Holocaust survivor Bernard “Ben” Fainer will speak at the Alton-Godfrey Kiwanis 34th annual prayer breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 13, at Lewis and Clark Community College’s Commons.
Bernard “Ben” Fainer remembers the moment clearly.
It was pouring down rain at 10 a.m. on the morning on April 23, 1945.
He and several thousand Jewish prisoners were being marched from concentration camp to concentration camp during one of the most horrific events in the last century: Adolf Hitler’s attempted purging of the Jewish race, the Holocaust.
“The heavens were opening,” Fainer said as he described his liberation by U.S. Army soldiers from the 26th Infantry Division from his captors, which consisted of the German secret police, or Gestapo, and SS (Schutzstaffel) soldiers.
Fainer, 83, was born and raised in Bedzin, Poland, and was one of the few from his family who made it out of the Holocaust alive.
He was 9 when the Germans rounded him up, along with his mother, Hanna; his father, Rubin; his brother, Mayer; his sister, Rosie; and his baby sister, who was not yet christened.
That would be the last time he would see his mother, brother and two sisters.
While he and father went to work in labor camps and were moved among six different camps from the time Fainer was 9 to age 13, his mother and three siblings were not so lucky.
Fainer said they were immediately sent to Auschwitz, where they were gassed in chambers.
“With a family, there was no return,” he said, adding the only reason he was spared was because at the age of 9, he looked older and knew the Germans could use him in the labor camps along with his father.
When asked how he felt at the time his family was collected, Fainer replied, “Do I have a choice?”
Tattooed on top of his left forearm, Fainer’s identification number was 178873, a personal reminder of the turmoil he suffered.
He recently co-wrote a book with Mark Leach, “Sixty Years of Silence,” in which he recollects his ordeal.
Fainer has since had the opportunity to befriend one of his liberators, U.S. Army Sgt. Norris Nims, who died about a year and a half ago.
Fainer will speak at the Alton-Godfrey Kiwanis 34th annual prayer breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 13, at Lewis and Clark Community College’s Commons.
Organizations can sponsor a table for $150, which includes 10 tickets to the breakfast, and additional tickets can be purchased for $15.
For information, contact Kiwanis member Jerry Gibson at (618) 466-0158.