Eugene Black's speech at the opening of a new memorial site at Harzungen, 2012

 

Frau Rothgänger, Herr Doktor Wagner, my fellow former prisoners, ladies and gentlemen. It is unbelievable to me that I am standing here today, 68 years after I first arrived in Harzungen.

I was Haftling Nummer 55,546. I was born Jeno Schwarcz in 1928, and was a Hungarian Jew deported from Munkacs in May 1944 to Auschwitz-Birkenau with my parents and two sisters.

I survived selection and was sent to the Little Camp in Buchenwald and then to Dora Mittelbau where I spent five months in the tunnels as a slave labourer loading rocks onto carts and pushing them to the tunnel entrance. There I suffered terribly from hunger, lack of hygiene facilities and beatings. I witnessed hangings and the brutality of the Nazi regime.

I became ill in Dora and I remember waking up here, in the Revier in Harzungen. It was October/ November 1944. I remember two French prisoner doctors and a German Luftwaffe doctor, an elderly man coming every morning to see us. He used to say 'Wo ist mein kleiner Jude?' He was a good German and he saved my life. In Harzungen I was given 'light duties' - building new wooden blocks, moving earth etc. Sometimes we were sent out to local businesses to load lorries. I can remember walking through a little town and being spat at. In March 1945 we were rounded up and put on a train. For seven days and seven nights we were taken all around Germany - no food, no water. At times the train would stop and we would throw out the dead bodies. Finally we arrived at a Rampe and those who survived were marched through a forest to our final destination Bergen Belsen. There I was liberated by the British troops on 15 April 1945. I was 17 years of age, an orphan, stateless and weighed 35 kilos.

 I eventually went to Britain and married and made a new life for myself with the help of my dear wife Annie who sadly died 8 years ago. I made a good career and I have four children and two grandchildren and a very good son-in-law who is with us today. I spend my time in Britain speaking to hundreds of young people every year, in schools, colleges and universities, explaining the lessons of the Holocaust, to encourage them to fight prejudice so the past does not repeat itself.

I first came back to Germany in 2005 and I was so pleased by the new Germany that I now come every year to visit the memorial sites in Bergen Belsen, Dora and to visit the memorial in Gelsenkirchen where my two sisters died as slave labourers. I have been so impressed by the new generation of Germans I have met. I have made wonderful friends with the staff at the Memorial sites and I want to commend them and the volunteers who support them for all their efforts in preserving our legacy so future generations can learn.

 For me Germany has accepted full responsibility for its past and today is an important part of this legacy. Just as my children ask me how this could have happened, so do the children of the perpetrators and bystanders. It is two sides of the same coin - as we struggle to understand the evil of men and women.

We should not be deceived that this is all in the past. Today we see the growth of the Far Right, anti-semitism, Islamaphobia and the continued persecution of the Roma across Europe in a climate of economic recession and high unemployment.

 Today, to be here in Harzungen, standing here together we can unite to stand up and speak out against all forms of persecution - this is my hope for the future and this is the importance of this occasion that I and my family can come to Harzungen and know we are here together with you all, unified in a common goal.

I would like to thank you for making this visit possible, for the work to make this commemoration a lasting legacy for future generations, for taking responsibility, for honouring  those who did not survive, and to wish you all the very best for a safe and prosperous future for you and your families.

A former prisoner overcome with emotion rushes to embrace Eugene, in the presence of former prisoners, memorial staff and local Harzungen visitors