“I received answers to some questions”
At the end of June 2012, during a visit to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, Rabbi Leo Yechiel Brukner researched documents on the fate of his family during the Nazi persecution. "For me, today's meeting is another piece in my relentless, almost obsessive search for my roots and for an understanding of what my father went through," said Rabbi Brukner.
Many of his relatives, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles were murdered by the Nazis. All traces were lost with the imprisonment in the Polish city Wolbrom, in 1942. Only Brukner’s father Berek, who was born in 1922, survived the persecution. He was first in the ghetto of Bendzin (Bedzin today) about 65 km north-west of Cracow, and then in the forced labor camps Markstadt and Blechhammer. At the end of the war, Berek Brukner was forced on the death march from Blechhammer to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp that the weakened prisoners reached on 2 February, 1945. From there he was taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp where he was liberated by the U.S. Army 11 April, 1945.
He wanted to immigrate to the United States, he said during his first interview with the Allies. But it became Switzerland that accepted 377 young Holocaust survivors from Buchenwald for recovery in June 1945. "My father made himself younger so that he could go there," says Rabbi Brukner. "Now I understand why there are two dates of birth. Within himself, my father was always a little stressed. He was probably worried that Switzerland would find out about his clever cheating and real age." On a questionnaire of the International Refugee Organization (IRO) in 1949, he answered why he would not return to his original home: “Because my family members were all killed and I have no one there any longer.” Two years later, the survivor eventually married in Switzerland and could stay. Berek died in 1980, in Zurich.
His son, who immigrated to Israel for a while and now lives in southern Germany, wants to keep the memory of his family's fate alive. The copies from the archives of the ITS, including documents from the Buchenwald concentration camp, questionnaires after the liberation, and the list of survivors that went to Switzerland, would not leave his hands. "I appreciate the important work of the ITS," said Rabbi Brukner. "I learned a lot and found answers to some of my questions."