Auschwitz Survivor & Camp Liberator visit Letterkenny Army Depot
April 26, 2012
Chambersburg, Pa. - In honor of Holocaust Days of Remembrance, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor and a concentration camp Liberator visited Letterkenny Army Depot on Thursday, April 19 to share their stories with Depot employees and Chambersburg Area High School students.
Severin Fayerman was 17 when his home country of Poland and his city were invaded by Nazi Germany in 1939. He saw 70 percent of Bendzin, the entire Jewish population, removed from the city and sent to Jewish ghettoes, forced labor camps and concentration camps.
Letterkenny's Holocaust Days of Remembrance Program Manager, Becky Chilcote, said that this was a unique opportunity that will not be available in years to come.
"In the near future, we won't have these first-hand witnesses and accounts to listen to; they are increasingly precious as every day goes by," stated Chilcote. "It's critically important that these survivors tell their stories, and that we make sure that their stories remain and resonate, because it's a lesson not only for Jews, but it's a lesson for all humanity."
Elaine Etter, a sophomore at Chambersburg High School, attended the event and echoed Chilcote's sentiments, noting that his story would stay with her for the rest of her life.
Another student, sophomore Allison Reinhardt, was equally moved.
"Fayerman's life was inspiring and really gave me a better understanding of the Holocaust and the true horrors he and his family had to endure," said Reindhardt. "Severin spoke in a way that allowed you to place yourself in his position to understand not only the physical tolls he faced, but also the mental struggles that can only be displayed by a true survivor."
Fayerman's family business, a small tool and die company, was taken over by the Germans and his family was eventually forced out and separated. Fayerman ended up at Auschwitz Concentration Camp while in his early twenties.
After the war, Fayerman and his family immigrated to the United States in the spring of 1945 and in 1946 bought a Newark, N.J-based tool and die company, Baldwin Hardware.
"The rest of this story is the story of the American Dream," said Fayerman. "I came to America and married an American girl. I wanted to become an American and forget about it."
But Fayerman did not forget about his time in the camps or his experiences there.
Fayerman eventually wrote a book and began speaking to school groups and organizations about how he survived the Holocaust.
He told the approximate 50 high school students that there are three main reasons that he survived the Holocaust, because of his education, his ability to speak several languages and his skills.
Fayerman had the chance to share that message with the high school students that attended the event.
"Educate yourselves, learn a second language and learn a skill," he told the students.
He said that any skills such as sewing, cooking and skilled labor can be helpful.
In Fayerman's book, "A Survivor's Story: A Personal History: Memoirs of Severin Fayerman," he talks about why it is important for him to share his experience.
"I do so now so that present and future generations will not forget the horrors of war, and to honor the countless number of innocent victims who did not survive."
Also at the event was a concentration camp liberator, Verne Baker of Chambersburg, Pa. Baker, now 85 years old, was a private with the 42nd Division, commonly referred to as the Rainbow Division, and participated in the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp in Dachau, Germany.
According to Baker, on the morning of April 29, 1945, Baker and his company were told they would be approaching some sort of jail or prison work camp. What they found was what Fayerman referred to as "purgatory."
"We knew as soon as we saw Daschau that it was not a prison camp," said Baker. "We knew what we were looking at and we were horrified."
Baker recalled what it was like to see prisoners at the camp.
"We could see all of these people coming out of the barracks and they were dressed in striped pajamas," said Baker. "The more that came out, the thinner and weaker they looked; you couldn't tell men from women, they looked like ghosts."
Baker went on to say that after the barracks were empty, more horrors awaited the liberators.
"One of our buddies told us not to go behind the barracks, that's where the crematorium was," recalled Baker. "They had run out of wood and the bodies, they just piled them up on top of each other, there were hundreds of them."
Baker said he was grateful for his comrade's warning but was not able to avoid other horrors at Dachau. Baker's eyes filled with tears as he talked about other atrocities he witnessed that day.
Baker was witness to the discovery of at least 30 boxcars that contained the remains of 1,500 people who had never made it into the camp.
"They had been in those cars for 27 days without food or water. They [the Nazi Soldiers] had just left them there to die," said Baker. "All of those people. Men, women, babies. All of them, gone."
There was one survivor, a young man, among the box cars that was saved by the liberators that day.
When Baker returned from the war he went to work in his father's grocery store, Baker's Food Market, what is now the Route 5 Gift Shop. Baker still lives in Chambersburg with his wife of 61 years, Mary.
Fayerman, who turned 90 in March, sold Baldwin Hardware in the early 1980's and now lives in Reading, Pa. with his wife, Toni Hunter.
Holocaust Remembrance Week runs beginning Sunday before the Day of Remembrance, April 19, and was established in 1980.