Didnt know I would live’ Holocaust survivor Arek Hersh details escape from Auschwitz

Holocaust survivor Arek Hersh details his experience at Auschwitz

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Charlie Stayt and Naga Munchetty spoke to survivor Arek Hersh and painter Massimiliano Pironti to commemorate victims of genocide for Holocaust Memorial Day. Seven holocaust survivors have been painted in a new project commissioned by Prince Charles, and the BBC Breakfast presenters were stunned by Arek’s experiences during the Second World War.

WWII survivor Arek, 93, revealed he didn’t know whether he would live or die when he was taken to the camp.

Arek, was just one of two members of his family to survive the Holocaust.

The new painting by artist Massimiliano depicts the survivor in a realistic style, his right hand resting on his covered left arm, which bears the number he was given in Auschwitz.

When Naga asked about this detail, he rolled up his sleeve to reveal the tattoo, which bears the number B7608.

“If you were chosen to live, you got a number on your arm,” he remembered.

The presenters were astonished by the sight of the tattoo as Arek recalled his first experiences of being taken to the camp.

“You holding that there, it’s almost like you hold a war wound,” Naga said.

Massimiliano revealed: “I didn’t want to show the number on the portrait. I decided to put this hand on the left arm, just showing that it’s like touching an old but healed wound which will be forever present and felt.”

“If you got a number, you were already chosen to live,” Arek went on.

“Sometimes three months, sometimes six months. It all depended on how they got on.”

Naga asked Arek: “When did you know that you would be one of those chosen to live?”

“I didn’t,” Arek replied. “We had about 80 to 90 people in a goods train standing up.”

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“We travelled for two and a half days, and then we arrived in the camp, and I didn’t know where we were or what happened. Then we had to go through a selection.”

Before being taken to Auschwitz, Arek had already experienced another Nazi concentration camp.

He revealed he had to lie about his age in the hopes of being treated better.

“Some SS officers asked you how old you were,” he continued.

“And I told him I was two years older than I was, because I knew from my first camp what it was like.”

Arek’s decision may have saved his life, as he was then sent to live in the camp while other prisoners were killed.

He recalled: “I made myself older [by] two years. And he told me to go to the right side.

“And I was chosen to live. But in the same situation, I could have been chosen to die on that day. But I was very lucky, in a way.”

Arek was later liberated from the camps by the Russian army after travelling for a whole month in open wagons with barely any food from Eastern Germany to Czechoslovakia.

His portrait was unveiled by Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and resides in Buckingham Palace’s Queen’s Gallery in London.

BBC Breakfast airs weekdays from 6am on BBC One.

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