[guest post by Dana]
I could not let the day close without posting about the memorial ceremony at Auschwitz today. I was overwhelmed as I read survivors’ stories as well as reading their reactions to today’s events as they journeyed back to the place where everything precious and good had been torn from them. I pray that these amazing people be blessed in these, their last years. May they be overwhelmed by the loving-kindness of family and may their hearts and minds know a restful peace.
Around 300 survivors of Auschwitz gathered in Poland to mark the 70th year since its liberation. Approximately 1.1 million Jews met their deaths at Auschwitz, while some 200,000 survived. Many of the survivors determined to never let anyone forget what happened – lest it happen again.
And of course, being back at Auschwitz for the memorial was a very emotional experience for the survivors:
Sitting in the front row were four British survivors, including a sprightly 84-year-old Hampstead grandmother who, until yesterday, had been unable to face coming back. Widowed earlier this month, she is profoundly glad she came.
‘I felt such turmoil, such anger seeing this place again,’ Susan Pollack told me last night.
‘But this ceremony was so uplifting that it will be one of the defining memories of my life.’
In the summer of 1944, aged 13, she emerged, gasping for air, from a fetid cattle truck (in which several people had died) just yards from here only to be dragged away from the mother she would never see again. Stripped, shaved and housed ten to a bunk, Susan withdrew inside herself, spoke to no one and barely noticed when a random wave of an SS finger eventually sent her not to the gas chambers but a slave labour camp.
In early 1945, with the Allies approaching, her captors sent her on a ‘death march’, a merciless retreat through the snow, to a place which evokes memories every bit as terrifying as Auschwitz – the human abattoir of Bergen-Belsen.
By the time it was liberated by the British in April 1945, Susan was lying among the dead when a British medic spotted signs of life. He carefully carried the skeletal 14-year-old to his ambulance. ‘The very fact that this soldier was picking me up and holding me was an act of human kindness I have never got over. I still can’t,’ she says brightly.
‘Someone actually caring for me again – it still brings out tears.’
David Wisnia, 89, a cantor from Philadelphia, held up a photograph of his family of four children, five grandchildren and his wife of 64 years, and said: “This is my proof that Hitler didn’t win in the end.” Wisna, originally from Poland, who spent two-and-a-half years in Auschwitz, will sing the Jewish funeral prayer at the former death camp in front of thousands.
“I’m overwhelmed that I could live long enough to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation,” he said. “I’m amazed that I survived my time in the camps. I still find it unbelievable what happened.”
‘We do not want our past to be our children’s future,’ declared Roman Kent. ‘That is the key to my existence.’
‘It has been routine to use the word “lost” when referring to loved ones,’ he said.
‘Six million Jews? They were not “lost”. They were murdered. Those that died did not “perish” but were murdered. By using sanitised words, we are helping the deniers.’
He concluded that he would like to add an eleventh commandment to the Old Testament list: ‘You should never, never be a bystander!’