The Next Generation and Duty
w/ Lidia Maksymowicz
Lydia was one of the few children transported to Auschwitz that survived initial death selections and lived to see liberation. She was only 3 years old when she arrived and was immediately taken from her mother. Her memories of that time are few and almost like clips from movies, you could say, but still specific and she has been a registered and credible Witness of the Shoah for many years. Her survival can almost be attributed to her near misfortune, that of being selected by Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel Of Death. Lydia was one of the many confirmed children that he conducted human experiments on. In this period she lived amongst other children in a barrack that had holes in the ceiling and provided little shelter through winters that saw temperatures reach 20 below. There was a Block Warden or “Mother” to look after them and keep them counted but she wouldn’t touch the children or care for them as they were filthy and infested with lice, vermin and waves of typhus. She said the children taught each other how to survive and helped each other where they could, despite the fact that most of them had slipped into a sort of catatonic state due to trauma, starvation and a life stripped of any normalcy. I’m skipping a lot as there is so much within this story to share but now isn’t the time. As days pass and Lydia’s interview is transcribed and then translated word for word in English, i will share more of it. But this… this i cant shake and in some way by telling it i want to be free of for a moment.
When liberation came, Lydia, then nearly 5 and having lost her parents in Auschwitz, was adopted by a Polish family that lived there in the town of Oświęcim/Auschwitz. She grew up in the shadow of the camp’s ruins and i can only imagine what that was like. She told me that after about a year or so she began to learn how to play with other children again and to go outside and do the things that had been forgotten in her year in a half in camp. It was clear though that in many ways that she was different. Lydia said that she would often get the other children to play a game called Concentration Camp with her, wherein they would have selections and some would go to the gas and some would be selected for labor and so on. She remembers hearing the adults who looked on saying, “See, just how easy it is to train the next generation of murderers?” These imprints also carried over to her family life and ability to have personal relationships. I asked her if she was able to grow close to her adopted mother and family and she said that sadly she was never truly able to feel as close to them as she would have liked, nor later in life, her husband and son. Her ability to receive and give love was forever altered by this year and a half of trauma, terror and lack of nurturing that are essential to a young child’s development.
Some redemption in her situation may lie in the fact that while she was emotionally and psychologically different, especially where human relationships were concerned, she still showed up for the people in her life and continues to. Even where the feel good, deep seated feelings aren’t always prevalent, her understanding of duty and being committed to a person is still sufficient for her to take part in these relationships. As much as she can she helps people, is convinced that we aren’t alive just to be alone and feels that it is important that we leave something behind for others once we are gone. Her having these active beliefs despite the forces that could hold her back if she allowed them to… that is huge. It is proof that we just might be able to rise above our predispositions as well. She wants us to know that.
One last thought. Over the course of our two visits i did watch her transform from being somewhat guarded and distant to being able to engage and do so warmly. Our last visit contained a good deal of laughter and ease. So there is a visible love there for sure, even if it still only comes from her sense of duty.