Seventy years ago, something transpired that changed millions of people’s lives. In 1945, World War II came to close, and the remaining prisoners confined in concentration camps were set free.
Countless captives finally experienced the freedom they had fought nearly to the death for, but the physical and emotional pain they suffered forever left an imprint on their hearts. Some lost their entire family. Some could hardly move. And some were left so mentally scarred that their lives would never be the same.
As the world remembers this tragic event, people who try to hide its truth or those who don’t fully comprehend the gravity of such genocide continually push the Holocaust further and further back in history. Yes, we hear a lot of stories. But at the end of the day, they aren’t just stories. These anecdotes were once reality for those who suffered through them.
On Thursday evening, two true heroes from World War II recounted some of their most painful memories during the Holocaust, as well as the moments of their liberation. The room was bustling with an audience seeking the truth behind what life in Europe was really like during such an agonizing time. In memory of the millions who died, the survivors did exactly that. They told the truth.
The first speaker, Bernhard Storch, 93, spoke with the intelligence of a Harvard graduate and the power of a genuine leader. Storch, born in 1922 just outside of Krakow, Poland, was only a teenager when his life flipped upside down. Because he was Jewish and his family was at risk for German invasion, Storch had to part from his family, who he unfortunately never saw again.
Not long after, the Soviets apprehended Storch and forced him to reside in a Siberian camp of war. Due to an intervention by the allied forces, Bernhard was released in 1941. He then decided to join the Polish resistance and helped liberate the prisoners at work camps in Sobibor, Majdanek, and Chelmno. Though Storch saw many people experience freedom for the first time in years, he saw the brutal torture of many others targeted only because of hateful prejudice.
Though Storch survived the war “without a scratch” as he thankfully proclaimed on Thursday, the Nazis killed his entire family. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Storch moved to America in 1947 with his wife, who also lived through the Holocaust.
Out of 13,000 Polish soldiers, only 255 survived. Throughout his entire speech, Storch couldn’t help but saying, “It’s a miracle I’m here.” In fact, enemy forces took his hometown only six hours after he departed from his home.
Throughout the war, Storch saw so much suffering, death and destruction, yet he never gave up. He shared with the crowd his memories of seeing the piles of human ash on the ground, and how, along with his fellow comrades, he would say a prayer and continue hoping that the evil would end. Though the war was long and sadistic, the evil did cease. And thankfully, Storch was alive to see that day.
As I was leaving, I was lucky enough to meet Storch and thank him for his words and brave service. With the most genuine look on his face, the liberator said, “thank you so much for coming. Please spread the word. Nobody can forget what happened.” And he’s right. Though people try to hide it, the Holocaust was real. It was brutal. And it changed the lives of millions of innocent people. The next speaker, Rosa Hirsch Blum, falls into that latter category.
At the young age of 15, Blum was captured and transported from her home in Romania to the dreaded Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. As soon as Rosa arrived at Auschwitz, the horror was evident. As hard as it was, Rosa told the traumatic story of her arrival.
The Nazis transferred the new prisoners to the camps by tossing them into trains with no food, water, or bathrooms. In Blum and her family’s case, they were only allowed to bring pots from their home to dispose of their waste on the journey to Auschwitz, which took four days. During that time, two people died and one woman gave birth to triplets.
Upon arrival, Blum was separated from her family and ended up on the train alone with the dead bodies and the new mother and her three babies. Soon, a Nazi car approached and popped the trunk to reveal a pile of corpses. The guards then tossed the dead bodies from the train into the truck, and to Blum’s terror, took the mother and children as well. She just remembers shouting, “Evil! Evil! Evil!” And pure evil it was.
After that moment, Blum never saw her family again, except for her brother. After she witnessed the disposing of the bodies and her family’s sudden disappearance into a gas chamber, Rosa suffered a mental breakdown and was immediately beaten into line by Dr. Josef Mengele, otherwise known as the “Angel of Death.” This was the type of life Blum and her fellow captives were forced to live. She noted about the camps, “Your arm was your pillow. Your hand was your cup.”
As the war was ending, Blum was transferred to Dachau, a prison camp in Germany. In two weeks, the United Stated Army liberated Blum and the other women near Munich. But some of those war wounds never healed.
In 1950, Blum moved to America and met her husband Osias Blum. Despite the harsh odds, she went on to have two sons and settle down in Dallas.
I feel truly honored to have heard both of these modern day heroes share their stories of suffering and redemption.
Though many assume these cruel executions are just stories from the past, prejudice-driven murders are now occurring again all over the world. People like Storch and Blum didn’t survive only to see the terror again. They survived to see it end. And as Storch urged me to do, we need to do all we can to spread awareness of such sadistic behavior and contribute to ending it once and for all.
As Storch was concluding his speech, he gave an example of how the war affected his everyday life even after the war was over by telling the following story: Storch had this cat, and ironically, one little mouse kept coming around the house. Obviously, the cat did everything in its power to conquer the little rodent. But Storch wouldn’t have it. His light-hearted expression changed when he said, “I just couldn’t see any more death or destruction in my life.” Understandably, he just can’t stomach another life being taken away.
Though he has every reason to despise his enemies in war for what they did, Storch asserted that there is no hate in his heart for anyone because he knows what terrible things hate can brew in this world.
Storch left the crowd with one simple remark as Blum nodded in agreement nearby. With a powerful vulnerability peaking through his voice, he said, “Please don’t ever hate anyone. It’s a powerful thing.”