October 20, 2005

Pushed into Survival

My father's Auschwitz nightmare began on a chilly October morning in 1944. At the tender age of 19 he watched his parents selected for death on the infamous platform at Birkenau, their parting blessings drowned out by the barking of crazed Alsatian dogs straining on the leashes of their jackbooted minders. The SS were determined to weed out any old or weak specimens unable to assist in Hitler's war effort. So, a further ‘selection’ was carried out in the barrack into which my father was marched along with the surviving members of that morning's cattle-truck shipment from his home town of Bratislava.

The barrack was bisected along its length by a horizontal brick-clad flue that ran along the floor from the stove at one end to the rising chimney at the far end. The inmates were ordered to line up on either side of the brick platform, on which the infamous 'camp doctor' Josef Mengele stood in judgement; who shall live and who shall die.
Now my father was not the healthiest looking specimen, with a pale and skinny physique and glasses that seemed bigger than his face. Far fitter types were being rejected as they shuffled in parallel files under Mengele’s thumb, gesturing alternately on either side of the platform.

And then, just as my father passed under Mengele’s arm, he was pushed from behind with a powerful shove. It sent him stumbling into the line in front and he scrambled to regain his footing. In that split second, as Mengele turned to my father’s line, he looked quizzically at the melée and continued his selection.

When the process was completed, Mengele let out a loud scream. “Etwas ist loess”, (something is wrong!). "Voh ist der mit die brillen???” (Where is the guy in the glasses?). Not to be cheated of the life of a single Jew, he called the whole group back to repeat the selection. However, by this time, my father’s comrades had told him to dump the glasses and switch berets with them to avoid recognition by the so-called Angel of Death.

And so my father was to survive the second selection and, ultimately, the Holocaust.

Two years ago I stood in such a barrack as a visitor to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I had come to witness the flypast of Israeli F-16s over the infamous railhead. And a week after returning home to England, I could not concentrate on my work. My wife suggested I clear my head by putting my thoughts and feelings down on paper. I did so, and the resulting
story was published on the front page of the Jewish Press in New York.I got many emails in response to that article. One was from a man named Fishof, with a stunning message. “My father was the man who pushed your father in that line.”

Last night I met David Fishof for the first time in his Succah in Jerusalem. This October month was a lot warmer in Israel than it was in Poland exactly 61 years before. And the sons of two Holocaust survivors were drinking a Lechayim as free Jewish men in the eternal capital city of their nation.

It is a story of Netzach Yisrael – the eternity of the Jewish people - who continue to grow and flourish whilst those who sought to destroy us have long perished.

Labels: , ,

Add to Technorati Favorites Tweets by @ZalmiU