Survivor

I have been thinking about him a lot lately, his story, his words, everything about him, in fact, every once in a while, when I feel angry, I think of him.

You see, a long time ago, when I was in grade 10, we had to read Anne Frank, if you haven’t read it, you have probably been living under a rock. We were taking a trip to the Holocaust exhibit at the museum downtown, it was something I was absolutely terrified to see. I had studied WW2, my grandfather fought in the war, was shot down, and joined the French resistance. I had never met him, but he was in odd history books here and there. What was disturbing for me, was the loss of humanity. I could not, and still cannot understand, how hate can grow to the point of violence, and in the case of WW2, the mass murder.

We entered the museum, and we were led to the various photos. It was a stark reminder, that no one, and I mean no one ever wanted this to happen again. That kind of hate had no business being part of society, that we needed to read, learn and understand our past, to make sure we avoided this.

We were then led into a room. Chairs in rows, an aisle in the middle, facing one way. We were told to sit. My class filed in, and we sat. More people came, and sat in the back. We were introduced to a small, balding man, with a short sleeve dress shirt, grey flannel pants, and carefully polished black shoes.

He stood in the front, and began to tell his story. He pointed to a series of numbers on his arm…

He was 10 years old when he and his family were rounded up, with yellow stars on their coats, with nothing but what they could carry, and stuffed into a train. He described children crying, parents holding onto each other and their children, standing, unable to move. The smell of urine and feses. There was bucket in the corner, overflowing. If you had to go, you had to do so in front of everyone in the car.

At 10, he held onto his Mother’s hand, having already seen his Father die in front of him, and watched the light go out of his Mother’s eyes. They were off to their deaths. He described being separated from his Mother, hearing screams in another room, full well knowing that soldiers were having their way with women, before shaving their heads, and tattooing their arms.

He held onto his brother’s hand, but eventually, they were separated too. Scared and alone, he made a promise, that everyday, he would try to survive.

Since he was 10, he became an errand boy for the some of the soldiers, a job that came with not stop physical abuse, including being locked in a cage with a couple of German Sheppard’s to fight, for the soldiers entertainment.

The more the gentleman spoke, the more one young man in the back heckled. The older gentleman stopped his story, and asked the young man to stand up. He did. He had a shaved head, tight jeans, a leather jacket with a visible and bold swastika emblazoned on the arm of his jacket. He was a skin head. At that time, there was a small group of teens in Ottawa, who identified themselves as that.

The older man, instead of getting angry, began to give him a history lesson about the swastikas, Hitler and WW2. The young skin head, walked out of the room. No one knew what happened to the skin head. We turned back to the survivor telling his story, and he simply told us
“I survived, I don’t know how. I lost my whole family, but vowed to have my own, and to tell my story so no one forgets history.”

The story, that man, stuck with me. He is still in my head. With so much information available at our fingertips, I can’t understand, how hate can spread again.