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Monday, Sep 25, 2017
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Holocaust victims tell survival stories during day of remembrance

TAMPA - Phil Gans wears the evidence and bears the memories of Nazi Germany. As a 15-year-old living in Holland in 1943, Gans and his family were snatched out of hiding by German, Nazi soldiers and shipped three hours away to a concentration and extermination camp at Auschwitz II. Ultimately, he, along with his brother and father, were sent to Auschwitz III. Meanwhile, his mother and sister were shipped to Berlin. "The women and the men they had chosen to go into Berlin, went straight to the gas chamber, gassed, and cremated," Gans told close to 300 people inside the third-floor ballroom of the Italian Club of Tampa on Sunday. "I never said goodbye to Mom or Sister, not knowing that I would never see them again."
Gans' story was part of a local program for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which has been recognized since 2005. The date, January 27, symbolizes the day American and Allied forces liberated those in Auschwitz in 1945. Gans, now 85, spent 21 months in Auschwitz and is forever marked with the numbers 139755. That is the tattoo Nazi soldiers etched on his left forearm. Gans gained his liberation April 23, 1945 by American troops, he said. He is the lone survivor of 21 family members on his father's side. The others perished at the hands of Nazi troops. Rabbi Barbara Aiello told the story of her father, Antonio Aiello, an Italian, who spent his early life and adulthood in Calabria, Italy. After moving to America, he joined the U.S. Army and was part of the Third Army, which liberated Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany. That was April 11, 1945. Aiello spoke of a small brown box with four items inside: two buttons, one tortoise, the other faded red, a wad of string, and a small knife with a pearl handle. Her father said the items were given to him by the men and women in the concentration camp who were so thankful for the bread, biscuits, and water he provided. They felt obligated to pay him in some way. "My father recalled, 'To the first man, I almost shouted, 'No, no. Everything has been taken from you. I cannot take from you too,'" Aiello recounted. "But then my father went on, 'Then I saw that this man had one thing that had not been taken. His dignity.'" Not scheduled to speak Sunday, Susan Rojas was wheeled to the front of the room by her husband. She recounted her stories as a survivor. The day before she and her mother, father, sister, and brother were to leave Berlin, Germany for Australia, Nazi soldiers captured the family. She was 8 at the time when her family was loaded into a train and railed by cattle car to the Terezin concentration camp, also known as Theresienstadt, in Prague. "One time … we were supposed to be gassed the next day, but at midday I heard a lot of noise," Rojas recalled. "The Russians came in and saved us."

edaniels@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1860 Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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