“When I think back – and I do – there are no words to convey the horror,” Eva Lux Braun told hundreds gathered at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades to mark Yom HaShoah Sunday night.
Braun, a native of Hungary who survived Auschwitz, was the evening’s keynote speaker.
The evening also featured a recorded address from Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; a ceremony in which six candles were lit by survivors and their families; musical performances by the JCC Thurnauer School of Music, the Yeshivat Noam Choir, and harmonicist Abraham Barzelay; and the awarding of the Abe Oster Holocaust Remembrance Award for the best poems by high school students.
Braun said she grew up in a comfortable middle-class Jewish family who were isolated from society and then ordered from their home after Hitler invaded.
“All the months of hardship prior to the deportation, we reassured each other that at least we were together,” she said.
But at the gates of Auschwitz, they were separated by Joseph Mengele.
Braun and her sister Vera were sent in one direction; her mother and her youngest sister were sent in the other. Braun was not yet 17.
“My mother’s last words to me and my sister were ‘stay together.’
“Later I asked a kapo [a prisoner who supervised other prisoners] where were my mother and sister taken. He pointed to the chimneys where the acrid black smoke burned.
“The force that continued to give me strength to survive was the importance of fulfilling my mother’s last words, to never be separated from my sister, and the hope that we would be reunited with my father, who was taken to a different part of the camp.”
Throughout their stay in Auschwitz, and in the forced marches after the camp was evacuated as the Russians approached in December of 1944, Braun and her sister stayed together. After liberation they returned to their home. But they never found their father.
“I counted 64 members of my extended family among the martyrs and heroes,” she said. “Each and every absence influenced my life. We survivors honor them by speaking of their tragic fate.
“The Holocaust made me who I am. It shaped my life. The tattoo on my arm has faded as the skin on my arm has wrinkled, but it is still strikingly visible. As long as we survivors can remember our experiences, listen to us.”
Braun’s story was recently adapted into a picture book for children aged 5 to 8. “The Promise” tells how Braun remained with her sister and of their imprisonment in Auschwitz, but omits the killing of her parents and other details that might be inappropriate for children. It can be read online or purchased at http://bit.ly/jsbraun.