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Holocaust survivors recall most vivid memories

Monday - 4/28/2014, 12:16am  ET

In this photo taken Wednesday, April 9, 2014, Israeli Holocaust survivor Asher Aud (Sieradski), 86, originally from Poland, poses for a portrait in Jerusalem. Aud will be one of the six survivors chosen to light a symbolic torch at Israel’s official ceremony Sunday night marking the remembrance day. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- In an annual ritual, Israel will come to a standstill Monday morning for the country's official Holocaust remembrance day. Air raid sirens will wail across the country as pedestrians stop in their tracks and drivers exit their vehicles and bow their heads to honor the six million victims of the Nazi genocide of World War II that wiped out a third of world Jewry.

For Israelis of all walks of life, the two-minute tribute offers a moment to remember the victims and focus on an image that dreaded period represents to them. For Israel's dwindling population of elderly Holocaust survivors, however, the painful memories linger year-round.

Hundreds of thousands of survivors made their way to pre-state Israel after the war and helped build the new country. With less than 200,000 survivors remaining, Israel is still home to the largest such community in the world.

To capture the experience in a snapshot would be impossible. Still, The Associated Press asked a group of survivors who endured the worst horrors of the Holocaust to share their strongest singular memory. Without exception, each focused on those closest to them who did not survive.

-- Asher Aud (Sieradski), 86 (Poland): Married, three children and ten grandchildren. Retired from Israel Military Industries, a state-owned weapons manufacturer.

Asher Aud's odyssey reads like a history of the Holocaust's horrors.

Over six years, he was separated from his parents and siblings in his native Polish town of Zdunska Wola and then scavenged for scraps of bread and staved off a debilitating illness alone in the Lodz ghetto before he was deported to the Auschwitz death camp.

There, he avoided the gas chambers and crematoria, and after a long incarceration, he weathered the notorious death march through the snow to Mauthausen, where those who fell behind were shot dead on the spot. After the war, he passed through a series of displaced person camps before he boarded a ship to the Holy Land where he did his best to forget the past for the next half century.

Aud will be one of the six survivors chosen to light a symbolic torch at Israel's official ceremony Sunday night marking the remembrance day.

Of all the atrocities he endured, Aud said the strongest memory is the one that was most traumatic -- parting from his mother at the age of 14.

It was September 1942. The Nazis had rounded up the Jewish community inside the local cemetery and were preparing to deport them. His father and older brother had already been taken and he was left with his mother and younger brother, Gavriel.

"I remember looking down and I happened to be standing on my grandmother's tombstone," he recalled. "The Germans walked among us and anytime they saw a mother with a child, they tore the child from her arms and threw them into the back of trucks."

That's when he realized life as he knew it was over.

"I looked around and I just said 'mother, this is where we are going to be separated,'" he said.

Soon after they were marched through two lines of German soldiers. "I didn't even feel it when the Germans hit me but every time they struck my mother and brother it was like they were cutting my flesh," he said.

-- Shmuel Bogler, 84 (Hungary): Married, two children, five grandchildren. Retired police officer.

Shmuel Bogler never had the opportunity to say goodbye to his family, rounded up from their home in Bodrogkeresztur and, like most of the Hungarian Jewish community, transported to Auschwitz. Of the family's 10 children, one had died young, three had fled before the war and three others had previously been taken to work camps. Bogler was left with his parents, one brother and one sister when they were crammed into a cattle car. After five suffocating days amid the stench of human excrement, they arrived exhausted at the infamous death camp.

"The first thing they did was beat us and separate the woman from the men. It happened so quickly, I couldn't even part from my mother and sister," he said.

Next to go was his father, who was told to go left at the notorious selection line of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who was known as the "angel of death" for deciding who would live and who would die.

"I remember him begging: 'I am still young, I can run, I can work.' But it didn't help and I couldn't say farewell to him either," Bogler recalled.

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