanged letters up until his death July 23, 2014. He ended each correspondence with "Your friend, Morris."

"He said, 'It's important that people know what I've gone through and know about my life,'" Andlauer said. "He has gone through the worst that the last century had to offer. But despite that, he was a strong personality and an example of resilience. He was able to live relationships, found a family and make a living - it was incredible what he was able to do despite his trauma."

However, she said his presence could still be felt during the presentation.

"I think if he could be here today, he would be so thrilled," she said. "At first, he didn't like talking about it for obvious reasons, but as he got older, he realized he had quite a story, as they all did, and it was important to share. I'm sure he's looking upon on us now."

At the presentation's conclusion, Andlauer answered questions from audience members and explained display posters about her exhibit.

Yet, some questions may be never answered, and no one answer may be completely accepted without question. Still, Sergeant Stein said the presentation's theme of love and tolerance served well within the theme of Diversity Day.

"It's not just about one day a year - it's about taking notice to the things we may not have realized," she said. "We got to see all the different cultures do their different performances or fashion shows or displays. It makes you pay attention and realize that's what makes us unique in the Air Force and in the military. We're such a diverse group, we celebrate that, and that's fun."