Holocaust Survivor Tells His Tale to Thwart Bullying

Werner Reich speaks to approximately 100 schools and synagogues per year.

By Dana Klosner, Neighbor
Oct 27, 2010 9:43 am ET | Updated Nov 5, 2010 7:21 pm ET
Holocaust Survivor Tells His Tale to Thwart Bullying

Smithtown resident Werner Reich, 83, is a retired Industrial Engineer, a husband to his wife Eva of 55 years, a father of two and a grandfather of four.

He is also a Holocaust survivor.

Reich uses his oppressive experience to talk to young people at schools and synagogues throughout Long Island, and his message is clear–if you see bullying and intolerance you should not be a bystander, you should be one of the “J.U.S.T.” people and stand up and say something.

He coined the term “J.U.S.T.” which is an acronym for Judge Situation, Understand Problem, Solve and Take Action. Reich believes his message is important and volunteers his time to give about 100 talks a year.

One of his proudest moments is when he got a letter from Miller Place High School stating that the school began a school wide “J.U.S.T.” campaign and that the building recognizes students that embody the idea of being a “JUST” person through their actions.

“That is why I speak,” Reich said humbly.

Reich endured the atrocities of four concentration camps between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.

In 1933 while living in Berlin, Reich’s father lost his job because he was Jewish–soon later his family left Berlin for Zagreb, Yugoslavia. In 1941 Hitler invaded Yugoslavia and Croatia, which forced Reich to live in hiding with two families until 1943, only to be found, arrested and beaten by the Gestapo.

After being imprisoned he was transferred to Terezin concentration camp.

“Terezin was a demonstration camp to the Red Cross and Swedish Authorities,” Reich said. “So we weren’t mistreated much there.” 

Reich said in Terezin 30,000 people died from starvation, and out of 141,000 people only 17,000 survived. He also said that when he was in the camp, the guards would have competitions of who could cut the most throats–one guard won by cutting 1,630 throats in one day.

In Terezine one of his jobs was to exterminate bugs. He used the Cyanide gas Zyklon.

“They tried to use the same gas in the gas chambers but it smelled of bitter almonds so people would shy away from it,” Reich said. “They ended up using the same gas and removing the smell. Zyklon B gas was used in the gas chambers.”

In 1944, Reich was shipped to Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau, a camp in an area of Poland that was annexed by Germany.

“95-percent of the people getting off the trains were marched to four gas chambers,” he said. “We were tattooed with numbers.”

He endured the “tests” of Mengele, where 6,000 people were separated from youngest to oldest and had the youngest was forced to strip naked and run past him. He did this several times. Out of the 6,000 people 89 survived, and the rest were sent to the gas chamber.

In January 1945 Reich was sent on a death march through snow and ice–people who stopped and couldn’t get up were shot. Some stripped off their clothes because they were too heavy to carry and the morsel of bread they were given froze in their pockets and couldn’t be eaten. After three days everyone was loaded into open railroad cars and traveled to Mauthausen, what Reich said was the worst camp.

On May 5, 1945 Reich was liberated by American troops. He was 17 years olnd and weighed 64 pounds.

When Reich talks to students he points out how some things that were happening then are still happening now.

“The Nazis wrote anonymous letters,” Reich said. “That’s the same as cyber-bullying, the cause of 6,000 suicides. The Nazis belonged to gangs and were cowards that enjoyed power. Seven Long Island boys were involved in the murder of Marcelo Lucero. The Nazis enjoyed senseless destruction and they enjoyed humiliating people. This can be compared to students knocking books out of another student’s hands and forcing him to pick them up off the floor.”

The intent of Reich’s talks with students he said is to recognize bullying and when you see an instance of abuse and intolerance you should be one of the “J.U.S.T.” people and do something about it.