Jewish woman takes up residence in Auschwitz

Chantal Maas, 54, is the only Jew living in the Polish town Oswiecim, where the death camp was located.

July 18, 2007 05:28
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A Belgian Jewish woman who lost her grandmother in the Nazi death camps during the Holocaust and other relatives in the Soviet anti-Semitic pogroms after World War II, holds the dubious distinction of being the only declared Jewish resident of the Polish town of Oswiecim where the Auschwitz death camp is located. Chantal Maas, 54, moved to Oswiecim last year, leaving her husband and two grown children behind in Brussels. "The first three months were really difficult," Maas said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post. She said her Polish neighbors were friendly. After returning to Brussels for "a breather," Maas, who previously taught courses about Judaism in her native Romania, returned to Oswiecim three months ago. She plans to split her time between Brussels and Oswiecim for the rest of her life. "It is important to show that we are still alive - even in the place where they tried to exterminate us," she said. One million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Asked to explain how she decided to take up residence so close to the largest German death camp, Maas said her decision was "much by chance." Maas said she felt more threatened by anti-Semitism in both France and Belgium than in Poland. She said she did not have to work, adding that her expenses were minimal. Maas said she presumed she was not the only Jewish person living in the town of 43,000, but she is most certainly the only declared one. "My grandmother was murdered at Birkenau, and this is what permits me to be here," she said. Birkenau was one of Auschwitz's three main camps. Maas, who deplores the commercialization of the death camp by Polish refreshment vendors, said her dream was to create a "Jewish house" in the town where Polish Jews could come to grips with the past. "I want to do something for my heritage," she said. "I moved to Auschwitz, and am proud to report that I am the only one living Jew here."

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