Back to Online Exhibit

Planting Seeds of Hate

By: Mitzi J. Levin
Survivor: Bass, Jack

Seeds of prejudice and hate were planted early in the public schools of pre-Hitler Germany.

“Antisemitism certainly didn’t begin with Hitler. But he was the catalyst that set in motion what many people already felt,” Jack Bass recalls.

These evil seeds took root and grew in young minds, corrupting and distorting social tolerance. It was common for Jewish children to suffer humiliation at the hands of teachers and students in the classroom. Children learned to inflict painful words and deeds upon their Jewish classmates. As adults, these children became the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Jack was eight years old when he was required by his teacher to recite a demeaning passage from the poem “The Tree Which Wanted to Change Its Leaves” by Friedrich Ruckert. Each time this poem was read, Jack was called forward to tell the story of a bearded Jew who stole the golden leaves from a beautiful tree in the forest.

“When I recited those lines, the other children looked at me with disdain. I felt they were thinking, ‘Those dirty Jews. They spoil everything that is good and beautiful.’ “

Jack survived the Holocaust and in the ensuing decades has witnessed a positive change in social tolerance. Today, he is among a group of survivors who speak to school groups through a program of the Alabama Holocaust Education Center. Their goal is to provide effective education in public and private schools concerning the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights as well as to fortify young people with historical knowledge that will lead them to help prevent the recurrence of such evil.

The Tree Which Wanted to Change Its Leaves

by Friedrich Ruckert

A tree stood in the forest in any kind of weather

It only had needles instead of leaves

And it would have liked to do better

Nobody touches me and it might sound bold

I would like leaves of real gold

At night the little tree fell asleep

Dreaming of golden leaves it would reap

And the morning came and in the wood

He was the only one with golden leaves he stood

But when evening came a Jew

Went through the forest

With a big sack and a long beard

Towards the golden leaves he neared

Sticks them all in his sack and rushes away

Leaving the nuded tree to pray

If I would only wish once more

Please give me the needles I had before

The tree fell asleep and when dawn arrives

His needles were back he had all his life

See for yourself, but stay away

His needles could hurt you for the rest of the day

This shortened version was translated by Survivor Jack Bass.