Auschwitz survivor fears rise of anti-Semitism

As German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Auschwitz for the first time on Friday, 96-year-old survivor Frederick Terna was at home in New York worrying about a resurgence of anti-Semitism.

Auschwitz survivor fears rise of anti-Semitism
Image: picture alliance/Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa

Terna, in America since 1952, isn't trying to be “the conscience of the world,” but said he is concerned by similarities he sees between today's politics and the “narrow nationalism” of the 1930s.

“This anti-Semitism is a problem that the world has to live with. I'm used to it, it's part of my functioning. It's there in the background, all the time,” he told AFP.

Terna was a child in Prague when Nazi Germany annexed parts of Czechoslovakia in late 1938 before overrunning the country the following year as Adolf Hitler began his march through Europe.

All of his family members perished in Nazi killing factories during World War II.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland was the third of four camps that Terna was detained in during the war but he said he bears no hatred despite what he lived through.

Terna, an alias chosen by his father to hide from the Nazis, arrived there in the autumn of 1944 after being held in the Terezin camp, near Prague.

“Auschwitz is not gone. Part of me is still in Auschwitz,” he said, during an  interview at his house in Brooklyn.

Death camps 

He wasn't at Auschwitz long. Along with thousands of other men, Terna was dispatched to the Kaufering labor camp in Dachau, Bavaria.

There, detainees were forced to build underground factories that couldn't be detected by Allied bombers.

American forces liberated the camp in April 1945. Terna, extremely weak, returned to Prague to find a Communist official living in his old apartment.

The official insulted him and chased him away.

After some time in France, Terna left with his first wife, now deceased, for a new life in the United States.

“I had the idea of getting as far away from Europe as possible,” he said.

Terna's mind is as sharp as his body is fit.

He climbs the 35 stairs in his home without hesitation and is a prolific painter.

With attacks against Jews in Europe and the United States on the rise, Terna said  it is up to the few remaining survivors of the Holocaust to keep a check on anti-Semitism.

“I am one of those leftovers that points a finger at those who are anti-Semites, who try to blame the world's ills on us, us, Jews, today,” he said, surround by brushes and tubs of paint.

He believes that those like him who have testified to the atrocities have done their job.

“Today, you can go anywhere in the world, from here to Tasmania and New Zealand. There isn't a school of higher learning that does not have a course on the Shoah (Hebrew term for 'Holocaust').


“So, in a way we have succeeded,” he said, his accent hinting at his Czech origins.

But he believes there is still work to be done.

Terna frets about the rise of nationalism and division, particularly in Central Europe but also in the United States.

Hungary comes to his mind first, but he said when Donald Trump was elected US president in 2016 he was projected back to 1930s Prague.

“All the signals went up, all the flags went up,” he explained, reminiscing how when the Nazis took over Germany it was all his family could talk about at home.

“My reaction to what is happening now is very much colored by what I experienced in the 1930s. Afraid is the wrong word, but (I'm) very very much concerned,” Terna added.

He believes political, nationalistic and religious divisions can be healed, though. “That we will go back to the awareness that we are all in the same boat. I'm very optimistic about it,” he said.

Terna thinks Merkel's visit to Auschwitz, the third by a German chancellor, can go some way to helping. “It is a healing process of saying we are responsible for each other,” he concluded.

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Outrage in Germany after remains of neo-Nazi buried in empty Jewish grave

The burial of a known neo-Nazi's ashes in the former grave of a Jewish musical scholar has sparked outrage in Germany, and prompted Berlin's anti-Semitism official to file a criminal complaint.

Jewish scholar Max Friedlaender's grave stone in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, on October 12th.
Jewish scholar Max Friedlaender's grave stone in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, on October 12th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

The remains of the neo-Nazi were buried at the grave of Max Friedlaender in Stahnsdorf, just outside Berlin, with several figures from the extreme-right scene in attendance at the funeral on Friday.

Samuel Salzborn, anti-Semitism official for Berlin, said late Tuesday that he had filed a criminal complaint because “the intention here is obvious – the right-wing extremists deliberately chose a Jewish grave to disturb the peace of the dead by burying a Holocaust denier there”.

He added that “it must now be quickly examined how quickly the Holocaust denier can be reburied in order to no longer disturb the dignified memory of Max Friedlaender”.

Friedlaender died in 1934 – when Adolf Hitler was already in power – and was buried in the graveyard as his religion was given as ‘Protestant’ in the burial registration slip

His grave was cleared upon expiration in 1980 and opened up for new burials, under common practice for plots after a certain amount of time has passed.

Friedlaender’s gravestone however remains standing as the entire cemetery is protected under monument conservative rules.


The Protestant Church managing the graveyard voiced dismay at the incident.

In a statement, it said it had accepted the request for burial at the empty grave because “everyone has a right for a final resting place”.

“Nevertheless, the choice of the former grave of Max Friedlaender is a mistake. We are looking into this mistake now,” the church said in a statement.

At the funeral, a black cloth was laid over Friedlaender’s tombstone while wreathes and ribbons bearing the Nazi-era iron cross symbol were laid on the grave for the neo-Nazi Henry Hafenmayer.

Prominent Holocaust denier Horst Mahler, who has been convicted for incitement, was among dozens at the funeral.

Police deployed at the funeral were able to arrest a fugitive from the far-right scene there, German media reported.

Several war graves stand at the cemetery at Stahnsdorf, and these sites are known in far-right circles, the Protestant church administrating the graveyard admitted.

It added that it has worked closely with police to hinder several neo-Nazi marches there in recent years.

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