Why did some people survive Auschwitz?
Auschwitz survivor: "I dreamed of food every night"
As the bus rumbled along the gray and a little shabby train station in the Polish city of Auschwitz - the rusted railroad tracks were powdered with snow - an old man suddenly began to cry: his croaking, haunted sobs echo through the bus, which had fallen silent . His wife whispers softly in his ear, slowly caressing his arm. She clutched his arms tightly as they both got off the bus and dragged their way through the mud to the main entrance of the Auschwitz Museum. There they meet a group of journalists and survivors: men and women who, despite the desperate situation, survived hunger and countless other atrocities in Auschwitz and other German concentration camps. They have returned 70 years after the camp was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.
Natan Grossmann passes a group of laughing and jostling Italian students at the ticket counter. Grossmann - he hunched his shoulders forward against the ice-cold wind - remembers the endless nights in Birkenau, a subcamp of Auschwitz: "Every night I dreamed that my mother cooked food for me, huge plates of delicious food." His smile is distorted: his mother, father and brother were all murdered by the Nazis. At 15, Grossmann was on his own, first in the concentration camp and then on the long death march when the Red Army approached and the Nazis took their prisoners to camps on German territory. He shrugs his shoulders: he woke up a few nights and noticed that he hadn't dreamed of eating. "That made me so sad."
"That can happen again"
When Grossmann reached the notorious entrance to Auschwitz, with his contemptuous writing "Arbeit macht frei" emblazoned above the gate in large black letters, he was suddenly called aside by one of the organizers, who set up a group of survivors under the gate - in front a number of cameramen and photographers.
Jeffrey Tuchman, a happy middle-aged documentary filmmaker, is watching next to the barbed wire fence, leaning against a barrack. "If the media had been there then," he says, "someone might have stopped the killing." He shrugs. He reports that his father Marcel never wanted to be one of those "professional survivors" speaking about the horrors of the Holocaust in schools and churches. But then, when his father noticed that the generation of survivors was dying out and there was no one left to tell the story in the face of a growing number of Holocaust deniers, he changed his mind, says Tuchman.
A few steps further, on the other side of the fence, his father is surrounded by four journalists and a cameraman. Why, asks a young journalist, is he in Auschwitz and how does it feel? Marcel Tuchman, who survived the death camp because a German engineer sent the then 21-year-old to the Siemens factory as a slave laborer, chooses his words carefully: "The Holocaust didn't happen overnight," he says. "There have already been hints. So the important message is, this can happen again." "And," he adds, "I come to honor all those whose voices were forever silenced in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and its satellite camps," an estimated more than a million people.
"Young people don't know enough about it"
Another journalist interferes: "But how does it feel to be back again?" Tuchmann's smile is crooked: "Well, I can tell you, it's not exactly a relaxing vacation." But, he adds, he didn't survive to indulge in self-pity, but to make the best of life. He teaches Medicine, he says and: “I teach my students to be human.” He smiles.
To his left, another group of journalists surround Samuel Beller, who was born in the city of Auschwitz and was imprisoned a little later behind the gates of Auschwitz. "I survived indescribable agony for years," he says into the next microphone. His voice is hoarse and angry. "It's a painful story. It should be told a thousand times." His voice breaks, but he continues: "The young people of today just don't know enough about it."
Behind him, tourists walk slowly over the snow-covered paths around the buildings, taking photos of the gallows where dozens of inmates were hanged, of the wooden guard house and the barbed wire fence. In Barrack 5, the Italian youths stopped in front of a pane of glass: Behind it lies a huge pile of human hair, some hair is still braided - hair that was shaved off the heads of children, women and men after their arrival at the camp. Many of them were immediately sent to the gas chambers to die. A very large stack of rusted tin cans, in which the poison Zyklon B was kept, reaching to the ceiling, is exhibited behind another pane of glass. A middle-aged man takes a picture with his cell phone, then stares at it without moving, ignoring the other visitors who are pushing forward to see something.
Outside, an old Polish man, wearing thin, blue-and-white striped convict clothing over his thick coat, is slowly walking down the main street, followed by a German camera team. Marcel Tuchman has his back to the barracks and slowly moves towards the gate. When he got there, he turned to his son and whispered: "I never want to visit the camp again". His son nods: "It's okay, father, you don't have to either." His voice is calm and comforting.
When the bus brings the survivors and their families back to their hotels in Krakow, most of them are silent, staring out at the snow-covered fields and villages. Then a survivor, a lively woman sitting in the back of the bus, starts a conversation with the young person sitting next to her, fragments of words penetrate the bus. "Maybe", says the survivor in a warm voice, "you should use online dating sites. You know, many young people find their partners this way".
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