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A child survivor recalls the liberation of Auschwitz

 


This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Soviet army’s liberation of Auschwitz, an event that freed over 7,000 remaining prisoners. Among them was Roman Ferber, who, at 12 years old, was one of the youngest Jews on Schindler’s list, and a rare juvenile inmate of the death camp along with his 8-year-old cousin, Wilús Schnitzer.

Roman’s wartime survival is described in a newly published biography, “Journey of Ashes: A Boyhood in the Holocaust,” co-authored with writer, Anna Ray-Jones.

By his twelfth birthday, Roman, (now a resident of Monroe Township, NJ), had been a prisoner in the Krakow Ghetto, and the camps of Plaszow, Gross Rosen, Brinnlitz, and Auschwitz. Thanks to his brother, Manek Ferber’s friendship with Oskar Schindler, Roman found himself on the famous list with his father and his young cousin, Wilús. However, it didn’t save the two boys from being exiled to Auschwitz where child inmates didn’t last long.

January 27, 1945, the day of the Auschwitz liberation is forever etched in his memory.

“The Nazis had already sent my father and the men in his barrack on a forced march to Germany,” says Roman, (now a man in his eighties), “but Wilús and I slipped away and hid in an electrical station until the last soldiers had left. The actual day of freedom was unreal. I remember a Voroshilov tank lumbered toward the camp’s main gates. Tethered to its rear was a handsome young captain towed along on skis. He was followed by a huge contingent of Russian infantry from the 60th Army. More tanks arrived, and to my cousin’s delight, warriors on horseback!”

“The prisoners give a mighty cheer and threw open the gates. Shouts rose up in a babble of Polish, Yiddish, and other tongues mixed with the musical rumble of Russian. The sturdy soldiers mingled enthusiastically with the prisoners, embracing us and shaking our hands. “It’s over, Comrade, you are free...free!” they chorused. Their warmth and kindness caused many of the inmates to break down and weep--it had been so long since any one had regarded us as human beings.”

“Women battalions also came striding through the gates. I recall my cousin being hoisted onto the shoulder of a pretty lady lieutenant

and more female militia were kissing and hugging all the kids. “Malchic, Malchic, Little guy, little guy,” they called out to us. 

“All is well, we are here!”

Roman’s first reaction was one of sheer exhilaration. He recounts seeing Wilús whooping and calling out to him from the perch of his Russian beauty, the color returning to the boy’s cheeks. The first wave of liberators was followed by heavily laden supply trucks, ambulances and mobile medical units. A swarm of Russian nurses and doctors mingled with the internal medics, asking a host of questions regarding the health of the inmates.

“Russian soldiers arrived by the hundreds,” comments Roman. “The platoon’s General was a thin bespectacled Marxist, all brisk efficiency. He entered the camp riding an excellent chestnut horse, directing many things to be done at once. There were cameras and news reporters shooting photographs and filming. One cameraman wanted to film prisoners pouring joyously through the open gates and when we didn’t look delighted enough, he had us repeat the same actions several times until he too was overcome with happiness. “

Roman’s experience of the Auschwitz liberation is a defining moment in his biography. “The sudden realization that we were totally free from threats and brutality filled us with delight, bewilderment and anxiety. We could hardly believe it but after all the years of the occupation and imprisonment, we were finally going home. I hoped, against all odds, that my young cousin and I would find some family still alive waiting to welcome us. “

The end result was bittersweet. Wilús Schnitzer was already an orphan, his parents having been murdered by Amon Goeth in Plaszow. Roman’s father, Leon Ferber, was executed on the death march to Flossenburg, and it would be another year before Roman was finally reunited with his mother and sister, also survivors and former inmates of Bergen-Belsen.

Excerpt from “Journey of Ashes: A Boyhood in the Holocaust,”by Anna Ray-Jones and Roman Ferber, published by CreateSpace/Amazon http://www.journeyofashes.com.

 

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