Thursday [1/27] is the 60th anniversary of the day Soviet soldiers liberated Auschwitz [OW shvitz], the largest of the Nazi concentration camps where over one point two million Jews, Roma and others were systematically murdered with poison gas and cremated, or starved to death. Over thirteen million people perished during the Holocaust before Germany finally surrendered to Allied forces. Many of those who survived the horrors have sought to share their experiences with others. VOAs Adam Phillips spoke with one Auschwitz survivor.
Bronia - she wanted VOA to use her first name only - is a Polish-born Jew. Bronia is a small woman, but her suffering has been huge.
I was 12 when I came to Auschwitz. We were a family of eight and six members of my immediate family were murdered. Of my mother's eleven siblings and their spouses not one survived. I was eight when the war started; I was 14 when the war ended.
For 50 years, I was not able to say a word about it -- to the extent that my children nor my husband knew that I had siblings. I felt totally constricted, a choking feeling. It took me 25 years to be able to laugh! I still am unable to cry. And I'd like to cry to eternity. The bestiality, the horror. The six years of endless horror!
As a very young child, BRONIA and sisters watched as their parents were shipped off to the death camps. Soon, they were sent to Auschwitz themselves. When they arrived, she and her younger sisters were selected by Nazi doctors for immediate extermination along with the old, the weak and the sick.
When my two baby sisters were taken, we were standing naked, shorn, shaved and tattooed. How can one forget? I escaped the line going to the gas chambers and joined the line where my sister was selected for the slave labor in Auschwitz. My older sister, who was eight years older, and my idol. She was beautiful and she was wonderful and she would light up a room when she was in your presence. (OPT) She always worried about her waistline, and so concerned about her looks. (OPT) She took sick with typhus.
Bronia remembers her sister's body, burning with fever, wasted with diarrhea, lying next to hers on a bare wooden bunk….
… When the head of the barrack came and called me down from the third tier bunk, she told me that all of the barrack was going to go to the gas chambers. She was saving me because I was the only child there… And the dilemma: Was I going to allow myself to be saved? Should I be going with my sister to help her walk? (OPT) Because I knew how they would roughhouse her because she was not able to walk. (OPT) And, in the end, choosing to be saved. (OPT) I did not say goodbye. I was not able to face her. (OPT) And they threw my sister, almost a carcass, by her hands and feet into the truck going to the gas chamber. I have had extreme guilt feelings the rest of my life - (OPT) for not saving my sister who was the whole world to me. (OPT)
It's an emotion she shares with many survivors of genocide. Still, she acknowledges that all the evil she witnessed could also bring out the good in people.
An example of that occurred during the infamous Death March from Auschwitz as the Soviet Army was advancing into Poland in early 1945. Bronia and thousands of others were forced to walk for days in sub-zero weather with no food or water.
… And if you slowed down you were shot. And in fact I did slow down. And there was a lady, a Jewish lady… who saw the gun being pointed at me and picked me up and carried me. Which was a super-human feat because she risked her own life… She told me she had made it her mission to save me, and if she wasn't going to survive, she didn't want to live. An incredible human being!
In many ways, Bronia has made a decent life for herself in America despite what happened to her and her family. Still, today's world leaves her feeling pessimistic.
The fact is, anti-Semitism is on the rise. And it's so scary. (OPT) I never saw I would see the moment it was on the rise again. It bodes very badly. (OPT) And of course, the killings all over - the Rwandas, and the Bosnias, and the Sudan. It just confirms the incorrigibility of human nature. All we can do is continue to remind people and hope they will hear us. This is a museum of remembrance What we cab do beyond that, I don't know…
Bronia works today as a guide at the Museum of Jewish Heritage: a Living Memorial to the Holocaust, in New York. This survivor of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz Poland, spoke with me in connection with the anniversary of liberation of the camp by Soviet Army sixty years ago today. I'm Adam Phillips.