The Last Survivors of Auschwitz (& ‘I Have a Message for You’)

January 21, 2020


[Note by Tom Gross]

On Thursday, dozens of world leaders including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Britain’s Prince Charles, the King of Spain, most European heads of state, and Nancy Pelosi (representing the US Congress), will gather at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem to mark the beginning of the commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Auschwitz, the world’s biggest murder, torture and human experimentation site, was liberated by Soviet forces on Saturday, January 27, 1945. They found 7,000 prisoners still alive. We now know that on the direct orders of US president Franklin Roosevelt, the American airforce avoided bombing the railways lines to Auschwitz as they flew overhead on multiple occasions, and hundreds of thousands of Hungarian and other Jews were taken by railway to be murdered there following FDR’s decision.

(From May to July 1944, over 55,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz every week. More than 5,000 were gassed each day. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had already said that what was happening to the Jews was “the most horrible crime in the whole history of the world.” Jewish leaders pleaded with FDR to bomb the railroad tracks yet he decided not to. Meanwhile US planes did choose to bomb an I.G. Farben factory nearby in order to hurt German economic production.)

Below are photos of some of the few remaining Auschwitz survivors still alive.

All photos (apart from the last two) were taken by Menachem Kahana, for the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

(There is a personal note at the end of this dispatch.)



Holocaust survivor Menahem Haberman, 92, Auschwitz tattoo number A10011, pictured above with his daughter Rachel at his home in Jerusalem on December 12, 2019. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1927, Menahem is the sole survivor of eight children who made it through the ghetto, Auschwitz, and finally the “Death March” to Buchenwald where he contracting tuberculosis.



Holocaust survivor Saul Oren, aged 90, shows his arm with his Auschwitz tattoo number 125421, at his home in Jerusalem, December 2, 2019. Born in Poland in 1929, he is a survivor of Nazi medical experimentation. He was starving at the end of the war and doctors say it is a miracle he lived. Oren’s mother was murdered at Auschwitz and he has no photo of her, but tries to include her image in the paintings he still does at home.



Malka Zaken, 91, Auschwitz tattoo number 76979, with dolls, reminders of ones given to her by her mother who was murdered by the Nazis. This photo was taken at her home in Tel Aviv on December 16, 2019. Born in Greece in 1928, Malka was 12 when she was sent to Auschwitz, where she was assigned to collect the clothes of Jews stripped naked before being killed in the gas chambers.

“When I was little in Greece, my mother bought my and my six siblings lots of dolls,” said Zaken. “But she was burned by the Nazis. When I’m with the dolls, I remember her, it’s like when I was a child at home. I think about her and my six brothers and sisters all the time,” she said.



Holocaust survivor Shmuel Blumenfeld, aged 94, Auschwitz tattoo number 108 006, carries a bag containing earth from locations where his relatives were killed by Nazis, at his home in the city of Bat Yam south of Tel Aviv. Born in Poland in 1925, he collected the earth during visits to Poland in recent years, and keeps them in a small yellowing bag, which he has asked his children to bury with him.



Holocaust survivor Batsheva Dagan, aged 95, whose entire family was killed, with books she has written, at her home in the Israeli town of Holon, on December 25, 2019. Born Izabella Batszewa Rubinsztajn in Łódź, Poland, in 1925, she became a pioneer in the field of Holocaust education, and has dedicated her life to teaching about the genocide.

At Auschwitz-Birkenau, she was forced to collect shoes and other prisoners’ belongings as she was beaten and starved. “I spent 20 months there, 600 days and nights,” she said Dagan. “Every second I was scared of dying. Each moment contained the threat that that moment is your last.”

More about her books here:



Szmul Icek, 92, at his home in Jerusalem with a picture of his parents who were murdered by the Nazis along with both his sisters. Szmul was born in Poland in 1927. In contrast to some survivors, he never returned to visit the camps and avoids reading books on the subject. For many years, Icek, number 117 568, kept his imprisonment at Auschwitz secret from his wife and couldn’t speak about it.



Above: Auschwitz survivor Isaac Mizan, from Greece, urges people to remember. He was captured on March 24 1944, in Arta, Greece together with his parents, three sisters, and their children. Only he and one sister survived.

Kurt Waldheim the notorious Austrian Nazi who oversaw the murders of Isaac’s family and tens of thousands of other Greek Jews, was later appointed UN Secretary-General from 1972 to 1981, and then was elected to be President of Austria from 1986 to 1992.

In 1994, Pope John Paul II awarded Waldheim a knighthood in the Order of Pius IX. He died on 14 June 2007, at the age of 88. His funeral was held at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, and he was buried at the Presidential Vault in Vienna’s prestigious Zentralfriedhof (central cemetery).

In his speech at the Cathedral, Austrian President Heinz Fischer called Waldheim “a great Austrian”. Only two countries, Japan and Syria, sent representatives to lay wreaths on his grave.



As a young girl on a speeding train in Belgium, Klara Prowisor (now aged 94) had to make a quick and heartbreaking decision in order to survive the Holocaust, leaving her father behind. Decades later, in Tel Aviv, she received a message from him.

Klara spoke to filmmaker Matan Rochlitz in Tel Aviv in 2017.

This film, only 12 minutes long, is very moving in its simplicity and you may want to make time to watch it.

(This film was not made by the New York Times but it is one of the websites it is hosted on.)


Further reading:

Extraordinary newly colourised images of Auschwitz 75 years ago reveal full horror of the Nazis' most notorious concentration camp (London Daily Mail, January 21, 2020)




This dispatch is dedicated to my grandmother Vera’s parents and other relatives who were murdered in the Holocaust.

No photos of Vera’s parents, who were deported to Theresienstadt (Terezin, north of Prague) and later to Treblinka in Poland where they were killed, survive the war.

Above is a photo of my grandfather Kurt’s mother, my great-grandmother Johanna, who did manage to escape (to mandate Palestine) without her siblings in 1939. The photo shows Johanna with her five sisters and her sister-in-law in the mid-1930s in Germany.

Johanna was the only one of the sisters left alive in this photo at the end of the war.

Her nieces Anna and Isle Mohrenwitz, pictured at the front of the photo, also managed to escape (to Australia) but their mother Bettina and the other siblings did not.

-- Tom Gross


Update (January 24): Please see this follow up dispatch:

Videos: strong speeches at world’s biggest ever Holocaust commemoration today, as German president speaks in Hebrew


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All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.