Return to Auschwitz: Still inescapable 70 years on

Tue Jan 27, 2015 5:08pm EST
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By Wiktor Szary

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) - "The trains were jam-packed," recalled Susan Pollack. "Old people, young, mothers, many children. My mother, brother and I. No one spoke."

"It was hot, no air to breathe. Stench, moaning, that was the atmosphere. I think we were about 80 in the cattle wagon. When we arrived - and we didn't know where we'd come to - when the doors finally opened, whoa, hallelujah, fresh air."

The year was 1944, and Pollack had arrived at Auschwitz, deported from Hungary among a wave of Jews sent to their deaths.

Seven decades later, Susan, now 84, was one of around 300 survivors of the Nazi German death camp who made the trip from their adopted homes to commemorate its liberation by Soviet troops on Tuesday. Unlike many others, she was returning for the first time.

The trip from London, where she now lives, to Krakow, southern Poland, near the site of the camp, was no less daunting than the original one, said Pollack, whose surname was originally Blau before she married. She spoke to Reuters by phone before leaving London and again on arrival.

"As I was leaving Britain, I also left the sunshine behind, and the whole sky became shrouded in clouds. And I suppose that kind of represented my trepidation, and my fear of coming closer to Auschwitz again."

Pollack was just 13 when she was sent on what she described as "the journey to nowhere, to hell, or worse". On arrival, her mother was murdered in a gas chamber, and her brother forced to join a group of prisoners disposing of victims' bodies.

Pollack was put in barracks with around 800 other girls, where Nazi doctor Josef Mengele would regularly examine their naked bodies, looking for victims for his brutal experiments.   Continued...

Auschwitz survivor, 84-year-old Susan Pollack, holds a photograph of herself aged 9 from 1939, at her house in London, January 22, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville