A Holocaust Survivor Revisits Auschwitz Decades Later
Ivor Perl was just 12 years old when he first arrived at Auschwitz.
He’d spent days crammed on a crowded, stifling train bound for the now-notorious Nazi concentration and extermination camp. Perl remembers the train coming to a stop, and German guards asking if there were sick people on board. And he remembers what came next: thousands of people were sorted left and right, the difference between life and death.
In 2018, at 86, Perl — one of the last living survivors of the Holocaust — returned to Auschwitz, this time with his granddaughter, Lia, and daughter Judy, who encouraged him to confront the trauma he endured there.
“He is quite juvenile, my father, in lots of ways, and my brother always says because he emotionally cut off when he stepped off that train,” Judy says.
Perl’s journey back to Auschwitz, now a museum and memorial, unfolds in the above scene from The Last Survivors, a 2019 FRONTLINE documentary that documents the stories of some of the final Holocaust survivors.
In this excerpt, Perl and other survivors, all children at the time, recount the horrors they experienced both at Auschwitz and on the way there. They are haunted by what they saw, and they continue to wrestle with questions that can never be answered.
“Every morning the train stopped and they used to throw out dead bodies,” Zigi Shipper recalls. “How can a child of 14 hope people should die so he’ll have more room where to sit down? What has become of me?”
“None of us Jews… who had been transported could realize what was awaiting,” says Susan Pollack. “Evil rages, evil rules. And this was still totally alien to our minds. So we just hugged each other closely.”
Pollack, Shipper, Perl and seven others who lived through “humanity’s darkest hour” share their stories in The Last Survivors. From director Arthur Cary, the documentary is a powerful record of the horrors of the Holocaust, told by some of the last living people who experienced them firsthand — and who are now uniquely troubled by rising anti-Semitism around the world.
“We are the last ones, when we’ve gone… Then it’s all history books,” survivor Anita Lasker-Wallfisch says.
Stream The Last Survivors in full:
The Last Survivors premieres Tuesday, April 30, 2019 on PBS, PBS.org/frontline, and the PBS Video App.