By Eshaan Puri, Class of 2020
George Levy Mueller, a Holocaust survivor, shared his story with Boothies at a talk organized by JBSA in observance of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). His stoic, brutally honest and nuanced telling of events gave us a personal window into a horrifying time in human history. Not only did George chronicle his experience a child in the Holocaust but also shared his regrets from the war and his struggle with identity after the war.
George Levy was born in Lippstadt, Germany in 1930, and was eight years old when he began feeling being discriminated against. He was kicked off the soccer team, banished from history lessons, and was beaten by his classmates and his teachers, who now wore SA uniforms and carried guns. In parallel, George’s parents were also beginning to feel the brunt of Nazi Germany. By 1938, the streets of Germany were full of graffiti depicting the Jewish people as rats and proclamations of spilling of Jewish blood being spilt. Suddenly, Jewish Germans were no longer citizens. George’s father, despite having received an Iron Cross for his service in WWI, was sent to a concentration camp. He was released in six weeks but came back on a stretcher and passed away soon after. George’s mother helped her two children flee to the Netherlands, but in 1940, the Germans overran Holland. George saw the same cycle play out again – they couldn’t go to the movies, were banned from government jobs and had to wear a Star of David with the word ‘Jew’ on it. There was some perverse poetic justice in Holland though – the Dutch hated the Nazis and did not discriminate against the Jewish community.
George was thirteen when his friend’s father, the chief of police, sent him and his sister to Vught concentration camp. It was the first of three concentration camps in which they would spend the next five years. George narrated the horrors of the camps in excruciating detail – about seeing prisoners being tortured, living in squalor and disease, the terror of the death trains, the feeling of constant hunger and uncountable heinous acts he had to endure. Yet, he had the generosity to pick out the odd acts of kindness he received – a man preventing George from being gassed by faking that George was half-Jewish, a guard giving him a slice of bread when he was hungry. George also had the magnanimity to say that not everyone could be a hero and that not everybody was bad all the time.
George and his sister were liberated by the Russian army in 1945 while on a death train. He left Holland in 1947 for the United States and took on the surname Mueller, leaving behind a name that he felt had brought him nothing but trouble. He revealed his true name to others only decades later. In his early years in the US, George forced himself to confront decisions that he had made in the camps that he wasn’t proud of, decisions he had made as someone trying to survive.
George’s story was simultaneously inspirational and petrifying, a recount of an indomitable human will to survive pitted against the depths of human cruelty. It is a story we are lucky to have heard in successive years at Booth. We hope that George is back again in future to bring to the fore a black mark in our collective story, stir our hearts with his courage and to serve as a stark reminder about what we must all guard against.