Oswiecim, Poland – Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor Bronia Brandman, 86, returned to the death camp yesterday for the first time since her liberation, accompanied by a delegation of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officers and 40 Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) supporters from across the United States.
Brandman was born in Jaworzno, Poland, and 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. She has one daughter and two grandchildren who live in Israel.
Brandman, who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and had vowed never to return to Poland, decided to come to Auschwitz as part of the FIDF “From Holocaust to Independence” delegation to Poland and Israel for the first time since the Red Army liberated the camp in 1945.
“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.”
Brandman’s return to Auschwitz was among the highlights of the FIDF delegation to Poland and Israel. Chaired by FIDF National Vice President Robert Cohen, who founded FIDF’s Washington, D.C., and Mid-Atlantic chapters, the 10-day trip is spanning Jewish history, from its darkest moments to its most triumphant.
Israeli soldiers and Holocaust survivors accompanied the FIDF supporters across Poland, starting in Krakow, once home to more than 60,000 Jews, tracing the community’s steps from the city’s ghetto to the Buczyna forest, where the Nazis executed more than 800 children. The delegation also visited the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps.
Today, the entire delegation flew on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) transport jet from Poland 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. “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.”
“This mission was one of the last opportunities for these survivors to return to Auschwitz and tell of its horrors,” said Cohen. “It has been a rollercoaster emotional experience for everyone involved. We passed through the gates of hell, ignoring the false promise that ‘work sets you free,’ where countless Jews suffered from unimaginable cold, hunger, and despair. We were surrounded by those who survived within the camps’ walls, and also by those who make sure they are not forgotten – the brave soldiers who protect their legacy: the State of Israel and the Jewish diaspora around the world.”