Auschwitz survivor ‘still fearful’

Published: Sunday 25th January 2015 by The News Editor

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An Auschwitz survivor who still hears daily the sound of the railway tracks that brought him to the Nazi death camp remains “fearful” following the attack on a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

Ivor Perl, who was just 12 when he arrived at the notorious concentration camp in 1944 with his parents and eight siblings, said at first it felt like he was “going on an adventure” but that feeling “ended very, very soon”.

Ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day next Tuesday – the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau – Mr Perl, 82, said not enough is being done to reassure Jewish communities fearing anti-Semitic attacks.

Originally from Hungary, Mr Perl, who now lives in Buckhurst Hill in Essex, said it is a situation he is “not too happy with”.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister David Cameron said security services will examine what more can be done to protect Jews in Britain but they cannot guard against every terror threat.

He told Jewish community leaders there would be ”lessons to learn” from the atrocity in Paris as he acknowledged concerns over safety.

Four hostages were killed by Amedy Coulibaly at a Jewish supermarket in attacks timed to follow the massacre of 12 people by brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Asked if he personally felt afraid, Mr Perl, who was speaking at the Holocaust Survivors Centre in north London, said: “Truthfully? Yes, of course I feel fearful. How can I not be? I mean, if a child burns his finger in a fire, won’t he be always scared of a fire? How can I not be frightened?”

He warned of the dangers of saying that those capable of carrying out terrorist acts are “only mad men”, and when asked if enough was being done to reassure Jewish communities, he said: “No, definitely not.”

He described the scenario as being like a “two-edged sword” in that doing nothing about it is not an option but then, if a lot is done, people could say too much is being done.

“I’m afraid it’s a situation that I’m not too happy with. But I also do have a tremendous hope and I think humanity has got resilience. It will live through it. We’ve lived through a lot of worse things than that as well. But unfortunately while it’s happening, it’s painful,” Mr Perl said.

Reflecting on why, 70 years on from the horror of the Holocaust, anti-semitism is still such a significant threat facing Jews, he said: “I think that in general the more successful and the more helpful a person is, the more they’re disliked. So possibly, because Jews are too successful…”

Looking back at his experience in Auschwitz, Mr Perl recalled how excited he was on the train to the camp – and how he still hears the clickclacking of the train going over the tracks in his head every day.

“It was all lovely. I’m going on a train now, I’ve never been on a train…And it was…My childhood consisted mainly of hardships, so hardship was the norm to me,” he said.

Mr Perl said when he lay down on the floor he was able to look down at the tracks through a hole and he remembers thinking: “Wouldn’t it be nice to be free?”

He added: “I was 12 years and two months old when I went to Auschwitz. And when I think back, to me, surprisingly enough, I remember seeing it as an adventure as well. I don’t know if I’m not ashamed to say that.

“But as a 12-year-old boy coming from eastern Hungary, where to see a car was quite an achievement… so going on the train was like going on an adventure, not knowing of course what happened. But that is something which ended very, very soon,” he said.

Mr Perl was separated from his mother and most of his siblings on arrival.

He recalls pleading with his mother to let him come with her but she told him he had to go back to the other line with his brother.

“And of course the rest is history. That’s the last time I saw my mother and sisters, and my brother as well on the other side,” he said.

After he went through the ritual of showering, Mr Perl said he, along with others, was brought to a different part of the camp and he broke down in tears.

“They said ‘Now remember, you’ve arrived in a place called Auschwitz. Never forget that. And also, you’re going to get a number, never forget that number’. And that’s when suddenly I started crying.

“Something hit me that something’s not going the way I thought it will be. The man comes over and says ‘Why? Why are you crying?’. I says ‘Well, I want to see my mum’. So he said ‘All right, don’t worry, don’t worry,’ he says, ‘You’ll see her tomorrow’,” he said.

He sensed that “something dreadful” was happening.

Out of his parents and eight siblings, Mr Perl and a brother were the only people in his family to survive the Holocaust.

His brother died about six years ago.

“People say ‘Did you cry? Do you ever cry?’. I said ‘Do you know what? I never stop crying in my heart’. Not physically. I never shed a tear, but when he died… because you’ve lost some connection with the family,” he said.

Published: Sunday 25th January 2015 by The News Editor

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