‘Outliving Hitler’: Holocaust survivor Sol Lurie recounts ordeal at Auschwitz, path forward
Holocaust survivor Sol Lurie revisited his traumatic experiences in Auschwitz Monday night.
During the talk at the Levin Jewish Community Center—attended by about 80 people, including Duke students—Lurie recounted his ordeal at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. His talk focused on coming to terms with the country that kept him prisoner and how he has coped with those memories.
Lurie, his parents and his three older brothers lived comfortably in their town in Lithuania—which was about a quarter Jewish—when it was invaded first by the Soviets in June 1940 and then Germans exactly one year later.
“I’ll never forget June 22, 1941. It was a Sunday. My father and my brothers decided we knew what the Germans were doing to the Jews,” Lurie said. “In those days, we only had horse and wagon.”
Lurie’s family tried to escape but only made it as far as the next town before having to turn back. Lurie said they were helped by a German soldier, who advised them to avoid certain roads on the way back so they would not be killed.
“I told you that story because I want to show you that not all the Germans were bad. There were good ones too. Not enough of them. But there were,” Lurie said. “People cannot believe I don’t hate all the Germans. And I tell them, if I hate all the Germans, I’m just like them—they hated all the Jews.”
Lurie and most of the other Jewish people from his town were soon moved to cramped and dirty ghettos where his parents and older brothers performed forced labor. Because kids were not allowed on the streets, Lurie said that he would hide between houses.
After being removed from the ghettos, Lurie was sent to five different concentration camps before arriving at Auschwitz, which was the largest concentration camp during the Holocaust.
“You could smell flesh burning,” Lurie said. “Even now if I smell barbecue, my mind goes back to Auschwitz. We didn’t know exactly what it was, but you could smell the flesh.”
Before being liberated, Lurie was one of nearly 60,000 prisoners who were forced to march from Auschwitz.
“It was the end of December, January. The only thing we had were striped pajamas and wooden shoes. It’s a miracle that our feet weren’t frozen,” Lurie said. “We kept on marching, with people dying like flies. We didn’t have bread or water. The only water we had was snow on the ground. We would pick it up and put it in our mouths.”
Lurie explained that he survived the brutal conditions by setting his sights on one goal—”outliving Hitler.” He was eventually liberated on his 15th birthday, and one of his brothers and his father also survived the Holocaust.
After a few years at a French orphanage, Lurie came to the United States, where he learned English “from the movies.”
“I came to the greatest country in the world. Even in the Korean War, I volunteered for the army,” Lurie said. “They sent me back to Germany. Two of us went to Germany. They needed interpreters.”
When asked about how he felt going back to Germany so soon after after being liberated from German capture, he said he was not afraid. Lurie noted that he “can’t hate the children for what the parents did.”
During the talk, one member of the audience asked if God played a role in Lurie’s survival.
“God? He didn’t play a role at all. If he played a role, it wouldn’t have happened. How could a father allow his children to be killed like this? That’s why I don’t believe anymore,” Lurie said. “I believe, be a good human being, help one another.”
And his message to school children, college students and adults was the same.
“People must love one another, respect one another.” he said. “And if we do that, we are going to have a beautiful world to live in.”
posted originally at: The Duke Chronicle