In the spirits of both the Jewish and Islamic holidays coming together on the same days, which gave me the courage to finally write a glimpse about my journey with my holocaust research which I did last year, for more than a year now I couldn’t find any right words that can describe my feelings towards the evil that I have walked through in the death camps but finally thanks to the joint holidays I can finally write something about it.As most of you know for an Egyptian Muslim who works as peace activist is a very hard job but on the other hand it gives me pure moments of true humanity with some people that I meet along the journey, people that changes me in a way I will never forget, one of those fine people is the Holocaust survivor Max Mannheimer.Last year I decided to do my own Holocaust research to learn about the darkest era of human kind in history with my own eyes and feel it with my heart, also as a capable activist I must study and take all the effort to know all about the Jewish history so I become a better advocate for peace with Israel while arguing with my fellow Arabs who knows nothing about the holocaust, but once they learn the truth from what I have seen in these evil camps and become even shocked on how naive they were regarding the holocaust and the conflict as a whole. So I started with Germany, where everything started back in the 1930s to see how a democratic system can be abducted by an inhumane dictatorship which caused the death of over 50 Million people worldwide and the genocide of 6 Million Jews.Americans say that God works in mysterious ways and I totally agree with that statement, because God gave a very loud and clear sign that tells me to keep seeking the truth and I am on your side.My very kind host and best friend ever in Munich gave me a gift she bought for me at an exhibition, it was a beautiful painting by a holocaust survivor named Max Mannheimer, So I googled him and his story really affected me to the point I wrote on the painting “God bless Max’s health” and then I posted it on my Facebook page, a picture of me holding the painting saying that this is a sign from God that I am on the right track of seeking the truth.
I started with first important step in my research and visited the concentration camp in Dachau, a small town near Munich, and the place where the very first camp was built only three months after the NSDAP was elected in 1933, actually it was built for political prisoners like Georg Elser, a young leftist from Munich, who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1939 but at the end of the war it became a last stop for many Jews who survived the death camps in German occupied Poland and the brutal death marches to German ground while the Red Army came closer to Berlin – to show it in numbers: “Only” 40.000 people were killed in Dachau within 12 years, but at least 1,6 million people died in Auschwitz within 5 years only.
I entered the reception area for the tickets and randomly I talked to one of the tour guides named Rebecca who started to show me around and to tell me about horrors of evil that happened in this place, during our talk another sign from God that sealed the deal for me, Rebecca told me that she is a friend of a holocaust survivor, who she is meeting every week end and his name is Max Mannheimer. I couldn’t believe myself and asked her if there is a possibility to arrange a meeting with this great strong man who is a symbol for humanity’s will and strength. Then a few days later Rebecca called me on the phone and gave me the best news ever, that Max agreed to have me for brunch at his house.I showed up in time along with my friend and I found 95 years old Max opening the door by himself for me, he stole my heart with his strength and humbleness to come all the way to open the door for me.The first thing I did once we sat down, I showed him my earlier Facebook post about his painting and how I got it. His spirits were very strong, funny, focused and well aware of the surroundings. He loves it to have young people around and spoiled us with sandwiches and tea, full of energy and with his Yiddish humor and his heartwarming personality.Then I asked the heavy questions and he started telling me everything that happened in this black era of humanity. Max Mannheimer was brought from Auschwitz to Warsaw and at last to Dachau and its subcamp in Mühldorf. Born in 1920 as a Czech Jew he survived 27 months in several concentration camps with his brother Edgar while they have lost their parents, their sister Käthe, younger brother and also Max Mannheimer’s first wife (he had just married her, because it was told that married couples wouldn’t be separated) and his sister-in-law shortly after their arrival in Auschwitz, February 1943 (The oldest brother Erich has been arrested and murdered by Gestapo in 1942). Only the three brothers came through the first selection at the infamous ramp in Auschwitz, but the youngest one, Ernst, has been gassed after one month only at the age of 17 because he suffered of diarrhea. His love and responsibility for Edgar was the only reason why he got through their two years in Birkenau, they have saved each other’s life several times, while others were brutally killed for a piece of bread or only because they couldn’t work or walk fast enough in the eyes of criminal Kapos or sadistic SS officers.
After Nazi Germany has surrendered in May 1945 Mannheimer has sworn never to set a foot on this country ever again, it was the love to his second wife, a German, that has brought him to Munich. She has been persecuted herself for her political views as social democrat and for being a member of the German Resistance, a hero as he uses to call her, while he has been persecuted for simply being a Jew. He didn’t talk about his history for decades, but when he travelled with his third wife to the United States in 1981 he was confronted with a graffiti of a swastika and crashed into an emotional breakdown, he tried to scratch it out with a screwdriver until he lost consciousness, a longer stay in a clinic followed, but he also realized, that he had to break his silence. From this time on he was a restless man, talking to school classes, giving lectures in police departments, political events but also guiding visitors like Itzhak Rabin 1987 through the concentration camp in Dachau, and he also accompanied German politicians to Israel, where he met Rabin again in 1995 only four days before he was murdered. But the story of his personal history has been never talked openly in his family; however his first autobiography he has written for his daughter; asked about the tattooed number on his forearm he kept telling his grandchildren that it was a phone number. He still suffered of depressions and nightmares, and for his own therapy he began to paint under his Hebrew pseudonym Ben Jakov. For Max Mannheimer his family and his grandchildren are the world to him alongside his passion with soccer.
From all the horrors and the evil that Max described, he told me something which came through my heart and never left till this very moment, he said that he survived the daily death selection the way you avoid rain drops.So later I asked myself can anyone avoid rain drops while the sky is raining? Actually the answer is definitely yes, the holocaust survivors are the only ones on earth who did that and they represent a living proof that the Jews will always be here no matter what happens to them. In his lectures he keeps telling his audience: “The generation today is not responsible for what has happened in the past, but you are responsible for the future.” The memory of the holocaust shouldn’t blame young people our days, but it should be a warning for everyone in this world, that it won’t ever happen again.Then with a smile and red eyes I asked him to sign his painting to me so I always remember that God is on my side and I am on the right path to peace.
God bless your health Max Mannheimer and my heart thanks you for the lessons of wisdom you gave me during our meeting which I will never forget as long as I am breathing.