Holocaust survivors return to Auschwitz 75 years after its liberation

"Going back is my way of saying that I lived, we lived. Am Yisrael Chai," said one survivor.

The site of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau (photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
The site of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau
(photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
AUSCHWITZ – It was a flight like none other. There was an electric atmosphere charged with both pride and emotion.
Holocaust survivors mainly from Hungary and Poland dotted the isles of the plane surrounded by loving family members as they headed to the 75th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The ceremony is set to take place on Monday afternoon at the site of what was once the notorious Nazi concentration and extermination camp.
For some it was their first time returning to Poland, for others it was their tenth, twentieth or even thirtieth time.
One survivor stuck out his arm, a number tattooed on the inside, a second number had been inked out.
“I got one number, and then when they moved me to another part of the camp to work, they gave me another number and erased the first one,” the man told those sitting around him. “During the High Holy Days, Mengele came to our barracks and he selected 15 children, none of whom came back.”
It was his 38th time going back. “It’s my way of saying that I lived, we lived. Am Yisrael Chai [the Jewish people live].”
The story sent chills through all who heard it.
As one walked around the plane, stories of survivors were being shared, some were sitting together telling each other their own experiences.
Two survivors sitting in front of me were overheard chatting about their time in the Buchenwald concentration camp as teenagers. Both were in the youth block at the same time. They knew each other.
Survivors share their stories of the Holocaust during a flight to Poland on Saturday night. (Credit: Ilanit ChernickSurvivors share their stories of the Holocaust during a flight to Poland on Saturday night. (Credit: Ilanit Chernick

Other stories included how the mother of a survivor managed to hoodwink the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele so her son would survive. After disembarking from the train at Auschwitz, Mengele sent his two older brothers to the right, which was the line that gave one a chance at life. Meanwhile, Mengele sent himself, his mother and his younger siblings all to the left, which led to the gas chambers. However, when Mengele turned his back, the mother told his younger siblings, “Run to your [older] brothers!” They did.
Some of the children of Holocaust survivors accompanying one or both of their parents also sparked conversations about what life was like growing up. They didn’t know life, or growing up any other way.
“I only realized that the way my father acted when it came to food and wasting, clothes and hoarding, was not normal when I spoke with a psychologist.”
“My wife also became my mirror,” one said, as his wife had a more usual upbringing.
There was also an element of sadness among some of the survivors and their families, with several explaining that it’s extremely hard to go back.
“It is sad because it’s a place where families were destroyed, my family were all murdered there,” one woman, who said she was from Hungary recalled, tears welling up in her eyes. “It is hard, but we have to go back. It’s important that my children and grandchildren know from me what happened here.”
Throughout the flight, I couldn’t help but come to  realize what a privilege it was to be accompanying a plane full of Holocaust survivors to Poland and to chat to them firsthand.
It dawned on me that one day, my children will never have such an opportunity.
A daunting realization.