“Then felt I like some watcher of the skies”
(On First Looking into Chapman's Homer -
“I can’t believe my own eyes” gasped Yehuda Danzig, even as he dabbed away the tears.
“There’s me. Look – look – Michael – it’s us. Do you recognise the picture snapped at Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp in April 1945 soon after we were set free? We’re on the right – I’m in the dark cap - and you’re just behind me wearing a light cap.
“It’s brought it all back: how a fragment of our family somehow survived a nightmare labyrinthine journey from home in Czechoslovakia with stops at transit and labour camps and then a death march, only to arrive at Belsen in late summer 1944.
“You remember that Stepmother was there but that Dad had been separated from us and died at Berga concentration camp?
“Our other brother was there, too, but only one sister as the other, who was disabled, spent the war in an institution.
“I’m aged 82 now, Michael, but still I shiver uncontrollably when I think of the incessant, unrelenting outdoor roll calls that took place, no matter the weather. They were absolute murder during the winter.
“We had practically nothing to eat; no water and we were covered with lice from head to toe. We all had typhus and we all behaved like zombies.
“Then, when on a day in April 1945 we were suddenly told ‘you are free!’, the words were meaningless. It was a British soldier who had spoken and it was only when his words were translated into German that we began to understand. But when we tried to go outside we discovered that the piles of dead bodies had not been collected and they were stacked so high we couldn’t get out of the barracks.
“Then the British sent us to a nearby displaced persons’ camp while they razed the Nazi camp to the ground. I guess the photograph was taken about two weeks after we were freed as we look quite clean and better fed. We didn’t stay with our liberators for long as we were anxious to return home.
“But when we arrived we almost wished we hadn’t bothered as the only other relative to have survived was an uncle who had lived out the war in hiding.
“Then about three years later, a British rabbi visited our town and took us three boys to the UK. Then you and I re-located here to Toronto, Canada but were separated again when we were fostered by different families.
“I went on to study electronics at technical school, became involved in the Habonim Zionist youth movement and lived in Israel during the 1950s. I came back here in 1958 where I married my darling Etty – a fellow Habonim member. We have two sons and four grandchildren.
“I have to tell you, Michael, that I never told my kids what happened to me until they were adults. Now, not only do they each have a copy of the testimony I’ve given to the Shoah (Holocaust) Foundation but also the wonderfully clear monochrome still image of us from Alfred Hitchcock’s documentary film that he directed 70 years ago – just as we were freed.
“Don’t you think we look strangely happy – even carefree – although we’re grinning at the cameraman through slats in a barbed wire fence?
“Michael – you’ve been very quiet while I’ve babbled on. Michael? Mikey? Oh, no! I’ve just remembered something else. You’re not here - are you? I’ve been chatting to myself. You’re were my dear, sweet kid brother. Three years my junior and you left me 18 months ago. This time, even with my wife’s help, I can’t start over again”.
Author’s Note: Source: The Times of Israel :- http://www.timesofisrael.com/toronto-man-recognizes-himself-in-bergen-belsen-photo/
German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, a Holocaust documentary film made 70 years ago, was produced by Sidney Bernstein for the British Ministry of Information. Its original purpose had been to document the liberation of the German concentration camps in 1945 and to provide evidence of the atrocities to the German public. Alfred Hitchcock was initially credited as "treatment adviser” to the project.
(© Natalie Irene Wood – 23 May 2015)