MARGATE — The Katz Jewish Community Center in partnership with Stockton University held a live simulcast Monday of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz — a ceremony that brought more than 50 world leaders and about 120 Holocaust survivors together at the infamous WWII concentration camp in Poland.
Sonia Kaplan cried the entire time.
Kaplan, 91, of Atlantic City, was “not even 10 years old” when her family was thrown into a ghetto in Poland. Her late husband, Kadish Kaplan, was an inmate of Auschwitz where his first wife and two kids were killed.
Before the live broadcast, Leo Schoffer, member of Stockton’s Board of Trustees and the son of Sara and Sam Schoffer, after whom the college’s Holocaust Resource Center is named, spoke in front of the 50-person audience.
As the years go by, more and more survivors die, making this anniversary that more important, he said.
“Unfortunately 25 years from now when, hopefully, the 100th anniversary of the liberation is celebrated, I don’t believe there will be any survivors to testify firsthand about what happened,” he said.
Sonia Kaplan remembers when the Nazis came in like it was yesterday.
“One day in 1941, I walked out of the house, and I heard a lot of commotion, howling and shooting and crying,” she said. “The Russian soldiers were running and people were running. The Nazis attacked the Russians without warning.”
She remembered being taken to a field to work and being brought back later than usual. When she got to her house there were lots of people in her home. They were hiding in a cellar because they got word that a raid was coming.
Then she heard the shootings and closed her eyes.
“After it calmed down I started to call my mother, but she didn’t answer,” she said. “I started to call my sister and my brothers, they didn’t answer. I started to walk toward the door and saw that nobody was there anymore.”
In seconds, she became an orphan.
After being moved to a smaller ghetto, she escaped one day, fooling two Nazi guards to let her pass through the gates. She then stayed in a bunker in a family’s home, but left after two weeks due to a neighbor’s suspicion.
After walking miles in the snow, she had had enough and laid down.
“I wanted to freeze to death and finish with my life,” she said. “But I saw a light and said, ‘If there is a light, there are people.’”
It was a farmhouse and the family brought her in. She tried to leave, knowing that she was putting the family in danger, but they didn’t care.
“They treated me like I was their daughter,” she said. “But I said, ‘Why are you risking your life for a Jew?’ And (the mother) said, ‘I don’t see you as a Jew.’”
After months of staying with the family, she left and walked into the woods, staying in the forest with Russian soldiers and others hiding from the Nazis.
Margate resident and U.S. Air Force veteran Thomas Giegerich, 82, came to the event because of his interest in WWII. While serving at a military base in Spain in the 1960s, he visited the former German concentration camp Dachau.
“I was extremely touched,” he said. “I read a lot about World War II history. I find I have to keep reading it and reading it again to realize the depth of depravity that man is able to stoop to to his fellow man.”
He believes the Holocaust should to be taught in every school because he doesn’t want people to ignore it.
“That’s what allows it to happen again,” he said.
But for Sonia Kaplan, she can’t forget. She watched the simulcast with her two daughters, Ellen Wetzel and Gloria Heaton, by her side, but she couldn’t stop thinking about her family she lost.
“I wasn’t even 12 years old when I lost my sister, my brothers and my mother,” she said. “I would be happy if my family was with me.”
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