Zev Kedem spent much of his childhood seeing sights.
He saw the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, the factory of Oskar Schindler and, eventually, the downfall of the Nazi regime.
Looking back over 60 years, Kedem, 73, is amazed that he came out alive.
“The most amazing thought is that the Holocaust overtook me when I was five,” Kedem said in a telephone interview on Monday. “That’s amazing for a child.”
Kedem will speak at CSU today as part of Holocaust Awareness Week. His presentation, titled “Schindler’s List: A Survivor Celebrates Life,” will take place in the Lory Student Center’s North Ballroom at 7 p.m.
In the early years of the Holocaust, Kedem lived with his family in Katowitz, Poland. When Nazi soldiers began rounding up Jews in Poland, he and his family went into hiding. Kedem ended up in a concentration camp. It was while he was in a concentration camp that his name miraculously found a place on Schindler’s List.
Schindler’s List was written up by Oskar Schindler, a German who compiled a list of 1,100 Jews to work in a factory in Brinlitz, Czechoslovakia. Being taken to the factory meant avoiding death in the gas chambers for the Jewish people. For young Zev Kedem, Oskar Schindler was a life-saver.
“I am very grateful to Oskar Schindler to this very day,” Kedem said.
Although Schindler’s List saved Kedem initially, his journey was far from over.
Less than a week after arriving at Schindler’s factory, the local commandant charged that no child under the age of thirteen could work in the factory. For Kedem, this meant a trip to the dreaded death camp of Auschwitz in Poland. That day, five boys, including Kedem, and their fathers were transported to Auschwitz. They arrived Nov. 3, 1944.
For Kedem, death seemed imminent, but once again, luck was on his side.
The day before he and the other transported prisoners were brought to Auschwitz, Adolf Hitler ordered the gas chambers closed. Decades later, while examining a log of prisoners brought to Auschwitz, Kedem located his prisoner number, B14433. He found that he and his father were among the last ten prisoners brought into Auschwitz before the camp was closed.
“Had we arrived one day earlier you wouldn’t be talking to me,” Kedem said.
Upon arriving at Auschwitz, Kedem was turned around almost immediately and forced to march across Poland, a miserable, wearisome journey. At one point, one loaf of bread was his means of sustenance for nearly two weeks.
“We didn’t know how long we’d be on the road,” Kedem said.
Eventually, Kedem and the prisoners were loaded on cattle trucks and taken to a concentration camp at Mauthausen, Austria. Kedem was taken to a labor camp where he and other prisoners manufactured ball bearings and other war materials for the German army. Work in the labor camps was dark and dank; the factories in which Kedem worked were hidden in caverns dug inside the mountains of Austria.
After working in the hidden factories for a period of months, Kedem was sent back to Mauthausen. Then, on May 3, 1945, just before the surrender of German forces, Kedem was liberated. His liberation took place just sixteen days before his 13th birthday. Kedem had been a German detainee for nearly six years. Unfortunately, however, liberation did not mean safety or celebration.
“We had been reduced to sub-animal level,” Kedem said. “Celebration did not occur.”
One of the first prisoners to leave Mauthausen when the gates were opened, Kedem immediately sought a safe place to hide. Germans soldiers were still on the loose and shooting any Jews they encountered.
“You could not depend on anyone,” said Kedem, going on to say, “people were like zombies and living skeletons. I was shot at more often after liberation than while in camps.”
As he moved from place to place seeking help, Kedem was often turned away.
Finally, he was introduced to a U.S. Army unit helping displaced persons. He travelled with the unit for a time, acting as a sort of unofficial mascot. Then, in November 1945, Kedem was transported to England along with 800 other children.
He was finally safe.
In England, he was educated at St. Philips and St. James primary schools and went on to graduate from Oxford University. Kedem noted, however, that his preschool education took place in the violent, death-plagued camps of Auschwitz and Mauthausen.
“You’re just focused on staying alive,” said Kedem of his time in concentration camps. In retrospect, Kedem feels enormously fortunate to have survived.
“Life is wonderful and should be celebrated every day. People take life far too much for granted. Individual freedom is taken too much for granted,” Kedem said.
Staff writer Bijah Gibson can be reached at email@example.com.