Some Stories Must Never Die: Surviving the Holocaust

Some Stories Must Never Die: Surviving the Holocaust75 years ago on Monday, January 27, troops rolled into the Auschwitz death camp.  It was 1943 and the Nazi captors, fearing the wrath of allied forces as they came face to face with the evidence of Nazi atrocities, fled.

75 years later the memory -- and just as importantly the outrage -- of those atrocities inflicted upon some six million, mostly Jewish victims slaughtered by Hitler and his Nazi regime, is likewise fleeing, chased away by apathy and time, and by utter ignoramuses who accuse those with whom they disagree politically of being a "Nazi" or "Hitler." 

It's being chased away by shocking ignorance, some dishonest politicians, a few deniers, and most heartbreakingly, the passing of the survivors.

Those survivors lived to tell their story and as they die our collective grip on the truth of the Holocaust appears to be slipping away with them. A poll commissioned by a Jewish organization last spring revealed two-thirds of America's millennials and four out of 10 Americans overall don't know what Auschwitz was. And nearly a third of Americans think far fewer than six million Jews were killed. 

One who survived was Mr. David Shentow. 

Spending time with Mr. Shentow and his beautiful wife, Rose, stands out among the truly great privileges of my life. Together, this remarkable pair built a long and beautiful life for themselves and their children in Canada. He passed away in June 2017, his obituary reading in part:  "David Shentow, one of Canada’s best-known Holocaust survivors and educators, died June 12 at the age of 92 following a lengthy illness.  By all accounts, Shentow, who was born in Warsaw in 1925, suffered more than most people could bear by the time he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp on his 20th birthday."

In the face of growing Holocaust deniers, Mr. Shentow once said, “I would crawl on my hands and knees all the way to Auschwitz-Birkenau, or anywhere else, to tell my story to anyone who was willing to listen.”

I was grateful to listen, and back in 2006, The State newspaper published the accounting I wrote of Mr. Shentow’s survival.

So in honor of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, and the six million lives whom deserve the preservation of history, here again is David Shentow’s story: 

OTTAWA — Encouraged by his beautiful wife of 56 years, he proudly rolled up his sleeve to show me what time cannot erase.

I asked him if I could touch his arm, run my fingertips across the number burned into the skin: 725858. Under the middle “5” a roughly etched triangle identifies him as a Jew.

David Shentow spent his teenage years in Hitler’s concentration camps. He was born in Poland, raised in Belgium and long ago emigrated to Canada, where he met and married Rose.

They are a handsome couple, passionate about each other and life, perhaps in a way one can only be after you’ve lost everything you’ve ever loved, when you’ve faced years waking up in anticipation of your own death.

Something else the Shentows have an almost holy reverence for: the United States of America. 

It’s interesting how reality offers meaningful perspective.

While some of our own elected officials, various national media and pundits, as well as the usual Hollywood bright lights, accuse our country, our president and our troops of everything from greed and stupidity to torture and murder, here is a marked survivor of real evil who calls the United States a “great liberator.” I guess when you’ve been to hell and back, you’re not given to hyperbole and hysterics.

On April 29, 1945, David Shentow thought he was dead. He had somehow managed to survive years of abuse and starvation first at Auschwitz and then at Dachau, but now, with nothing left of him, there was no way death would wait as an enraged Nazi beat him mercilessly with a club. He doesn’t know how many hours he lay unconscious.

He was surprised when he did wake and found himself as he says, “still clinging to life.” But the camp was different. Except for the moans of his fellow prisoners, all was quiet. The SS guards were gone, their sentry boxes abandoned.

And then music to his ears: the rumblings of a tank headed toward him. When the tank stopped and the turret was opened, Mr. Shentow looked upon a smile that would hold his imagination and his heart for the rest of his life. It belonged to a young African-American soldier.

“Hi, young fella!” the American GI said, “How are you doing?” He then threw the bewildered captive the only thing he had on hand at the moment — a stick of gum.

“This was the moment of my liberation!” Mr. Shentow tells me. “The day of my birthday. I had just turned 20 years old.”

The Nazis murdered Mr. Shentow’s parents and his two sisters, along with his youth. But “an American soldier gave me back my life,” he says.

Yes, the American soldier. 

The same who now stands on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The one who fights for the same cause of freedom as those American patriots who went before, who volunteers to protect us from an enemy bent on nothing less than our obliteration.

Mr. Shentow’s arm: 725858. That crooked triangle. For me, forevermore, it is now, also, the symbol of the policy of appeasement.

The world hoped for the best in 1938 and looked away while Hitler marched on.

Today, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls the Holocaust a “myth,” wants Israel wiped off the map and says that “anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nations’ fury.”

I’ll take him at his word.

We’ve been down this road before...and the more tragic fact is some Americans who think peace should come at any cost now view our country as the aggressor — a country they work to bring to its knees.

I wish they could see Mr. Shentow’s arm.

By Christy Cox
January 28, 2020

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