By Jacqueline Smith, Manager of Gallery Education
Editor’s note: Julius Weiss was one of the young people featured in the Museum’s exhibition My Name Is … The Lost Children of Kloster Indersdorf.
Over the course of my tenure at the Museum, I have had the honor and the privilege of meeting many Holocaust survivors who have overcome insurmountable obstacles with strength and resiliency. When I hear them recount their stories, I recall the experience of my step-grandfather, Julius Weiss z”l, during the Holocaust. It evokes a deep sense of sadness within me.
One of the qualities that I admire most in the Holocaust survivors who comprise the Museum’s Speakers Bureau is their kindheartedness and their compassion. They have endured unspeakable suffering and yet they are some of the most empathetic people you would ever meet.
My step-grandfather struggled with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) throughout his entire life. The emotional scars that he bore from the Holocaust interfered with his ability to lead a stable career. His personal life was fraught with turmoil. His marriage to my grandmother was ultimately severed because he was so filled with rage.
I often think of the person who my step-grandfather could have become if his youth had not been irrevocably damaged by the Holocaust. As an only child, he had a strong attachment to his parents. In 1943, when he was 14 years old, his mother Tylda was shot to death after she was caught outside of the Boryslaw Ghetto searching for food. He remained united with his father Eizig (Isaac) Weiss, who was a petroleum engineer through three concentration camps, Płaszów, Wieliczka, and Flossenbürg. They gave each other the strength and fortitude to remain alive. Tragically his father was murdered by the Nazis only a few short months before liberation. After surviving a death march out of Flossenbürg my step-grandfather was left adrift in the world at the age of 16.
Thankfully, he was taken to the international children’s center known as Kloster Indersdorf, which was established by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). At Kloster Indersdorf he was able to recuperate and regain his strength. He was subsequently sent to England along with several other teenage Holocaust survivors to learn seafaring. He became an officer in the British and Israeli Merchant Marines. The crowning achievement of his life was fighting for the establishment of the state of Israel. In his written testimony he stated, “I found partial redemption in fighting in the Israeli War of Independence.” He also found solace in the birth of my uncle, Herbert Isaac Weiss z”l, whom he named in memory of his father Eizig.
Throughout his life my step-grandfather was consumed by the idea that he and his fellow Jews should have fought back from the outset of the Holocaust. While he was imprisoned in Flossenbürg he managed to resist by sabotaging the construction of the German airplane parts that he was forced to assemble. After the war, he testified against SS Obersturmführer Freiderich Hildebrand for the murder of his mother Tylda. He attained retribution in the sense that the Nazi officer was given a life sentence. The message that my step-grandfather sought to impart to future generations is: “It is our duty to teach our children to know how to defend themselves. Out of the bitter experience of the Holocaust a new generation of Jews was born who will NEVER AGAIN allow anyone to destroy us.”