Voices of Holo­caust sur­vivors grad­u­ally fad­ing, 70 years on


Holo­caust sur­vivor Al­bert Garih has re­counted his trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing World War II count­less times. But as the 76- year- old ages, he ac­knowl­edges he doesn’t have much longer to share his pow­er­ful story.

As the world marks the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II, th­ese eye­wit­nesses to his­tory — some of them vol­un­teers at the U. S. Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Mu­seum — are even more acutely aware of their role in keep­ing the tales alive.

“We’re not go­ing to be im­mor­tal ... so we have to live with that and that’s why it’s so im­por­tant to pass the mes­sage to the next gen­er­a­tions,” Garih, a French na­tional and long- time U. S. res­i­dent, told AFP in an in­ter­view.

Born in 1938, Garih spent his child­hood hid­ing in var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around France, as his fam­ily evaded de­por­ta­tion to the no­to­ri­ous Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps.





in Au­gust 1944 is still fresh in his mind, even though he was only a boy.

“We saw the tanks, the jeeps, the sol­diers with friendly faces giv­ing chew­ing gum, giv­ing cig­a­rettes and giv­ing choco­late. You know they were our lib­er­a­tors, lit­er­ally,” Garih said.

The re­tired trans­la­tor, who lives in the Wash­ing­ton sub­urbs, is one of about 60 ac­tive sur­vivor vol­un­teers at the mu­seum in the U. S. cap­i­tal who pri­mar­ily lead tours and trans­late doc­u­ments.

‘ Race against time’

In the past few years, Direc­tor of Sur­vivor Af­fairs Diane Saltz­man — who has worked at the Holo­caust mu­seum since 1996 — has no­ticed an in­crease in the num­ber of sur­vivor fu­ner­als she has at­tended.

The pas­sage of time is heav­ily felt, she says.

“I think both the mu­seum and the sur­vivors feel a sense of ur­gency — an ur­gency to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for the sur­vivors to share their ex­pe­ri­ences, to make sure that we’ve doc­u­mented as many Holo­caust sto­ries as we can,” Saltz­man said.

“The mu­seum is against time.”

The em­pha­sis at the Holo­caust mu­seum is on the peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced it. Sur­vivor vol­un­teers man a desk in the lobby, and are at the ready to talk with any­one who has a ques­tion, or just wants to lis­ten.

Vis­i­tors can pick up “Iden­tity Cards” at the be­gin­ning of their tour and fol­low the life, or death, of a real per­son as they move through the mu­seum.

Ar­ti­facts and re­sources like the ID cards will soon be the only way to tell th­ese sto­ries, as the sur­vivors them­selves will be gone.

Ac­cord­ing to the AuschwitzBirke­nau State Mu­seum, this year will be the last ma­jor an­niver­sary with a siz­able num­ber of living sur­vivors.

“We have to say it clearly: it is the last big an­niver­sary that we can com­mem­o­rate with a nu­mer­ous group of sur­vivors,” mu­seum direc­tor Piotr Cy­win­ski

in a

race said in an in­ter­view pub­lished on its web­site.

Doc­u­ments Live On

About 300 sur­vivors at­tended the Jan­uary event mark­ing of the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz, down from around 1,500 a decade ago.

The lib­er­a­tion of Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp in Ger­many on April 11, 1945 freed 21,000 peo­ple. Only about 80 sur­vivors at­tended an an­niver­sary event on Satur­day.

From the work of mu­se­ums to projects like the Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Shoah Foun­da­tion started by Os­car- win­ning direc­tor Steven Spiel­berg, there have been tremen­dous ef­forts to record sur­vivor sto­ries.

The Holo­caust Mu­seum in Wash­ing­ton has plans for a new fa­cil­ity to house its col­lec­tion of ar­ti­facts from around the world, which they ex­pect to dou­ble in size over the next decade.

And while the sur­vivors can never be re­placed, Saltz­man said she trusts in the in­sti­tu­tion to keep their mem­o­ries alive.

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