Concern at rising anti-Semitism
Almost 300 survivors from the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where over a million people were killed during the Holocaust returned to the infamous site on Tuesday (January 27, 2015) to attend the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Soviet soldiers.
Mascha Shainberg who now lives in Johannesburg, was 14 years old when she and her mother and three sisters were taken as prisoners to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.
Shortly before his wife and daughters were arrested by the Nazis, Mascha’s father travelled to South America — possibly to try and get his family out of Poland but not realising he was on the last ship out, said her son-in-law, Ariel Krinsky, in a telephone interview from Johannesburg today
On their arrival at Auschwitz, Mashca’s mother was separated from her three daughers. When she tried to get back to her daughters a solider bashed her head with a rifle butt. When Mascha later saw smoke rising from the gas chamber chimney she knew that her mother was dead. Her three sisters all died at Auschwitz — two of them of starvation and the eldest one, Elka, after throwing herself against the electric fencing.
Mascha was about 17 when Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets. She was initially sent to an orphanage in Poland. A few years later she managed to track down and contact her father in Bolivia. He apparently fainted when he first saw her at an airport in Bolivia as he believed that his whole family was dead.
Mascha married and raised a family in Bolivia. Ironically a number of Nazis emigrated to Bolivia after the war and on one occassion Mascha and her daughter Doris (now married to Ariel) found themselves in the same taxi as notorious former Nazi SS officer and Gestapo member, Klaus Barbie,who was traveling without his customary bodyguard. Doris commented pointedly in Yiddish to her mother, prompting Barbie to stop the taxi and get out.
Mascha moved to Johannesburg about 12 years ago to join Doris and Ariel after the death of her son, Simon(Shammy). Aged 87 she is still active and regularly attends a gym.
For years she was reluctant to ever return to Auschwitz. But she gratefully accepted the opportunity to travel there, with Doris, for this week’s 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. Being there has stirred up a whole lot of memories of the gas chambers and horror of that time.
Several heads of state and notable Jewish figures including film director Steven Spielberg were among about 3 000 people at the event at the former death camp which is now a museum. The ceremony also featured Jewish and Christian prayers for the dead, with candles for the victims being lit at the Birkenau monument.
Among the survivors at the event was South African resident Mascha Schainberg, who arrived as a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp when she was 14. Survivors warned of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the importance of marking such events.
85-year-old survivor Renee Salt said “I’ll do it [observe Holocaust anniversaries] for as long as I can. Why? There are still a lot of Holocaust-deniers the world over and if we don’t speak out, the world won’t know what happened.”
Commenting on the 300 surviors who made it to Auschwitz as guests of the WJC and Shoah Foundation, Mary Kluk, National Chairman of the South African Jewsish Board of Deputies writes: “It is sobering to reflect that at the 60th anniversary gathering, 1 500 survivors were present; 10 years from now, a bare handful will remain.
“Those survivors who remain need – indeed, are owed – the firm assurance from all of us that their stories will not be forgotten when they are no longer among us. It is therefore incumbent on us all to accept upon ourselves the sacred duty of remembrance and of passing their testimonies on to the next generation.
“When remembering, and teaching about, the Holocaust, it is crucial to emphasise that Auschwitz was the culmination, not the starting point, of Nazi genocide. That process began not with deeds but with words.
“Before being deprived of their rights, livelihoods and finally their lives, Jews were systematically demonised — in the political arena, media, academia and every possible forum. As a result, they came to be regarded as a disloyal, destructive element to be shunned and despised.
“Once this view had sufficiently taken root, it became possible to move on to the next step, which was to deprive Jews of their civil liberties and economic freedoms. Physical attacks (notably Kristallnacht) came next and finally the onset of programmatic mass killing.
Hateful words lead to hateful deeds
“That hateful words can all too quickly lead to hateful deeds is an enduring lesson of the Shoah, and one that has never been more relevant than in the times we live in. Both in our own country, and in many other parts of the world, we are witnessing a continual spewing of vitriol against any given target.
“That, indeed, is one of the paradoxes of living in a democracy: Freedom of expression is a core value, but all too often it serves to expose the underbelly of hatred and prejudice. It is incumbent on those who abhor bigotry in all its forms – and we can safely affirm that they constitute the great majority – to denounce it and to continually educate themselves and upcoming generations not only about how evil, but also how fundamentally irrational it is.
“Relating to this, there has been a spate of violent attacks against foreign nationals in Gauteng. The Board (refer to our Facebook) has condemned these repugnant acts and appealed to the Jewish community to contribute to a fund it is setting up to assist the victims.”
Addressing the gathering at Auschwitz, Spielberg said that anti-Semitism, radical extremism and religious fanatics are on the rise, and urged the world to oppose such forces.
“The most effective way we can combat this intolerance and honor those who survived and those who perished is to call on each other to do what the survivors have already done, to remember and to never forget,” he said.
Hundreds of Israelis including about 100 Holocaust survivors attended an event hosted by International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ}in Haifa, Israel, on Tuesday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Addressing the gathering, ICEJ spokesman David Parsons said: “”Many of them [Holocaust survivors], when we talk to them, their greatest fear is that people really won’t believe what happened to them and people will forget. Christians need to help preserve this legacy. We need to fight anti-Semitism. We need to help the survivors who are still around us,”
Parsons continued. “We need to help Jews who are facing anti-Semitism, like in France and Ukraine and other places, to come home to Israel.”