Shoah’s mem­ory is strong in Canada

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Front Page - SU­SAN MINUK SPE­CIAL TO THE CJN

In his hellish year in Auschwitz, Thomas New­man held on to the hope that one day, he and the oth­ers would get out.

“We could see peo­ple out­side the fences, the barbed wire – the Pol­ish peo­ple walk­ing out­side. I al­ways held on to hope that maybe one day we would get out of there. Hope was on my mind all the time. Hope kept us go­ing – all of us,” said New­man.

In recog­ni­tion of International Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day, Jan. 27, which this year marks the 72nd year of the lib­er­a­tion of the Auschwitz-birke­nau death camp, New­man sat down with The CJN to share his story, one that he first recorded Dec. 1, 1994, for Steven Spiel­berg’s Sur­vivors of the Shoah Vis­ual His­tory Foun­da­tion pro­gram.

New­man was brought to Auschwitz in 1944, one of about 200 boys out of the 10,000 peo­ple there. He was taught how to lay bricks. “Ev­ery day, we went to work to clean up for the air raids. As we marched out and back in, they would count us to make sure no­body was hid­ing. If one of us tried to hide or get away, they would hang that per­son in front of ev­ery­one and make us watch. Peo­ple were rapidly dy­ing of sev­eral dis­eases: lice, dirt and hunger. It was ter­ri­ble. They made us work very hard and treated us very poorly,” he said.

Thomas Si­mon Neu­mann was born April 6, 1930, in a small village called Vo­j­natina in what was then Cze­choslo­vakia. He lived with his grand­par­ents, par­ents Ros­alia and Alexan­der, and six sib­lings: three brothers, one of them a baby, and three sis­ters. His fa­ther was a farmer.

There were only 15 fam­i­lies in his village, six Jewish fam­i­lies, the oth­ers Catholic, with one school for ev­ery­one.

When Thomas was grow­ing up, the fam­ily cel­e­brated the Jewish hol­i­days, us­ing a neigh­bour’s home for pray­ing. A Jewish teacher moved from village to village teach­ing cheder, he said.

“In 1938, I would have been eight years old. Hitler had oc­cu­pied Poland, and Hun­gary oc­cu­pied our part of Cze­choslo­vakia. I re­mem­ber my par­ents were so happy that the Hun­gar­i­ans came – the Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment didn’t touch the Jewish peo­ple and Slo­vakia be­came in­de­pen­dent at that time.”

The fam­ily’s rel­a­tive se­cu­rity lasted for about six years.

“It was 1944 when the Ger­mans took over. I was al­most 14 years old. We were taken to a ghetto with the Hun­gar­ian name Ung­var, and from there, de­ported to Auschwitz. We got off the trains and were sep­a­rated. My grand­par­ents, mother and four younger sib­lings were taken one way. My two brothers were taken an­other, and my fa­ther and I re­mained to­gether,” he re­called.

“I never saw my grand­par­ents, mother, sis­ters or brothers again, which we later found out was be­cause they were re­ally on their way to the gas cham­bers,” New­man said. “My fa­ther was taken away in the sum­mer [that year] and never came back.”

He re­called the agony and con­fu­sion of his fi­nal days as a pris­oner and his med­i­cal prob­lems af­ter lib­er­a­tion.

“In Jan­uary 1945, when the Rus­sian army was clos­ing in, we were taken from Auschwitz deeper into Ger­many to a place called Buchen­wald. To get from Auschwitz to Buchen­wald, we went in open trains and also by foot. If some­one wasn’t able to walk any­more, they were shot.

“I was 15 years old when the Amer­i­can army lib­er­ated us. I didn’t re­ally know what was hap­pen­ing. I could see sol­diers com­ing and go­ing. The guards es­caped. It was to­tal chaos. I was very sick due to mal­nu­tri­tion, so the Amer­i­cans took me to an army hospi­tal, where I re­ceived blood trans­fu­sions along with many other treat­ments. I sur­vived.”

When he was well enough, he, like many oth­ers, tried to go home. “I went home to my village to learn the fate of my fam­ily and the oth­ers. No one came home,” New­man said.

Fol­low­ing the war, he stayed with an un­cle in Bu­dapest and then with an­other un­cle in Prague. “In Prague, I caught up in school, com­plet­ing three years of high school in one. My un­cle wanted me to get my ed­u­ca­tion,” New­man said.

In 1948, the Cana­dian Jewish Congress brought New­man to Canada with other or­phans like him­self. “When I ar­rived in Toronto, I had noth­ing or no one with me. Immigration of­fi­cials changed my name from Neu­mann to New­man.”

He be­came a char­tered ac­coun­tant, build­ing his own firm of five part­ners and a staff of 40. He con­tin­ues to work full time.

New­man and his wife, Grace, have two daugh­ters and five grand­chil­dren who, he said, give him much naches.

He said he con­tin­ues to be a per­son who lives with hope. “I am an op­ti­mist. I re­mem­ber the phrase Anne Frank said: ‘I don’t think of all the mis­ery but of the beauty that still re­mains.’ I am very op­ti­mistic about life – about the fu­ture.”

Thomas New­man

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