Wednesday, 3 September 2014

"Don't put me in the gas chamber."

"Harry Lowit, left, reunited with Helmut Szprycer whose courage saved his life in Auschwitz."

"At Auschwitz life and death were in the hands of Dr Josef Mengele, the Nazi 'Angel of Death'. On 14th July 1944 Mengele ordered inmates to pass naked in front of him. Those he waved to the right were to continue as slave labourers; those to the left were sent for almost immediate death in the gas chambers. All the boys were waved to the left. 
Helmuth remembered his grandmother's injunction to 'stay alive at all costs'. From somewhere he found the courage quickly to march up to Mengele before the guards could shoot him, click his heels (he'd seen films of Hitler Youth) and look into his eyes, saying in German: "I want to work for you. I will do anything - clean your shoes, your motorcycle. Don't put me in the gas chamber." Mengele asked where he came from and on hearing Berlin ordered Helmutt to work. 
Helmutt clicked his heels and rejoined the other boys, when Harry asked him to save his life too. Incredibly, he returned to Mengele and pleaded on behalf of Harry. Mengele was running out of patience; he held out two matches, the shorter one leading to death. Helmuth drew the longer, Harry the shorter. Harry begged Helmuth to make a further plea for his life. This he did, calling on inexplicable reserves of bravery for his own life was continually at risk. Astoundingly, Mengele relented. 
Both boys were made messengers in different parts of the camp, wearing blue blazers with riding breeches while on duty. In a surreal twist of fate, Harry was later transferred to Auschwitz I where he raised and lowered the barrier at the entrance gate which bore the notorious slogan Arbeit macht frei."

AJR Information (Association of Jewish Refugees), Volume LII No. 10, October 1997, p. 8.

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