Mengele now stared Henry in the face. Henry looked back at him. As he looked straight into Mengele’s eyes there was no way he could have known that he was looking directly at the embodiment of Nazi ideology.
As everyone ran for cover and the German guards were distracted Henry made his move. He ran across the field attached to the airstrip and over to where the animals were being kept. As he got closer he noticed a feeding trough for the pigs with fresh, still-warm feed inside. He chased the pigs away and dove face-first into their food. He felt as though he was in heaven and ate until he couldn't eat anymore.
A group of American GI’s started handing out machine guns and rifles to the Jewish survivors. “You should go, while you can, and get even,” one soldier encouraged them. “Kill as many as you can. You’ll feel better!”
Henry's job was to break off large pieces of the rock and load them into a steel mining car that was hauled off by other workers. It was extremely loud and dusty. He hadn't eaten any food for almost a day. He started working while planning on how he could get his hands on some extra food rations.
Then Henry heard the SS officer give the command. The machine guns started firing. People all around him started falling to the ground—their bodies being riddled with bullets.
Two German soldiers with machine guns and German shepherds, along with an SS officer stood at the front door and began barking out orders to the horrified family inside. "You have ten minutes," the officer began. "Take only what you can carry and come outside. You're being moved to Glinice."
Henry in Germany, 1947.
Henry slowly opened the holster holding the luger as his heart started pounding. He anxiously looked back at the door of the barracks to see if the Obersturmbannfuhrer was approaching. He never held a gun before. It was cold and heavy. His mind started racing with ideas of waiting for Bauman—that was his name, Obersturmbannfuhrer Bauman—and shooting the bastard in the face, as soon as he walked in.
He was given a metal bowl and a spoon. These were his only possessions. He kept them with him at all times. If he lost his bowl he would not eat. It became the most valuable possession in his life.
When the truck pulled up to Glinice Street carrying Henry and his family, he noticed a tall, long fence made from wooden poles and barbed wire running across the street, flanked by long rows of old apartment buildings. There appeared to be only one way in. Above the gate there was a sign that read: "Danger of Contamination. Do not enter."
We often hear the imperative "Never Forget." As a child growing up with a father who survived the Holocaust, forgetting was never an option for me, not even for a moment.
Henry knew that he could never fit into German society as a Jew. He would always be an outsider. People would either look at him as a helpless victim in need of their pathos and sympathy or as one deserving of what happened - as one who didn't get the message and was not welcome, and needed to leave. Both were unacceptable. In Henry's mind the war might be over but his struggle was not. German society still looked at the Jew as a problem, as someone who was not fully German.
Henry Koperweis Foundation
for Holocaust Education