Local Holocaust survivors reflect on 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — Monday marked 75 years since the Auschwitz death camp was liberated.

Auschwitz is one of the infamous extermination camps during the Holocaust, which is said to have been the place where more than 1 million people died.

Years later, two Auschwitz survivors who live in Birmingham are now reflecting on how the world has changed, and not changed, since then.

Ruth Siegler and Max Steinmetz remember their time in Auschwitz like it was yesterday.

“We talk so much about it and it all comes back so vividly, you know. I’m now 92, will be 93 and I don’t know if I want to stop talking about it, ” Siegler said.

Ruth Siegler was 16 years old when her family was taken away from her. Despite losing her parents and brother in the Holocaust, she and her sister stayed together and survived.

When she arrived at Auschwitz, it didn’t take long until Siegler saw what was happening.

“The gas chamber and the ovens and mountains of shoes, mountains of suitcases, mountains of everything and then I realized we are people,” she said.

Max Steinmetz has a similar story. He was 18 years old when he arrived at Auschwitz and remembers a German soldier he referred to as “The Angel of Death.”

“He had a whip in his hand and he would point to us and he would look at you and point to the right and point to left. I had a brother that was a year younger than me. We both were tall and in good health. The both of us went to the right. To the left, my parents and little sister, 6 years old, went to left. After the train emptied out, that was the last time I ever saw my family,” Steinmetz said.

Max lost his entire family. He saw things no teenager should ever see, but 75 years later, these two survivors still have a story to tell.

“We got the tattoo and of course I still have it. They ask why don’t you take the number off and it’s then another scar, what’s the difference?” Siegler said.

“The world has changed somewhat for the better, I’m not sure that because there is a lot of problems going on worldwide today,” Steinmetz said.

Both Ruth and Max are featured in the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.

Steinmetz’s story was published in a book called “Determined to Survive.” It was co-written by Steinmetz and Shades Valley High School teacher Amy McDonald.

McDonald, who is a Holocaust studies teacher, said she visited Auschwitz and seeing it up close changed her life.

“The Holocaust, yes it’s history, but it’s also a way to study human history. Red flags in society, hate, prejudice, racism, bigotry and choices that individuals and governments make,” McDonald said. “Really, I think it’s crucial.”

Top row: Ruth Siegler with her book. Top Row center bottom: Ruth (left) and her sister. Top row center, top: Ruth (center with braids) and her two siblings.
Top row right: Max in his youth, before the Holocaust. Bottom row left: Max in the camps. Bottom row right: The only photo Max has of his family.


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