Holocaust survivor shares story after five decades of silence:Speaks at USAICoE's Days of Remem
May 5, 2010
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- 110362. To many it's just a number, but to one man, for many years, it was his identity. Albert Rosa was 15 years-old when he and nearly 70 family members were taken from their home country of Greece and relocated to Auschwitz, Germany.
On April 21, he visited Fort Huachuca to share a story of survival, resilience and hope to Soldiers and fort personnel during the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence Command Observance of Days of Remembrance.
At the beginning of World War II, Greece was occupied with about 100,000 Jewish people, but only about five percent of the Jewish population survived the war.
When the Germans invaded Greece, 13-year-old Rosa and his family were sent to a ghetto. Two years later they boarded a train to Germany.
"There was no water, no food, no nothing," he recalled of the 10-day, 10-night ride from Greece to Auschwitz.
"[There were] 90 people in a box car, [and] people were dying by the second. By the time we arrived in Auschwitz three-fourths of the people were dead."
"I never in my life [would have] dreamed it until my eyes saw it," noted Rosa, who is well-versed in 10 languages, including Russian, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, German, Hebrew, Spanish, English, Greek and Italian.
The detainees worked up to 15 hours a day, and at the end of the day they did not fall into a comfortable bed of linens. Instead, 10 to 12 strangers huddled on a wood slab "bed" that lacked a mattress and pillows.
"We were not human anymore; we were totally dehumanized," Rosa said as he evoked the conditions and treatment at the camp. His back was covered with scars from being whipped while working at the camp.
"Two or three weeks [was] the most anyone could make it," he noted.
"I used to be an athlete," the once 150-pound man explained. "I used to box. I used to fight in the United States and in Europe." While at the camp, his body weight dwindled to a mere 85 pounds.
"The only thing that helped me survive was the promise I made to my brother, Daniel," Rosa said.
The Germans hanged Rosa's brother for attacking and killing a German soldier who was beating Albert for stealing some potatoes.
"When he was on the rope I promised him I will avenge him and stay alive," Rosa said, with tears in his eyes.
But Daniel was not the only sibling Rosa was forced to watch die.
Prior to Daniel's death, Rosa had discovered his older sister, Luna, was still alive and working on the other side of the camp.
In order to see Luna, Rosa switched uniforms with another detainee and snuck to the opposite side of the camp.
"When I saw her behind the chain link fence, it broke my heart," he said, noting her four-sizes-too-big striped uniform was infested with lice.
"For a minute I forgot I was under the Nazis ... and I went to talk to her," he recalled.
He began shouting out to her, "Luna, Luna!". She turned around to see her baby brother.
She asked about her children and husband, whom she was separated from prior to arriving at the camp. Rosa told her he knew nothing. Next she asked about their parents, to which his response was the same.
Rosa knew their parents were dead but said he didn't have the heart to tell his sister.
"I told her 'I don't know.' I didn't want to upset her."
The detainees were not allowed to leave their work area without permission, so when a German soldier noticed the sibling's reunion he sicced his German shepherd on Rosa, who fended off the canine by implementing his boxing skills.
He was told to return to his corner to work.
"By the time I turned around my sister was beat to death in front of my eyes," he said, adding he watched her dead body being thrown onto the back of a buggy, "like it was trash."
Rosa says he feels responsible for the death of his sister. Years later he began having nightmares, which doctors would treat by administering shock therapy for four months.
While on the Dachau Death March, which was a forced march that prisoners of Auschwitz took to Dachau, Rosa and seven other prisoners escaped and hid in a barn until they were rescued.
"Two American Soldiers showed us where the American Army was and they gave us [food] to eat," Rosa noted. Even after being saved the group of seven prisoners fell to five when two died from overeating.
"I owe my life to them. Without the United States Army I wouldn't be here."
The Americans decked Rosa out in Soldier's attire, gave him a rifle and he began "fighting with them against the Nazis."
He earned five medals, including a purple heart, for his courageous warfighting efforts.
In the years following the war, Rosa met Betty, also a Holocaust survivor, at a displaced camp. He attributes his liberation of anger to his wife of 60 years, and noted, "my angel calmed me down."
In 1949, the couple and their eldest daughter made the trek to America and settled in Colorado.
For five decades following the Holocaust, Rosa was encouraged to keep mute about his experience and, until about 13 years ago, has tried to suppress the memories.
Today he travels throughout the country, sharing his story with a variety of groups, hopeful his experiences will encourage others to never give up.
The number tattooed on Albert Rosa's left forearm is more than just six digits; it's a reminder of loss, a treacherous road to finding love, and a way to educate the world in hopes that a similar tragedy will never happen again.