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Holocaust survivors share their strength, faith at D-M memorial service

Desert Dove Chapel sponsored a Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony honoring the survivors. D-M Airmen attended and escorted survivors honoring them at a luncheon at the Davis-Monthan Mirage Officers club. (DLN photo/Diane M. Kephart)

Desert Dove Chapel sponsored a Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony honoring the survivors. D-M Airmen attended and escorted survivors honoring them at a luncheon at the Davis-Monthan Mirage Officers club. (DLN photo/Diane M. Kephart)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Holocaust survivors, Airmen and family members attended a luncheon at The Mirage Officer's Club after a solemn, yet hopeful "Day of Remembrance" ceremony at the D-M Desert Dove Chapel Wednesday.

Guest speaker, Director of Holocaust Services in Southern Arizona Gail F. Wallen, PhD said, "Everyone here has two things in common -- they were children during the Holocaust and they are Jewish."

"In the children's diaries, we find the unimaginable courage it took just to get through each day, " she said.

In 1942, one 13-year-old girl wrote, "I don't want to die, because I have hardly lived. When I look at the barbed wire that separates us from the rest of the world, my soul longs for freedom -- like a bird in a cage. My eyes are filled with tears."

The 355th Wing Commander Col. Kent Laughbaum said, "This is an important event for Davis-Monthan; for our Airmen here. They have the rare opportunity to visit with Holocaust survivors and hear their life stories for the first time."

He reminded them of the remembrance service earlier when Guest Speaker, Mathias B. Freese, accomplished writer, said, "Man is capable of evil. We know that and we have seen it. But the message I want to leave with you is one of hope for the future."

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That we are endowed by our Creator with certain, unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is what we commit our lives to."

One Holocaust survivor, Irving Senor's story started when he was about 16. That's when the Nazis took him from Salonika, Greece where he was loaded onto a train cattle car with about 70 other children. They only had one bucket of water to share for a five-day trip, he said. When they finally arrived at Auschwitz they were unloaded and told to get into either the left or right line. Those on the right were put onto trucks and taken to gas chambers. Those on the left survived.

"We marched to the camp," Mr. Senor said. "I asked my oldest brother about our family. He told me everyone was gone. My brother was eventually hanged because he tried to escape. Two weeks later I was sent to the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland and was there for an entire year, cleaning bricks for Germany."

Then something changed.

"For three nights, there were flares in the sky -- like daytime and we knew that something was wrong," he said.

"The Russians were advancing, so the next day everyone was given a loaf of bread and we marched for five days to the borders of Germany. Two-thirds of us died on the way and we buried 20 to 40 people every night.

Once at the border, were sent to Dachau (Germany) in boxcars.

Wikipedia.org records Dachau as a Nazi German concentration camp located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory about ten miles northwest of Munich, which opened March 22, 1933 and was the first regular concentration camp established by the National Socialist (Nazi) government. Heinrich Himmler, police president of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners.
Dachau served as a prototype for others that followed.

In total, more than 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries were taken to Dachau. Nearly one-third were Jews. More than 32,099 prisoners are believed to have died in the camp and another 10,000 in its sub-camps between 1933 and 1945 -- primarily from disease, malnutrition and suicide.

Together with the much-larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize Nazi concentration camps.

Dachau holds a significant place in public memory because it was the second camp to be liberated by British/American forces. Therefore, it was one of the first places in which the West was exposed to the reality of Nazi brutality through firsthand journalist accounts and newsreels.

After spending another seven months at a different camp, one morning when they got up, there were no Germans.

"We were liberated! Mr. Senor said.

So, today's Day of Remembrance honoring "Children in Crisis: Voices from the Holocaust" has special meaning for him. He was liberated May 2, 1945 exactly 62 years to-the-day, before today's ceremony.

He attributes his strength and attitude to forgiveness. "I do not hate anyone. If I hate, it kills me in here," he said, pointing to his heart. "That is why I live so long, I don't hate anybody.

After Col. Laughbaum showed a video clip from Band of Brothers showing American soldiers liberating a Nazi camp, he said,. "Many of our fathers and grandfathers were liberators of the camps in Europe at the end of the war."

"This is part of our heritage as defenders of our Constitution."

Brief survivors' histories:

Rosa Freund of Zahony, Hungary, at the age of 17, was transported from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where her mother was killed immediately and her 15-year-old sister was taken a month later to the crematorium. Ms. Freund was held in Austria until her liberation in 1945.

Walter Feiger of Poland was put into ghettos, labor and concentration camps, such as Gross Rozen and Mathausen, from September 1939 until May 1945. He is the only survivor of his family.

Wanda Wolosky of Poland survived the Warsaw ghetto. As a child she would sneak out at night to find food to bring bak. If she had been caught, the penalty would have been death with a shot to the head.

Lilly Brull of Antwerp, Belgium was 10 years old when the Germans invaded Belgium in 1940. Her family left on foot for France and spent one year evading the Germans. They were able to escape on a ship that eventually made it to Martinique in 1941.

Irving Senor of Salonika, Greece was deported to Germany from Greece after it was occupied. He is a survivor of Auschwitz and other camps, including Dachau.

Selma Neuhauser of Vienna, Austria, at 12 years old, was placed on a "kindertransport" to Sweden, which saved her life. Her parents and most of her family were killed in Auschwitz, which left her alone at age 17.

Alfred Schrier of Vienna, Austria, was expelled from school for being Jewish. His father was placed in the Dachau concentration camp in Germany for six months in 1938. The family escaped to Italy, and survived due to the generosity of a small village. They lost everything they owned.

Yuliya Genina of the Ukraine and her sister were taken by their mother from the city to small villages where people did not know them. They were able to hide out until the war ended.

Gerd Strauss of Giessen, Germany was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and spent eight and a half months in the Buchenwald concentration camp. In 1939, he went to Palestine and joined the British Army, earned the rank of sergeant major, and acted as a double-agent between the British and Israeli underground for eight and a half years.