Nightmares often plague Abe Weinrib after he tells others about the torture he endured as a Jew during World War II. He talks of the corpses he dragged to ditches in Nazi camps, the loss of his family, the typhus that nearly finished him off after he was liberated.
Despite how difficult it is, he continues to describe the horrors. When asked to share his story, he says, how can he say no?
“It’s a miracle I survived,” said Weinrib, who will turn 100 on Tuesday, during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. “I don’t know how I survived.”
Weinrib’s lifetime of inspiring others will be celebrated tonight as he lights the first candle on a 13-foot public menorah at Easton Town Center.Hanukkah begins at sundown today and runs through sundown on Dec. 16.
“He’s lighting a candle of hope, of love and of meaning,” said Rabbi Areyah Kaltmann of the Lori Schottenstein Chabad Center in New Albany, which sponsors the Easton menorah lighting and another in Bexley on Tuesday.“He is the flame. His life and Hanukkah are synonymous.”
Hanukkah commemorates the reclamation by the Maccabees of the Second Jewish Temple after it was desecrated by the Syrian Greeks in the second century B.C. While the Maccabees found only one day’s worth of suitable oil to fuel the menorah, it miraculously lasted for eight days.
Weinrib was in his 20s, working in Polish factories owned by his wealthy industrialist uncle, when he was arrested and beaten daily for 51/2 weeks by Nazi police who believed that he knew where his uncle might have hidden gold, silver and diamonds.
He spent six years imprisoned in several camps, including the notorious Auschwitz, where more than 1 million prisoners died. He remembers giving a portion of his bread to other prisoners, having a job dragging corpses to ditches and seeing then-Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower cry over the carnage.
He was at the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany when it was liberated in 1945 by British forces. Near death with typhus, he was sent to Sweden to recover. Weinrib met his wife and fellow-Holocaust survivor, Anna, in Sweden. They married and had three children, moving to Columbus in the 1950s. Anna died in 1979.
For years, Weinrib has shared his story with students at Ohio State University, Capital University, Olentangy Liberty High School and other venues.
He rarely turns down an offer, but he had to decline a recent invitation from a Catholic church. It was in a Catholic church that the Nazis had beaten him for all those weeks, and he fears that he’d be tormented by flashbacks.
Kaltmann said it’s appropriate that Weinrib will “begin the next century by lighting one flame … not 100 candles but one flame.”
“He’s a walking advertisement of the indomitable Jewish spirit,” Kaltmann said. “This man who ... saw the worst, the most-hideous … the ugliest face of evil refuses to disappear from the world. “He is the one flame who goes around from school to school teaching children about how evil can raise its ugly head and how we need to accept each other and appreciate that each person has something special to give.”
To hear Abe Weinrib and other Holocaust survivors tell their stories, visit www.holocausteducationvideo.com.
©2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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