Aushwitz survivor: ‘Every Jew likes Israel, but we love it'

Roman Kent tells Peres educating youth about the Holocaust is one of the most important projects of the International Auschwitz Committee.

Peres with Aushwitz survivor 311 (photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel)
Peres with Aushwitz survivor 311
(photo credit: Yosef Avi Yair Engel)
It’s not just the numbers on their arms that constantly remind Auschwitz survivors of the most nightmarish period of their lives. The horror of Auschwitz is always with them, no matter how much times passes, how successful they are in their careers or how much money they amass.
Auschwitz survivor Roman Kent of New York, implied as much when, as a member of the presidium of the International Auschwitz Committee (IAC), he joined other committee members on Monday at a meeting with President Shimon Peres at Beit Hanassi in Jerusalem.
He said he could not help but remember what it was like in Auschwitz as he sat in the State of Israel in the office of its president.
Kent, who is who is also treasurer of the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, related that only a few years ago, he had been present at the home of German President Johannes Rau for the signing of a document that assured payments to forced labor survivors by the Foundation Initiative of German Enterprises.
Kent had refused to sign the document, declaring it would not be signed until Holocaust survivors received a proper acknowledgment of guilt from the German government. Rau admitted that Germany had committed a crime, and had asked for forgiveness.
Including his fellow survivors in his declaration, Kent, surveying his surroundings, said to Peres: “For the survivors of Auschwitz it really means something to be here with you. Every Jew likes Israel, but we love it even more because we realize that if there had been a State of Israel in 1939, six million Jews would not have been murdered. Even though we live in the Diaspora, our hearts are in Israel.”
Educating youth about the Holocaust is one of the most important projects of the IAC, said Kent, explaining that the survivors want to give young people as in-depth as possible an understanding of what took place in the Holocaust, because they will have to give over those lessons.
“We want them to teach after we are gone,” he said.
According to Kent, it was the IAC that initiated the United Nations Universal Commemoration of Victims of the Holocaust, held each January on the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation.
“We must remember that we are all one people, and today we must remember because we Jews are persecuted in so many places,” said Kent, noting that each year at the UN, there are between 20-30 resolutions against Israel.
Members of the IAC who were present included its Jerusalem-based president Noah Flug and Warsaw-based journalist Marian Turski, one of the founders of the influential publication Polityka and president of the Jewish Historical Institute Association and a board member of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
All three were childhood friends in the Lodz Ghetto, all three survived Auschwitz, and although they now live in different countries, all three are still friends.
“We decided that while we can, we have to do something for our people,” said Kent, who is haunted by the possibility that any one, or all of them, could have been among the one-and-half million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust.
Because they are all so sensitive to the well-being of children, he told Peres, they have been closely following the events related to the possible deportation of children of foreign workers, “and from a moral point of view, we hope you will find the proper solution.”
Of all the Holocaust-related hats that he wears, Kent said that the post he likes best is his role at the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, because through it he can honor “those people who showed the whole world that you can be moral under the worst of circumstances.”
Flug and Turski are also members of an international commission initiated by the Auschwitz Memorial and State Museum to work on the concept of a new, central exhibition at Auschwitz. IAC Vice President Christoph Heubner is also involved.
Members of the IAC, said Flug, are also engaged in fighting a relatively new development in the Baltic countries and Germany, which are trying to draw parallels between Nazism and Communism, while the Holocaust as such is virtually ignored.
Heubner, who made a presentation to Peres, recalled the impression that Peres had made when he addressed the German Bundestag last January.
“It was an important lesson because it reached the mind and the heart,” he said.
“Your organization represents history with a double meaning,” Peres responded. “You experienced it and you make people know it and understand it.”
People usually remember the better part of their lives, he said.
“Remembering the Holocaust is a very heavy load. It’s not just remembering. It’s also a commitment,” he said.
Peres said that he could not understand how a supposedly cultured society like Germany “created a murder machine.”