Emma Gatewood was a survivor. When I read the first few lines about her, I thought her story was remarkable, but as I read the whole story, I realized just how remarkable she really was. Emma’s married life was pure torture, with the exception of her children, whom she dearly loved. Emma married her husband, Perry Clayton Gatewood, a 26 year old school teacher, turned farmer, when she was just 19 years old. He was a horrible man, who immediately put her to work building fences, burning tobacco beds, and mixing cement, in addition to her household chores. Three months after their wedding, he started to beat her, a practice he continued until, one day in 1939, he broke her teeth, cracked one of her ribs and bloodied her face. Women didn’t have as many options back then, so Emma was stuck. Because Emma threw a sack of flour at him, the police came and arrested her, not him, and put her in jail. The next day, when the mayor saw her battered face, he took her to his own home, where she remained under his protection until she got back on her feet.
Emma and Perry had 11 children, and unfortunately, the treatment of their mother was not hidden from them. Nevertheless, the story of Emma’s abuse at the hands of her husband went untold for more than a 50 years. In 2014, a newspaper reporter named Ben Montgomery, Emma’s great grand nephew, told her story in his book, “Grandma Gatewood’s Walk.” Emma Rowena (Caldwell) Gatewood passed away on June 04, 1973 in Gallipolis, Ohio, of an apparent heart attack, at the grand old age of 85, having accomplished much since her birth on October 25, 1887, in Gallia County, Ohio. Her father, Hugh Caldwell, a farmer, had lost a leg after being wounded in the Civil War and in his depression, turned to a life of drinking and gambling. Her mother, Evelyn (Trowbridge) Caldwell, raised the couple’s 15 children, who slept four to a bed in the family’s log cabin.
In an interview with her children, Montgomery, who worked for The Tampa Bay Times in Florida. In his research for the book, her surviving children spoke with him and entrusted him with her journals, letters, and scrapbooks. In that material he found stark references to what she had withheld from news interviewers: that her husband had nearly pummeled her to death several times. During one beating, she wrote, he broke a broom over her head. Her children told Montgomery that their father’s sexual hunger had been insatiable and that he forced himself on their mother several times a day. He made their lives a nightmare for years.
The woods became a place of solace and safety for Emma, who would often escape to them amid her husband’s rants. She came to view the wilderness as protective and restorative. In 1937 she left him and moved in with relatives in California. She was forced to leave behind two daughters, ages 9 and 11, who were still at home. Emma knew her husband would not beat the girls, and she could not afford to take them with her. She wrote to the girls to explain it to them, making sure not to leave a return address. In the letter, she wrote, “I have suffered enough at his hands to last me for the next hundred years.” Nevertheless, Emma couldn’t stand to be away from her girls any longer, so she returned after a few months. Her life became a prison after that. Her husband would not let her out of his sight. She later wrote that in 1938, he beat her “beyond recognition” 10 times. “For a lot of people the trail is a refuge,” Brian B. King, a publisher of guidebooks and maps for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, said in a telephone interview. “But seldom is it a refuge for something as bad as that.” A short time later, her husband left for good, filed for divorce, which was granted in 1941, and he was out of her life.
Emma’s hiking became a saving grace for her…she loved it. In 1949, she came across a National Geographic magazine article about the Appalachian Trail and became intrigued to learn in reading it that no woman had ever hiked it solo. In 1954, in her first attempt at hiking the Appalachian Trail, she started out in Maine, but broke her glasses, got lost, and was rescued by rangers, who told her to go home. Undaunted, she tried again in 1955, starting from Georgia this time. She was 67 years old, a mother of 11, a grandmother and even a great-grandmother when she became the first woman to hike the entire Appalachian Trail by herself in one season. She would go on to repeat the feat 2 more times. Soon everyone was calling her “America’s most celebrated pedestrian.” In 1959, Emma went on to conquer the 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail, trekking alone from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon.
The horrors of the Nazis were many, but the worst were what they did to the Jewish people. The gas chambers and the labor camps, experimentation and beatings, were horrible, and this only names a few of the things they did. Hitler was intent on killing as many Jews as he could, and he didn’t care how it got done, as long as it got done. One of the worst, in fact the second worst event of World War II, exceeded only by the 1941 Odessa massacre. The Aktion Erntefest, which translates to Operation Harvest Festival was the murder of 42,000 Jews at the same time. How anyone could call something like that a “festival” is beyond me.
The action was set in motion by the SS and Order Police, and the Ukrainian Sonderdienst formations in the General Government territory of occupied Poland. The murder of the Jewish laborers in concentration camp Lublin/Majdanek and the forced-labor camps Trawniki and Poniatowa was an unfathomable atrocity. The murders were performed in retaliation for the uprisings at the Treblinka and Sobibor killing centers and the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Vilna ghettos that had led to increased concerns about Jewish resistance. To prevent further resistance, SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the killing of surviving Jews in the Lublin District of German-occupied Poland. Most of the remaining Jews were employed in forced-labor projects and were concentrated in the Trawniki…at least 4,000 people, Poniatowa…at least 11,000 people, and Majdanek…about 18,000 people. They were killed at Majdanek, near Lublin on November 3rd and 4th, 1943. The SS shot them in large prepared ditches outside the camp fence near the crematorium. Jews from other labor camps in the Lublin area were also taken to Majdanek and shot. Loud music was played through speakers at both Majdanek and Trawniki to drown out the noise of the mass shootings. The killing at Majdanek was the largest single-day, single-location massacre during the Holocaust.
On the orders of Christian Wirth and Jakob Sporrenberg, the approximately 42,000 to 43,000 Jews were gunned down, and dumped in the ditches. It was not only retaliation for actions of rebellion, but probably also a way to deter any further resistance among the other Jews. The fact that the Jews were viewed an non-humans, made it easier to kill them, I suppose, but the killing were beyond horrible to most decent people, but to the Nazis it was almost considered sport or at the very least fun. To anyone who values human life, it was totally horrific.