A local Holocaust survivor reflects and remembers during Yom HaShoah.

By Michael Weiss

Pesach is a joyous Yom Tov for the Jewish people, especially when we sit at the seder table with our family and friends. The children ask the Mah Nishtanah (the four questions) “Why is this night of Pesach different from all other nights?” The father answers because we were slaves in Egypt.

The king of Egypt, Pharaoh, enslaved the Jewish people thousands of years ago.

Our generation also had a Pharoah. His name was Hitler. He also enslaved the Jewish people.

The Jews lived in Europe 800-900 years and obeyed the laws of the land in whatever country they lived in. On the eighth day of Pesach in 1944, 74 years ago, I was davening with my father when a man came in to tell us that flyers were pasted all over town, two of them on our shul door. It read, “Tomorrow on Sunday, on the day after Pesach, each Jew must leave home and go to the school building.”

From there, they took us Jews to the ghettos such as Budapest, Kiev or Munkacs.

Then the Nazi governments of Europe and the volunteers who joined them — Hitler didn’t do it by himself — took us to Auschwitz, Majdanek, Buna and many other camps where we found factories equipped with gas chambers murdering Jewish people … where our parents, our families, our children …. our people … were murdered and burned to ashes in the crematorium.

During our history, the Jewish people have had many tragedies, but the Holocaust has no equal. It is and always will be the worst human rights violation in the history of the world. The whole world stood by in silence while 6 million Jewish people were murdered. The world heard their screams from the gas chambers, but they pretended they could not hear. The world smelled their flesh burning in the crematoriums but turned away because they were Jews.

On Yom HaShoah (May 2), we remember our family members who died during those awful years. I am sure it is a mitzvah to remember the neshamas (souls) of the 1.5 million children who died; their memories will forever live in our hearts.

On a morning in May 1945, the gates of Buchenwald opened and in came tanks, soldiers and guns. We thought they were going to level the camp and kill us all, but we found out this was the American army who came to liberate us and give us back our lives. We were like dead people walking, skin and bones. If they would have come a few months later, not one survivor would have been left.

Thousands of years ago, God sent Moses and his brother Aaron to Egypt to take His chosen people out of slavery from King Pharaoh and, in May of 1945, God sent the American Army, led by General Patton and Rabbi Shekhter, the chaplain of the unit, to take His chosen people out of the gas chambers. Seventy-five years later I say that unit was led by God and Moses … and the soldiers were God’s angels.

Michael Weiss, a Holocaust survivor, is a speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington and author of the book Chimneys and Chambers.

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