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Shachar Dahan

Shachar Dahan: The Last Survivor

by Shchar Dahan, May 30, 2013


Shachar Dahan (Gr. 11)  tied  for Second Place  in the Senior's category for the Fern Shawna Rykiss Award at Gray Academy. The following is his composition the Last Survivor ]




Looking around the crowded auditorium, I am humbled by the fact that hundreds of people are here because of me. This isn’t the first time I have spoken, and it won’t be the last. I’ve addressed much larger crowds, but even after twenty years, my nerves get the best of me. Although I’ve been told numerous times how remarkable my story is, to me it is much more than just a story. I carry it with me everywhere. It’s in my blood, part of who I am, six years of my life I will never get back. It’s how I survived the Holocaust. Making people aware of what happened isn’t an option, but an obligation that I will fulfill until the day I die.

Regardless of who’s introducing me, I don’t allow any mention of my story. I mean, it’s my life – so who better to share it than I?

“Ladies and gentleman, we are honoured that Max Zalman is here with us to share his experiences of surviving the Holocaust. Please join me in welcoming him to the stage.”

Invariably, I am greeted with applause. Not because I’ve done anything worth applauding, but by now
I realize it stems from the audience’s feelings of guilt and fear and revulsion. I personally don’t care for it, but it’s not worth the effort to stop them. I walk up to the podium and turn to face the crowd. All eyes are focused on me, their owners waiting to hear the story of a lifetime. I take a deep breath, and begin.

“My name is Max Zalman. I was born in Berlin, Germany, on May 4, 1926. My parents were both Jewish. I had a twin brother named Shmuel and a younger sister named Rachel. My family wasn’t rich, but we also weren’t poor. My favorite possession was my rocking chair. No matter how tense things got, it was the only thing that could put my mind at ease.

“The house we lived in was absolutely beautiful. Although I’ve lived in many different places during my life, it’s the only place I will ever consider home. I was a very lively child and loved to spend time with my friends. Looking back, I can see that my parents provided my siblings and me with everything we needed. My childhood was spent without a worry, and I believed that life would continue that way forever. But the Nazis changed everything.

“The story I share with you today begins when the Nazis invaded my town in the summer of 1939. They singled out the Jews by forcing us to sew stars onto our clothing. They were yellow patches with the word ‘Jude’ written in big bold black letters smack across the middle. In the blink of an eye the unimaginable was about to become my reality.

“I was expelled from school, along with all my Jewish friends and classmates. My dad lost his job. And when I asked my parents why this was happening, they simply told me, ‘because we are Jewish.’ I couldn’t figure out what one thing had to do with the other, but I was forced to deal with the situation regardless. Life at that point seemed as terrible as could be. But worse problems lay ahead.

“Life became more unbearable with each passing moment. After a year the Nazis were in full control.

Wherever they went, hell seemed to follow.

“Even as a kid I realized there was no white flag. The Nazis were either going to achieve the unimaginable, or they were going to die trying.

“One day I heard a knock at the door. My father opened it to find an SS guard standing on our front stoop. I tried to listen in but all I could hear was that we had ten minutes to pack our belongings and be outside of our house.

 “You might think the Nazis picked the number 10 at random, but thinking about it years later, I concluded that couldn’t be the case. The Nazis never acted randomly. Each decision was meticulously thought out and evaluated to achieve their desired goals. So why ten minutes? I believe it was the right length of time for people to gather their things, but also enough time to generate anxiety in even the sanest, most balanced individuals. Their goal was to create suffering, even before the real suffering began.

“Ten minutes later we were outside on the curb. I turned to my father to ask him what was going on and will never be able to forget the look I received in return. He tried to appear confident, but his face seemed clouded with fear. He swallowed and said, ‘We are being transported.’ At hearing that, my heart dropped deep into my stomach.

“An SS truck was driving down the block, stopping in front of each house to load the families inside. Before I knew it, the truck was in front of my house. My family and I silently climbed in and found ourselves leaning against neighbors who already were leaning against the truck’s interior walls. I caught a glimpse of my home before we rounded the corner.

“How was I to know this would be the last time I would ever see my beloved home?” Max speaks out loud, but he is speaking to himself. He laughs bitterly.

“More families were loaded into the truck as we drove from block to block, but finally we realized we were no longer stopping. Hour after hour we stood, shifting our weight from foot to foot, feeling our stomachs growl and jostling one another, but remaining upright because there was no room to fall.
Finally the truck stopped and we were shoved out. I wasn’t sure where it was, but I understood we’d arrived at a train station.

“We were loaded into cattle cars, caged in like animals except that animals in cages have room to move and food to eat. I can still smell the urine and body odors that accosted me whichever way I turned.
We were packed in from wall to wall. After about two days, the oldest and weakest of us slumped to the floor, where they lay wedged between our feet until they finally stopped breathing. The horror became more real for me when my father’s limp body was added to the pile of corpses we had dragged to a corner of the car. To the left we saw death, and to the right we saw impending death. It was four days – and I don’t know how many deaths -- before the doors opened.

“Those of us who made it off the train were ordered to organize ourselves in a line alongside the tracks.
A Nazi guard wordlessly assessed us, pointing either left or right as each person reached the front of the line. We quickly realized the significance of his gestures – right meant we would live to see another day but left was a death sentence. My brother and I were the lucky ones, if you can call it that. My mother and Rachel were sent to their deaths.”

Max pauses and takes a deep breath to steady himself and stop the tears before continuing.

“We ‘lucky’ ones were marched into a building where numbers were tattooed onto our arms, our heads were shaved and we were handed threadbare stri

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