Yet another issue I hadn’t realized Gentile readers may not understand is the issue of how much people on the occupied homefront suffered in comparison to people who were actually in ghettoes and camps. I hadn’t thought that would even be an issue, but apparently it can be.
In Aranka Siegal’s Grace in the Wilderness, the memoir about her life in the early postwar years, there’s a letter from her oldest surviving sister Etu. Etu was in Budapest during the war, and thus avoided the horrors the rest of the family went through. After liberation, she went to Beregszász (now Berehovo, Ukraine) to search for any survivors and reclaim any personal property.
All these people had been so friendly with her mother, yet they gave her the cold shoulder and claimed not to recognize her. The only friendly face was neighbor girl Ica Molnár (Aranka’s friend), who provided a lot of help and information. Etu and her new husband were able to spend a few months in her old family home, though another family had since moved in, and the situation was very tense. All the inside doors had also been ripped out.
Mrs. Molnár complained about how the Gentiles had suffered too, and were still suffering under Soviet occupation. Etu rightly pointed out that these people went through those hardships in their own homes, with their families intact. She was the one who was all alone and had lost almost everything.
People who spent the entire war on the homefront faced rationing, food shortages, waiting in long lines for food, foreign occupation, loved ones being away in the military, bombing raids, sometimes suppression of their national languages and culture. Some people were also taken for foreign labor service, either mandatory or after being caught in a łapanka (roundup) in Poland. Of all the nations under occupation, I do agree Poland probably suffered the most.
They weren’t the ones who had to eat sawdust bread and watery soup full of garbage. They weren’t the ones who never knew if they’d end the day alive. They weren’t the ones who risked being killed for looking at someone the wrong way, doing the wrong thing, or getting any kind of blemish on the body. They weren’t the ones who lost their entire families and had their personal possessions taken away. They never lived a day of their lives in the shadow of the gas chamber.
My next trip to Israel will either be on my own, or with a much more flexible schedule and longer timetable! It’s not fair I was unable to go through the entirety of any of the Yad Vashem exhibits and photograph them when the Shoah/WWII era is one of my areas of historical expertise and a frequent subject of my writing. I really wanted to see the pillars engraved with city names from Germany, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, France, and all the other countries, not just Poland and the former USSR.
It doesn’t make a lick of sense for a normal survivor to listen to an old neighbor’s litany of complaints about homefront suffering, nod, smile, and agree their kinds of suffering were exactly the same. It’s apples to oranges. It’s like saying someone on the Japanese homefront suffered just as much as a Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor). That’s pretty insulting to the person with the far more horrific experience.
Bottom line: It’s unrealistic to expect a survivor to sympathize with the homefront suffering of people who in many cases (particularly in Eastern Europe) didn’t do a damn thing to help them when they had the chance, and even actively took part in their persecution. There’s a reason most survivors either refused to be repatriated or didn’t spend the rest of their lives in their old homelands. Most survivors wanted to go to Israel precisely because they’d be surrounded by their own, people who understood exactly what they’d lived through.