One Jew’s Story of His Time at Auschwitz During the Holocaust

Survivor: 85 year old Auschwitz concentration camp survivor Leslie Kleinman at home in Essex (PHOTO CREDIT: Philip Coburn / Daily Mirror)

Hair brushed, best clothes pressed, faces scrubbed and everyone arranged in a neat pyramid, the family were captured in a moment of happy innocence.

A serious expression on his impish seven-year-old face, is Leslie Kleinman.

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He had no inkling as the shutter was pressed just how precious this photograph would become – and why.

The year was 1936, the place was a small village in Romania, and the Kleinmans were a Jewish family, the father a rabbi.

Within nine years, after two more chubby-faced boys had joined the brood, only Leslie was left alive.

His parents and his seven brothers and sisters were all wiped out along with 1.1 million other souls in the smoke-belching mass crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazis’ most ­infamous concentration camp.

“Only I survived,” Leslie says, tears clouding eyes that have seen unimaginable horrors in his 85 years.

Hugging the photograph, he recalls: “My father was taken to Auschwitz first. Three weeks later they came for us. When we got there, there were two lines. I was 14 but some Polish Jews told me to say I was 17.

“That lie saved my life. I was directed to one queue, for the workers. My mother and siblings were put in the other. I thought I would see them later.

“The next morning I looked for them and someone told me, ‘Do you see those big chimneys? They are the gas chambers. Your family would have been killed within three hours of arriving. I cried to God.”

Pointing to each of his family in turn, he says: “I have never forgotten them in 70 years. I will never forget them.

“When I left Auschwitz I felt I was leaving them there. I have now returned 10 times. I still feel in my heart that is where they are.”

Tuesday will mark 70 years since January 27, 1945, the bitterly cold day when Soviet troops reached the Nazi death camp in Poland and liberated the skeletal shadows who had managed to cling to a scrap of life.

There were few left to save – 50,000 inmates had been evacuated by SS guards desperate to hide their monstrous shame.

Today’s survivors, men and women once reduced to a tattooed number, will gather next week to remember the fallen.

Leslie, now 85, and living in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, has nine dear memories to recall.

“My older sister Gitil was my confidante,” he tells me with a smile. “As kids we would skate on the ice in winter with geese chasing us.

“My younger brother Herman was very serious, unlike me. When we got to Auschwitz he told me he would never let them cut off his Jewish sidelocks.

“My sister Frimed was giggly and playful, and Shindi, younger still, was similar. Her name means beautiful.

“Sarah, the baby here, had a stuffed toy donkey with big ears that my mother made. I made Eeyore noises for her.

“My two youngest brothers, Abram and Moshe, I barely remember,” he sighs. “They were babies. I never got to know them.”

Labouring in the camp, Leslie had an inexplicable feeling that Gitil was alive and he says this gave him the strength to carry on.

Uncannily, he was right. Much later he learned she had been at Auschwitz too before being moved 500 miles to Bergen-Belsen in Germany.

She died just two days after liberation and that knowledge is perhaps the most painful of all for Leslie, as is his belief he may have seen her one last time.

Before he was evacuated by the Nazis, he recalls seeing a thin figure in the distance.

“I waved, and the figure waved back. But everyone had shaved heads – it was hard to tell,” he says softly.

Leslie grew up in the Romanian village of Ambud in a house with a mud floor and straw roof. But his mother Rachel was “full of cuddles” and his father Martin, though strict, “loved everyone”.

Even today as we take a photograph, Leslie rushes for his skullcap “so my father would be proud”.

Their part of Romania was annexed by Hungary and Germans marched in in 1944. Then the Jews began to suffer.

Hungarian Nazis arrived to take Martin in spring, hacking off his long beard. Three weeks later guards returned for them all.

“They rounded us up like chickens. They marched us 4km to a ghetto with 13,000 Jews. They said we could go to Germany to work in a vineyard – of course everyone jumped at the chance.”

Thousands crammed into freight wagons with one bucket as a toilet for 110 souls.

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SOURCE: The Mirror UK | Emily Retter

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