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Survivors return to Auschwitz (JERUSALEM POST) By GREER FAY CASHMAN 01/27/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106796046722 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
In the below zero temperatures of a harsh polish winter aging survivors of Auschwitz Birkenau have come together with delegations from Israel and both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Several of the women are wearing mink coats over expensive sweaters and trousers, one of the most visible signs of life rebuilt after time spent in this inhuman hellhole.

In the below zero temperatures of a harsh polish winter aging survivors of Auschwitz Birkenau have come together with delegations from Israel and both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Several of the women are wearing mink coats over expensive sweaters and trousers, one of the most visible signs of life rebuilt after time spent in this inhuman hellhole.

A middle-aged Israeli woman, a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces, tries to imagine what it was like to be in this place more than 60 years ago, tortured, undernourished and dressed in rags. The image makes her feel guilty about complaining of the cold.

"How can we compare this discomfort to their suffering?" she remarks.

Her mother, a Holocaust survivor who did not accompany her to Poland was thrilled that she was part of one of the Israeli delegations.

"This was her greatest revenge against the Nazis," says the woman, "Not just to survive, but to raise a family in Israel."

Eva Slonim, an Orthodox woman from Australia, finds people whom she has not seen since they were children in Auschwitz. It is a bittersweet reunion. Czech-born Slonim, lost 180 members of her family in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek. On her father´s side, no one was left. Before being captured, Slonim and one of her sisters had hidden under false papers in Bratislava and Nitra. Of all their relatives who were taken to Auschwitz, they were the only two who remained.

"How could you stay religious after what you experienced?" I asked her.

She admits that there were times that she had questions but she always found her bearings. "I talked to Hashem every day and I think that sustained me."

What does coming back to this atrocity filled place mean to her?

"It´s like coming to a cemetery. I feel souls hovering over us in a place where there are no graves and I feel that I am fulfilling a solemn promise to those who with their last breath asked to be remembered and to have a Kaddish said for them."

Yona Laks, from Tel Aviv, and her late sister Hannah, were among the twins who endured the infamous Mengele experiments. Returning to Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a novel experience for Laks. Since 1985, she has been accompanying groups of schoolchildren and IDF soldiers to Auschwitz to give them an eyewitness account of the cruelties that took place here.

"Each time I come back, it´s as if it the first time," she says. "I can still hear the savagery of the dogs, and Mengele´s voice and screams of terror and Nazi officers barking out orders for people to go left or right."

If it is such a tortuous experience, why does she and others like her keep returning?

"We return because this is where we left our loved ones. I am ill each time I come, but I swallow the nausea because I have to be here."

Polish born Laks and her sister who died in Israel were the sole survivors of their family.

Yediot Ahronot veteran journalist Noah Kliger does not allow the Holocaust to dominate his life, but the Auschwitz survivor, who has been back many times, admits that there is not a day in which the Holocaust does not in one way or another invade his consciousness.

"Auschwitz was my university of life," says the French-born survivor. "But at that time, I kept waiting for the gates to open and never really believed they would. Now, I can sit on a bus and instruct the driver to drive through the gates."

Also among the survivors is Pnina Segal, who, at six years of age, was the youngest survivor of Auschwitz.

"How did you manage?" I ask in wonderment.

"It was a miracle," she replies.

"Each day that we survived was a miracle," says Kliger.

For the Jewish survivors, this is a particularly poignant time. To be here with the President of the State of Israel and uniformed members of the IDF in this place, which, more than any other, symbolized the Nazi attempt to annihilate the Jewish people is the greatest proof of all that Hitler failed.

Many of those present, young and old alike, are wearing prominently displayed Stars of David. Not the hated yellow star the Jews were forced to wear and that singled them out for persecution, but large pendants worn with pride and a sense of defiance in the face of the current resurgence of virulent anti-Semitism in Europe. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/27/05)


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