Holocaust survivors share thoughts and stories on tour of Auschwitz

'When we say never again, we need to mean it'

Several Holocaust survivors address the press at Auschwitz together with WJC president and Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation chairman Ronald S. Lauder. (photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
Several Holocaust survivors address the press at Auschwitz together with WJC president and Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation chairman Ronald S. Lauder.
(photo credit: ILANIT CHERNICK)
KRAKOW – “We are standing here so that people know this can never happen again.”
These were the words of Holocaust survivor David Lenga, who survived Auschwitz and was liberated in 1945.
Lenga was part of a group of 200 survivors who were brought to Poland this week by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and its chairman, World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder.
On Sunday, several survivors joined a brief tour of Auschwitz, sharing their thoughts and stories with reporters and attendees.
The survivors, together with family members, were invited to attend the 75th commemoration ceremony of the Liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, set to take place at the former complex of Nazi death and concentration camps on Monday. Several survivors are also slated to speak at the event. Dignitaries, world leaders and members of several royal families from the UK, Spain and Sweden will address and attend the ceremony as well.
“When we say never again, we need to mean it,” Lenga stressed. “We have to stop this evil [antisemitism and hatred] cold in its tracks, this can never happen again.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post while standing in the freezing cold next to Block 16, 92-year-old Lenga made it clear that following the horrors he endured during the Holocaust, he “refused to let his past define my future.
“Out of about a hundred people in my family, two people survived, my father and I,” he said. “When the war ended my dad was a young man, he was 41.”
His father settled in Israel, while Lenga decided to move to the United States.
As he stood next to the barracks, he was able to point out where certain incidents had happened during his time in Auschwitz.
“I remember everything that happened to me, it left a deep scar on my soul... I remember the inside of the barracks, the smoke from the chimney and the place next to the wall where the shootings happened,” Lenga said, pointing to the other side of a fence where a brick wall stood. “I will never ever forget it.”
For Lenga, being back in Auschwitz was very difficult.
“It took away my childhood and it devastated my family – it left me orphaned in so many ways,” he said.
Lenga stressed that the apathy and indifference that the world showed during that time also cannot and should not happen again, “especially as we see this rise in hatred in different places happening again... and we are seeing it in the US... it is unabating.
“The world today is intra-dependent, and this hatred is like a deadly virus – if it happens here, it will eventually happen there,” he emphasized. “We cannot let it creep into our tomorrow… How can we let this go on? It will only lead to disaster.
“If we let it happen it will happen,” Lenga added, quoting the famous poem “First they came…” by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller.
Asked what Auschwitz means to him, Lenga told the Post that “it is the epitome of evil.
“It represents the lowest and most denigrated form of humanity,” he said. “It must be a warning to the world.”
Lauder told the press that despite world leaders giving “great speeches, they are not passing strong enough laws to combat and stop hate on the Internet.
“We must speak out more against hate or this will get worse and worse,” he said.
Asked about whether or not Israel is doing enough to fight antisemitism and hate, he said that “Israel is doing what it can.”
He stressed that anti-Israel sentiments and antisemitism are connected.
Lauder also said he’s learned enough in life “never to be surprised,” but the fact that Jews are being murdered in synagogues in today’s society “has even surprised me.
“But the fact is we’re seeing this over and over again – hate is being preached on the Internet, and governments are doing nothing about it.”
He made it clear that the WJC cannot pass laws about these matters, but “the Knesset can, they can go onto the Internet and find out who is doing this and they’re not doing that,” he said, referring to all governments worldwide.
“No more speeches, we need to see action,” Lauder said.
The WJC president told the Post that education is key in order to pass on the message of the Holocaust.
“Israeli schools are not doing a good enough job,” he said, adding that if we’re going to stop the hate on the Internet, “we have to post positive things.”
The writer is a guest of the World Jewish Congress and the Jerusalem Press Club.