Auschwitz survivor: 'It's vital for our future to know our past'

Watch: Arutz Sheva meets Canadian Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger at the March of the Living.

Yoni Kempinski ,

Nate Leipciger
Nate Leipciger
Arutz Sheva

One of the participants on the March of the Living on Holocaust Memorial Day on Thursday was Nate Leipciger, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, who currently lives in Canada. Leipciger, who participated in the March of the Living for the 19th time, agreed to talk to Arutz Sheva about his thoughts about the march and his experiences during the Holocaust.

Many survivors prefer not to come back to Europe and the death camps. What's it like for you to come back again and again?

I'm coming here because I want to be with our young people. I have a message and we have to introduce them to what happened here. But more importantly, we have to show them what life was like here before the Holocaust.

So it's not only about the atrocities - it's also about Judaism?

It's not only about the atrocities. The atrocities are an essential part of it but the most important aspect of this trip or equally important is who the victims were. It's not enough to say there were six million Jews. There were six million individuals who had different lives. Each life was a world in itself and they were extinguished. We have to know what those people accomplished here for the thousands of years that they were here.

So you're here with the youth. What are their first reactions? Are some of them surprised that it all happened?

We prepare them very well before we come here about what they're going to see but nobody can prepare you for what you see when you get here, especially when you go into Birkenau. It's a life-changing educational trip. They will never forget what they saw here or what they heard here and it's important for our future to know our past.

Sometimes you also accompany them to Israel as the final stage of this visit.

The most important part about the trip to Israel is to tell them that this could happen only because we did not have an Israel. Today we're taking Israel for granted and that must not be. We must not take Israel for granted because our life in Canada, the United States and throughout the world is what it is because the state of Israel is in existence. People today don't remember or know what life was like before the state of Israel. We were a people without a land, a people without a state. We could be thrown out of every single country in the world. Even if we had a passport for a country, it could have been revoked at a moment's notice as it was in history We were thrown out of every country in Europe. This is a learning experience and Israel is part of it.

You came here with the Prime Minister of Canada. What was the message and did you think it got through?

The message was that Canada, which at one time had a policy of "none is too many" - referring to the Jews. They didn't want any Jews in Canada. And today the Prime Minister of Canada comes to Poland and Auschwitz with me and stands with me in front of the gas chamber where my mother and sister were murdered. We stood in front of the railroad car that brought us here, that terminated our life as it was before the war and completely changed our life the minute we got off that car.

Did it affect them?

Of course it did. It affected them to the extent that he [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] decided to apologize to Canada and Canadian Jews for the fact that in 1939 they sent back a ship of 900 refugees back to Germany, many to their death and that Canada should have had accepted them. Now we're in a situation that Canada has become a multi-national country, a multi-ethnic country and that's our strength. We can all be who we want to be and live together in peace and harmony.

We see here the teenagers and adults walking around here freely. What are your memories from Birkenau?

My memories from Birkenau are of course horrendous because my life was in danger every moment of the day. Every day that you survived was a victory. Finally, I did get out through the efforts of my father and we survived together

How did you escape?

Actually, we were chosen to go to a work camp - a concentration camp in Germany - a factory but I was refused permission to go. My father intervened and they let us go. For some reason, the officer's heart melted and he let us go.

When you were here, were there any thoughts of the big picture? Will there be a state? Of your future?

Are you kidding? The only thought was of the next hour, of the next meal. We weren't thinking about our future. We were only hoping for a future. In 1942 the existence of the state of Israel was on the furthest planet.

Can you imagine a meeting between the Nate today and the Nate back then? What would you tell him? What would he tell you?

We're the same person. His aspirations have been fulfilled. And I'm very happy that I'm here with many young people and as I walk through the crowd and I see the various countries that come here, I think Am Yisrael (the Jewish nation) is in good shape. Am Yisrael Chai.