Only God Knows

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The train ride to the camp.

Imagine: it is winter and we’ve been left with very little. No Food. No Water. The clothes on our backs.  We are shoved into an unheated cattle car; its side’s are not solid but open slats, so the wind whistles through, and the only warmth we get comes from the bodies pressed against us. We are shoved in with enough people so that we can barely breathe, let alone sit or move.

We have no food or water on the first day. Maybe one loaf of bread or two is tossed into the car on the second day; and still no water. If we are shoved against one of the walls it is a good thing, because we can at least scoop some of the falling snow. As it melts in the mouth it keeps us alive while others around us die. The Nazi guards yell to those alive to toss out the bodies, the few times the train stops.

With less and less people in the car…you can finally sit or you can lie down and we are sad and glad and numb all at the same time. The fear is ever present and if it seems like hell is here then yes, you are right. It is.

Finally, the train ride stops…for the last time. Everyone is herded off the car. Everyone is relieved of whatever possessions they have left. Everyone is sectioned off, split into three groups: the women, the men, and then the third group which comprised the elderly, the infirmed and the children. They went in, to die. Whether they knew this or not, I can not say. The only thing I know is that my father wound up on the line of men that didn’t.

They were led to where their clothing was taken away. They were hosed down and deloused, all bodily hair shaved off.

Dehumanized.

Thus began their nightmare of existence in Auschwitz.

*************************************************************************

The above is a section from my play “everywhere I look…” I posted the song that I wrote that started the whole ten year journey of writing here. This part, the train ride, is a re-imagined, but true, story that my father told me. So, yes, whatever horror might be in your mind is from reality by way of some artistic license. The details, sad to say, are real.

My father was in Auschwitz and had the tattoo to prove it. What most people don’t know is that tattooing of the prisoners was specific to Auschwitz, not all the concentration camps. My dad was in Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau). He was there for THREE YEARS. I only know some of what went on during that time period.

He escaped on the Death March, with the man who essentially saved his life.   That is a story unto itself and is a part of my play, as is the song and the train piece.

The pic to the right is of my dad, after the American Liberation. We don’t know how much longer, but it had to be substantial in that his hair was back and he looks healthy and well fed in this photo. He worked, at this point, as a translator and driver for an American general. Due to the three years in the camps, he spoke six or seven languages.

Why did this all happen?

Only God knows.

If you’re interested in bookings, or can pass this onto a location (College; High School; Theater; etc),  please contact me at stuart.nager@gmail.com.

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58 responses »

  1. We know that there are tragedies in life, but for me I’d rather not hear the stories or see the dramatics on television. However, this is something that we can not escape and yes “Only God Knows” he knows all that we go through because he is everywhere, all the time.

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  2. It’s a testimony to the triumph of the human spirit and the will to survive, even in such ghastly circumstances of man’s inhumanity to man. I am glad you chose to tell his story, and that of the thousands who perished, so that we might never forget what mankind is capable of doing.

    Well done Stuart.
    ~cath xo
    @jonesbabie on Twitter

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  3. Stuart,
    Thank you for writing this part of your play. I look forward to seeing the whole thing one day. What an honor for your father to have you tell his story. In the photo, he looks so handsome and so young.
    Thank you,
    Jennifer

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  4. Hey Stuart –

    I struggle with reviewing this part of history as I am attracted to history in general. I am also fascinated by wars, although I disagree with the concept; war and killing is not God-like. It pains me to be reminded of the evil of mankind yet we all need to be aware, and reminded, that it did and does exist to this very day. The things that old people can tell us are both good and bad. Your post above is certainly a reminder of bad days long ago.

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    • Brian, the saddest thing is: this still goes on. We still have these atrocities. I don’t have numbers at my fingertips right now, but over 5 million were killed in the Congo,and not that long ago. Add Serbia, the thousands missing in S. America, what’s happening in Darfur… it’s not the bad old days. We’re living them.

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  5. I find it a miracle that anyone can believe in God at all after some of the things that have occurred on this earth. (And still occur.) The stories of the Holocaust need to be told, again and again, because incredibly there are still those who deny, or shrug their shoulders, or fan the flames of hate which should have died out long ago. Your father must be a remarkable man, and very proud of you Stu.

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  6. Stuart, you have followed the golden rule of writing here: show don’t tell… and dramatize don’t summarize. I felt as if I were there in the bitter cold, enduring the sharp wind blowing through the cracks in the cattle car. I could experience the crushing bodies next to mine, jam-packed like sardines in a suffocating train ride. And could feel the hunger pangs, the dehydration, and most of all, the fear. That and the dehumanization. As heartrending as this story based on your father’s experience is, the world needs to be reminded – and often – of this tragic event that is NOT ancient history. How long is the play?

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    • Debra: thank you very much. This scene, as I mentioned above, just came out almost as is. Very little editing went into this part. I mention other atrocities in the tail end of the play, as well as some other facts that gall me.

      The show runs aprox. 55 mins, and I usually suggest a half hour talk back.

