BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Susan Schwartz, who was one of the first babies born in the Displaced Persons (DP) camp of Bergen-Belsen, says her generation has a duty to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive as Nazi camp survivors die out.
Schwartz, who was in Germany to attend ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, said her parents proudly bore the numbers tattooed on their arms as a reminder of what they had survived.
“The survivors are going to be gone, so it will be my job, as a survivor’s child, and that of my children to make the story of the Holocaust real,” Schwartz told Reuters in an interview.
An estimated 70,000 died in the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, victims of an ideology of racial superiority.
The vision of horror recorded on film by the British troops who discovered the camp on April 15, 1945, has gone down in history — some 55,000 skeletal figures, ravaged by hunger, thirst and typhoid, barely distinguishable from the thousands of rotting corpses surrounding them.
Schwartz said many of the survivors attending the ceremonies had brought their children and grandchildren to make them aware of what happened during the Holocaust.
“It is so important to remember because we don’t want anything like this to ever happen again,” said Schwartz, who had brought her daughter and was wearing her mother’s wedding ring.
She says her parents never had the chance to say goodbye to their families, who were torn apart and mostly killed during World War Two.
“My mother saw her father at Auschwitz, but he couldn’t recognize her as her head was shaven,” she said. “Her mother and sister were killed in the gas chambers.”
Schwartz’s parents survived by dint of luck and cunning, seeking to offer their services where help was needed, for example in the kitchens, and sticking with the healthy captives.
A British soldier pushed them together on the day of liberation, she says, and they married a month later.
It was only later that they realized how many had died in the camps, and how many family and friends they had lost. About 13,000 who were liberated died in the following weeks.
Camp survivors were taken to the nearby former military barracks, which was turned into a Displaced Persons (DP) camp and disbanded in the summer of 1950 after most had emigrated.
Schwartz was three years old when her parents emigrated to Toronto, Canada, and doesn’t remember the camp. But she says she felt like she was coming home when she came to visit it with all the other survivors and their families.
“I grew up in a community of Belsen survivors in Toronto,” said Schwartz, who recognized many of the people at the commemoration event. “They didn’t have any family any more so these people became their family.”
Belsen claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners of war, gypsies and Jews including Anne Frank, whose diary is one of the best-known accounts of the Holocaust.
Editing by Steve Addison