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Friday, January 27, 2017

Horror of Auschwitz Recalled on Holocaust Memorial Day

‘You were just clinging to life’

Holocaust Memorial Day each year remembers the estimated 6 million Jews systematically slaughtered in the Nazi genocide which wiped out two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.

The world observes those murdered on January 27 and reflects on the atrocities of the World War II, in an effort to ensure that mankind doesn't repeat the horrific mistakes of its past.

This year marks the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland by the Soviet Red Army, eight months before the war officially ended.

Around 7,000 people were still in the Auschwitz camp when the Soviets arrived, with the many other prisoners sent out on a death march.

Here we remember some of the harrowing stories of those lucky to have escaped imprisonment and death in the infamous Auschwitz death camp.

Primo Levi

Initially interned at Fossoli, Levi was transported along with 650 other Italian Jews to Auschwitz in February 1944 but was only one of 20 who actually emerged from the camp. The 25-year-old fell ill with scarlet fever in late 1944 and when the Red Army approached, all inmates, excluding those already ill, were rounded up, with most then killed. Levi’s illness at the time spared him certain death.

She had asked the older women: "What is that fire?"
And they had replied: "It is we who are burning."
Primo Levi

Ephraim Reichenberg, Hungary

Born in 1927, Ephraim and his family were deported to the camp in July 1944, where he and his brother Menashe avoided the gas chambers by claiming they were twins. As a result, however, they had a number of experiments conducted on them by the infamous Nazi doctor, Joseph Mengele. After being liberated from the camp, Menashe was hospitalized and died a year later as a result of experiments.

They injected us at the base of the neck with a certain substance that after the war 
we found out to be cancer cells. The experiment was done time and time again. 
Mengele would sit on the side and take notes.
Ephraim Reichenberg

Viktor Frankl, Austria

A psychiatrist, Frankl survived three concentration camps over three years, including Auschwitz, where both his mother and brother would be killed. On his first day at the camp, he witnessed a haunting sight that stuck with him throughout his life – smoke emerging from the chimneys where bodies were being burned. 

U.S. Army / Public Domain

Elie Wiesel, Hungary

Wiesel, 15, and his family were deported to the camp, where both his mother and sister were killed shortly after. Wiesel said he went ''from despair to despair,” later revealing the only glimmer of hope keeping him going was knowing that his father was alive. "I knew that if I died, he would die,” Wiesel said. Wiesel’s father died, however, shortly after the pair were moved to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. That was their obsession to be remembered, and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.
Elie Wiesel
Erling Mandelmann / photo©ErlingMandelmann.ch / CC BY-SA 3.0

Eugene Black, Czechoslovakia

Born in 1928, Black was brought to Auschwitz in May 1944 on a cattle truck and separated from the remainder of his family. Forced into slave labor, Black’s job was to load rocks onto truck for up to 14 hours per day, ultimately resulting in pneumonia. “We were full of lice,” Black said. “I tried to make myself small so no-one noticed me.”

“It is hard for anyone to understand unless you were there," he said. 
"You were just clinging to life. We were so starved and hungry and thirsty and afraid.” 
Eugene Black

USHMM/Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography