Survivors of genocide recall atrocities

When Philip Gans faced a Nazi guard at Auschwitz, he didn’t realize that to the right was death and to the left was life.

“When it was my turn, he hesitated, and later on I realized he was trying to decide whether I was old enough to work,” Gans said. “He sent me to the left. If he had sent me to the right, I wouldn’t be standing here today. All the women and others chosen to go to the right were marched straight to the gas chambers, gassed and cremated.”

Nazi concentration camp survivor Gans was joined by Rwandan genocide survivor Ben Schadrac in the communication sciences building Tuesday.

“It’s not over – it could happened again,” Schadrac said. “There were many occasions of being killed and I saw other people who got killed, but I survived. It was a miracle.”

Wearing a white and blue striped shirt with the number 139755 printed on it – his concentration camp identification number – Gans talked about his experience during the Holocaust.

Photo Illustration | Marlow Gum

Born in Holland, he separated from his family when word spread that the Nazi police were going from house to house. The members of his family hid in different towns with families willing to give them shelter. During those times, he only went outside when it was time to relocate.

During the lecture, Gans drew a distinction between Holocaust and concentration camp survivors. A Holocaust survivor successfully hid through World War II while concentration camp survivors lived through the atrocities of the camps – Gans is one of the latter.

He was briefly reunited with his family while finding refuge in a guesthouse – but shortly thereafter, Gans heard footsteps as he went to bed. It was the Nazi police.

Afterward, his family was transported by railroad car to Auschwitz. Gans was only 15 at the time and was deemed healthy enough to work.

“They were sadists,” he said.

Gans told of the horrors of the camp. He talked about the regular beatings from guards, provoked by nearly any mistake, and the starvation that came from eating nothing more than a single hard piece of bread for days at a time. He said that when inmates tried to cover themselves with burlap sacks to stave off the freezing cold, guards would tear the sacks away, leaving them shivering for warmth.

After his experience as a prisoner, Gans has been back to visit Auschwitz twice, once walking the path that his mother and grandmother took to the gas chamber.

“They say that the Holocaust did not exist – I am the living proof,” he said.

Schradrac related his experience to that of Gans.

“What happened to him is exactly what happened to me,” Schadrac said. “Although I survived a genocide very different from the Holocaust.”

Erica Perez, treasurer of Lambda Psi Delta Sorority, organized the event to make the USF community aware of the oppression and cruelty occurring around the world. She had just converted to Judaism and briefly mentioned the idea to a member of her synagogue. The man, who wished to remain anonymous because of a Jewish belief in keeping any charity given confidential, handed her an envelope with $400.

He wanted her to use the money to sponsor the event because his grandfather survived the Holocaust.

“I want to dedicate my life to volunteering,” said Perez, “I get an adrenaline high from volunteering, giving back to the community. This is the first of many (events).”

Perez said she chose to address the subject of genocide because of her belief that if people forget the past, it is bound to repeat itself.