The Bulmash Family Holocaust collection is primarily dedicated to memorializing the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, but as well other victims of the Nazi scourge: Poles, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti, the developmentally and emotionally challenged, Jehovah’s Witnesses and political dissidents. It attempts to illustrate the successive stages of the Holocaust as Raoul Hilberg and others have described them: the Nazi definition and identification of the Jews, the expropriation of their assets, their concentration in ghettos, their deportation to concentration camps, and their ultimate extermination. This is by no means to suggest that Jews only perished in the final phase; rather, that sequencing these stages provides a heuristic and an historical outline of the evolving Nazi agenda.
How can we hope to open ourselves to the cosmic vastness of the number of murdered Jews, of whom 1.5 million were children? Or the endless list of cities, towns, and villages emptied of families and traditional ways of life? Or the ghoulish post-liberation photographs and films of the camps? How do we grapple with the sadistic barbarism, wrapped in a perverse ideology, requiring the complicity of “ordinary men” and women to be sure, but as well the elites of an enlightened German society, that was the black heart of the Holocaust? While the facts beggar description, they must ultimately serve as markers in a quest to comprehend the abysmal depths of this tragedy and its aftermath. To this end we must study the primary documents and texts housed in museums and libraries which set the wheels of the Holocaust turning. Documentaries, diaries, and survivor testimonies as well provide important context to this tragic period of history. But the concrete immediacy of individual artifacts and ephemera-the flotsam of the Third Reich and its victims-truly brings the monstrous magnitude of the Holocaust near to us. The heartbreaking postcards and letters to loved ones, the posters, stamps, the press and family photographs, the ghetto mail and censorship markings, and visas: all bear silent witness to the depredations and destruction visited upon the European Jews. For example, we can hold a postcard written by a Jewish woman finding it impossible to get to safety in England from occupied France; or read the last postcard written by a woman prior to her deportation to the death camps; or see an envelope where the sender’s middle name is “Sarah”, her “official” Jewish name in Nazi Germany; or a dress with a yellow star worn in Germany; or a Letter of Protection signed for a desperate Jewish man that placed the author of that letter-a Gentile- at great risk of losing his own life; or a press photograph of the cancer-stricken Sigmund Freud, himself a refugee arriving in London, forced, like many assimilated Jewish intellectuals, to flee Vienna; or another press photograph of a puzzled and frightened German Jewish child, a member of the first Kindertransport, clutching her doll, all of her worldly possessions in a cloth bag, forced to leave her anguished parents behind, completely dependent on the kindness of strangers she could not yet know any more than she could know the fate of her own parents; or a “progress note” dictated by the monstrous Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyons”, who was responsible for unceremoniously conveying 44 French Jewish children-- sitting down for their morning hot chocolate--from an orphanage in Izieu to Auschwitz where they were murdered, casually noting several Jews he had sent to the infamous internment camp at Drancy.
It so often seems—to paraphrase William Blake-- that we can see a world only in a grain of sand. Historian Wendy Lower’s relentless efforts to uncover the history of a single photograph depicting the deliberate murder of a Jewish woman and two children on the edge of a pit in the Ukrainian town of Miropol evokes the depthless horror of the entire Holocaust enterprise. Lower forges in “The Ravine” an intimacy between reader and victim- based on shared needs and social institutions- that transcends time and circumstance. She quotes Benjamin Ferencz, chief prosecutor at the post-war Einsatzgruppen trial, who affirms the difficulty relating to abstractions like “one million people”, exhorting us rather to visualize but “… one family falling before the executioner’s guns.”
