Thought for the day, Thursday 27th January

Holocaust Memorial Day – survivor Susan Pollack MBE (born Zsuzsanna Blau in 1930), reflects on her experience in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. You may find this testimony distressing.

“Once I entered the camp all of my faculties, emotions, fears and hopes diminished. I was dehumanised, and in a different world. I had entered a place that was unknown to anything I could imagine. My emotions seized up and the experience shut me down, and shut me off from the world. I survived by behaving as a robot…

With the Allies advancing, the prisoners were forced on a death march to Bergen-Belsen. On 15 April 1945 I was liberated by the British army. I crawled towards my liberators, unable to walk and close to death. I was hospitalised for tuberculosis, typhoid and severe malnutrition, and was sent to Sweden to recover. I was left with nothing – no family, no education, no money, and only speaking Hungarian.

After liberation, I found that [my brother] Laci was the only member of my family to have survived: more than 50 of my relatives had been killed during the Holocaust… During his time at Auschwitz-Birkenau he had been forced to work in the Sonderkommando, moving bodies from the gas chamber to the ovens. He suffered with mental health problems caused by this experience until his death in 1995.

After the war, I lived in Sweden before moving to Canada, where I met and married a fellow survivor. Together we had three children and six grandchildren.

How do you get over such an experience? Is it possible to walk away and learn to live with all of this? How do you find the strength? Life is precious – you can go in one of two ways – up or down. I chose to walk away and rebuild my life. There was no revenge, and no justice.

In my case I think I rebuilt my self-esteem through the joy of having children and building a family. I also chose to exercise my free will. I find that trying to make a positive contribution to society, such as through volunteering, helps greatly. I now live in London and continue to share my testimony in schools across the country.”

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