The key

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© Frank Sandbye-Ruud 2017

There is only one thing in our lives that are absolutely certain. Death. We will all die some day. The means of how we leave this life are as different as there are people on earth.

As a soldier in several wars and conflict areas I had to think about my own death. On two of my mission I made a testament in case I was KIA (Killed In Action). Soldiers are aware, or are made aware of the risk they take when signing up for missions in war zones.  I have always been at peace with this facts. I want to live a full and healthy life of course, but I will not worry about the day when death comes. Neither did I on my missions.

I have been a lot in the media, because I’m a wounded warrior, so many people know me through newspapers and online stories. That will not count when I am gone. The legacy we leave are carried on by those we leave behind, and our closest ones. I have material things of value that will be passed on, so there will also be physical evidence of my existence. The house I live in is 153 years old this year. Hopefully it will stand for another 150 years and house my relatives. I will be dead, so I will have no say anyways. There will be definite traces of me, that I’m sure of.

In my last post I asked you to do this:

«Imagine a small family. A father, a mother, and two small girls, lets say they are 2 and 4 years old. Let’s give them names. The father, who is a great worker, has a limp. He was born with a bone disease, which made his right leg a little shorter. His name is Jakub. His wife Sally is a housewife who tends to their two small girls, Lea and Ester. Both have inherited their mothers dark and curly hair. Their families immigrated to Lublin after Tsar Alexander I of Russia limited the Jews rights in the Russian area.»

I could have used actual names and victims, but I couldn’t have used testimonies! The story is built on actual historical events, the names are typical pre war Polish Jewish names taken from lists.

There are testimonies of people seeing the endless gray mass passing.

There are testimonies of perpetrators telling how they killed millions of innocent people, and there are testimonies of those who participated involuntarily in the massacre of the European Jewry. I’m talking about engine drivers, Jewish Policemen and Judenrat. I am talking about Sonderkommandos and others who were forced to do the Nazi’s biddings. I’m talking about locals who saw much of the process.

There are thousands of testimonies who will tell the story of how the Jakub’s, Sally’s, Lea’s and Ester’s of the European Jews were brutally thrown into cargo trains, and if they survived the trip, how their life ended in the gas chambers of the extermination camps in terrible agony and extreme fear.

There are thousands of testimonies, but almost no one telling that they saw this little family disappear into the jaws of the gas chamber in the extermination camp Bełżec. From Bełżec there are two survivors of 450 000 innocent women, children and men killed from March 17 to December 1942.

This is the story of many Jewish families during the Shoah (Holocaust). Total annihilation. From Norway, 250 families were totally annihilated.

Before the victims came to the extermination camps everything was taken from them. They were forced out of businesses, their homes, and could only bring what they could carry. Their belongings were soon plundered by the Nazis, or in other cases, locals.

The archives were destroyed, the names and Mezuzah (doorpost) were removed from the buildings. In many cases the buildings, as being Jewish or in the ghetto were destroyed or torn down. The bricks used for other buildings or as in the concentration camp Majdanek, foundation for the roads.

Then they destroyed the Jewish cemeteries. In some cases exhumed the bones and desecrated the remains which were thrown away or used otherwise. In other cases built upon their grounds. The concentration camp Płaszów were built upon two cemeteries, the headstones used to pave the camp road.

Most victims were in transit camps or ghettos, where they lost even more of the little what they had brought.

Finally at the arrival their last belongings were taken from them. Their clothes, shoes, valuables, bags and suitcases. Then they lost their hair if it was long enough to be used for industrial purposes.

Then they lost their life in the gas chambers. The Nazis then checked the bodies for valuables, pulled gold teeth, and finally threw the bodies in mass graves, or burnt them to ashes. The ashes were dispersed of in rivers, dumps, in fields and used as fertilizer. Every trace were to be wiped out. There should be as the Jews of Europe had never existed.

When all is destroyed and taken away, what is then left? There are none to tell this and millions of others histories. Some are lucky to know where there relatives were buried or killed, but for most it is a deep black hole.

For those who lost it all, the families are gone forever. What are their legacy? What do they leave for posterity? Only what they dropped where they were undressing. Only what the Nazis deemed useless.

In the excavations of the extermination camps of the Einsatz Reinhard, there are a few objects which reoccur. Hairpieces, combs, toothbrushes, buttons and coins. Small personal objects. In some instances there are small pieces of jewelry and rings.

And there are keys. House keys, and smaller keys for suitcases, boxes and chests. The house keys becomes essential. Why did they bring their house keys?

First of all, hope. They were hoping to one day return to their homes. They locked their houses, or brought the key to be able to enter again one day. I believe this to be confirmed by the total lack of Mezusot (doorposts) in the belongings they brought with them. The Mezuzah is an important part of a Jewish home. It is only removed when you move from the apartment or house. Otherwise it’s left in place. For me this shows very clearly that they were going back, or had high hopes of this happening.

The lies the Nazis told them also had effect here. All the way from their homes until the undressing in the exterminations camps they were told they were being resettled into arbeitslager (work camps) or were sent to other areas to resettle in Jewish communities.

The keys were discarded by the Nazis as an object of absolutely no value. The metal was something they couldn’t utilize, otherwise they would have done it.

What does these keys represent today?


It is now the only legacy of the murdered victims. It is proof of their existence, and of the atrocities which took place there.

It is «Never Again!» incarnate. In all its simplicity its screams to us from place where the terror was endless, thus becoming the voice of the victims.

It is the only memory left by this family, and therefore becomes infinitely important. Keys we today displace and have no personal relations to other than the extreme inconvenience when they are missing.

This is a key, this was life, now its a voice of the unjustly killed! 


The key in the drawing is done by freehand from one of the keys in the museum at the extermination camp Bełżec. Muzeum – Miejsce Pamięci w Bełżcu


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