Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A tribute to Holocaust Remembrance Day

A writer in Minnesota posted this story about Henry today:

As a tribute to Holocaust Remembrance Day, I interviewed Holocaust survivor Henry Oertelt whose story is being made into a feature-length film. This is his story.
Growing up as a Jew in Berlin was not particularly dangerous, Henry Oertelt said, but his life changed at the age of 12 when Hitler came into power.

Now, 85 years old, Oertelt tells a story he has told hundreds of times to thousands of people, a story where “all these things are based on hate,” he said.

Oertelt is also one of the 52,000 survivors documented by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute. The University libraries are in discussion with the foundation to license access to the full collection this winter.

Barred from attending school for being Jewish, Oertelt was a furniture designer and builder apprentice for four years. Soon after finishing his training, Oertelt did forced labor duty, constructing roads in Berlin.

In June 1943 Oertelt and his family were given 15 minutes to gather their belongings and leave their home behind.
“It was as simple as that,” he said.

That day, Oertelt began a journey to Theresienstadt, the first of five concentrations camps he lived in until the end of the war.
Theresienstadt was different than other camps, Oertelt said, because the Nazis put it on display for the world to dispel rumors of mass killings.

The administration scheduled concerts, operas and theater performances, Oertelt said, to hide the misery of the camp.
“We didn’t know what we had more of: lice, fleas or bedbugs,” he said.

While others worked hard labor, Oertelt designed furniture, saving the few calories he could to survive.

One day, Oertelt was shoved into a railroad car with other deportees and taken to another camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, which Oertelt called, “the killing machine.”

Camp workers separated the old and the sick from the healthy, Oertelt said, and “children were taken away first.”

Chosen for the healthy line, Oertelt continued to the showers, but was forced to stand in the cold night air, naked.

A finished painting by Rwandan sisters Alice Tuza and Floriane Robins-Brown depicts their cohesive experience of genocide.

His hair was shorn and he was tattooed with “B-11291,” which still marks his left arm.

Oertelt was later moved to a camp in Flossenb├╝rg where he would stand in role call for hours on end. He survived a grueling death march and was liberated by American troops.

Oertelt weighed 82 pounds.

For the last 35 years, Oertelt has made it his mission to bear witness to those who perished in the Holocaust, including his mother, who died at Auschwitz. He published the book “An Unbroken Chain” in 2000 which chronicles his life as a persecuted Jew. His story is now being made into a movie.

For more information on Henry Oertelt and his film, please visit:

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