The Museum’s Behind Every Name a Story project gives voice to the experiences of survivors during the Holocaust.
70 Years Later
The soldiers of the Red Army arrived at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Shadows gathered behind the electric fence that surrounded the camp. They were emaciated, dazed, famished, and had no comprehension of what was happening to them.
A few days before, SS guards had gathered all of the inmates who could follow them on a forced evacuation march, later referred to as a Death March, during which many people perished of fatigue, cold, exhaustion, or from bullets to the head.
Women had already been evacuated toward other camps. Inmate A-5496, my mother Helene Lob (aka Maria Flanzweig), was part of the transport from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Bergen-Belsen by open, flatbed cars amid seasonal frigid temperatures.
In Bergen-Belsen they were abandoned by their guards without food or water until their liberation in April 1945, three long months after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The camp’s filth facilitated the spread of a rampant typhus epidemic, which, together with the lack of nourishment, resulted in a staggering number of deaths.
Refusing to follow the SS guards, prisoner B-13726, my father Marcel Lob, decided to go to the Revier (infirmary). He took off and threw away his clothes before spreading onto a cot completely exhausted. The SS guards did not enter the Revier for fear of being contaminated. And so, B-13726 was able to escape the forced March begun by a horde of walking cadavers from Auschwitz.
Upon Auschwitz’s liberation in January 1945, Marcel and one of his friends decided to leave for a Russian military camp in Krakow. The Russians started to repatriate the ex-inmates, who wanted to return to their countries of origin, giving priority to married couples. Marcel found a willing female ex-inmate to marry in order to expedite his return. The marriage was a hoax. From there he managed to write to his brother Mathieu in Paris to inform him that he was alive.
Some four months went by before he sailed from Odessa, on the Black Sea, to France. On his birthday, May 12, 1945, the ship docked in the port of Marseille, where Marcel was transferred onto a train for Paris. He looked forward to meeting his family members whom he had not seen for three long years.
Midway, at the Lyon train station, his cousin, Bernard, gave him the news that his sister Stephanie, brother-in-law Ernest, niece Jacqueline, and his mother had been deported. No information was available yet on their fate. They could have survived the camps. However, Marcel knew all too well that his mother, and my grandmother, Lucie Levy Lob had been murdered.
Since the passing of my grandfather, Gaston, my father watched over his mother with whom he shared an apartment in Paris. He was totally devoted to her. He told me that it was the hope of seeing her again that had kept him alive in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
When Marcel got the news of her deportation, he knew that he would never see his mother again—the person he adored beyond anyone else. It was with a broken body and a broken heart that he arrived in Paris. There, he was welcomed by the family of his older brother, Mathieu, who had escaped deportation.
My father, who barely weighed 60 pounds when he returned from the camps, was brought back to life by his family in their Paris apartment at 68 Boulevard Pereire. Like most of the death camp survivors, he quickly discovered that no one, even those closest to him, was interested in hearing about his wartime experiences. Everyone was too busy putting his or her own lives together. His cousin, Simone Cavaillon, insisted on knowing, but otherwise he kept his story to himself until my conversation with him 35 years later.
During this time of remembrance, I recall him and all those who went through that hell before disappearing in the smoke of the crematoria or the few who returned among the living. I wish that humanity will remember them as a warning for its own survival.
However, 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and after recent outbreaks of violence against the Jews in France, I doubt very much that the lessons of the Holocaust have been learned and understood.
Written by Gerard Lob, son of Marcel and Helene Lob, in Aventura, Florida, on January 25, 2015.