Many deaf Jews were tortured and killed during the Holocaust. Some were forcibly sterilized. Fortunately, Charlotte Friedman was not one of them. Using sign language, she tells her story of survival on Jewish Deaf Multimedia.

We often think of the horror of the Holocaust in pictures and words. But what about sounds? Low-flying planes. Bombs, gunshots, artillery, tanks. Nazis barking orders. This is what I think of from stories I’ve heard, books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched. But what about a deaf person’s experience in the Holocaust. The sound of silence? Probably not.

Other senses are heightened when a person is missing one. People who are deaf often have a keener sense of sight and smell. What the smells must have been like in the camps and ghettos. And what about blind people? Did they hear things others didn’t? Perhaps they heard the Nazis before people with sight did? In some ways being deaf or blind must have sheltered them from the full force of the Nazi assault, but if it heightened other senses, then maybe it was just atrocious in a different way.

Here’s another video of a blind-deaf Holocaust survivor. Her name is Doris Fedrid and she’s quite animated in her story. In addition to subtitles there’s also an audio track, which I found made it much easier to watch.

And finally, this incredible story. In 1975, Horst Biesold, a teacher of deaf students in West Germany, wondered why none of his deaf friends had children. When he asked one of them he was told that the Nazis sterilized deaf people in the 1930s. By 1940, sterilization was replaced by murder, which the Nazis dubbed, “mercy killings.” Under Hitler’s regime, approximately 17,000 deaf people were sterilized and 1,600 were murdered. Biesold’s book, Crying Hands: Eugenics and Deaf People in Nazi Germany, was published in 2004.

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