Nick Abbot is Leading Britain's Conversation
23 January 2015, 15:07
1.3m people arrived in Auschwitz. Only a few survived. Nick Ferrari took survivor Arek Hersh back to the Death Camp to hear his remarkable story.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a Nazi German concentration and death camp that executed almost 1.2 million people, mostly Jews, during World War II.
Nick joined 86-year-old Arek Hersh on a tour of the concentration camp with his granddaughter Avital, who was seeing it for the first time.
Below, they can be seen in front the Auschwitz Memorial Wall, adorned with photos taken from the suitcases of the prisoners when they arrived at Auschwitz. Arek had his possessions taken and that was the last time he saw pictures of his family.
Arek Hersh was taken to his first concentration camp when he was only eleven years old in his native Poland.
He takes up the story: "I came here with 185 children from an orphanage. We arrived by train in Birkenau.
"They told the men and boys to stand on one side and women and children on the other side. And then was the selection."
He realised that he was in the left-hand of two lines with the sick, young and old, while fitter people were on the right.
"All the children from the orphanage were all sent to the left-hand side and I knew that was the wrong place to be.
"What happened was a young mother, she had a baby in her arms, and they wanted the mother, but they didn't want the child. They tried to take it out of her arms and she started screaming.
"That's when I made my move. Me and another boy went over to the right side."
That brave move saved his life. The people in the left line were led to the gas chambers. Below shows where he made that choice.
If he had not escaped to the left-hand line, he would faced the haunting death walk along this route.
When they heard they were about to lose the war, the day before the camp was liberated, SS staff blew up the gas chambers and crematorium.
They have been left exactly as they were.
When prisoners were they taken into the gas chamber, they were made to take off their clothes in this entrace. When they were dead, 30 guards would go in and take out their gold teeth, then they'd be transported to the crematorium.
Arek spoke of the coaches that brought the prisoners to the camp, where he even witnessed starving prisoners resorting to eating the arm of a dead compatriot.
He told Nick: "I've seen cannibalism by some Ukrainian and Russian prisoners.
"They cut some part of the body off and they cooked it. Terrible."
These are those coaches, that brought hundreds of people to the camp each time.
Nine days before the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, the SS soldiers took 60,000 prisoners out of the camp towards Wodzisław.
Mr Hersh says: "I was taken out of Auschwitz on the death march. Outside it was minus 23 degrees and we were just in our striped suits.
"We marched for about two and a half days towards Wodzisław. Anybody who couldn't keep up was shot in the back of the head and their bodies were just thrown to the side of the road."
Listen to the full documentary of when Nick took Auschwitz survivor Arek Hersh around the death camp ahead of the 70th anniversary of its liberation.