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  7. I am so sorry that happened to your father but, relieved he made it out, had you and you can be his voice. The voice that reminds the world that unspeakable things occurred and we should never take our lives for granted. You have been given a talent, a gift in writing; a gift that is meant to be shared with all, a gift that will not only keep the memory of your father alive but, many who went through this and survived or died.
    Your father’s struggle for his life has taught you not to take yours for granted, that is a powerful thing to give to another. I can understand how bringing these memories to light can make one angry but, doesn’t that anger fuel and inspire you to keep writing until everyone “gets” it?
    It’s truly shocking that people forget about this and other terrible historical moments when they are bashing another race. When will they learn hate is not the way…..

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    • Hi Jenni: it’s not even anger at this point but the drive to want to do something so this reaches others. It’s there, but it’s anger, ignorance and hatred that stems from all that. I’m hoping a thought stops, thinks it through along the way.
      Thank you.

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  8. You come from a line of survivors. Thank you for this very moving post, for sharing the reality of this horror. Sometimes I still can’t believe that some people deny the truth of what truly happened. And for those who honor its truth, may those who suffered not be reduced to statistics, or just a number, but truly be remembered as souls who were robbed of their humanity. More power to you Stu.

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  9. Stu,
    I’m so glad that you are keeping your father’s memory of his transportation and ordeal in Auschwitz alive. This has to be recounted, over and over, as much as possible so that new generations don’t forget the horror that was the Holocaust, and in turn, can pass on this part of history to the next generation and so on. It’s very brave of you to write about such a harrowing, heartbreaking experience and, I imagine, even harder, to perform it. But it must be done, by you, and by anyone who is able to write, perform, direct, produce, film, etc. Holocaust accounts, stories, survivals, deaths, etc. We must not let the memory of those millions vanish. Each was an individual, a person like you or me, who had to endure unspeakable torments FOR NO REASON AT ALL. Your piece reminds me a bit of Elie Wiesel’s “Night” a book that kept me so hooked that I couldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom until I’d finished it.

    That said, I was horrified to read your comment above about the ignorance of your students (understandable given the lack of information) and being yelled at by the principal (not understandable) and accused of teaching about homosexuality (????), I almost threw up. No wonder the educational system is in such a mess when teachers are misinterpreted and facts are distorted or accepted as true.

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    • The ignorance of the students is perpetrated by the ignorance of being PC, and not allowing all information out. If anyone says school is not biased, they are SO wrong. Just because a principal was a “good” teacher (which I sincerely doubt she was), does NOT mean she knows how to manage an EDUCATIONAL BUSINESS (which is what a school head should think of): how to handle adults? nuh uh. Yeah, it was a very unhealthy work situation for someone like me, who doesn’t go blindly along with the other sheep.

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  10. Thanks for sharing, Stu. I would LOVE to see ‘Everywhere I Look,’ I hope you get to perform it soon. It’s beautiful that as a storyteller and can give a voice to what your father experienced in this way.

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  11. A tragic individual story; unfortunately there are thousands like it and millions that can’t be told.

    There have been plays and films about Auschwitz and the Holocaust many times now. You will need a ‘unique’ feature in your father’s story for it to really succeed. Alternatively if you have enough material you could produce a series of articles or even a book.

    I have insufficient experience of the American market to suggest the best approach.

    I would love to read more.

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    • Hi Bob: first, thank you very much. I will want to take you up on marketing things.

      Here is my opinion on there are thousands of… with all of them, why are we still experiencing genocides and mass hatred? To me, it’s a subject that needs to be brought up again, and again, and again, and again, because we read, we watch, and overall we do little about it to nothing at all. I don’t want to see this in Holocaust museums or Jewish centers: they know it, they live it. I don’t want this off or off off Broadway to play to a jaded theater crowd. I truly believe that it’s home is with those who need the educational side to the work: High School and College students, the ones whose ideals are the up and coming “leaders of tomorrow.” My feeling is that with the play, the strong performance I give to the stories I’ve lived with, and then after performance group talks and other supplements…well, maybe it’ll inform so ignorance is defeated in some ways. I’d like to talk if you would. Send me an email. Thanks.

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      • I’m with you now. Educating the young is essential. There are too many Holocaust deniers about for people to latch onto. Unfortunately genocide and mass hatred is generated by ignorance, misinterpretation of religious beliefs and differences in culture. Mankind doesn’t seem to learn and politicians seem to pick and choose which acts and regimes to condemn.
        Getting your message out there can only be a good thing.

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    • Hi Bob:
      I was supposed to perform this in London last year at the School of Drama and Speech. I couldn’t do it due to the volcano eruption of the previous April. If you still have help you can offer, I’m all ears.

      Thanks.

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  12. This was HARD for me to read. The first paragraph had me thinking of what it was like on the Middle Passage. Why do we continue to brutalize each other?
    Thankfully your father made it out. I can only imagine the horrors he must have endured.
    Marcia

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  13. I have not been there yet, but I have been to Dachau (mainly because Dachau is closer for me to get to). I am not sure about Auschwitz, but Dachau has constructed memorials all over in remembrance of the Jews who lived and died there. Their suffering will not be forgotten.

