OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) – Daniela Szelc says she is still haunted by the screams of people and barking of dogs carrying through the night from the nearby Nazi death camp Auschwitz three-quarters of a century ago.
The 89-year-old Polish woman vividly recalls her World War Two childhood in her Nazi-occupied homeland. Her family’s home in the town of Oswiecim was seized by German forces and they were relocated to a house only about a mile away from the camp.
“When you went outside you saw the (smoke) column. It stank so badly, especially when the wind blew in this direction,” Szelc said, speaking to Reuters in the same home from which she had been removed as a child. “When the orchestra played and the people were screaming, the dogs were barking, it was like hell.”
The Nazis forced prisoner orchestras to play music at some of their death camps as the trains carrying Jews from across Europe arrived and the passengers were sent on to their death.
Szelc said the sights and sounds still reverberate in her mind today. “Such a tragedy,” she said, shaking her head.
More than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews, perished in Auschwitz’s gas chambers or from starvation, cold and disease.
Six million Jews in all were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.
Szelc’s quiet hometown was filled with the commotion of car convoys and police sirens on Monday as world leaders gathered at the Auschwitz site for a ceremony marking the 75 anniversary of its liberation near the end of World War Two.
Across the street from Szelc, her neighbor Barbara Kaczmarczyk, 55, said that after the German defeat, her grandparents returned to their home, in which she lives today, to discover a trove of Nazi documents and SS porcelain dishware.
“Every old house here has some,” said Kaczmarczyk. “There is a lot of history here.”
She was told by her family that Joseph Mengele, the SS doctor who subjected Auschwitz prisoners to cruel medical experiments, had at one point resided in their brown brick house. Reuters could not independently verify her account.
“No one wants to repeat this history. It is good that everybody remembers it,” Kaczmarczyk said.
The history of World War Two has become a political and diplomatic issue for Poland whose nationalist government seeks to highlight Polish suffering in the conflict and rule out any complicity by Poles who aided the Nazis during the Holocaust.
(Reporting by Elana Ringler, Maayan Lubell and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Mark Heinrich mailto:Joanna.Plucinska@thomsonreuters.com)