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Published:April 20th, 2009 12:18 EST
Prisoners During Genocide Recall Unfathomable Horrors In Death Camps

Prisoners During Genocide Recall Unfathomable Horrors In Death Camps

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Detained as teenagers in the Auschwitz concentration camp, Anshel Szieradzki and Menachem Shulovitz defied the odds and endured through the atrocities committed under the banner of Nazi Germany, and lived to become brothers by association 65 years after being rescued from Hitler`s reign of terror.

They had never known that they probably stood within inches of each other as Nazi soldiers branded their arms with serial numbers, before meeting over the Web several weeks ago.

Born as Polish Jews, both moved to Israel after the war and raised families in the years that followed, but had never crossed paths with one another until the Internet and their common past brought them together.

Szieradzki, 81, and Shulovitz, 80, now talk on a daily basis, recounting the bright times and the darkest hours that inextricably links their pasts into one.

"We are blood brothers," Szieradzki said referring to his newfound friend. "The moment I meet someone who was there with me, who went through what I went though, who saw what I saw, who felt what I felt - at that moment we are brothers."

And consequently, as the story of their reunion became highly publicized, two other biological brothers who were also subjugated to being forever scarred with those tattooed numbers met and keep in touch with one another.

The four individuals were actually branded all in a row, with consecutive serial numbers.

To commemorate their time spent in the Nazi death camps, one of the two joined the pair of friends at Israel`s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. They solemnly reflected on the events that transpired over half a century ago and shared a tearful embrace in their native Hebrew and Yiddish.

Their rendezvous happened on the day before Israel recognizes the yearly Holocaust remembrance day that starts Monday evening, paying tribute to the approximately 6 million Jews who lost their lives during World War II.

 

Hundreds of thousands of WWII survivors flooded into the Holy Land when the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14th, 1948. There are about 250,000 of those original refugees currently living in Israel.

Szieradzki said: "This is my victory. It is never forgotten, not for a moment. It`s like an infected sore deep inside that hurts every time it is exposed."

Shulowitz`s daughter was surfing the Internet when she came across a Web site where Szieradzki`s journey from his home in Poland to Auschwitz and finally to Israel beared a striking similarity to her father`s life.

Many of the pair`s harrowing life stories were alike: both were stripped from their parents and families and neither saw those relatives again; they were sent to the Polish ghettos where they eked by on scraps of food; then both passed under the inspection of notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor at Auschwitz that supervised who was fit to live and who was fit to die, and survived the death marches during which any prisoners that fell over from starvation and torture were promptly executed.

Their lives after the war followed a linear path too: both fought as soldiers in Israel`s war for independence in 1948, and devoted their working years to military service.

When Shulowitz was shown the Web site, he couldn`t recognize the man`s name but once he saw the man`s number, he became petrified.

He said, as he gazed at the serial number close to his: "I rolled up my sleeve and sure enough - I stood exactly ahead of him in line at Auschwitz." His experience seeing a fellow brother who overcame the tolls of the Nazis` crimes against humanity "was a moment of great emotion, great excitement. We went through it all together. We are like two parallel lines that never met."

Shulowitz looked up Mr. Szieradzki`s number the next day and started a developing friendsip from there. An Israeli newspaper covered their reunion, photographing the pair and their consecutive serial numbers as they arranged a get-together at a midpoint between their homes in Haifa and Jerusalem.

Szieradzki said it was amazing that both of them lived through the Holocaust and have lived into their eighties.

He recounted the horrors of Auschwitz and watching as the fates of hundreds of thousands were decided by a thumbs-up or down from Dr. Mengele. Those persecuted in the death camps who were too old, young, or sick to be laborers were immediately put to death in the gas chambers, while the fittest were stripped of their clothing, shaved, and tattooed before being put to work.

In his time at Auschwitz, Szieradzki reflected: "I used to think about getting through the moment, the hour, at most the day. I didn`t think about the next day, because I didn`t think I was going to live to see the next day."

And seeing who else was in line with him never dawned on him at the time.

"At that moment, everyone was busy with their own thoughts. I don`t remember who was in front of me and who was behind me."

Making the turn of events even more serendipitous, Szierdzki found that the two brothers, Shaul Zawadzki and his older sibling Yaakov Zawadzki with the serial numbers B-14596 and B-14597 who stood directly behind him in the tattoo line, were still alive and living in Israel.

Yaakov joined the two at Sunday`s meeting at Yad Vashem.

On the reunion at the site devoted to remembering those lost in the Holocaust, Zawadzki said: "It`s unfathomable that something like this could happen. I`m still in shock."

Yaakov assured that his brother was well, but was tending to his wife`s failing health and unable to attend anyway for fear of dredging up those painful memories from the past.

Many Jewish survivors from the Holocaust who emigrated to the Holy Land kept a lid on their time in the concentration camps, and the reunited men were no different. Only in the 1990`s did Szieradzki open up over his personal account of Auschwitz. Instead of suffering in silence, he created a help group for others from his hometown of Zdunska Wola and helped to renovate the Jewish cemetery in the town. His organization`s Web site and the personal story of the founder on the site was what spurred Shulowitz`s daughter to tell her Dad of the parallel narrative.

On why he revisited Poland, Szieradzki said: "I felt like I was closing a circle. If God kept me alive to tell of what happened, then it was worth staying alive."

The four men had lived through one of the worst epochs in modern history and now can recall how they overcame the horrors perpetrated against them and their people.

Shulowitz said: "Our fate was to be together either in life or in death. Now we have life."