A 92-year-old Holocaust survivor held a heart-breaking Reddit AMA, in which he answers questions about his experience, how he survived the ordeal, and how he has come to terms with the world after World War II.
Henry Flescher, originally from Vienna, Austria, has taken to Reddit (with the help of his grandson), to help share the story of the Holocaust through the lens of a survivor of the tragedy. Flescher’s answers, although at times difficult to read, are vital more vital than ever as fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are still alive.
We have shared some of the most powerful elements of Flesher’s story below.
His experience first started off with an incredible twist of luck:
I was first sent to Drancy, a transit camp.
I was then transported in a cattle car packed with people with no food or water and one bucket in the middle to use as a toilet.
1618 at the time. The smell was unfathomable.
After six days in the train the train came to stop. The guards started to count men. They selected 300 men. I was number 298. We were taken off the train. The train then continued on its way to Auschwitz and everyone was killed.
I will never forget the number 298.
After being sent to Drancy, Flescher, in brief, was forced to experience a range of camps and death marches:
They took 300 men off the train to work in a shoe factory in Ohrdruf. After about four weeks I was transferred to Peiskretscham where I helped build bridges. After a few months there I was then transferred to Blechhammer. It was there that my name became 177153. Blechhammer was hell. Punishments were a daily routine and my front teeth were knocked out here. I was there during the winter. One time we had to stand for several hours and one person couldn’t contain their urine and peed on himself. The man was hanged. After about two years at Blechhammer we went on a death march to Gross Rosen. Buchenwald was the next camp. Then Altenberg and Waldenburg. This is a brief timeline!
During this time, Flescher noted that he and his fellows were forced to take drastic means to survive:
I used to go out at night risking my life to steal some raw potatoes from the kitchen at Peiskretscham and at Blechhammer. I took chances. At Blechhammer some inmates caught a dog, a German Shepard, and cooked it. It was a feast. Tasted like rabbit. That was the only time I’ve eaten dog, and it was the best meal I had in a long time. These days I prefer steak.
In response to how it felt to be liberated, Flescher wrote:
I didn’t know it. I didn’t understand. I was on another death march at the time from Altenburg to Waldenburg. I managed to slip away and hide in a chicken coop along the way and at that time the American convoy was advancing. I saw an American tank and an American soldier and thought he was going to kill me because I didn’t know the uniform. I still left the coop and went up to them, because at that time I could barely stand up and weighed about 70 pounds. I was liberated on April 11.
I didn’t know that day would come. I was very sick when I was liberated and could barely eat, talk, or walk.
He then went on to clarify “I have two birthdays. March 14th, and April 11th.”
When asked how he managed to stay alive throughout the Holocaust and not give up hope, Flescher wrote:
Everyday you think of living. We are born to die, but I appreciate life. We live day by day, and I always say: yesterday is history, today’s reality, and tomorrow’s a dream.
In response to a question about how accurate Holocaust movies presented the experience, Flescher shared his own anecdote of the brutality of the camps:
I have watched most of them. I don’t find it difficult to watch because I went through it. I’ve seen it all. I still remember a friend of mine who was hanged because he was using a telephone wire as a belt to hold up his pants. They hung him and he fell back down. They put him back up and hung him again.
Ultimately, Flescher wants the stories of the Holocaust to be preserved and told exactly as they were so that the world can continue to understand what happened:
They need to tell story as it is. You cannot shy away from history and its brutality. We usually learn about history through books, but this is an event that happened in my lifetime, I witnessed it, and I am still alive today to discuss it. Soon, there will not be any survivors left. I am 92. Once all the survivors are gone, the sceptics will probably come into the picture unfortunately. And that is why we need to educate everyone about what really happened. It didn’t happen 500 years ago. It happened in my lifetime.