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    • Thank you Laura. One of the things I’ve told my students about (and got in trouble big time once) was that not everyone who died at the hands of the Nazi machine were Jewish. Five million others, give or take a few, were murdered as well.

      Yeah, I got yelled at by my principal. In a discussion, one girl (fifth grade) said “The Germans killed the Jews”. I corrected her that it was the Nazi Party, not ALL Germans. I then asked what she knew, and all she went on was about the Jews. I tried to add on, that they went after the sickly, Gypsy people, homosexuals, etc etc etc. Same kid went home, told mom, and the next thing I knew I was “called into the office” for TEACHING ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY!!

      Yeah. Wow. Still grates on my nerves.

      None of this should be forgotten. But, in remembering, what are we going to do about it?

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      • That was something I brought up in the class I am in now. We were discussing the medical experimentation and how no one will use anything that came from the Nazi’s “studies” because of how the information was obtained. But if that information may be used to help save the lives of others is it alright to use it as a resource? I believe it should be used so that some good can come of the tragedy.

        Jews, gypsies, Jehovah Witnesses, politicians (though they were treated better with their own “private” cells), the deformed, the mentally ill, homosexuals, etc… barely anyone was spared.

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  14. Wow. This gave me chills. I remember visiting Dachau when in Germany quite a few years ago. Even though no longer a concentration camp – the greyness, the ‘feel’ of the place, was haunting. As we were stood there in a line outside the camp, and the snow fell, many of us were freezing and we were fully clothed. We were then told how the prisoners were made to stand there nude for hours, and were punished if they fell.
    I could not imagine having to go through that. And to survive, like your father did, is a testament to him. I do hope it did not scar him badly…but I cannot imagine something like that NOT scarring badly.

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    • Sorry. If I can perform it, to bring the story to people, then writing about it is the same. Can I get someone to THINK and ponder? Then it’s worth whatever I feel. I hope my Dad would understand.

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    • Hi Josie: these stories MUST be heard. We do untold damage to each other in the world, and we learn nothing when we don’t talk, don’t share, don’t try to find peaceful solutions. Since 1914, there have been untold genocides. Do you know about the Armenian genocide, at the hands of the Ottoman Turks? Most don’t. Why are we, as a world, allowing what’s happening in Darfur to continue NOW, as of this writing?

      As to blogging: I’m taking a bit of a stand. I’m writing. I don’t “blog”. I use a blog platform to showcase my writing. See pissy comment below.

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    • Melissa: I know my own answer to the question, and when I state it I piss people off. I don’t believe in a benevolent God, or any God. If benevolent, then ALL the tragedies would not happen. Yeah, free will, blah blah blah. Sorry. Woke up pissy, will continue to be pissy. When I perform this, it’s a moment of stage time that hits me in the gut. Thank you.

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  15. Stuart that is incredible. Through your wonderful writing you are an inspiration to others. Your descriptions of the inhumanity your dad and so many others experienced are very powerful and deeply tragic.
    He must be very proud of you x

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    • Hey bonnie..yes, read Night years ago; have a lot of Weisel’s (sorry for spelling) books. I got to participate with a HS English lit class, and we all read it out loud. Very moving. Thank you.

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  16. I’ve been doing reserach on the Holocast for a class. It astounds me the seemingly limitless evils (and goods) humans can commit.
    A play about the Holocast would be worth a look. More socially conscious than my rewrite of Oedipus.

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    • Hi WG: depending on when and where, I do travel. Contact me if your school might be interested.

      One of the things I did was a research paper on survivors of genocides. From testimonials, when you removed the oppressors, the oppressed, and any location, you could NOT tell the difference in the atrocities. it remains sickening. Thank you for commenting.

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  17. Great work. You inspire me. I have a similar story to tell, only set in Japan. I find it very hard to write. Only comes a paragraph at a time. Good luck with your play. It’s so important to tell your story.

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    • Thank you. It took me ten years to finish my play, so I completely understand what you are feeling. I actually wrote/performed an adult puppet show about the Japanese interment camps here in the US. All of these things should not be swept away by history. Good luck on your project.

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      • my dad was a Japanese POW and he doesn’t/can’t recollect details. How did your dad open up? I didn’t even know his story until about eight years ago, and it’s been eight years of getting bits and pieces. Thanks again for your wonderful encouragement.

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    • It was the same. Would not talk about it, except in bits and pieces. Some of it I got from my mother. He actually used to write a lot, but would later tear it up. I read some when i could, but he’d tear it up anyway. I have only ONE thing from him, writing wise. it’s kept safe and sound. Yeah, the struggle to uncover is deep.

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      • Good to know. I guess I should count my blessings with what I have got. Dad agreed to answer all my questions and I met with him for a weekend. I couldn’t tape him or record as he would feel self-conscious, so I wrote everything down. I’ll give it another go some time soon. Good luck to you!

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  18. I am so incredibly sad that he had to be subjected to such horror or that any of the people were . I am glad that God spared him so that you could share this, so that people will fight to prevent this ever happening again.

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