On January 23, 2018, inside the #12 Barrack of Auschwitz, I had the honor of a lifetime to share the remarkable story of holocaust survivor, Joe Rubinstein, with several of the guides of the Auschwitz/Birkenau Memorial and Monument in Oświęcim, Poland. 76 years earlier, Joe, age 21, arrived at the concentration camp on April 30, 1942, where he would endure the unimaginable. He became, as he said, "An experienced prisoner. I knew how to live, and I knew how to die." After over two years at Auschwitz/Birkenau, Joe was sent to several other notorious camps, but not before learning that his entire family, including his identical twin, had been murdered by the Nazis at the Treblinka Death Camp. Joe has never been back to his homeland of Poland. I was grateful I could go on his behalf. Though he is 97 now, Joe's memories of Auschwitz are vivid. It was, as he said, "Hell."
This was my second visit in six months to Auschwitz. While the heat of August was stifling, visiting in January was more telling. Even more than the starvation he endured, it was the cold that Joe said was the cruelest of punishments. As I stood in my winter coat, my hat and mittens inside one of the wooden barracks of Birkenau, identical to the one where Joe lived, I shivered against the biting air. I could not imagine how he, or anyone else, survived with no warm clothes and no insulation, sleeping in the mere shack designed to house livestock. It is beyond my ability to comprehend how anyone left there alive. Joe still cannot believe that he did.
There were tears on the faces of those who listened as I shared Joe's story with guides...faces of those special people who have devoted so much of their lives to touring the nearly 3 million visitors a year through the Museum and Memorial, and sharing with them about the precious lives lost there...and of those few, like Joe, who lived to tell theirs. I am profoundly grateful for everyone at Auschwitz, and the many people around the world, who work so hard to keep the memory of what happened during the dark and terrible days of the holocaust alive. We must never forget.
But, there were smiles, too, on the faces of the guides, knowing that for Joe at least, his story did not end at Auschwitz. Joe Rubinstein's story of triumph continues to this day, as he and his wife of over 70 years are spending a few weeks this cold winter, walking the beaches of Mexico, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the blessings of being alive.
To learn more about Joe's story check out: Auschwitz #34207 - The Joe Rubinstein Story.