Bearing witness, on the birthday of Eva Levine
Last week, July 6, was Eva Levine’s birthday … July 6, 1916, to be exact, and I am writing here to commemorate this day. She was the second daughter of five children born to Jewish parents in Lodz, Poland. Her father dealt in real estate, and the family owned the building in which they lived. Eva finished high school and studied history at a local university.
I know this because I was given Eva’s Identification Card when I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., recently. Actually, I selected Eva’s card at random from a bin of such ID cards for females – women and children – who were victims of the ghettos, deportations, concentration camps, and, for so many, the mass murders in the killing fields and gas chambers of the Holocaust.
I too am a student of history, and I’ve read extensively about the World War II regions in Europe where my father served, and those in the Pacific where my mother was stationed. And – as painful as it is – I want to know as much about the Holocaust as possible. Because such a thing must never happen again.
Eva was 2-and-a-half years old when my mother was born in Chicago, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Romania around the turn of the century. Just 20-some years later, my Romanian-American mother would serve with the Allies to help liberate families such as Eva’s who had become trapped in their homelands.
In Poland, Ava married her boyfriend Herman in 1939; then the Germans invaded. One day the Gestapo banged on their door and slapped Eva’s father-in-law around. They demanded the family’s valuables, which had already been looted, and Eva herself confronted the officers.
In 1941, Eva and Herman were tossed into the ghetto of Piotrkow Trybunalski after they arrived there looking for food. Eva’s family was deported there as well, and she worked with her mother and sisters for three years in the ghetto. In 1944 all the women were deported to Ravensbreuk, a concentration camp in Germany.
Eva’s health deteriorated, and the by the time she was evacuated with the other prisoners to Bergen-Belsen ahead of the Allied advance, she had lost most of the tissue in her spine. Eva’s mother, Machla Spicehandler Braun, became so weakened by starvation and disease that she lay dying in Bergen-Belsen on the floor of her filthy barrack.
Two days before the British liberated the camp in April 1945, Machla died at Bergen-Belsen. Eva’s father, Yakob, had been deported to Buchenwald in 1944 and then to Bergen-Belsen, where he died without ever making contact his family. Eva was liberated by the British and she moved to the United States in 1950. The Holocaust Museum has no record of what happened to Herman Levine, and I know nothing more of Eva.
Eva’s story lives on with me, however, because I received her ID card #2633. This July 6 was the first of her birthdays that I will commemorate by bearing witness for both the dead and the living, and — as a member of the human race — working to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Because such a thing must never happen again.