The Various Forms of European Jewish Survival During the Persecution and Holocaust, 1938 - 1944

To the layman, the term "Holocaust Survivor" is often narrowly interpreted as one who was interned in a European concentration camp during World War II, was able to escape death, and was released from imprisonment when the war ended. This is just one of many definitions, there were many other forms of survival. However, if one wants t comprehend the complexity of the term "Survivor" more clarification of term is required. I will attempt to enumerate the various forms of survival by first answering the question: "Who is a Holocaust survivor?" and why one is categorized as a "survivor".

A Holocaust survivor is defined as a person of the Jewish faith or ancestry, who dwelled all or part of the period between 1938 and 1945 in a European country that was dominated or occupied by the Nazis or their allies. The individual is thus defined as a survivor because he, or she survived during the Holocaust period, regardless of whether he or she lived in Europe part or all of the time or regardless of whether the individual was subjected to or displaced by Nazi atrocities. His or her residence under the Nazi regime left them in a perpetual risk if they were to be discovered.

To comprehend why some people survived and others perished, it is vital to understand the facts pertaining to time, place, political circumstances in the country of the survivor, and the personal situation of individuals that enabled them to survive in a given area.

Time, Place, Political Circumstances and Various Situations of Each Survivor

There is a great difference between survivors that lived at the beginning of Hitler's regime (between 1938 and 1940, or during part of this time, to those that survived until the end of World War II. Because the duration of the plight and the rules of the Nazis varied from one area or country to another, there are many factors that need to analyzed for each survivor.

To categorize the varieties of survivors according to their whereabouts during the Holocaust, the following illustrate some typical examples and reflect some information about their survival patterns.

  1. Individuals of Jewish faith or ancestry who, at the beginning of the persecution in 1938 and as late as 1941 were able to leave, flee or emigrate from European countries to countries not under Nazi rule. These individuals did not experience or were not affected by the Holocaust.
  2. A considerable number of Polish Jews who were able to escape between 1939 -1941 during the German invasion of Poland and the Soviet Union. They fled to Russia and remained there until the end of the war and later immigrated to other countries. Although they suffered great hardship in Russia with the rest of the citizens, they were never killed purely on the basis of their Jewish heritage.
  3. Jews from a large part of Romania, even where ghettos were established, who were not deported to K.Z. Camps. They were liberated by the Soviets almost a year before the war ended.
  4. Jewish males from Hungarian force labor camps, who in 1942, were sent behind the front lines in the German occupied Soviet territories, that became POW's (Prisoner's of War) of the Germans and Hungarians in the battlefront in 1942-1943. They remained in the Soviet Union and returned to Hungary or emigrated after the war ended.
  5. Jewish males from Hungarian forced labor camps, that served inside the Hungarian borders, and were exempt from deportation with the rest of the Hungarian Jews to K.Z. Camps in Aushwitz during the period of May-June of 1944. They were later liberated in Hungary in 1944 depending where and when they were found.
  6. Jews living in Hungary in 1944 in certain areas that avoided from deportation. They were liberated from Hungary five months before the end of the war.
  7. Jews from many European countries, primarily females, who managed to hide their Jewish identity and lived in place, even under the Nazi regime, without being exposed as Jews.
  8. Jews that managed to avoid the ghettos or concentration camps and lived under an assumed name as non-Jews (Aryans), with Arian papers they obtained clandestinely.
  9. Jews who lived part or during the entire time in hiding or the protection of a non-Jew.
  10. Jews who for various reasons were exempt from ghettos and spared from deportation to concentration camps at certain times and places because they had a skill or because of their indispensable knowledge of the German war machinery.
  11. Jews who prior to deportation or under unusual circumstance, or in a capital city, like Budapest, were able to live under the protection of the Swedish or Swiss Councils, until the liberation.
  12. Jews of the underground (Partisans), that were in the underground in German occupied territories in 1942-1943. There was also a Russian underground that included some Jews from Polish ghettos or those who hid and escaped and were able to join the underground behind the battlefronts, and were liberated by the Soviets a long time before the war ended.
  13. Jews, who claimed they escaped from labor or concentration camps, even from Aushwitz. It must be noted that this may only have been possible when the Germans were in the process of evacuation and there was turmoil, only days or hours before the liberation. At any other time, and attempt to escape meant certain death.
  14. A small percentage of Jews, primarily from Poland, who, since the German invasion in September 1939 until the end of the war in 1945, were during the entire period, in ghettos, labor and concentration camps such as: Aushwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen etc. and still came out alive. At about the end of the war in 1945, these survivors suffered the most and they can offer a complete account of their plight for the entire period.

There are many categories of survivors and only each individual can tell his or her own story about how and under what circumstances they came out alive.

The average age of a survivor from the ghettos, labor or concentration camps, who came out alive in 1945, was between 22 and 32 years old.

The categories of survivors merely constitute some basic varieties and should not be regarded as complete. Many other survivor categories exist; those similar to the ones I have cited combined with other varieties of experiences that can be specified ad infinitum. The categories I selected represent the basic ones within the scope of my research.

Send me e-mail to:Sydney Schwimmer
Return to Home: Homepage