Museums & Galleries

“First Person: Conversations with Survivors” at the Holocaust Museum

Story and Photos By angela n.

Through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “First Person” program series, visitors can learn about history from the remarkable people who lived through it. On April 12, visitors heard from Henry Greenbaum, a survivor of Auschwitz and Flossenburg. Much of his family was killed in Treblinka in 1942, including his mother, grandmother, two of his sisters, and five nieces and nephews who were all younger than 8 years old.

Henry survived the war because he was “selected” to work in slave labor camps. He was forced to produce anti-aircraft shells, build roads, and dig graves. In 1943, during a failed escape attempt, Nazis shot one of his sisters dead and a bullet grazed Henry’s head. In 1945, Henry was on a death march toward Dachau that killed about half of his fellow marchers, when the guards suddenly abandoned the prisoners. Soon after, Henry saw a tank approach. Out of the hatch climbed a “beautiful” soldier of the 11th Armored Division, who shouted, “We are Americans, and all of you are free.” The soldiers shared their rations with the starving marchers. They made their way to a nearby farm, where the marchers were so hungry they ate old potato peels and flour: feed meant for animals. But it was still a happy day. An American medic treated Henry’s old bullet wound on his head: “He cleaned it all up for me. He bandaged it up nicely. He cut the hair around it. I was a human being to him.” Henry was 17 years old.

After the war, Henry moved to America and eventually ran a dry cleaning business for many years. Now he volunteers at the Holocaust Museum, where you can find him Fridays at the donations desk. Watch a great Washington Post video of Henry at work with his fellow volunteer Martin Weiss. 

When asked what message he wanted the audience to leave with, Henry said: “I don’t want you to be a bystander. Whenever you see any injustice done to any human being, speak out.” And for the children in the audience, he said: “Don’t bully anybody. … If you don’t feel like marrying them, it’s up to you. But treat them a little kinder.”

The Holocaust Museum’s First Person program runs twice a week until August 10, 2017.

All images © 2017 angela n.

Henry shows his Auschwitz prisoner tattoo, no. A18991, applied by an inmate because the guards didn't want to touch Jews. Henry still remembers the ashes floating in the air from the camp's crematorium.
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angela lives in DC. When she is not working or taking pictures, she is very busy binge-watching the panda cam. All opinions are her own.