Friday, 17 December 2010 00:00
A few weeks ago, Werner Reich, a Holocaust victim and survivor, spoke eloquently at my Church. I will never forget his presentation and want to provide you with some of his experiences in this piece.
First, I want to lay out some history and background about his family. During WWI, his mother was a nurse on the front lines of the German Army. She was awarded the Iron Cross for her service taking care of German soldiers who were gassed during the reverse flow as the Germans tried to gas the opposition. Werner’s father was a United States citizen, and he died in 1933.
After his father died, Germany placed heavy penalties on Jewish citizens. Jews were fired from jobs and the word was that Germans should not buy anything from Jewish shop owners. At that time the family moved to Croatia, a part of Yugoslavia. Soon after, Jews were forced to wear yellow stars on the front and back of their clothing, and children were not permitted to go to school.
As the conditions got worse, Werner told us the story about his mother placing him with another family to live. He could never leave the house and wore no shoes so that the noise of his walking on the second floor could not be heard below.
Soon, however, there was a knock on the door with Werner then being captured and sent to his first concentration camp at 15 years of age. After his capture, he was constantly moved to camps in Slovenia, Austria, and then to Auschwitz.
Some of the details of his captivity are difficult to grasp. In the camp, he would survive on 300 to 400 calories of food each day. Fewer than one percent of those held in concentration camps lived through the end of World War II.
In 1945, as the Russians moved towards Auschwitz, the Germans took those held captive on a “death march” to a camp in Austria. After a brief time in that camp, at the age of 16, Werner and the others held captive were liberated by Americans soldiers on May 5, 1945 – two days before the end of World War II.
While I have not covered all the details of his captivity, there is one other story that will make you cringe. While at one of the camps, there was a contest amongst German soldiers to see who could cut the most throats of concentration camp captives. Thousand were killed in that terrible, terrible process.
Werner Reich’s presentation will never be forgotten. If you would like to know more about this man who has dedicated his life to making more people aware of the Holocaust and its impact on Jewish people, Google “Werner Reich Holocaust.” Hundreds of pages will come up in your search.