Among the 6 million people who were systematically killed as part of the Holocaust were two — a man and a woman whose vastly different experiences before and during WWII paint vivid pictures of what life was like for a Jewish individual as Hitler rose to and claimed power as one of history's most formidable dictators.
This one man and this one woman are just two verses to a very long song, but their stories and their survival shed an important light on the brutality of war, the unthinkable grievances of genocide and the hope that springs from knowing and building a life on the other side of it all.
It is easier to understand history through the people who lived it. That's why it's important to get to know Irving and Rosie.
Irving Guttman and Rosie Polkenfeld didn't know each other until WWII ended. And as Jews living in war-torn Poland and Romania, they would never have known each other had they not — on their own, in their individual battles — done everything they could to survive.
And survive they did.
They endured brutal beatings, recovered from horrible illness and injuries, survived near starvation and escaped deadly raids. They were deemed “useful Jews” — Irving no doubt for his fluency in at least six languages, Rosie likely for her skills as a budding seamstress and her willingness to obey.
Being useful saved their lives, on many occasions, as they endured the slaughter of family members and friends at the hands of the Nazi regime.
And being useful brought them together, allowing them to write a second chapter to their young lives — one that included building a family, fostering a community and creating a legacy that outweighs the pain they endured.
The deaths of 6 million people is difficult to comprehend. The murder of 6 million is even more chilling.
It's why this project exists — to humanize a historical event that did everything it could to dehumanize its victims.
Throughout the course of history, and even into the present day, dictators rise and fall. Atrocities and genocide continue. War strips away humanity. And survivors live to tell the tale in hopes of creating a better understanding of the trauma they endured and the trauma they will have to make room for in their lives until their time on Earth is done.
Irving and Rosie have harrowing and hopeful stories to tell. And the documentation that accompanies those stories truly cements their place in history.
Their story is a family one, for sure. But it's also a valuable historical one, too.
Millions lost their lives in the Holocaust. An untold number survived, as the Nazi regime's mission to extinguish all Jewish lives was cut short by allied forces who put an end to the unthinkable genocide.
Irving and Rosie have more stories than they were ever willing to share.
But, the more voices that join the choir, the louder the chorus becomes. It's why this project includes space for others to share their accounts of survival. Because, Irving and Rosie were only two among millions.
Every story matters.