In commemoration of Yom Hashoah, the community is invited to hear the captivating story of Werner Reich, a survivor of the Holocaust, on Wednesday, April 11, at 8 p.m. at Great Neck Synagogue, 26 Old Mill Rd. Adults and students of all ages are welcome as Reich allows the audience to become witnesses to his first-hand account of the Holocaust.
Reich was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1927. In 1933, his father lost his job as an engineer due to anti-Jewish laws. The family emigrated to Zagreb, Yugoslavia, where Reich attended local schools. After his father died in 1940 and Germany invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, Reich’s mother placed him in hiding with various families. The last family worked for the Partisans and Reich helped them until Spring 1943, when he was arrested by the Gestapo, beaten and transferred to several prisons, including the police headquarters in Graz, Austria, where he spent six weeks.
From Graz, Reich was transferred to Vienna and then to the prison ghetto Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, where he worked at various tasks, including laying railroad tracks, making baskets and exterminating buildings with Zyklon, the gas that was used for killing people.
In the spring of 1944, Reich was transferred to Auschwitz II, Poland, the Birkenau extermination camp. On July 6, Dr. Mengele, by means of three selections, separated 89 young people out of 5,000 inmates and transferred them to a different camp. The remaining prisoners were gassed over the next few days. When the war was over, 46 of the 89 youngsters were still alive, including Reich.
From Birkenau, Reich was transferred to Auschwitz I, which was occupied by German criminals with long prison sentences. In January 1945, Reich was given a piece of bread and began a three-day death march and then a four-day train ride. The final part of the journey, in open railroad cars, caused frostbite resulting in loss of toes on his feet. The journey ended in the concentration camp Mauthausen, Austria. Extreme conditions and lack of food caused starvation and even some cannibalism in the camp. On May 5, 1945, the camp was liberated by American forces.
Reich returned to Yugoslavia, under extreme communism, but found no family and few friends. After two years, Reich fled to England where he worked as a laborer in a machine shop and later as a tool and die maker. In 1955, he married a Czech Kindertransport child and immigrated to the United States. Working daytime and attending college at night, Reich graduated after 10 years and worked as an industrial engineer and executive for major corporations. He has two sons and four grandchildren.
Since his retirement, Reich has authored two books and has been a frequent speaker in colleges and schools, addressing more than 1,500 each year, stressing the concept that “indifference kills.” Reich has been an invited speaker in several countries overseas and with the Long Island Philharmonic. He is a docent at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County and, in 2005, was awarded its Speaker of the Year award and the Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award for Educator of the Year. In 2015, the New York State Assembly honored Reich for his work. The Suffolk County Legislature honored him with several proclamations in 2017. He is a founding member of the Long Island Multi-faith Forum, is active at Temple Beth David in Commack and is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Psychic Entertainers Association.
Learn more at 516-487-6100.