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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jews who lived part or during the entire time
in hiding or the protection of a non-Jew.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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