On 27 January 1945 Auschwitz/Birkenau was finally liberated. There were a few thousand people left in the camp, but many had been driven out, to die on roads and in ditches during death marches. The ashes of the 1.5 million who had been murdered were scattered over the fields and the waters surrounding the gigantic camp complex.
Europe was forever changed. The vibrant, energising and European Jews were no more. 1000 years of culture, songs, music, schools and cities were gone, never to be seen again – they are gone forever.
The next generations of Europeans will read about it in history books but soon it will be forgotten. Again.
Why did God let it happen and how can anyone possibly survive as a Jew after all those horrors?
Those of you who came here to Sweden – including the young woman who would one day become my mother, after six months in Auschwitz/Birkenau and eight months in other camps and death marches – you are the survivors. But how to keep on living, what was to become of you?
I have worked at a Jewish retirement home as a registered nurse and I am also a psychotherapist. This retirement home is today home to many of those who came to Sweden as human wrecks in May 1945 from the Nazi death camps of Europe. Emaciated and poor, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, handouts from the Red Cross. Planet Sweden was definitely something quite different from the planet Auschwitz.
You were between 20 and 30 years and you survived. You were – and you are – survivors.
You were survivors because you were the right age, basically healthy, with no families of your own and you were strong – and this is why you survived. And yes, I know you do not wish to be regarded as heroes – but my friends, you are. You are not only surviving, you are also survivors, and you are an example to all of us – we who were miraculously born after the Holocaust. We, the generation that was never supposed to exist.
You came to a country that had managed to remain outside of the war and here you met people unaware of the evil doings in it. The 8 000 Jews who lived here were stunned when they began to understand the magnitude of it. To start over, to begin living a Jewish life as a survivor, was very difficult.
You, whom I meet in your homes at the the retirement home, are now between 90 and 100 years old, some even older. It is now 72 years since you arrived in this country.
How have you successfully managed to survive and live on? How did you do it?
Well, God knows that you are still suffering. Most of you are still being hunted prey by Nazis at night, you still miss your families who are long gone, most of you miss the security of your childhood that you once had – I dare say that you are all suffering – yes, everyone suffers in one way or another. The conversations I have had with you are countless – endless. You tell the most horrific stories and every one of you talk about how you miraculously were rescued; how you were found by the Americans on piles of corpses, how you were shot but when morning came the Germans were gone and you were somehow still alive – and when train cars were opened you suddenly found yourself in Heaven – Heaven in Denmark, without having a clue as to where you were. And so on.
– If I could have a night without the Nazis persecuting me, I would be so happy. Just one night!
I listen, I distribute tranquilizers and the night staff sit with you. By day, some of you are angry and some almost vicious. The haunting dreams of the night before, and those before that, live on in everyday life. The anxiety takes over.
The staff huffs and puffs but keep up a good face. They smile as they go through their daily chores, and when they take your hand and sit with you. They know why some of you are the way you are, even if they know they can never even begin to imagen the horrors you have been through. They don’t take it personally when you snap at them. What a fantastic job they do, the staff, but they never really hear it. When was the last time someone took the time to say thank you for all the hard work you do, and for all the love you lavish on these brittle human beings that you care for? I ask you, readers – when? But my friends, you really are amazing, you are angels, you are so professional, the Creator lives through you. You who sit with them, and I as a nurse try to support you, the residents and the relatives who get anxious because of their anxiety. You guards, who behind several locked gates will stop those who still to this day want to hurt these people. You policemen, who in the past years on several occasions with your submachine guns have been guarding us against external threats.
All of you there, who stand by our side, and especially now as that hatred against us is clawing its way back and rearing its ugly head – thank you.
And then again: YOU are the survivors.
And although God let it happen – the extermination of the Jews of Europe – you still refused to turn your back on the Creator.
You started over. Some of you went to Israel in 1948 and participated in the defence of the newly formed Jewish state. Thank you for that. Where did you find the strength and the motivation!? After all that you had been through. You built new lives. You educated yourselves, you fell in love, you started families, you had children and your children inherited the Jewish way of life – despite all the great, great hardship that entails. Since we are the children of survivors, we also live in anxiety – 20 percent of us, according to surveys, have developed PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
Many have lived religious lives, others have not, but most people have with their way of life done what Jews have always done. YOU have done what Jews have always done. You have protested by consecrating life! You have protested by sanctifying life and made it our – we who were born later – sworn duty to do the same.
You protest by sanctifying life – it bears repeating one more time! You protest by safeguarding life; you are all different, some of you are wonderful people, some less pleasant to be around – for that is how we humans are and different people handle life and experiences in different ways. But you all have shown us, your children and grandchildren and future generations that the way back to life is to with tremendous power refuse to abandon our God and Creator by stubbornly sticking to the Jewish way of life – that all people have equal value and the right to a life of dignity, that there is a higher morality and the sanctity of life is sacred and inviolable.
You have shown us that even though God sometimes has seemingly turned his back on us, we do not turn our backs on him. But please God – can you not give these people a single quiet night, now 72 years after the liberation? A night of peaceful sleep? Just one single night! They are so worth it, every one of them. It hurts so much to see them haunted by these demons – the Nazis and their collaborators.
May it never happen again – we must continue to protest evil by sanctifying life and carry this with us wherever we go – we will, I promise you.