Holocaust survivor in Oak Bay shares story of love and hope
OAK BAY -- “He’s a wonderful friend,” George says, leaning over his chair to pet his dog Remy.
Although the pup is blind, George says he always shows him love.
“I’ve always loved animals,” George says, before showing me a photograph from 1930. It shows three-year-old George with his sister and a dog named Nip.
“He was short-tempered!” George laughs and makes a biting gesture with his fingers. “He nipped!”
While he remembers that with a smile, George still struggles with the memory of how, years later, a friend suddenly turned on him and started beating him with a large stick.
“I played soccer with him yesterday. I was on his team and he was on my team,” George says. “[Today] he was hitting me.”
It was the day the Jewish people in the neighbourhood were forced from their homes by the Nazis. George had to walk away from all he knew with a bleeding back.
“It was very hard to accept this,” George says, lowering his head.
George couldn’t fathom the depths of the what was happening until he arrived at Auschwitz by train and first experienced the smoke.
“The smell lingers in the air,” George says. “It is the smell of the burning of the people.”
He shows me a photograph from that day in May 1944. It shows 17-year-old George staring into the camera surrounded by others. He assumes it was taken by a Nazi guard, perhaps during the period they called “from whistle to smoke.” That was the 15-minutes window that Nazi SS officers had to transfer prisoners who couldn’t work from the train to the crematorium.
George ended up being held at three concentration camps where he, like so many millions of others, was starved and beaten. His friends and family were killed there.
George still has the scar from being shot in the face and the striped hat from the day he escaped.
“I don’t want to put it on again,” he says gravely.
George doesn’t want to think about any of this again either. But the 93-year-old says it’s his responsibility as a survivor to share his story before it is too late, which is why he endured writing the details of his experience during and after the Holocaust in his recently published book, Prisoner of Hope.
He hopes it will urge us to stop this from ever happening again.
“It is very simple, two words only,” George says, holding up two fingers. “Never again.”
To ensure that, George says, in every moment you only have to choose one thing — love.
George’s book ends with the kindness that strangers showed him during his escape and while rebuilding his life after the war.
“I only know love. I don’t use hate,” George says, before reaching over to pat Remy. “We are here for each other, not against each other."