Final farewell to a Holocaust survivor

HOLOCAUST survivor and shop owner Monty Bergerman passed away last month, aged 83. Those who knew Monty, whose clothes shop was in Ripple Road for 25 years, and more recently in Vicarage Field, Barking, remember him as a smiling, cheerful man, who was a b

HOLOCAUST survivor and shop owner Monty Bergerman passed away last month, aged 83.

Those who knew Monty, whose clothes shop was in Ripple Road for 25 years, and more recently in Vicarage Field, Barking, remember him as a smiling, cheerful man, who was a bit of a character.

What some of his customers may not have known, was that this man had witnessed unbelievable atrocities as a boy, when he was imprisoned at Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland, during World War II.

In June this year the POST attended a Refugee Week event at Barking Learning Centre where Monty spoke about his experiences of the Holocaust.

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Many of those gathered in the room had, no doubt, read or watched documentaries about the Nazis' persecution of millions of Jews between 1939 and 1945 and the horrific camps in which a large majority died. But his words were no less shocking because of it.

Monty, who was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1926 to a farming couple, arrived at the notorious Auschwitz camp in 1943.

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The 15-year-old and his family were taken from the Lodz ghetto where they had been imprisoned since 1940, and put on a crowded train, heading for what Monty believed would be a better place.

"We thought we were all going to Auschwitz to work, that's what the Germans had told us

"But when we arrived, the other prisoners told us 'you have come her to die'."

Shortly after stepping off the train, Monty and the other passengers were divided into two lines.

"I was told to stand in the line to the left. It meant they wanted to keep me alive to work.

"My father, who was 46, was directed to the other line and taken straight to the gas chambers - they thought he was too old too to work. I cried and cried that day. I never saw him again."

Monty's 23-year-old sister-in-law was also sent to die in the gas chambers, but not before the guards brutally tore her baby from her arms and threw the youngster to the ground, where they left it to die.

Over the following sixth months, Monty was to witness extraordinarily barbaric acts on a daily basis.

"There are some things that happened there, that I could never ever tell you about. It's too shocking," he said.

He did, however, speak of the terrifying screams he heard from the gas chambers and the times he watched the Nazis force prisoners to stand around a big hole in the ground, before shooting them, one by one.

"As they were shot they would fall into the hole, which was a mass grave.

"But people didn't always die straight away. For some it was a slow death.

"I was once made to fill the hole with concrete."

He said his survival was partly down to luck, his youth and a determination to get hold of any scrap of food he could.

"You became like animals. Scavanging, grabbing what you could get - a potato here, a piece of bread there.

"It was often risky, but you took chances. One day we went fishing and I stole a fish. But a guard saw me do it and made me eat the fish raw, before giving me a beating."

Monty was eventually taken from Auschwitz and sent to Buchenwald, a camp in Germany.

As the Allies advanced in 1945, he was transported in a cattle train to the Czech Republic, where he and his fellow prisoners were finally freed by the Russians.

The 18-year-old returned briefly to his home town Lodz, but failed to find a single person he knew.

He later discovered that his sister was the only member of their family to survive the holocaust. Everyone else had perished.

With nothing to keep him in Poland, Monty accepted an invitation from the British government to move to the UK.

At that stage he was still physically very weak, and on his arrival in Britain the teenager was sent to a hospital in Scotland, where he spent two months building up his strength.

After being discharged, he moved to Stamford Hill, in north London, to join a number of other Holocaust survivors who had settled there shortly after the war.

He got a job as a machinist at a tailoring company and, with the support of fellow Jews in the community, he began to live his life again.

Around 25 years ago he opened up a clothes shop in Barking and became a well-known and much loved face in the borough.

As his talk at the refugee event came to an end, Monty said: "Although it can be difficult to listen to the things I have spoken about, it's important that people know what happened during the Holocaust, because it could happen again."

Speaking to the POST last week his youngest son Stephen, a 54-year-old minicab driver, paid tribute to his father.

He said: "He was a great, fun loving bloke. No one had a bad word to say about him. He was also my best friend and his death has left a big void in my life."

Monty, who died on September 24, left behind two sons and five grandchildren.

His funeral was held on September 27 in Bushey, Hertfordshire, nd was attended by around 200 people.

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