This collection is as well a memorial to the Bulmash family members who perished in the Holocaust. My grandfather Motel Bulmash came to America from the Jewish shtetl of Trochenbrod or, as it was known by its Russian name, Sofiyevka. Trochenbrod was in Volhynia, currently a province in the western Ukraine, but when my grandfather left to seek opportunity in America, it was part of Russia. Members of the Bulmash family had lived either in Trochenbrod or in the neighboring towns of Rovno, Lutsk, or Zhitomir. However, in another variation of the Holocaust, the so-called “Holocaust by bullets” that is an important part of the larger Holocaust narrative, “Einsatzgruppen” squads-- members of SS paramilitary units responsible for the mass murder of Jews-- cut a swath through Russia behind the advancing Wehrmacht after the commencement of Operation Barbarossa in June, 1941. “Einsatzgruppen C”, with the collaboration of their Ukrainian auxiliaries, went from town to town, city to city, shtetl to shtetl, rounding up Jews, quartering them in makeshift ghettos for a short period of time, whereupon they would be marched into the forest and, over pre-prepared pits the uncomprehending Jews were often made to dig themselves, shot in the back of the head: men, women, and children. In Trochenbrod, there were two such “Aktions” in July and August, 1942. Save for a few who managed to escape to the forest, every Jew was murdered, including 58 members of the Bulmash family. The shtetl was burned to the ground, but not before the homes and businesses were plundered, and Trochenbrod ceased to exist. Today it is a barren field with a ghostly path that had once been the main street of a thriving shtetl. The Bulmash family members in the nearby towns of Lutsk, Rovno, and Zhitomir were also murdered in separate “Aktions”: in all a total of 15 from these towns. The “Einsatzgruppen” squads and their minions were ultimately to kill more Jews than perished in Auschwitz, leaving in their wake mass graves throughout the Ukraine and Belarus. My grandfather and another relative living in the Chicago area were the last remnants of this family to survive because they had already been in America, although my grandfather did not become a United States citizen until 1944. By then, he could never go home again.
An Israeli postage stamp issued in 2014 commemorates the Holocaust with an image of a yellow heart inscribed with the word “Jude” that seems to emerge tentatively from the grip of barbed wire, an image that simultaneously alludes to and supplants the “Judenstern”, the revolting yellow star of David with the word “Jude” in faux Jewish script that the Nazis required Jews to wear as a badge of shame. In both Hebrew and English, the message on the stamp reads: “As long as you remember us we are alive.” And yet, as the Holocaust recedes implacably into the past, and the remaining survivors die off, what will we remember, what will be transmitted to future generations regarding this period of history? Very little had been written or discussed about the Holocaust until the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961. A topic hitherto shrouded in mystery, silence and shame, the Holocaust was suddenly taken up in both the scholarly and popular press, and a veritable torrent of books, manuscripts, documentaries and articles has appeared since. It is as though the Eichmann trial had somehow given permission to finally confront the Holocaust. The Holocaust also became a fashionable topic to mine in cinema and theatre, where, refracted through the exigencies of the marketplace, it was embraced by the media peddlers of popular culture who discovered its commercial and entertainment value. The serious encounter with truth and authenticity, the sensitive handling of complex moral issues and ambiguities, the particular dilemmas faced by victims often became reduced to cheap, formulaic melodrama with feel-good bromides providing easy consolatory reassurance. At other times the Holocaust had proven useful as a mere backdrop, or trope, for some other dubious authorial agenda; for example, employing gratuitous sexual or aggressive content that merely served to sensationalize rather than inform.
Authentic memory in these instances is trivialized, the victims themselves betrayed and exploited. As Elie Wiesel himself has stated, ”This particular subject demands a special sensibility, a different approach, a rigor strengthened by respect and reverence and…a faithfulness to memory.” Remembrance, in other words, keeps faith with the victims by not reducing the Holocaust--this darkest chapter of twentieth century history --to the facile mythologizing tendencies of the marketplace. “Re-membering” requires a sensitive, uncompromising engagement with the Holocaust’s complex history: its perpetrators, victims, bystanders, and rescuers. Memory must be an insistent candle penetrating the fog of cultural and historical amnesia, ignorance and denial if we are to truly honor the victims, both living and dead. In this spirit the Bulmash Family Collection hopes to provide a modest means to stimulate further inquiry and discussion into what continues to remain a most challenging and enigmatic period of world history.
