“My father lost everybody,” Sharone Kornman of West Hartford recalled.
Kornman is part of an organization called Voices of Hope, started by decedents of the Holocaust to make sure their loved ones’ stories live on.
“There’s the expression never again, we talk about it because we don’t want anything like this to happen again,” said Kornman.
Kornman’s father, Eugene Frisch, didn’t like to talk about the war. His mother Regina died in a ghetto and his little brother Jacob, just a teenager, died at Auschwitz.
“People from my father’s town that were there that survived said that he lived quite a long time in the camp, almost to liberation,” she said of Jacob.
Monday marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
“It’s a huge milestone in the history of European and worldwide Jewery,” said Danielle Moghadam.
Moghadam is in charge of programming and engagement at the JCC of West Hartford.
“If you look at global events at the moment and the rising tide of anti-Semitism I think this day holds even more significance,” she pointed out.
That’s particularly true for the survivors still alive today.
“There was no way I thought I was going to live another day, but the urge to live is very strong,” said Ernest ‘Bumi’ Gelb. “I survived because I think God above all willed me to survive.”
On Monday, Gelb told the students how he was rounded up by the Germans in his native Czechoslovakia. Auschwitz was the first of five concentration camps he would be taken to before the liberation.
“Before you know, trains started to come in. Box cars. And, we were being jammed and taken to we didn’t know where,” he recalled.
Gelb said he was put on the train with his mother, three sisters, and aunt when he was 16 years old. Only he and one sister survived the war. He said the last time he saw the rest of his relatives was the day they got off the train.
“Men were separated, women were separated,” Gelb said. “Unfortunately we found out only a day or two later those on the left were sent to gas chambers.”
Gelb had a will to survive.
“I wanted to live for another day. That’s what I remember clearly,” Gelb said.
He volunteered to work and was quickly moved out of Auschwitz.
Monday, he shared how this horrific experience shaped the rest of his life.
“I realized that you have to do something with your life which is very meaningful and thank God you have a beautiful family,” Gelb said.
Even though he lived it, Gelb says it’s still hard for him to think about the Holocaust and the six million Jews who were killed.
“The enormity is so large that I can’t fathom it even now,” he said.
Kornman’s maternal grandfather, Israel Bienstock, was also captured and sent to Auschwitz. He survived and was among the 7,000 prisoners liberated by allied forces on January 27, 1945.
“We have a tremendous gratitude for the American soldiers. What they did. Many of them died, many of them were injured permanently and we have a lot of gratitude. My father used to always say, ‘God bless America.’”
Gelb said he didn’t share his story for 40 years because he didn’t think anyone could possibly understand what he and other Holocaust survivors had been through. At his wife’s urging he’s begun talking publicly because he doesn’t want history to be rewritten.