Society

Final Auschwitz Survivors Return To Poland To Bear Witness

Ephroim “Johnny” Jablon's entire family was gassed to death. At 94, he can't forget the smells and so many other details of the camps. Such memories are dying away.

Holocaust survivors at the Jan. 27 commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz
Florian Hassel

AUSCHWITZ — Jan Rothbaum remembers the day he lost his family like it was yesterday. It only took a few minutes for the SS commando to drag his father Schulem, his mother Dora and his brothers Roman and Joseph out of their apartment in Krakow, Poland, one October day in 1942. Jan resisted, striking one of the SS troops, who then beat him unconscious. The SS apparently assumed Rothbaum was dead and left him lying on the floor. When he came to, the rest of his family was gone.

Later, Rothbaum was also captured by the Germans. He managed to survive a year in the Plaszow concentration camp, near Krakow, thanks to his skills as a carpenter. In early 1944, he was transferred to Auschwitz. Seventy-five years later, Rothbaum, now a Canadian citizen who goes by the name of Ephroim "Johnny" Jablon, is standing inside Block 27, where he finds his family's entries in the "Book of Names' of murdered Jewish victims. All his relatives were gassed to death in Belzec extermination camp. "There are lots of other names of my relatives in this book," Jablon says slowly. "I lost sixteen aunts and uncles, and more than 20 cousins. No one survived except me."

Holocaust survivor Ephroim "Johnny" Jablon — Source: Facebook page

Jablon steps out into the cold January sun and tells a class of visiting schoolchildren from San Diego how four young girls were hanged on this very spot. He tells them about the smell in the camp. About how he only escaped being sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp because of a doctor who changed his medical records. And he tells them about the death march that begun in January 1945, when the SS forced him and other prisoners to walk to six other concentration camps, until in May 1945 he was freed by U.S. troops who liberated the Gunskirchen camp in Upper Austria.

Jablon is 94 years old and has been living in Montreal, Canada, since 1948. On the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, he has traveled 6,500 kilometers from Montreal, to speak once again about the mass murders in the camp. Nine other survivors walk beside him through the gate with the famous words: Arbeit macht frei ("Work will set you free"). They pause, cry, or speak in trembling voices about the horror that has suddenly again invaded their present. Standing neabry is Ronald Lauder, an American cosmetics billionaire and president of the World Jewish Congress, who for years has been involved in preserving Auschwitz as a memorial and museum.

Jablon's prisoner identity card used by the Germans during the war — Source: Azrieli Foundation

Lauder was in Auschwitz on Monday to appear beside Polish President Andrzej Duda and address representatives from 50 countries, speaking not only about the past but about the present: about attacks on synagogues and Jewish shops, about how Jews in Paris, Budapest, London and Berlin are once again afraid to walk down the street wearing a kippah on their head.

I didn't want to see my family's ashes.

There are around 1,000 Auschwitz survivors still alive today. Some 200 of them have arrived at the Polish site and the city of Krakow to recount death and survival during the Holocaust. Lauder says it is "more important than ever." In his home country, one-fifth of Americans under 35 don't know what the Holocaust is. Almost half of U.S. citizens can't name a single Jewish ghetto or concentration camp. Lauder is concerned by the rise in anti-Semitic hate crime in Europe: In France, but also in Germany, where Home Office figures show that in 2018 there were nearly 1,800 crimes reported where the motivation was suspected to be anti-Semitic.

The Oct. 9 attack on the synagogue in the central German city of Halle was a further cause for alarm for Lauder. "The perpetrator in Halle learned his anti-Semitic views from the internet," he said. "It is high time that the German government cracks down more strongly on neo-Nazis and all those spreading hate online."

Arbeit macht frei sign in Auschwitz — Photo: Pimke

The organizers believe that the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz may be the last major commemoration where survivors can bear witness to the greatest crime of the 20th century. Johnny Jablon had promised himself never to return to Poland. "Apart from me, there was no one left. I didn't want to see my family's ashes." But his rabbi in Montreal convinced the 92-year-old to undergo the Jewish coming-of-age ritual that the Nazi terror robbed him of experiencing almost 80 years before. In 2018, Jablon returned to Krakow for the first time and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the synagogue there.

Jablon brought his grandson Daniel for the 75th anniversary. He showed him the house where his family used to live, and what remains of Jewish Krakow, where almost 70,000 Jews lived before the Holocaust. Now Jablon says he wants to come to Krakow and Auschwitz again, in April, to tell hundreds of students from Canada, his long-ago adopted homeland, about what happened to him when he too was just a boy.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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