AUSCHWITZ, Poland – Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger has toured the concentration camp where he once lived as a teenage boy several times, but Sunday was more special than ever.
The Toronto native was part of a small group that gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a walking tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
“To be here with a Prime Minister and to announce my mother’s and my sister’s names in pray was the moment of greatest impact on me today,” he said.
Leipciger and his father survived the tortuous years in the camp where over 1.1 million people were exterminated in gas chambers over the course of several years.
The 88-year-old walked with Trudeau as Dr. Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, led the group through the numbered brick buildings.
Inside Block 4, they stopped at the display filled with locks of hair shaved off female prisoners at the death camp.
In the courtyard where hundreds of Polish and Jewish prisoners were shot dead, Trudeau laid a wreath in remembrance of the dead.
Leipciger said he hoped the tour would help Trudeau to fully understand the tragedy of “what man did to man, the hatred that drove one group of people to murder another.”
Later, standing at the foot of the ruins of one gas chamber, the Prime Minister wiped away tears as he walked off by himself and let the emotion of the day wash over him.
It was a poignant moment Leipciger said he will never forget.
“He shed tears with me, that’s the greatest expression of understanding and feelings that he could have done to me,” he said.
Looking back on his time at Auschwitz, Leipciger still can’t believe he made it out.
“Each day was a struggle,” he said.
“My father saved me by rescuing me from the gas line, from the group of the people who were destined to go to the gas chamber, unbeknownst to me.”
His father had begged a Nazi guard to let the then 15-year-old to move into the line for workers.
Everyone in the other line was murdered.
Seventy-four years later, Leipciger looks back at his captors with a level of empathy, confusion and anger as he tries to come to grips with the largest genocide the world has ever seen.
“The Nazis that did this, who did operate the gas chambers and the concentration camps … were human beings like us, they had emotions,” he said.
“I’m sure that they went home and loved their wives and were kind to their children, and yet, they murdered human beings by the thousand.”
Leipciger will never forget the pain and torture he suffered in all those years at Auschwitz, yet he still has hope for the future, especially after the visit with Trudeau.
“If we convince our leaders of the impending dangers in the world that we live today we have hope. You cannot ignore or write them off,” he said.
“You have to face reality in the world that we live today.”