A visit to The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2126 / 202-488-0400) is not only recommended, it's essential. The Museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of those who lived and died during the horrifying years of the Holocaust. I've had some difficulty in accepting the tragic scope of what I saw at the Museum--how can anyone adequately conceive of such a thing? How do you truly understand what happened? How it happened and why? The Holocaust Museum is more than effective in helping us to try and understand this shameful and profoundly senseless part of history.

In trying to comprehend the enormity of the Holocaust we can all take away one of the true messages that the Holocaust tells us: never again.

During my visit to the Holocaust Museum I randomly chose the identity card of someone who lived during the Holocaust (there was a large box with several hundred cards to choose from, but I was mindful of the fact that identity cards for all the people who lived and died during the Holocaust would fill several warehouses).

I continued to be amazed at the power of this wonderful new medium--the World Wide Web--to disseminate information. I feel compelled--here--to share the story of the small boy on my identity card. His name was Ossi and all that we have is the blurred picture above. In another reality who would Ossi have been? Would he be a grandfather by now? Would his life have been happy and fulfilling? How many others would his life have touched?

We'll never know the answers to these haunting questions.

This is Ossi's story . . . . . .

Name: Ossi Stojka

Date of Birth: 1936
Place of Birth: Austria

Ossi was the youngest of six children born to Roman Catholic Gypsies who traveled in a family wagon. Their caravan spent winters in Vienna, Austria's capital, and summers in the Austrian countryside. The Stojkas belonged to a tribe of Gypsies called the Lowara Roma, who made their living as itinerant horse traders. Ossi's ancestors had lived in Austria for more than 300 years.

1933-39: Ossi was 2 years old when Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. The Stojka family wagon was parked for the winter in a Vienna campground when the Germans marched in. They ordered the Gypsies to stay put. The Stojkas had to convert their wagon into a wooden house and had to adjust to staying in one place.

1940-44: Gypsies were forced to register as members of a different "race." When Ossi was 5, the Germans took away his father. Next, they took his sister, Kathi. Finally, Ossi and the rest of his family were deported to a Nazi camp in Birkenau for Gypsies. There was very little to eat, mostly turnips. Little Ossi fell ill with typhus, and was taken to the barracks for sick prisoners. The infirmary was often referred to by prisoners as the "antechamber of the crematoria."

Ossi was given no medical treatment in the infirmary, and died of typhus and malnutrition. He was 7 years old.


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