JERUSALEM – Asher (Aud) Sieradzki rolled up his left sleeve. There, tattooed on his arm in forest green ink, was the number B-14595 from his time in Auschwitz death camp, located in German-occupied Poland.
Sieradzki is 83 now. He shared testimony of a childhood cut short at age 11 when his father and older brother were taken to Ghetto Lodz with other Polish Jews. The next day Sieradzki showed up at his father’s job to support the family. When he was stricken with typhus, he crawled to work. The Nazis humiliated him, abused him, forced him to work in a labor camp, but they couldn’t break his spirit. He is a survivor (which is the Hebrew translation of Asher Aud, the name he took when he moved to Israel).
Sieradzki spoke to the participants of the Arn and Nancy Tellem Mission to Israel from Yad Vashem, Israel’s national holocaust memorial museum that commemorates the 6 million Jewish victims who perished during World War II. Yad Vashem is located on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Its purpose is beautiful but its muted gray appearance is deliberately designed to be an ugly scar on the Jerusalem landscape.
“It couldn’t be pretty,” our tour guide said.
After all, Sieradzki called the Nazi concentration camp he survived the most cursed place on earth. Separated from his parents, who he never saw again, and his siblings, Sieradzki was sent to Auschwitz at age 13. He survived the selection process conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz camp doctor, who decided the fates of a man with a flick of his thumb. Too old, too young, or too ill were sent to the gas chambers. What kept Sieradzki alive? He speculated it was his blue eyes and blond hair.
Sieradzki’s gripping story moved the group. As golf instructor Sean Foley said of Sieradzki’s plight, “Who knew I was going to meet the strongest man I’ve ever met today?”
Later, Sieradzki moved to Israel, worked for 40 years in the military industry, married, had three children, and 10 grandchildren. How about this: More than 40 years after the WWII, he was reunited with his brother in 1983. Now, they talk via Skype nearly every day.
Telling his harrowing story of survival took even longer. Social workers advised him not to speak of his time in the concentration camp. He said he never shared his story with his children.
“To speak it is to live it,” he said.
Sieradzki has never forgotten and he broke his silence in the 1990s as some of Israel’s adversaries argued and taught that the Holocaust was everything from an exaggeration to “a figment of our imagination,” he said.
The hard expression in his eyes disappeared. At first, he said he couldn’t speak of his experience without crying. “Now I just cry on the inside,” he said with a polite smile.
For years, Sieradzki dreaded the thought of going back to Auschwitz. With great trepidation, in June 1993, he made an emotional return to his native country. Now, he goes there three to four times a year (he’s taken six of his grandchildren there). Upon his return, he founded Zdunska Wola, a community of survivors from his former hometown. Together they resurrected the Jewish cemetery there and constructed a memory stone. To leave a mark on that landscape, he said, was proof that life is full of mixed blessings: “If God saved me only to make this memory stone it was worth it.”
Asked if he has been able to come to peace with those who persecuted him, it was evident his hard feelings hadn’t dissolved. In a tone as cold as his eyes, he said, “You never forget. You never forgive. And you never forgive,” taking pains to repeat the phrase to emphasize his feelings. A smile was missing from his face.
Afterwards, Sieradzki posed for photos. Mahan, who has signed countless autographs for fans, approached Sieradzki and asked him to sign the book he purchased from the gift shop. It is one of four autographs Mahan said he has collected.
“I have Tiger, Jack, and MJ,” he said. “This one has a much better history and story to it for sure.”
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