Roman Ferber, of New York, returns to Auschwitz-Birkenau for the first time in 50 years. He was at this concentration camp when he was eleven years old, fighting for his life and the life of his cousin Willie, whose parents were killed by the Plaszow camp commandant, Eamon Goeth.
Ferber climbs on a shelf of one barrack in Birkenau, an industrial murder park where 1.5 million Jews were vaporized in three and a half years. Ten or more slept on each shelf. Ferber was born in Cracow, Poland and was first taken to the Plaszow camp, then Auschwitz, where he survived by organizing boys to pull garbage wagons. His brother died in Plaszow and his father was injected with gasoline on the last day of the war.
Ferber stands in the ruins of Crematorium II at Birkenau, which opened March 13, 1943. Topf and Sohne, of Erfurt, built five sets of these special ovens. The Germans could kill 10,000 people a day in the five crematoria here. Ferber, one of the youngest Schindler Jews, was sent to Auschwitz in the winter of 1944, snatched by the SS when Oskar Schindler was away from Brinnlitz. He and his cousin, Willie, walked out on Jan. 27, 1945 when the Russians liberated the camp.
A tourist family enters an Auschwitz gas chamber. In 1943, Himmler told his SS generals, "You all know what it is like when 50 bodies are there, or 100 or 500. To be able to have done this and to remain decent, that has made us great." More than 250,000 people died on death marches from the camp in 1945.
Anna Hyndrakova, of Prague, smuggled photos of her mother, and sister, Trude, into the labor camps. They perished in the gas chambers, along with her father, brother-in-law and her niece. When the Nazis took over Prague in March, 1939, the Jews lost all human and civil rights. Anna was 14 when she was deported with her family to Theresienstadt in 1942, and later, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Lou Salton, founder of the Salton kitchenware company, stands in a national forest preserve ten miles from his Polish birthplace, Wieliczka. His father, grandmother, step-mother and step-sister were shot here, along with all Jews in the town. Poles dug pits and threw people in, burying many alive. Salton left Cracow in 1940, but his grandmother refused to go, so the rest of his family stayed and were killed. His mother and sister were choked in gas vans by carbon monoxide from diesel engines.
Salton, 82, returned to find his family's death place. Surviving Jews had dedicated a stone to their memory. There were no signs, no paths leading to it. We found it only with the help of an old peasant. Salton stood where his father had 52 years earlier. All around us the trees were dying of pollution from Cracow and from fallout from Chernobyl.
This Pole is at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, selling photos of Jews kneeling in a town center during World War II, waiting to be executed. He is trying to make money off the Jewish mourners who returned for the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto.
Rose and Isak Arbuz, from New York, stand in front of the Warsaw grave commemorating his brother, his brother's girlfriend and another couple who were part of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. Their skeletons were recovered from a basement and were buried together.
A survivor burns a yahrzheit, or memorial candle, for the 840,000 people who were murdered in the Majdanek camp, on the eastern outskirts of Lublin in white Russia. As at Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Birkenau, the scenes at Majdanek had few, if any, parallels in the catalogue of human evil.
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In the Lublin region, on November 2, 1943, an operation, given the code name "Harvest Festival" by the Germans, was begun. Its object was the murder of those survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising who had been held since April in labor camps at Poniatowa, Trawniki and elsewhere in the Lublin region. In a few days, fifty thousand Jews were shot in ditches behind the gas-chambers of Majdanek, among them more than five thousand Jewish soldiers of the Polish army, who had been held prisoner for the previous four years in the Lipowa Street camp in Lublin. Brought to Majdanek in small groups from Lipowa Street on Nov. 2, the instinct for survival could not be crushed. Led by a former Hebrew teacher, with the surname Szosnik, the Jews broke through the armed guards shouting, "Long live freedom." The SS opened fire. Most of the prisoners were killed. According to Krakowski's "War of the Doomed," ten were able to escape. Other Jews from the Lipowa Street camp, also former soldiers, were taken to Majdanek and refused to the last moment to remove their army uniforms. They, too, were shot. Only one camp in the Lublin region escaped the "Harvest Festival" slaughter, that at Budzyn, whose labor was needed to operate the Heinkl aircraft works. But even at Budzyn, all elderly people were "selected" in November, 1943 and taken to Majdanek. One of the Jewish cleaners in the camp, Jacob Katz, saved the lives of seven elderly Jews by hiding them under mattresses during the selection, and later smuggling in bread to them. The rest, taken to Majdanek, were shot.