A huge red, white and black swastika covers one wall and Hitler stares from a faded photo in the dingy storefront at Nazi party headquarters. Windows have long been boarded for security, and in the gloom, a far, stolid member folds the decals that say "White, Ban Spics."
It is Monday afternoon and Nazi leader Frank Collin is saying he "welcomes" the four-part TV drama "Holocaust" because it will "make people sick of the Jews and their perpetual complaining."
Party member James Gaynor rushes into the room. "Frank, we've got problems." Gaynor is clutching a 12-gauge shotgun. Patrick Sullivan slams his hand against the butt of a 30-caliber rifle."The niggers are at the front door. I'll get nine or 10 of 'em if they come in here."
Collin, barely 5 feet 7, hops onto a chair to peer through bunker-like slits. A half-dozen party members pour from a stairwell, holding billy clubs. "If they come through that door, blast 'em," Collin yells. He starts a siren that wails incessantly.
There are shouts outside the door. Finally a policemen pounds on the door and, ncessantly.
Finally a policeman pounds on the door and, when Collin opens it, tells the Nazi leader to knock off the siren.
Out front, seven blacks with pickets from the Martin Luther King Movement march in a circle "to dramatize the mass murders of 6 million Jews and thousands of Christians," as their press release states. Nazi headquarters, on the South Side of Chicago, "must go" they shout.
This is 71st Street, Marquette Park, where Martin Luther King Jr. was taunted when he marched in the mid 60s. The Nazi siren has brought many in this blue-collar, heavily ethnic neighborhood into the streets - youths stop their bikes, men in work clothes leave neighborhood saloons.
Eddie Patty, with the stubble of a beard and a work shirt covering his large belly, shouts from the corner about the "goddam Jews stirring up" the blacks.
Nearby a 13-year-old boyd, freckled-faced and blond, pronounces the demonstrators are dumb. "They're as dumb as the Nazis are. The Nazis have a good point of keeping this neighborhood white but following Hitler is dumb."
One funeral home worker on the sidewalk says, "The Nazis aren't bothering nobody, are they?" From across the street a man calls out "Got a quart of gasoline?" A garbage truck driver says, "If they can come here, why can't the Nazis march in Skokie, where the Jews are?"
A few hours later, in Skokie, the heavily Jewish suburb 15 miles from the Chicago Loop, Kurt and Sveren Steinweg, watch a news show about Frank Collin and a competing band of Nazi from Cicero, Ill. Sveren crosses her arms, and her stripped sweater sleeve no longer hides her blue tattoo - A10640 - a remnant from Auschwitz. Earlier in the evening the tears fell as she watched "Holocaust." She remembered how her sister died of typhus three days before they were to be literated. "I kept her by my side, dead, three days. Then I gave her up. I crawled to the Red Cross ambulance."
In Skokie there are an estimated 7,000 concentration camp survivors with similar memories of terror and suffering. They cluster as a "family" - to take the place of their real, obliterated families. Of the 36 members in Steinweg's family, four survived. The children of Skokie's survivors grew up, as one child survivor said, "thinking Jews simply didn't have grandparents."
For three decades, the survivors pushed in a desperate drive to "fit in," to forget.
Ten years ago when David Ross's youngest daughter was a baby, he half-awoke one night, grabbed the infant from the crib and started running. Miriam, his wife grabbed at him, but he pulled away. "The Nazis want to take the baby!" She cornered him by the front door, put her arms him, woke him up.
Ross's nightmare have lessened over the years, but many survivors still say the worst time are at night. Ross, like most Skokie survivors, migrated first to Chicago. They had no money, no belongings. Ross started as a plasterer. He was 24. His teen-age years, the time for his education, had been wiped out in seven years of Buchenwald. He spoke no English.
"I tried my best. I worked two jobs. My wife put dollar with a dollar, we started saving a little. We had a drive to be on our own."
When the Rosses had enough money they moved to Skokie from Chicago. Their spotless home is ornately decorated, fuschia wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room, satin swags, crystal chandeliers, cupid statues. Mariam Ross, like all other women survivors, welcomes visitors with warmth and food - Danish and coffee, cheesecake and bagels.
"This is my palace," she says.
At 57, Ross still works hard as a plasterer. When the war ended he weighed less than 70 pounds. Like many other survivors, he says he is consumed with gathering thousands of signatures on a B'nai B'Rith petition to send to President Carter and the Supreme Court to halt the Nazi march in Skokie, scheduled for June 25.