-- written in 2014, updated 2021 by Michael D. Bulmash, K1966
Rise of National Socialism and Early Persecution
The Holocaust (1933-45) refers to Nazi Germany’s deliberate, progressive persecution and systematic murder of the Jews of Europe. Nazi antisemitism superseded traditional Judeo-Christian religious conflict by uniting a racial ideology with social Darwinism: the Jew is seen as subhuman, a disease threatening the body politic, and the cause of Germany’s problems—its economic woes, its defeat in World War I, its cultural degeneracy—and thus he must be eradicated. As soon as Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazis commenced the organized persecution of the Jews. Jewish books were burned, and businesses boycotted. Jews were excluded from professions, public life, and from the arts. The Nuremberg laws of 1935 identified and defined a Jew based on immutable racial characteristics and lineage, less so his religion. Jews were stripped of their civil rights as German citizens. More than 120 decrees and ordinances were enacted subsequent to the Nuremberg laws. In 1938, Kristallnacht occurred, the planned pogrom that led to the destruction of synagogues, mass arrests, and the looting of Jewish businesses. Jews were murdered, and many more were interned in concentration camps that had been established for political prisoners. Jewish property was registered, confiscated, and ultimately aryanized. Life in Nazi Germany was sufficiently intolerable that more than 200,000 Jews emigrated. Hitler’s goal of making Germany “Judenrein” was proving successful.
With the Nazi’s ascension to power, other groups were imperiled as well, vulnerable to discriminatory treatment, persecution, and death; for example, the Roma and Sinti, the developmentally and physically disabled, homosexuals, and political and social "undesirables". Slavic people were considered Untermenschen, fit only for servitude in the new and expanded Reich. During this period, in direct contravention of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was also secretly building its military and preparing for an eventual war. Yet it was the Nazi’s growing confidence and skill in pruning the aryan tree of its undesirables that allowed it to create an increasingly sophisticated technical apparatus for carrying out mass murder on an industrial scale, its ultimate goal the “final solution to the Jewish question.”
--Michael D. Bulmash, K1966
Flight and Emigration: The Odyssey of Jewish Refugee Alexander Distler from 1939-1955
The Gathering Sturm: Examples of Personal Correspondence During Early Persecution of Jews
German Family Emigrates to New York after Kristallnacht
Julius Streicher and Der Sturmer
Nazification and Early Stages of Persecution: Identification, Expropriation; Aryanization; and Emigration
The Polish Action (Polenaktion)
What They Carried: The Kindertransport
German Occupation of Continental Europe: Deportation and Extermination
During this period emigration of Jews from Germany and Austria was closed down even as anti-Semitism became more extreme. With the advent of World War II on September 1, 1939, Jews fell increasingly under Nazi control as more European territory was conquered. Jews were placed in ghettos under brutal and appalling living conditions: slave labor, starvation and disease were rife, and many Jews perished, or were eventually sent to killing centers. Major ghettos included Warsaw, Lodz, and Lublin, but there were as many as 1000 ghettos in all. The Gestapo and the SS became organs of terror. Opponents of the Nazis were sent to concentration camps, and many never emerged. The Nazis utilized the Einsatzgruppen, mobile killing units following the Wehrmacht into the Soviet Union, murdering Jews and other groups targeted for elimination. The Einsatzgruppen, along with their local minions, ultimately murdered 1,500,000 Jews.
As the Einsatzgruppen continued to blaze a trail of murder through the Baltic states, Ukraine and the Soviet Union, Reinhard Heydrich officiated at the Wannsee Conference in January, 1942, where plans were discussed for the systematic extermination of all the Jews of Europe in all of the countries conquered by Germany. Entire Jewish communities were to be liquidated. Concentration camps, initially used to incarcerate political prisoners, became extermination centers for mass murder in gas chambers, especially after Heydrich’s assassination. While there were many concentration camps, the major extermination centers were Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor, Bergen-Belsen and Treblinka. Thus Jews were to be methodically killed with poison gas, or utilized as slave labor to be worked to death in war- related industries for the Reich.
