Holocaust survivor to visit GateWay for Genocide Awareness Week

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Feb 19, 2014, 4:30 p.m.

At 17-years-old Otto Schimmel had been taken from his home, placed in a boxcar and was sent off to a concentration camp.

Schimmel was born in Hungary but now calls the United States his home. He is a Holocaust survivor and was enslaved at Auschwitz for about 14 months.

Holocaust Survivor Otto Schimmel
Holocaust Survivor Otto Schimmel

“In July of 1944, first we were put into the boxcar, me and my friend stood for four days because there was so many people in the boxcar,” said Schimmel. “Some actually died on that train.”

When he arrived at the camp, the men were taken to get new clothes and haircuts.

“When you arrived there you had to get totally naked. You were in an auditorium with numbered seats. You were told to take your jacket off, put your clothes in it, tie it up and place it on the seat, and they told you that you would come back,” Schimmel shared. “You never went back.”

“I always tell people the Germans are very smart,” he shared. “Every time they told you something would happen that sounded good it never would happen.”

While in the camp the Nazi’s fed their hostages 200 calories a day.

“German statistics showed that based on that food and water intake, we actually were going to die in three months,” Schimmel said. He held a friends father as he died from exhaustion and hunger. 

The American troops liberated Schimmel. He was the only surviving member of his family. After the war he met his wife, who was also a Holocaust survivor.  They moved to the U.S. in March 1948 and he received citizenship in 1953.

The Schimmels had three children and have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. His wife started sharing her story with students to create awareness, and she eventually got Otto to start speaking with her.

“We are dying out, really quickly,” said Schimmel. “There is a group here in Phoenix of survivors, there are probably 150 members. They are all as old as me or older, and I am 86. ”

His wife made him promise to continue after she was gone.

Schimmel spends his time as a public speaker sharing his story of survival and a piece of history with students so they understand. He is visiting GateWay on April 8. He will tell his story in the Copper Room at 11 a.m. The event is free and open to the public. His presentation is part of Genocide Awareness Week at GateWay which will take place April 7 - 10