In observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, U.S. Army Garrison Benelux leaders brought a special guest speaker to share the story of his life. Paul Sobol, who survived months of confinement at the Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of World War II, provided a message of forgiveness and hope to a large audience April 12, 2019, at SHAPE, Belgium. For 40 years, Sobol never made any mention of his time in Auschwitz but after he went back there for the first time in 1987, he realized telling his story was a duty so the lessons from history would never be forgotten.
Sobol clearly remembers his teenage years in Brussels, the living conditions in Auschwitz, Poland and the return to Belgium after the war. He described the years of hiding from the Nazis in Brussels, his family’s arrest in June 1944, the long train ride to Auschwitz, the harsh living and working conditions at the concentration camp, surrounded by death and torture, his multi-digit “name” tattooed on his wrist, and the return to Belgium in June 1945.
Sobol survived slave work and starvation through January 17, 1945. It was extremely cold that winter, and snow covered the camp. The Allies’ progress through Europe was going fast. As Russia’s Red Army approached, the SS dragged thousands of prisoners out on what was to be referred to later as a ‘death march’. Day after day, the prisoners had to walk for miles and miles in the cold, with no proper clothes and nothing suitable for marching in the snow. If anyone sat down out of exhaustion or tripped in the snow, they were shot on the spot. Then the prisoners were packed on cattle wagons. They had no water, no food, and no hygiene. On the sixth day, the doors opened and the crowd was hurdled to barracks. They were in Dachau, a German city located north of Munich where the V1 and V2 factories were located. Only 20 percent of the passengers survived the trip. On April 25, 1945, Sobol was able to escape during bombings over the city. He found shelter with French prisoners of war until they were liberated by U.S. Soldiers on May 1, 1945. It took another week, on May 8 and Victory in Europe Day, for him to be completely free.
He tells his story with no sign of hatred and has German friends he visits on a regular basis. “I have no hatred for the German people, they actually were the first casualties of the Nazi regime,” he said adding that Germany lost 50,000 citizens in 1933 alone. More people died at Auschwitz than at any other Nazi concentration camp. Precise numbers are not available but according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the SS systematically killed at least 960,000 of the 1.1. to 1.3 million Jews deported to the camp. “There is good and bad in each country and nothing is all black or all white,” said Sobol. “What matters is striving to live without making those irreversible mistakes.”