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Auschwitz survivor revisits death camp

PUBLISHED: 14:18 12 February 2009 | UPDATED: 15:55 07 September 2010

Katie Davies AN AUSCHWITZ survivor has told of her heartache at returning to the death camp where she watched her parents and younger brother murdered more than 60 years ago. Freda Wineman, 85, was imprisoned in the Polish concentration camp at the age of

Katie Davies

AN AUSCHWITZ survivor has told of her heartache at returning to the death camp where she watched her parents and younger brother murdered more than 60 years ago.

Freda Wineman, 85, was imprisoned in the notorious camp at the age of 19. She had been deported with her family from her native France, before later being moved to the Bergen Belsen and Theresienstadt camps.

For the first time, the Golders Green resident has returned to Auschwitz and recorded the harrowing visit for television programme Blue Peter, whose new presenter Joel Defries was learning about his Jewish roots.

She said: "I only started to speak about the Holocaust in the 1990s. It was always too painful to talk about.

"I went back to Theresienstadt a few years ago. I thought I would be OK because that was where I was liberated but I wasn't.

"I came back and I was very ill. The doctor couldn't understand why, but I had all the symptoms I had back then.

"So I wasn't in a hurry to return to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was the camp where my family were murdered - my mother, father and younger brother - so I just couldn't do it. Then I was asked by Blue Peter."

Nazi collaborators in Alsace reported the Jewish family to the authorities in 1944. Ms Wineman was sent towards the gas chambers with her brother, mother and father before being called back and kept at Auschwitz to work. Later she discovered her two other brothers had been saved.

"I was walking with my mother and we passed the man called the 'doctor of death' Josef Mengele," she said.

"He called me back and said I should go to the left with the young ones.

"I wouldn't leave my mother, I was hanging on to her. My mother realised what was happening and said it was the end. It was the hardest thing to walk away."

Ms Wineman was then put to work in the camp, digging trenches and sorting the clothes of those who had been murdered.

Arriving back there this month, she recalled all her horrific memories of the gas chambers, starvation and cruelty, but was grateful she was finally able to pray for those she lost.

"I had a nightmare the night before - it was one I have had for years, which comes back from time to time," she said.

"I am always in the shower room, which would also be used for gas. I always try to escape. I'm running around and around and they catch me.

"When I arrived I saw that scenery again. It now has trees but there was nothing like that at the time.

"It was all mud and misery and those chimneys always burning. I remembered that - the smoke, the smell and the shouting.

"But being there with my family, being able to say a prayer and light candles, I felt a repose - we let them rest in peace."

Appearing on Blue Peter was particularly important to Ms Wineman who speaks to schoolchildren about the Holocaust on behalf of the London Jewish Cultural Centre. "We survivors have to keep speaking as long as we can," she explained.

"We have to tell youngsters because it is important people know this did happen and they way in which it happened."

Mr Defries was also left moved by the experience. He said: "Meeting Freda gave me an insight like no other and I felt privileged to go back with her.


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