Holocaust survivor & author David Faber and Grace, from Idyllwild, at the Mt. San Jacinto College lecture
By Marcia E. Gawecki
David Faber was only 13 years old when he promised his mother, who had just been shot and killed by the Nazis, that he would tell the world about what they had done.
At age 85, a Polish Jew, Faber has spent the greater part of his lifetime giving lectures to audiences, such as the 2-hour one at the Mt. San Jacinto College held on Thursday, Oct. 13.
The event, sponsored by the Phi Theta Kappa, an academic honor society, was open to the public, although the audience was comprised mostly high school and college students. Some were getting extra credit for writing a report. Tickets were $5 each, and hours before, the show was sold out.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Mary Lehman, an Idyllwild resident whose 14-year-old daughter, Grace, is home-schooled, and wanted to attend the lecture. “We need to hear what these survivors have to say because they’re not going to live forever.”
Grace had already researched the Holocaust for a school project when she attended the Idyllwild School and got an “A.” And this past summer, the family had visited the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, where Grace had heard a lecture by another concentration camp survivor.
“He said that another prisoner had drown in a puddle of mud because he was too weak to get up,” Grace recalled. “Now I don’t look at mud puddles the same.”
Before the lecture when David Faber was signing books, Grace got her picture taken with him. Faber offered the autographed books for $15 each.
David Faber, an award-winning lecturer, signed copies of his recent book named after his brother, Romek.
During the next two hours, David, with a single microphone, stood before a panel of family photos and news clippings, and recounted the atrocities that happened to him and his family during the weeks that followed the Nazi invasion of Poland. After that, David told of how he barely survived nine concentration camps.
“Jews who went to the concentration camps don’t have photos,” David began. “They are stripped naked of their clothes and possessions, and sent to the gas chambers. Ninety-five percent of them don’t make it out of those camps alive. I was one of the lucky ones.”
The family photos that Faber referred to came from his eldest sister who escaped to England before WWII began. Rachael Faber was a talented dress designer and was invited to show her work in Paris. When she got a VISA, she ran away and later lived in England. These photos David received from her husband after her death.
In Katowice where the family lived, the Nazis forbade Jews to enter stores and banks following the Nazi invasion. So the family fled to a nearby town where they stayed with cousins. When they were murdered in their home, with David as a witness.
(from L) Grace attended the lecture with many college students who were getting extra credit for writing a report on Faber's lecture
“Let’s get out of here,” David’s father had said upon returning from a job search. “The Nazis will come back.”
When random shootings continued, David’s father found an abandoned warehouse where they slept on potato sacks filled with straw. They would have eventually been found by the Nazis had Romek, David’s brother, a soldier and ex-POW, had not found them.
Romek banged on the warehouse walls and eventually found a crawl space where the family hid from the Nazi shootings. Yet, after days of no food and water, the family gave themselves up and registered at Nazi headquarters. Each received a stamp on their papers.
“The letter ‘K’ in a circle means death,” warned Romek, whom they later found out was working for the British Intelligence.
Since several of the family members had that stamp, Romek advised them to hide again, this time in an abandoned apartment building. He banged on the walls in one apartment and found another crawlspace where the family would hide when the Nazis would raid. Romek had hung pictures over the hole and decorated the area with more pictures and a small couch.
One day, the Nazis came quietly. They shot David’s father first outside, and then his mother and five sisters near the crawl space. During the commotion, David had slid under the narrow couch. When the shooting was over, all of his family was dead. One of the Nazi’s jumped up and down with glee on the couch, unaware of that David was underneath it.
“See? I told you that we would get them all if we came quietly,” the Nazi had said.
After days of no food and water, David turned himself in, but remembered what his brother had told him:
“You speak perfect German. If you are caught, use it to impress them,” he said.
“I stood before the Nazis and clicked my heels, and said that I was a 21-year-old electrician, and could help them,” David said. “They laughed at me, knowing that I was only 13, but were impressed that I knew their language.”
David was sent by rail car to a concentration camp, where several men, women and children died along the way. His job there was to open the cans of poison that would later be used in the gas chambers. After they died, David had to gather up their possessions, including jewelry and gold fillings.
One time, David noticed that a baby was still alive, still attached to his mother’s breast. He and another man tried to give the baby to women in the camp, but they were found out, and the man was tortured and killed. David was ordered to throw the baby into the oven.
He asked the Nazi soldiers if it would be better to give the baby to some of the women instead.
“Dare you defy my orders?” the soldier yelled and threw the baby into the oven himself.
David later was beaten with a hose until he passed out.
“How I survived nine concentration camps, I don’t know,” David said towards the end of his lecture.
The last concentration camp he was at was called Bergen-Belson, made famous by Anne Frank.
“When the British Army liberated Bergen-Belson on April 15, 1945, most of us were dead or sick from typhoid,” David recalled. “The British forced the Nazis to dig 122 open graves in which they put some 5,000 bodies.”
Two women from the British Red Cross were checking out those massive graves before burial, when they spotted David, moving among the dead bodies.
“I was 18 years old, and only weighed 72 pounds,” David recalled.
A picture of him at that time is shown in his book. It’s a haunting image that you will not soon forget. He survived typhoid and polio. In 1957, he immigrated to the U.S. and five years later, became an American citizen.
Over the years, David was sick and in and out of American hospitals.
“But now I am 85 years young, and God is still looking after me,” he said, and thanked the audience for listening, and helping him fulfill the promise that he had made to his mother:“I will tell the world what the Nazis have done.”
Later on, Grace was appalled to hear that some people believe that the Holocaust never really happened.
“How can they face a man like David Faber and say that?” she asked.
Yet, even at a young age, Grace knew of the importance of attending Holocaust lectures and spreading the word so that it will never happen again.
David Faber’s book, (1997), “Because of Romek: a Holocaust survivor’s memoir,” is produced by Granite Hills Press, and is available by Amazon and most major book retailers.
Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.
Tags: Because of Romek: A Holocaust Survivor's Memoir, Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, David Faber, Holocaust survivor, idyllwild, Idyllwild Me, Mary Lehman, Mount San Jacinto College Lecture, Nazi brutality, Phi Beta Kappa
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Because of Romek: A Holocaust Survivor's Memoir is a book written by David Faber. The book chronicles the events in the life of Faber and the horrors of living in Naziconcentration camps. All of Faber's family is killed except his sister who was in England at the time. Faber’s brother, Romek (a nickname), was a Polish soldier and a prisoner of war in Buchenwald. After his release from Buchenwald, he was active in the Polish Underground. Romek was eventually caught and tortured for information before he was murdered in front of his brother Faber.
"There’s one scene — he was staying with his family in an empty apartment in the ghetto, and there was a bakery downstairs. Someone had left some flour there from when they were working there, and his family was using that to make bread. At one point, they were actually living pretty decently for the times — they had some food. And then the Germans came and caught them and saw all the food they had, and that was the point where they basically killed his whole family. He was hiding under the bed — his brother protected him by lying. I think he was 13 at the time. After that, he survived by sheer luck. He was moved from camp to camp, and he met people. At Auschwitz, he befriended a doctor who sometimes gave him food — he says that from time to time, he would actually gain a little weight. He just survived that way until the soldiers finally came and liberated them.”