It was 72 years ago, in the closing days of World War II, that the Nazis began to evacuate the many concentration camps they had built to murder those who were opposed to their doctrine. Together with 5000 of my fellow prisoners, I was sent from Auschwitz to Buchenwald.
This trek became known as the “Death March.” True to its name, it could lead only to one destination: death. The march took place from all locations where prisoners were held. It led in all directions without a planned itinerary, no logistic preparation through the mountains of upper Silesia, known for their brutal winters and subfreezing temperatures. Preceded by three years of indescribable hardships, hunger, disease and desperation, one cannot convey to normal, intelligent people what it was like.
Let me clarify that none of us was smarter, stronger or more qualified to survive. No, it was strictly a reality of the proverbial word “bashert,” or fate.
Only Dante in his Inferno could remotely describe the prevailing desperation. The man in charge of my transport was Kurt Klipp, an SS lieutenant and pathological murderer. Together with his bloodhounds, Klipp murdered more than 800 of us. He killed with a passion and a smiling face. During this process, we became eyewitnesses to the historical bombing of the city of Dresden. Alas, many of our comrades lost their lives in the crossfire.
Our transport arrived at Buchenwald with fewer than 500 survivors. Thanks to the Almighty, I was one of them. I have much to be thankful for. Shortly after returning to Brussels, my hometown, I met Helen, who became my dear wife and the love of my life. Together, we came to America where we found 68 years of happiness until her death several months ago. They were the most rewarding years, blessed with two loving daughters.
Yet, when I look at the world we are facing today, I cannot help being concerned for my family and future generations. Will they be sheltered from events that befell my contemporaries? Will Israel, the dawn of our deliverance, emerge from its struggles, unscathed? Will the curse of anti-Semitism, which once again raises its ugly head worldwide, be eradicated?
Over the years, I have spoken at many high schools, churches, synagogues and organizations. I have often been asked “could it happen again?” My answer has mostly been short and cynical. Could it happen again? Why not?
That response has never been more relevant than today.
But then I think of the Jewish calendar year, 5777, and consider that we have survived that many turbulent years. We have been enslaved, exiled and murdered. Yet we are here.
Where are the forces that have tried to destroy us? Where are the Pharaohs, the Amaleks, Hamans, Hitlers and Stalins? All of them have gone but we are still here. Our salvation is not yet in sight. There are still many who would like to see us disappear from the face of the earth or have us drown in the seas. The price we have paid is enormous. But we are here as a religion and as a people as vibrant as ever. Let us renew our hope and our resolve. Just like in the darkest days of the Shoah, let us pray that we will emerge from the present dangers and that future generations will live in peace and be free from the curse of anti-Semitism. Let us proclaim, Never Again and Am Yisrael Chai.
Kurt Rosendahl, 97, is a Holocaust survivor. This piece was collaborated by Elizabeth Haller Walsh.