Holocaust survivor reflects on trauma that defined his life

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

Michael Herzkovitz was just a boy when he realized he was now an orphan. 

"What do you mean, what was free? I didn't know what was free. We just walked out with the rest of the kids and looked for something to eat," he said. 

Herzkovitz recalled seeing death all around him. 

"And you looked over the fence wire and someone was seeing mom, sister. They started hollering and, you know, kids don't know; we walked up to the barbed wire, touched the barbed wire, but you never moved again. The barbed wire was electricity," he said. 

Today, the 91-year-old lives in Bala Cynwyd. 

He says his last memory of his mother was when he was 12 years old. When he got off the cattle car train with his family at Auschwitz, SS officers tried to take his baby brother from his mother's arms, but she refused to let him go, so they sent the two of them to the gas chamber line together. 

"They took kids, babies, and the flame was burning in the oven and they took kids with the hand, swing them, and they see who can further throw the child into the flame. I don't know if they even thought about the human beings at that time," Herzkovitz said. 

He says he remembers holding on to his father's hand for as long as possible, but he had to let go to put on the striped Holocaust prisoner's pajama uniform. 

"Right there when I let my father's hand go, they separated us," he said. 

Herzkovitz says he recently started seeking therapy for the childhood trauma that defined his whole life, and has learned that about the importance of love. 

"You gotta love. Love is one of the most important things in life. Hate is gonna kill you," he answered.    

With the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz coming up, Herzkovitz says he worries now more than ever. 

"I wouldn't sign a contract that it would never happen again because the world is not getting better. The anti-Semitism and the hate is getting worse," he said.