He talks of the striving of the survivors of a normal life. "When you get a loaf of bread then you are trying for a piece of butter. Little by little, piece by piece, we get it." Many fill their homes with ornate possessions, perhaps trying to erase their days of filth, terror, starvation.
The Steinwegs serve homemade cheesecake and cognac in their living room. Steinweig looks at a worn leather diary of dates to remind him of the half-dozen camps and ghettos he lived in, ending with the Belsen death camp. He reads his notes: "16 of Jan., 1942. My father got killed. Gassed. It was many degrees below zero. They took off all clothes. they put in trucks. I was supposed to go. I ran back and hid in the barracks."
A bricklayer, Steinweg is 5 feet 6 and a burly 170 pounds. He weighed 75 pounds when he was liberated. He met his wife in a displaced-persons camp in Sweden. They married in 1946. An uncle sent papers for them to come to America. "I come with five coins." He now makes $11.70 an hour. "Do I like my work? I have a choice? I'm 57. My lifetime is gone."
Steinweg's son, Lenny, 24, lives with his parents. "It's hard for me to relate to the Holocaust," he says. "It's something that happened to them. you can see it in their eyes when they watch the show."
Like many survivors, the Steinwegs tried to shield their children from their past, often creating a wall of silence. "We live a normal life," they say, almost defensively. "We built our life anew."
But they admit that when they get together with other survivors, the conversation always turns to yesterday's horrors. "There is just no way we cannot," they say.
The children of the Holocaust grew up in America, but often they feel like displaced persons, isolated from other children by a past about which they know little. "Nothing was ever explained by my parents," says Sylvia, who belongs to a support group for children of Holocaust survivors. Sylvia, does not want her last name in print. "That's part of our inherent paranoia," she says with a laugh. "I used to hear my parents talking with other survivors and I fantasized about what really happened. I fantasized they had done something very terrible, in order to survive. Of course, how could I inflict pain by asking them? We built a wall." A friend, Minna, 31, adds, "We lived in fear of inflicting pain on them. I remember breaking my leg in the fifth grade and being terrified that the gym teacher would tell my mother."
Longing for an extended family - like other children - added to her sense of isolation, says Sylvia. "Other survivors became the extended family; it became very oppressive, but of course I couldn't hurt my parents by saying so.
Sylvia says that for the first time, since watching "Holocaust" with her daughter, her mother is opening up.
Two other children of survivors, Esther and Maleta, agree that survivor families tend to be closer than other families and that the children are generally more serious and less concerned with the typical obsessions of youth. "It's hard to be worried about a date for the prom or whether you're going to get into a sorority. I saw other kids almost crack up over these things, but I never would because I would always think about what my parents had been through."
Once, Esther says, she talked about Auschwitz at Sunday school and the mother of a boy in the class called her mother to complain that the discussion had made her son vomit. "My mother was nice and said she was sorry, but I could not think, 'My God, 6 million people died and this woman complains that her son got sick.'"
Although, as Maleta says, "The fact that the brutality (of the fictionalized Holocaust) is real leaves me with such a sense of outrage and fury that I can't begin to describe it." She agrees that the show is helping them to come to grips with their lives.
Some other Jews in Skokie - there are an estimated 40,000 out of the 70,000 residents - are offended by the Hollywood banalities of "Holocaust" which, they feel, reduces the horror to a soap opera. Others found it too depressing to watch.
But for most of the survivors interviewed here, commercial television was authenticating their long, silent horrors; it was the chance to show the unshowable, to explain the inexplicable. "So what if it is unreal that one family could go through all of this?" asked Buchenwald survivor David Ross. "If they took one family from Warsaw ghetto to Buchenwald that would be just one little part. They tried to show more. They could never show it all."
The Jews of Skokie do not really interest Frank Collin as he bustles around in his Chicago headquarters filled with White Power hate literature. They are merely a vehicle that has brought him world-wide publicity. "Skokie dramatizes that our First Amendment rights have been denied. I want to march here, in Marquette Park; we want to stir upour sympathizers. My interest is in getting the white working class and the youth. These people are sick and tired of the Jews. When we passed the hat in the park, we got $1,500 just to get us out of jail."
Collin, 33, smile proudly when someone says he looks like Hitler - but he is maligned by other Nazi groups because of well-documented reports that his father was a Jew named Cohn. Collin says, "That's a lie," put out by the FBI in "doctored" records.
