Author's

Note

        Before meeting Ronnie Breslow, I had never spoken about the Holocaust with someone who had lived through it. As a non-Jewish person, most of my experience learning about the Nazi regime and its effects on millions of Jews has been limited to the classroom. Something about that “big picture” view, although it is undoubtedly important, can take away from the immediacy of individual experiences. The Holocaust may seem like a single monolithic event, a precisely defined period in history, rather than 6 million individual murders that changed the lives of millions of more people today. The power of Holocaust survivors’ stories, then, is in the way they make these events tangible and personal. Although all of these experiences stem from anti-Semitism and prejudice, every single Jew was affected in a different way. As Ronnie Breslow told me, “Every story is different. Every story is individual.” As we look back on history and attempt to learn from it, we must all remember that these differences are important. Although Ronnie’s story is just one of many, each of these narratives is a powerful reminder of the human capacity for evil, but also a testament to determination and hope. When I talk to her, I remember how much more there is for me to learn. How she has an entire lifetime on me, in terms of experience. All that perspective. All that hardship. And so much joy.

        - Charlotte Scott

1. Invisibility & Indifference

“It’s like you’re invisible. You’re not there. You’re doing what they’re doing but you’re alone.”
        Ronnie Breslow was six years old the first time she experienced direct Antisemitism. The
year was 1936, and she was a first grader in the rural German town of Kirchheim. Adolf Hitler
had only become the chancellor in 1933, but within two years the German government had
passed the infamous Nuremberg Laws. Since this legislation forbade Jewish children from
attending public school, one day Ronnie was called to her teacher’s desk and told she couldn’t
come back. In a town as small as Kirchheim, being Jewish had always made Ronnie different.
And after she was forced to leave school, Ronnie’s religion also made her invisible. Ronnie had
no siblings, and she was the only student kicked out in the entire school. Suddenly Ronnie was
completely alone. Her description of how it felt to be singled out was one of the most powerful
parts of our interview:
        “I had everything they had like I had a doll carriage, and a doll and... I used to walk with my
doll and the doll carriage on my side of the street, and my former girlfriends walked on their side
of the street. Nobody was rude to me, nobody threw stuff at me... it’s like you’re invisible.
You’re not there. You’re doing what they’re doing, but you’re alone. You’re totally alone. I think
I felt that more than anything, that I just felt, it’s just me, I’m alone, and I have nobody to play
with. Nobody likes me.”

        When Ronnie told me this story, I was struck by the way that people turned on her so
rapidly. Instead of questioning the obviously discriminatory laws, almost everyone simply
accepted them as the new status quo. Most non-Jews either accepted the idea that Jewish people
were inherently different from themselves, or they chose to remain indifferent to their

oppression. In Ronnie’s case, however, there was a single exception. A girl named Maryanne,
who lived close to Ronnie, had been her friend for a long time. Even before they started school,
Ronnie and Maryanne used to play together
Soon the day Ronnie was kicked out of school,
while all the other girls left without her, Maryanne still stayed and waited. She and Ronnie
walked home together like they always did, but when Maryanne’s father found out, he was
furious. He beat Maryanne with a belt to make absolutely sure she would no longer play with
Ronnie. After that Maryanne had no choice, but Ronnie told me that “she wanted to continue
playing with me, she considered me a friend. It’s not like I had changed.”
The story of Maryanne

shows exactly how the Nazis created a rift between Ronnie and the rest of her community.
The truth was that Ronnie had not changed–– what had changed was the amount of Antisemitism
in Germany. In fact, the Nuremberg laws didn’t just apply to people who were practicing
Judaism. Any person with three or four Jewish grandparents was considered a Jew, meaning that
even individuals who had converted to a different religion were oppressed by these laws. The
Nazis’ irrational definition of being Jewish only serves to drive home the arbitrary nature of the
Nuremberg laws. Ronnie was, in every other sense, just like the other girls. What truly made her
different wasn’t her religion–– it was the way people treated her and the discrimination she
faced.
        After she was officially kicked out of school, Ronnie’s entire identity was encompassed
by her religion. The label “Jew” meant that people saw her as separate, other, different from
themselves. In reality, Ronnie explained to me that her family wasn’t even particularly religious.
They celebrated major holidays at a makeshift synagogue, but Judaism wasn’t a huge part of
Ronnie’s life. By remaining indifferent to Ronnie’s situation and her feelings, the other girls

made her feel completely invisible. Ronnie was so ostracized that she was no longer even
acknowledged, even though she herself hadn’t changed at all. And yet Hitler and the Nazis were
powerful and influential enough to make Ronnie’s community completely indifferent to the
oppression of Jews. For a six-year-old who didn’t understand the rising tide of Antisemitism in
Germany, this experience must have been frightening and confusing. This same sort of
indifference shown towards Ronnie played a large factor in the Holocaust as a whole. Even as
German Jews were being deprived of more and more rights, few people took action or spoke up.
Ronnie pointed out how the Nazis were encouraged by the lack of a public outcry: “They started
slowly... As it became obvious that there weren’t many protests from the German people they
could become then stronger and stronger against the Jews.”
If there is one thing society can learn
from this sort of indifference, which continues to affect our world today, it is that no one should
remain invisible. As difficult as it may feel, we as a society cannot continue to avert our eyes
from human suffering. Our personal comfort will never be worth the price of remaining silent
and ignoring injustice in any form.

Ronnie Breslow - The St. Louis

©2018 by Renate Breslow.

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