By John Freund.
At my age of 83, I am surely not the only Holocaust survivor member of our Temple, but I am probably the youngest. Having lost my freedom in April 1942 at the age of 12, as a second son of a pediatrician in a small town in Czechoslovakia, I was free and alone in April 1945.
My journey with my family and a thousand other Jewish people in my hometown took me first to Ghetto Terezin and that was thankfully in the country of my birth. From there after living there badly, but more and less safely, I was shipped to the worse Concentration Camp “Auschwitz”. It was there that over a million people-mainly Jews-were killed by gas and burnt in large ovens.
Little did I know, that some official in the Nazi German Government cautioned that the world might find out about the bestiality and arranged for an International Red Cross Commission to visit two camps: Terezin and if required another location. So, the Nazis quickly cleared of overcrowding in the Terezin Ghetto, beautified its streets by planting flowers, built some humane housing and allowed the Red Cross to spend a few hours there. No inmate was allowed to talk to them and they were not to ask questions.
Meantime, in Auschwitz where I was sent with about 5 thousand people from Ghetto Terezin, I was languishing-living is too strong term for that life, in a so called “Family Camp”. Here our function was to send out postcards to the “outside world” telling the readers that we are well and together with the family and being available if the Red Cross inspecting Ghetto Terezin required some evidence that the gassing of people in Auschwitz was a lie. Unfortunately, it was actual as we could see hundreds of transports arriving from all of German occupied Europe from which only the strongest men and women were selected for work and the rest-all the children, the old and the weak were killed in the gas chambers.
When the Red Cross finished its 3 hour inspection of Terezin in June 1944 and had no further interest in what happened to all those deported to Auschwitz, the so called “Family Camp” was no longer required and was liquidated. Again, only the strong men and women were selected for hard work in mines or factories and the rest was killed by gas. I was fourteen and was among about 90 boys that the infamous DR Mengele considered strong enough to do hard work.
And, so after many more weeks of train transports and death marches, I was still alive when the beautiful GI US army liberated me in April 1945. I came to my hometown alone. Only 35 people out of the original one thousand deported Jews survived.
In March 1948, I came to Canada as one of the Jewish orphans, not yet eighteen years old.
On June 15th, I will be called to the Torah to recreate my Bar Mitzvah in Ghetto Terezin 70 years earlier.