Briefaktion Postcards from Auschwitz-Birkenau
Gisi Fleischmann and the Holocaust in Slovakia
The Holocaust in the Netherlands
Jacobsohn Family Third Reich Document Archive
Josiah DuBois and the War Refugee Board
Thessaloniki Sephardic Jews During the Holocaust
Wilhelm Filderman (1882-1963) and the Holocaust in Romania
Aid and Rescue: Organizations Assisting Refugees
1943 saw the gradual collapse of the Nazi regime until its surrender on May 7, 1945. Despite losing the war in the East, and irrespective of the diversion of necessary resources from the war effort, Hitler continued to relentlessly prosecute the Final Solution of the Jews in the concentration camps and ghettos, murdering as many as 10,000 per day in the Auschwitz gas chambers alone . Many attempted to rescue Jews from Nazi extermination at great risk to their own safety, and over 13,000 have been recognized as “Righteous Gentiles” for their deeds.Rescuers include diplomats Raoul Wallenberg, Carl Lutz, and Hiram Bingham; Oscar Schindler; and Pastor Andre Trochme. The citizens of Denmark hid Jews and ferried them to safety in neutral Sweden, saving most of Denmark’s 8000 Jews. In the fall of 1944, the Nazis began the evacuation of Auschwitz, and as the Allies advanced in 1945, all camps were evacuated under Himmler’s orders, resulting in many thousands of deaths from the so-called “death marches”. At the end of the war more than 200,000 survivors were living in the Allied zones of occupation in DP (Displaced Persons) camps. They could not return home and thus remained until emigration could be arranged to either Palestine or to other countries willing to absorb the refugees.
The Joint: American Joint Distribution Committee
Righteous Diplomats and Others
The Surviving Remnant: Commemoration and Revitalization
In the aftermath of Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945, approximately 250,000 “liberated” Jewish survivors of concentration camps, slave labor camps, and death marches were designated “displaced persons”. Many were children and adolescents orphaned or unaccompanied by an adult. The survivors would refer to themselves as the “sh’erit ha-pletah (Book of Ezra 9:14) or “surviving remnant”. Unable or unwilling to be repatriated to their former countries, with limited possibilities for emigration, they would be confined to DP camps- former concentration camps, military barracks, or community housing- all under military administration in the Allied zones of Germany, Italy, and Austria. Many were debilitated from malnutrition, disease, and horrific abuse, and in urgent need of medical care. Despite the heroic provision of care by military physicians and nurses and even by physicians among the survivors themselves, many would still perish. The survivors would as well receive support from military clergy and from a number of welfare and humanitarian organizations such as United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA); and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (“Joint”). UNRRA notably established a Central Tracing Bureau to help survivors potentially reconnect with other family members who survived the Holocaust. Philosophical differences notwithstanding, and strong disagreements on some outcomes for the DP children, UNRRA worked with DP adults, Zionist Youth Organizations, the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and others: all invested in helping accommodate the special needs of DP children who suffered longstanding severe emotional trauma, unfathomable loss and consequent developmental impairment.
