Reddit recently had an AMA with a 92-year old Holocaust survivor. There is another group that is fading away as we lose our World War II veterans- Holocaust survivors. The grandson of Henry Flescher helped him answer questions on Reddit as he confessed he understandably did not know how to use Reddit or a computer. Link to AMA session. It is a riveting story. Here are some highlights:
Bio: My name is Henry Flescher. I was born in Vienna, Austria on March 14, 1924. I am a Survivor and I'm now living in Aventura, Florida. I spend time volunteering at the Miami Holocaust Memorial and also speak at schools in the Miami area. I have two wonderful daughters, three grandchildren (one of whom is helping me with this AMA today), and one great grandchild. I'm happy to be alive today, and more than happy to answer any questions you may have!
* I have watched most of them. I don't find it difficult to watch because I went through it. I've seen it all. I still remember a friend of mine who was hanged because he was using a telephone wire as a belt to hold up his pants. They hung him and he fell back down. They put him back up and hung him again.
*Hey Mr. Flescher. What did your moment of liberation feel like? The day you got to leave the camps and start a normal life again. Did you ever feel like that day would come? My great grandfather was one of the soldiers who liberated the camps after the war was lost and I've always been curious what emotions the prisoners felt.EDIT: I meant to write when the war was won, not lost. I had a brain fart and I'm sorry.
I didn't know it. I didn't understand. I was on another death march at the time from Altenburg to Waldenburg. I managed to slip away and hide in a chicken coop along the way and at that time the American convoy was advancing. I saw an American tank and an American soldier and thought he was going to kill me because I didn't know the uniform. I still left the coop and went up to them, because at that time I could barely stand up and weighed about 70 pounds. I was liberated on April 11.
I didn't know that day would come. I was very sick when I was liberated and could barely eat, talk, or walk
*I was first sent to Drancy, a transit camp. I was then transported in a cattle car packed with people with no food or water and one bucket in the middle to use as a toilet. I was
16 18 at the time. The smell was unfathomable.
I cannot recall anyone dying during that journey. But everyone was killed soon thereafter.
*They took 300 men off the train to work in a shoe factory in Ohrdruf. After about four weeks I was transferred to Peiskretscham where I helped build bridges. After a few months there I was then transferred to Blechhammer. It was there that my name became 177153. Blechhammer was hell. Punishments were a daily routine and my front teeth were knocked out here. I was there during the winter. One time we had to stand for several hours and one person couldn't contain their urine and peed on himself. The man was hanged. After about two years at Blechhammer we went on a death march to Gross Rosen. Buchenwald was the next camp. Then altenberg and waldenburg. This is a brief timeline!
*My grandfather was in Ohrdruf, he didn't speak much about it. Around Ohrdruf he was liberated after escaping the camp and running in to an American tank and soldiers, similar to yourself. He said he didn't believe the Americans were there until some Polish workers showed him a pack of American cigarettes prior to the encounter. They were Chesterfields, and he forever remembered that.
*What was the transition back to civilian life like, after spending three years in concentration camps?
* My brother moved to the US right before things got ugly in Europe, so I wanted to move where he was. He was in Providence, RI. Itzik's. It's definitely my favorite.
*There was many times I almost lost hope. It was difficult to get the stamina to keep going. I just hoped I would survive and lived day by day. I returned to Drancy where I was deported from. My name is on a wall in Paris with 76,000 names of people who got deported from there. I don't think many survived.
* I cannot take back anything, and I cannot regret anything. We were treated worse than animals. My name was 177153.
* I was captured in France. While trying to buy grapes at a market. They asked for my papers and that was it
*My brother was very relieved to know that I made it out alive. My parents and sister and her child were all sent to Auschwitz. It would have been tough on him to know that his entire family was killed. But that was the reality many people faced.
*Usually at night we got a piece of bread and some watery soup. In the morning sometimes we got a cup of coffee. I used to scrape and eat the coffee grinds from barrels and in the morning to get a little sustenance. We would also break the piece of bread we got at night in two, and save the other half for the morning. That is what i remember.
*If you have a desire to live, you will do what it takes to exist for the next day.
*We worked 12 hours from 6 to 6 everyday. We were not treated well, as you can imagine. I helped build bridges in Peiskretscham, I also worked in a shoe factory in the beginning in Ottmuth. Nothing is exaggerated. When the war broke out, I moved to Brussels with my parents. My brother got a visa in 1939 and moved to the United States. I was too young to obtain a visa, being only 14 at the time, and stayed in Brussels until I was about 16. In 1942 I received a letter to go to labor camp, and at that time my parents tried to smuggle me out of Brussels to go to Spain. While I was being smuggled out, I was caught in Lyon while buying grapes at a market along the way. Somebody asked to see my passport and right away they saw a big "J" in my passport and I was arrested. This was in 1942. I was liberated April 11, 1945. I also had a sister who was older than me, and she had a young child. She was caught around the same time as me, and was immediately sent to Auschwitz.