Collin takes to a telephone hotline to blast the television production as a "nighttime of lies." He "welcomes" the show, however, because "it will do precisely what we want. We want to polarize things - I don't like this hazy situation. This show was done primarily for us. They did it to coincide with our Skokie march." (They had originally planned to march today, which is Hitlers birthday.)
Collin has a following of only 12 - mostly working-class, school dropouts. But they point to 17 swastika flags on a United States map that represent other headquarters.
"Hitler started only a few and everyone said he was crazy," says Erna Gans, a survivor who is working to halt the Skokie march. Many survivors feel there is a new wave of anti-Semitism. They point to polls showing the drop in American support of Israel, they point out that Arthur Butz, an engineering professor at North-western University, is getting a lot of mileage around Chicago with a book declaring that the Holocaust was a hoax.
'We have war criminals in our midst today," says Ross - a reference to a South Side Chicago retired factory worker, Frank Walus, who is being sued by the Justice Department to revoke his citizenship and have him deported. The government claims Walus concealed war crimes when he came to the United States in 1959. Eleven survivors of the Holocaust have been witnesses in Federal court, pointed their fingers at Walus as a Gestapo officer who murdered nearly two dozen Jews, including small children, in Poland between 1939 and 1943. Walus denies all.
Walus, 55, wears a military crewcut. He is only 5 feet 2, has little formal education and spent most of the post-war years as a factory worker in Chicago. Retired because of poor health, Walus spends his days tending the lawn and tulip garden outside the well-kept duplex he owns in a blue-collar neighborhood.
Talking rapidly in broken English with a thick accent and clearing the air with his hands for emphasis, Walus tells anyone who will listen that he was born in Germany of Polish parents, moved at age 10 with his family to a village near Kielce, Poland. In 1940, he says, the Germans "took not only me but many" from the village to Germany to work. He claims he spent the next five years working on four German farms, oblivious to the war until it was over.
Walus, without detectable indignation or distress, insists the witnesses against him are mistaken. "I feel very sorry for them with the Nazis.The Nazis never played around with the Jews." He is in trouble now, he says, only because he opened his home several years ago to a young Jewish Polish immigrant and because his mother-in-law told a wild story.
Walus says the immigrant, MIchael Alper, 33, came to him one day in 1972 and said he had been stopped on the street by a woman who asked him, "Do you know that man you're living with, he's a Gestapo?" I asked him who said that and he said 'She's your mother-in-law.'" Walus says he ridiculed the charge. Several months later, Walus says, he threw Alper out of the house. Now, Walus contends, Alper is trying to get back at him with "these lies."
Senior U.S. District Court Judge Julius J. Hoffman has taken the case under advisement and is expected to announce a decision in about a month. Walus takes pains to point out that Hoffman is a ew. "The timing is terrible," Walus' lawyer, Robert Korenkiewicz, complains. "While Hoffman is deliberating, the Holocaust is on TV, the governor has proclaimed the Holocaust Remembrance Week and the Nazis are running all over town."
But Walus doesn't seem to mind the timing and says he watched "Holocaust" avidly. "Listen, the film is okay, but in my opinion they should have gone more strong - just like it was. More real, like it really was. If you want to know what happened you have to talk to people in a concentration camp.
It is precisely this fact - that those who never were there can never truly know - that has spurred the survivors to tell their stories. Some express guilt that they had not resisted when the Nazi movement began in the 1930s. "We listened to our leaders in the ghetto who said this would not happen. No one ever believed that people could do this to other human beings. Right up until the last, most had hope, says Erna Gans.
The survivors are disturbed when others tell them not to resist the Nazi Skokie march. "That what we did the last time," says one. "We cannot let that happen again." Few think this march is a First Amendment Right. "Yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater is not freedom of speech because it emotionally endangers peoples' lives," says Sylvia. "It is the same with this march."
Above all they seem to want to make a gesture of resistance for their children. "In a few years we will all be gone," says David Roth, "we must keep things safe for our children."
Some of the children of survivors see the life for their parents built as especially positive. "Our parents had a 'second lifetime'. They built second families," says Minna. "I had a sister killed in the Holocaust. They never spoke to her. That they could go through all of that, and still want to give birth, is a tremendous reaffirmation of life. We see ourselves as their expression of hope."