Yesterday one of our teachers invited her friend to visit our school and speak to our students about his experiences as a concentration camp prisoner and survivor. He is an 85 year old Polish Jew who survived the Krakow Ghetto and was liberated from the Mathausen death camp on May 5, 1945. His story was shocking, sickening, inspiring, and saddening, made all the more vivid to me by my connections with my recent trip to Germany and Poland. He recalled his final moments with his mother and 13-year old sister before they were shipped to the gas chambers from the train station I stood in on the Krakow bike tour. He described the barracks, many of which I saw on our tours of Dachau and Auschwitz, and how they slept and were worked to death at Mathausen. He admitted that he suffered greatly from the guilt of surviving, along with two of his brothers, and that the one thing that inspired him to fight to live was the tremendous hatred he felt towards the SS. He hated them for not only the way they treated him and his family, but for the horrors he witnessed them enjoying, and for the battle he nearly lost inside his soul to maintain his own humanity and the integrity to still believe in the good will of humankind. He ended by thanking the kids for listening so intently and respectfully, for telling his story is a part of his own healing process. As so many survivors are approaching their own natural deaths, it is a privilege to be able to witness their accounts first-hand.

Learn more about the Mathausen death camp.

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