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Local Holocaust survivor reflects on 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz

Werner Schenk, from a passport photo when he left Germany for the U.S. in 1950; and a more recent photo
Werner Schenk, from a passport photo when he left Germany for the U.S. in 1950; and a more recent photo

Monday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where more than one million people, most of them Jews, were murdered by the Nazis.

Those who survived the Holocaust include several people in the Rochester area including Werner Schenk. He was not in Auschwitz, but his grandmother died there and he says many of his relatives in Germany were rounded up and later killed.

Schenk said that he and some other family members were hidden by Catholic nuns in Germany who helped them survive.  After the liberation of the camps, Schenk says his family temporarily housed some concentration camp survivors at their apartment in Germany.

"I saw some of the survivors and it was pretty awful," Shenck said. "I still remember, there were a couple of girls, about my age, I was 13, 14, and they were skeletons, literally, and they talked about their experiences."

The 88-year-old Schenk has talked about his experiences at area schools, and also participated in a discussion after a performance of the Diary of Anne Frank at Geva.

"The first time, it was pretty hard for me to do that," Schenk said. "The theater was full of people, but it's important, important to tell the story, and it has an impact, I think."

Schenk has been recorded on video by his son to capture his memories, he's also done video interviews for a national foundation dedicated to collecting interviews with survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides.

Some survivors of Auschwitz were at that former death camp this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation, but Schenk said that, while he has been back to Germany since the war, going to Auschwitz would just be too painful.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.