05/06/09 — Holocaust survivor shares story with SJAFB personnel

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Holocaust survivor shares story with SJAFB personnel

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 6, 2009 1:46 PM

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Michael Lindner stands over a candle lit by Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials Tuesday in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust. Lindner, a Holocaust survivor, spoke about his experiences as a young boy in Poland -- and in a labor camp -- during World War II.

Michael Lindner can still hear the desperate taps that fell on his father's window more than 60 years ago.

"Some of (the Jews) had a chance to escape before they were captured. They were living in the forest," he said. "They came knocking ... at midnight. They asked for food. They asked for the necessities of life -- meals for children, clothing. For six months they came."

He can still feel the weight of the shovel he drove into the ground one day at 13 years old -- and his fear of the armed men standing behind him while he dug.

"They gave my brother a shovel and (me) a shovel. ... We dig and dig -- and we pray. ... We say, 'This is going to be our final resting place -- our grave," Lindner said. "But when we finished the hole, they told us to get out. ... They brought a lady, about 30 years old, a Jewish lady with a baby on her arm. They shot her and the baby and told us to cover it."

And he can still see a particular little boy killed near his hometown in southeast Poland.

"I will never forget that little boy lying on the kitchen table. He was 2 years old. He was holding a pickle in one hand and a potato in the other. The wooden chisel was driven in his brain."

Lindner admits he will never forget the experience of living through the Holocaust.

But when he stepped onto a stage at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Tuesday, he didn't want to.

Reliving the pain, he said, is the best way to prevent history from repeating itself.

And that is exactly what Yom HaShoah, a Holocaust remembrance day first recognized in 1951, is meant to do.

So he told the crowd about what he saw in the ghettos.

"Ghettos were like a processing center -- like they were sorting animals or something," Lindner said. "Let's say a family of three or four was captured and put in the ghetto. When the processing starts, the family was broken down ... split up. ... The ones (the Nazis) couldn't use were shot. They were stripped naked. There was very brutal screaming and lamenting."

And he talked about the year he spent in a labor camp after Nazi forces began "cleansing" the Polish villages controlled by the Russians.

"In the village next to mine, 171 people were murdered at one time. People that I went to school with, my friends, killed," Lindner said. "People don't understand it unless they see it. I hope I never do again."

As his story continued, tears were falling in the crowd.

But for Lindner -- and thousands of other survivors -- the end of World War II brought a happiness he finds hard to explain.

So he did his best to end his story with that in mind.

He talked about the day "happiness finally came," when American forces entered the war.

"I saw tanks, guns, armored vehicles. That was the most beautiful view I had seen in a long time," he said. "Watching the bombs dropping, we were so happy. We knew it was the end."

Lindner could have gone on for days.

In fact, his memoir that publishes this fall, "From Terror to Freedom," took him nearly two years to write.

But he knew his allotted time was running out.

So he walked across the stage and blew out a candle in honor of all those who died during a time he called "the worst" in history.

"The world is full of surprises, full of pain," he said. "This should never be forgotten."