Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Bronia Brandman, 86, returned to the death camp for the first time since her liberation. Holocaust survivor Miri Amir was reunited yesterday with Miroslawa Gruszczynska, the woman whose family — awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem — hid her from the Nazis in Poland during World War II. Both of these emotionally charged events took place during a trip to Poland by Holocaust survivors, officers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and a delegation of 40 supporters of the organization Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). During the second leg of the journey, the group also traveled together to Israel.
Chaired by FIDF National Vice President Robert Cohen, who founded FIDF’s Washington, D.C., and Mid-Atlantic chapters, the 10-day trip, called From Holocaust to Independence, spans Jewish history from its darkest moments to its most triumphant. The trip started in Krakow, once home to more than 60,000 Jews, and traced the community’s steps from the city’s ghetto to the Buczyna Forest, where the Nazis executed more than 800 children.
Brandman, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, and had vowed never to return to Poland, decided to come as part of this special delegation. Born in Jaworzno, Poland, Brandman watched two of her sisters being sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Except for her older brother and cousin, who also reside in the United States, her entire family perished in the Holocaust.
“I came to Auschwitz in 1943 as a child of 12. My parents and four siblings were consigned to the gas chambers. The daily bestiality and dehumanization was beyond words, and the world’s silence was deafening,” said Brandman. “I never wished to return to that place of our degradation and annihilation, but to return in the presence of our noblest, the bravest of the brave — our IDF soldiers — allows my spirit to soar with pride and hope.”
After the emotional visit to Poland, the entire delegation flew on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) transport jet to Israel, where they will visit IDF bases, commemorate Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror and celebrate Israel’s 69th Independence Day.
“This historic delegation is tracing the modern history of the Jewish people through the eyes of Holocaust survivors and IDF officers,” said FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir. He continued:
It’s telling the story of our near-extinction in Europe, the creation of a Jewish homeland, and the new generation of Jewish defenders of the Jewish people who safeguard our legacy today. By marching together into the dreadful Auschwitz-Birkenau camps with IDF soldiers and the survivors who somehow endured that torture, we send a powerful message to the world that we remember, and that the Holocaust cannot and will not ever happen again. ‘Never again’ is not a platitude; it is our people’s solemn promise.
Watch Bronia Brandman tell her story: