The Nazi-run Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland was a site where more than 1 million people lost their lives.
Two of the lives lost were Nathan and Malcha Gutmann, parents of Sylvia Gutmann — the special guest at Fort Hood’s Days of Remembrance sponsored by Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center on Thursday at Club Hood.
Sylvia Gutmann, a Holocaust survivor currently residing in Massachusetts, was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1939. The youngest of three girls, Gutmann claims to have no memory of the events leading up to her rescue in the United States at age 7. The accounts of the arrests, imprisonments and execution of her family is from the memories of her older sister, Rita, and those that rescued her.
Gutmann, her sisters and mother were arrested in the summer of 1942 by the Vichy police and were shipped to the Rivesaltes internment camp. Her father was left behind because he was bed-ridden at the time. However, he was later arrested and executed in Auschwitz in 1943.
Upon arrival at Rivesaltes, Gutmann and her sisters were separated from their mother. The morning of her deportation, Gutmann’s mother went into the children’s barracks to dress and prepare her children for roll call. Gutmann ran to her mother, seeking comfort, but her mother was pulled away — forbidden any contact. Malcha’s last words to her children were, “I will be back soon. Rita, take care of Silvie. Promise me you will take care of the baby.” She was then transported to Auschwitz where she entered a gas chamber with many other Jews on Sept. 16, 1942.
Gutmann and her sisters were later rescued and transported to New York, where Gutmann and her sisters were separated again. Gutmann said she does not have any more knowledge of events until age 7, when she was found — deeply traumatized — on railroad tracks holding a baby doll.
When asked what her thoughts or feelings were at that moment she said, “I was a mother, and the doll was my baby.”
The room was full of emotion as Gutmann told her story to the troops and civilian employees. In closing, she recounted the story of her reunion with Lisl Hanau in Jerusalem in 2007. In their embrace, Gutmann made a promise to the legacy of her parents and other brave people such as Hanau and the United States military.
“That I would thank you, that I would acknowledge your courage. That I depend on you to put love in the world,” she said. “That I demand that you not look away. That I hold you responsible for making this a better world. And I thank you from my soul!”
Soldiers and civilians lined up to greet Gutmann at the end of the event.
Lt. Col. Alicia Surrey, Darnall Battalion commander, was moved to tears.
“To imagine the strength that mother (must have) had to do that is incredibly powerful,” Surrey said.
The strength that led Gutmann’s mother to put on a brave face, kiss her daughters goodbye and leave with Nazi soldiers to a fate unknown to her that ended in a cloud of gas at the Auschwitz camp, was amazing, Surrey said. With three little girls of her own, Surrey said she could imagine that strength because she has often had to put on a strong face for her children as she fulfills her duties in the U.S. Army.
Gutmann has lived many places, including Germany — where she met Col. Jeremy Yarvis, Darnall deputy commander, 12 years ago. Yarvis and Gutmann have remained in close contact over the years and Gutmann has spoken to many troops as a result.
In closing the event, Darnall Commander Col. Mark Thompson said that American soldiers are known for many good things, but one of those is that they are inherently kind, going above and beyond to treat others with kindness and respect.