Over time survivors flourished with the rebirth of Jewish life in these DP camps. Newspapers were published; programs were created for both adults and orphaned children to acquire the language and technical skills needed to prepare for future vocations, including training in agriculture requisite for work in Zionist farming communities. Social and cultural events were abundant. Yeshivas were established in three camps; and religious holidays once again became occasions for celebration. Competitive sporting events like soccer matches between different DP centers were important as the survivors regained their health. And as relationships blossomed, as survivors were able to trust their feelings again against a backdrop of enormous loss- even in these crowded quarters- marriages and childbirth would be widely prevalent. Of course, DP camps were meant to be only temporary quarters for the Jewish refugees. DP camps for the refugees had an ineradicable connection to an horrific recent past, and for Jews to also have to endure the presence of Nazi collaborationists in their midst, as well as their often strained relations with a military administration that could little fathom what the survivors had endured was simply too much to bear. And most refugees felt there was little left for them in Europe. Their towns, homes, and families were gone. Antisemitic pogroms loomed large, such as the one in the Polish village of Kielce in which 42 Jews were murdered-after the Holocaust- and refugees no longer felt safe, the Allied victory over the Fascists notwithstanding. Most were hopeful they could emigrate to Palestine, or to the United States, Canada, or Australia. Indeed, the Harrison Report itself, sharply critical of conditions in the DP camps for Jews, recommended resettlement of the refugees in both the US and Palestine, which prompted President Truman to give preference to DP residents in US immigration quotas. As well Truman tried to facilitate resettlement of the survivors in Palestine.
Palestine, however, continued to be under British mandate and immigration quotas were strictly enforced. Britain’s unwillingness to make concessions for homeless Jews became an important impetus behind the so called “ Bricha” (flight) movement, with the Jewish Brigade facilitating the exodus of refugees from Europe onto hapless boats bound for Palestine, moving the Jewish refugees-now stateless- past British blockades with the assistance of the Haganah and the Irgun -the Jewish underground in Palestine. While many of these so-called “illegal aliens” were able to elude the British and successfully land in Palestine, too often their boats were boarded, the refugees taken to detention camps on the island of Cyprus, or other internment camps, with many of the physical reminders of the concentration camps the refugees thought they had left behind in Europe. It would be the British attack on the Exodus 1947 which would garner sufficient worldwide publicity in support of the plight of the refugees. Britain would end its mandate and withdraw from Palestine in May 1948. The United Nations’ vote for statehood for Israel in 1948 finally permitted the survivors of the Holocaust, the DP camps, and the internment camps to rejoice and at long last make their way home.
The Nuremberg trials were a consequence of Allied efforts to take legal action against Germany as a criminal state. The first tribunal consisted of eight judges drawn from each of the Allied countries. Twenty-one former Nazi leaders stood trial. The tribunal enshrined for the first time in jurisprudence and international law the concept of “genocide”, as well as a typology of war crimes to be utilized by the United Nations. In the ensuing years many courts both international and domestic would conduct trials of accused war criminals.
Post-Holocaust Commemoration and Revitalization: Displaced Persons Camps; Refugees and Emigration; Postwar Trials; Israel Statehood
Recha Freier and the Beginning of Youth Aliyah
The Zwirz Family: Belgian Jews Emigrate to the United States after the War
Examples of North American and British Antisemitism
Jewish Life in Europe Before the Holocaust
Notes On the Holocaust and Material Culture
Philatelic and Numismatic Forms of Commemoration
Provisional Labels and Covers Used During the Interim Period (Minhalet Ha’am)
Birth Certificate of Leo Jacobsohn
German Anti-Semitic Postcard
"Kolner Hof" Antisemitic Postcard
Postcard from Rabbi Goldbaum Glusk, Poland to Rabbi Bamberger, Germany
OST Insignia to Identify Ostarbeiter or "Eastern" Forced Laborer
Wartime Diary of Felix Landau
Felix Landau Report of Pending Legal Proceedings for War Crimes
Varian Fry (1907-1967) 1994 Copy Of Press Photograph From 1941
German Opera Singer Frida Weber Signed Postcard
German Jewish Antisemitic Postcard
Postcard from Andrei Sheptysky, Prisoner of War
Anti-Semitic Propaganda Label Antedating Existence of Nazi Party
Anti-Semitic Propaganda Label Antedating Existence of Nazi Party
Envelope Addressed To Max Amann
Envelope Addressed To Max Amann