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Auschwitz is where ‘the devil went to take lessons’

Holocaust survivor David Ehrlich shares his story at a symposium held at Township hall last Thursday. - Peter Tulomello photo
Holocaust survivor David Ehrlich shares his story at a symposium held at Township hall last Thursday.
— image credit: Peter Tulomello photo

It may be 70 years since the horrors of the Holocaust took place but the gravity of its evil is still just as shocking today — as was heard when survivor David Ehrlich spoke in Langley.

Ehrlich is 88-years-old and one of the remaining few who can still tell of life at Auschwitz in a way that will make no one forget.

Ehrlich came to Langley last Thursday (March 6) and spoke to a standing room only crowd of more than 200 high school students and general public who held their collective breath listening to Ehrlich recount his life in the worst concentration camp during the Second World War. The Richmond resident was speaking at a Holocaust symposium put on by the Langley Centennial Museum in conjunction with the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

“Auschwitz is where the devil went to take lessons,” said Ehrlich to the crowd. Coming from a household of nine, including five siblings, parents, a grandparent and aunt — only he and one sister survived.

Ehrlich said in the last few years he has decided to tell his story and has done so in front of thousands of students and groups all over B.C. to make sure the record is “set straight that the Holocaust happened.”

“We want to tell our citizens who come from so many different lands of different religions, that discrimination sucks,” he told the crowd. “It’s wrong to belittle someone because they don’t have your colour or religion.”

Living in a Jewish district of Transylvania, Romania, (then Hungary), Ehrlich lived in a middle class family in a nice house. He was 17 at the time the German soldiers rounded up his family.

“One morning at 6 a.m. there was a knock on the door and all I could see through the window of the door was three rifles. I opened the door and three officers asked me to bring everyone into the kitchen. We were told to pack up and they said ‘we want all your liquid assets.’”

His mother asked to be excused to use the outdoor bathroom.

“She flushed her wedding ring down the toilet as her way of protest,” he recalls.

Soon his family was being walked to their doom.

“There were hundreds just like us walking down the street with SS soldiers on either side,” he said.

So many of them didn’t realize the severity of the situation, including Erllich, as he recalls many women making sure they looked good.

The Germans had put walls and watch towers around an apple farm and shuttled 7,000 Jews in this holding camp with no sanitation, food or shelter from the relentless rain.

After five weeks of “hell” the train came to get them. They were put 70 to a car with no ventilation. Getting off the train and on the platform is where Ehrlich’s memories are most vivid and most difficult to tell.

It was there, where “selection” took place. Children were separated from parents and older people were taken, all to be put in the gas chambers.

“There was a man there who played God. He decided whether you live or die,” he said.

Ehrlich was disinfected and given a blue and white pajama-like uniform.

A soldier came to to him and asked if he had said goodbye to his parents.

“He told me ‘while you took a shower, they were gassed. Look there at the smokestack, your parents are going up in smoke as we speak,’ he told me. I didn’t believe him. It didn’t seem possible.” But it was true. His parents had been gassed. After four months of living the atrocities inside Auschwitz, he knew what that soldier said was true.

Ehrlich said he watched many parents throw themselves on the electrified bobwire, unable to live knowing what had happened to their children. He was put to work six days a week and only given 600 calories of food a day.

“They were starving us to death,” he said. The only reason he didn’t starve is because he volunteered to wash the dishes of a soldier who left food on his plate.

He remembers also a warehouse called Canada. It was perceived as the “land of milk and honey.”

It housed jewels, mounds of toys, some food, clothing all taken from the murdered Jews.

In January 1945, Auschwitz was evacuated and prisoners were sent on a three-day death march.

“It was called the March of Death” because soldiers shot anyone who fell.”

He was told two of his brothers were shot in that march.

Shortly after getting to the new camp, they were liberated by Americans and the war was over.

Elrlich weighed 87 pounds. He tried to go to his home in Romania.He opened the door and a blonde women stood at the sink, doing dishes. She turned around and asked him “What do you want?”

He ran out crying, never to look back. He made his way to Canada, as a war orphan, fudging his age to get here.

Ehrlich said he has had a good life, obtained a good profession, married, had three successful sons and grandchildren.

But for 20 years after the war, no one spoke of the Holocaust, even the survivors. There are still some out there denying the Holocaust happened, or trying to alter the history.

He decided to start telling his story, as a living witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust.

But many survivors are no longer alive to tell their stories, to bring home the truths so horrific that they need to be told, so we never forget and never, ever repeat.

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