Holocaust Survivors Share Their Memories With Reporters

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

On the eve of Israel’s official Holocaust remembrance day, the Associated Press asked a group of survivors to share their strongest memory. Without exception, all focused on those closest to them who did not survive.

• Asher Aud (Sieradski), 86 (Poland): Married, three children and 10 grandchildren. Retired from Israel Military Industries.

Asher Aud’s odyssey reads like a history of Holocaust horrors.

Over six years, he was separated from his parents and siblings in his native Polish town of Zdunska Wola and then scavenged for scraps of bread and staved off a debilitating illness alone in the Lodz ghetto before he was deported to the Auschwitz death camp.

There, he avoided the gas chambers and crematoria and, after a long incarceration, he survived the notorious death march through the snow to Mauthausen, where those who fell behind were shot dead on the spot. After the war, he passed through a series of displaced person camps before he boarded a ship to the Holy Land where he did his best to forget the past for the next half century.

Of all the atrocities he endured, Aud said the strongest memory is the one that was most traumatic — parting from his mother at 14.

It was September 1942. The Nazis had rounded up the Jewish community inside the local cemetery and were preparing to deport them. His father and older brother had already been taken and he was left with his mother and younger brother, Gavriel.

“The Germans walked among us and anytime they saw a mother with a child, they tore the child from her arms and threw them into the back of trucks.”

That’s when he realized life as he knew it was over. “I looked around and I just said ‘Mother, this is where we are going to be separated,’” he said.

Soon after they were marched through two lines of German soldiers. “I didn’t even feel it when the Germans hit me,”  he said. “But every time they struck my mother and brother it was like they were cutting my flesh.”

• Shmuel Bogler, 84 (Hungary): Married, two children, five grandchildren. Retired police officer.

Shmuel Bogler never had the opportunity to say goodbye to his family, rounded up from their home in Bodrogkeresztur and, like most of the Hungarian Jewish community, transported to Auschwitz. Of the family’s 10 children, one had died young, three had fled before the war and three others had previously been taken to work camps. Bogler was left with his parents, one brother and one sister when they were crammed into a cattle car. After five suffocating days amid the stench, they arrived exhausted at the infamous death camp.

“The first thing they did was beat us and separate the woman from the men. It happened so quickly, I couldn’t even part from my mother and sister,” he said.

Next to go was his father, who was told to go left at the notorious selection line of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who was known as the “angel of death” and decided who would live and who would die.

“I still have nightmares,” he said. “Just two weeks ago I had a dream in which I was taken to a death camp.”

• Ester Koffler Paul, 82 (Galicia, today Ukraine): Married, three children, nine grandchildren, three great-grandchildren. Retired homemaker.

When Ester Koffler Paul thinks back on her Holocaust ordeal, she mostly remembers her sister. Paul was 8, and her sister Nunia was 10 in 1941, when the Nazis invaded their hometown of Buchach in what is now Ukraine. Their mother died before the war and their father was taken by the Nazis and murdered along with 700 other Jewish men.

The girls were put under the care of their grandparents. An uncle, who was an engineer, built an underground bunker below their home with a tunnel that led to a public garden.

When the Nazis knocked on the door, her grandparents stayed behind and sealed the escape hatch as the girls crawled away. “They sacrificed themselves,” she said. “The Germans captured them and stopped looking.”