Plattsburgh survivor to attend 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 4:08 PM EST
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This coming Monday marks the 75 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the German Nazi concentration camp where over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives during World War II. Our Kelly O'Brien got to sit down with a local survivor who lived through the unimaginable.

Retired SUNY Plattsburgh microbiology teacher Vladimir Munk will be 95-years-old next month. Everyone has a story to tell in their lifetime, but not everyone lives to tell it. Munk is an exception.

It was March of 1939 when the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia. Vladimir Munk, a 15-year-old Jewish boy, lived with his parents in a small town east of Prague. Three years later, the Nazis took him and his parents to Terezín, a concentration camp and ghetto.

"Terezín was a town for 5,000 people and there were 30,000 people there, so it was a little bit crowded," Munk said.

While at Terezín, Munk became a locksmith and that's where his love story began with Kitty. "We just somehow got together and we were walking and holding hands and talking. We found out that we had many common interests the same, but that's all we could do," Munk said.

Terezín wasn't an extermination camp, but many people who were living there were later transported to death camps. "They decided to empty the city to prevent any uprising, or something like it, and they sent 20,000 people in one month to Auschwitz," Munk said.

It was 1944 when Munk and his father were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. His mother would soon follow. "My father was sent to one side, I to the other. The side that my father was sent to was gased immediately," Munk said.

At the time, Munk says he didn't know where his father was going. He started asking other inmates that had been there longer than him in an attempt to find his family. "'You see the smoke from the big chimney? That's where he went to,' Munk recalls them saying. "In Auschwitz you didn't die, you just went up the chimney... The air smelled like burning meat and there were big, dark flakes floating, sometimes falling on you. That was how they cremated up to 10,000, 12,000 people a day."

Munk was only there for three weeks. Then then the Nazis marched Munk and other prisoners from labor camp to labor camp. One morning, as they were getting ready to march again, Munk was left behind. "Next morning, when they woke everybody and continued to march away, they left me there. They thought that I was dead or they didn't see me, but I was left in Blechhammer. So, I was liberated," Munk said.

After he was liberated and the war ended, Munk moved back to Prague, where he and Kitty reunited and married. He was an only child and during the Holocaust lost over 30 close family members including his mother and father.

"You know, all my life I try not to think too much about it," Munk said.

Monday is the 75 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Vladimir Munk will be there, traveling back to the former concentration camp where his family was murdered and he somehow managed to survive. "I just want to go to the place to stay there and to think about it. I remember those and I remember this. Then, go home and drink a little bit of vodka," Munk said.

Traveling with Munk is a local film crew that plans to capture his experience for a documentary.