I would like to focus attention on a very special hero in our community — Joe Engel, a Holocaust survivor. On Jan. 22, 1945, Joe escaped from the notorious Death March from Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp.
In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces approached the camp, the SS forced some 60,000 prisoners to evacuate. The SS did not want the prisoners to fall into enemy hands and tell their stories to the liberators. Instead, they forced them to march some 35 miles.
En route the prisoners suffered from the freezing cold, starvation, exposure and exhaustion.
Those who fell down or stopped to rest were shot. As many as 15,000 died. Those who survived were put on trains for further evacuation.
It was from one of these “cattle trains” that Joe escaped. Hunted by the Nazis, he buried himself in the snow and hid until they moved on.
Eventually he met up with the partisans in the forest and went on missions to explode German ammunition until he was liberated by the Red Army in March 1945.
Joe would later discover that he lost approximately 150 relatives in the Holocaust.
He came to the United States in 1949 and ran a successful business on King Street for many years.
Joe has dedicated his life to talking to students and other groups to tell what he saw with his own eyes and to make sure the lessons of the Holocaust survive.
Tens of thousands of people, young and old, have learned about the Holocaust because of him. Joe Engel is a very special hero.
Upbeat, kind-hearted and generous, he is loved by thousands. There is even a street in Charleston, Engel Street, named for him.
Jan. 27 marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The REMEMBER Committee
Charleston Jewish Federation and the
S.C. Council on the Holocaust