Bea Karp was born in 1932 into a Jewish Orthodox family in the town of Lauterbach in Western Germany, the year before Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany. She was only six years old when German forces entered Austria, initiating Germany’s hostility toward Europe. Despite the Nazi reign of destruction on her beloved Jewish community and her stay at Gurs, the first and largest concentration camp built in prewar France, Bea persevered. She learned early that silence was never an option. As a Holocaust survivor, she has been telling her story for decades, educating people about the atrocities of war to honor those who perished and ensure that it will never happen again. Bea continues to tell her story throughout the UNO and Omaha communities.
For Bea Karp, silence was never an option. She understood from an early age that the only way to fight back, to avenge the death of her parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and community members, to make some kind of sense of the dark and horrific times of her childhood, and defeat the Nazi killing machine years after the end of WWII, was to tell her story. Bea has been telling her story for decades. She has been telling it to anyone who asks, to all who will listen. She has been telling it to teachers, friends, neighbors, middle-school students, high-school students, and college students in churches, synagogues, and schools. Throughout it all, she knows—silence is not an option. Silence is deadly. The only way to fight back is to tell her story, letting her words do the fighting.
Bea was born
In 1961, the Israeli government captured, investigated, tried, and sentenced to death Adolph Eichmann, one of Hitler’s high-ranking officers, who was in charge of operating and commanding Nazi troops to murder all Jewish people under Nazi occupation (Remember.org)[Read more about the trial]. The world watched the trial in which dozens of survivors recalled their close and dreadful encounters with Eichmann and their experiences during the Holocaust. The events of this trial made it all the way to the small town of O’Neal where one of Bea’s neighbors became intrigued to learn more about the Holocaust. That neighbor, who was also a teacher at the local school, asked Bea if she would be willing to tell her story to the teachers during a Teachers’ Tea. Bea accepted her friend’s invitation. She had been working hard at being more outgoing and
Bea’s family began evaluating their new reality. In 1937, her uncle, aunt, and grandmother decided to leave Germany for the wild and unknown territories of Palestine, where Jews hoped to migrate to establish a Jewish population in the land of Zion and save themselves from the escalation of events in Europe: “My uncle knew what was going to be. So he took my aunt and grandmother and left for Palestine,” Bea recalled with sadness (Interview Karp). Unfortunately, she never got to see her beloved grandmother again, who died before Bea had a chance to make the trip to Israel. Her father Moritz and mother Rosa were hesitant about leaving Germany. “I think my father was a bit scared of leaving Lauterbach because, you know, where were we going to go? What were we going to do? My father had responsibilities. He
When Bea was eight, she, her family, and the rest of the German Jewish population were transferred to concentration camps. They were taken to Gurs, the first and largest concentration camp built in prewar France. Gurs was located in the Basque region of southwestern France and was situated in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains northwest of Oloron-Sainte-Marie (USHMM 1). In October 1940, Nazi Germany deported about 7,500 Jews from southwestern Germany across the border into France. The French Vichy government concentrated most of them in Gurs, and Bea’s family was among those deportees (USHMM 5). Bea recalled how a friend who went back to Germany in the 1970’s traveled to that camp. All he found was an empty, vast field, no recollection of the horrid time she and so many others spent there. Click here to learn more
During my second interview with Bea, I asked to see pictures of her family—her daughters, husband, and grandchildren—and pictures and memories from her life after the war. Cautiously, I also asked if she had any pictures or items she somehow managed to save from before the war. Most Survivors lost everything and were left only with a faint memory of what their loved ones looked like. As she led me into her kitchen, I was pleased to see the pictures of her grandchildren smiling at me from within golden and wooden frames. I was even more pleased to see some black and white pictures spread among the color ones, including a group picture of her family members; one of Bea as a four-year-old with a strange smile on her face; and one of her father sitting in front of a
Bea did not stay in the convent for much longer. After the war, OSE tried to find any living family members for the children they had sent to hideout in convents. Bea’s parents were nowhere to be found. It took several years after the war for Bea to learn that her parents were sent from Gurs Concentration Camp to the death camps in Poland. OSE found Bea’s aunt and uncle in London, and Bea and her sister were sent to live with them. At the age of thirteen, Bea had to learn an entirely new language and adjust to a normal life. Her aunt and uncle sent her to school. Since she only had one year of elementary education, Bea found school to be difficult. She had a hard time sitting in class and paying attention. She earned low test