Holocaust survivor Philip Gans speaks to reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing at its Airmen of the Year banquet at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center Saturday.
Holocaust survivor speaks at 419th Fighter Wing

by Bryan Magaña
419th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

2/11/2008 - HILL AIR FORCE BASE, UT -- 139755 is the number tattooed on Philip Gans' left forearm - the number given him by the Nazis when they hauled him and his family into Poland's Auschwitz concentration camp at the age of 15.

About 600 Airmen from the 419th Fighter Wing had the opportunity to hear the Holocaust survivor's story at the wing's Airman of the Year banquet Saturday.

Dressed in a striped prison jacket embroidered with the number given him by the Nazis, Gans retold his experience as a Nazi prisoner at Auschwitz and Germany's Flossenbürg concentration camp.

He was born Jan. 23, 1928 to a Jewish businessman and his wife in Amsterdam, Holland. He was the youngest of three children. Prior to the war, his family owned a successful business manufacturing women's clothing. In July 1942, after the Germans invaded Holland and began arresting Jews, his family went into hiding. Gans was 14 years old.

On July 28, 1943, on his father's birthday, his family was arrested by the Nazis. After a short time in a detention camp, he was moved to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Upon his arrival, the men and women were separated. Women, infants, and children who were too young to work were given bars of soap and told to clean themselves in a large chamber, where instead of water, deadly gas flowed. He never saw his mother and sister again.

"You'll never comprehend the suffering we experienced," Gans told the Airmen at Saturday's event. "Ten to 15 years from now, there will be no survivors left. You are all witnesses to a witness."

At Auschwitz, Gans - along with his father and brother - became a slave, hauling heavy bags of cement day in and day out. He was given only bread and a little margarine to eat. He slept in rooms crammed with bunks and emaciated men who feared becoming too thin, because the weak ones were killed. Gans' father and brother were just two of millions whose fears were realized.

Gans was moved to Flossenbürg and participated in a death march for a week before U.S. Army forces liberated him at the age of 17, after losing 21 members of his family to the Nazi regime.

Gans humbly thanked the Airmen at the banquet, noting that because of people like them - American patriots - he is alive today.

Gans gave an extended version of his presentation earlier that day to a group of Airmen during the UTA. His message centers on the importance of ensuring the atrocities of the Holocaust are never forgotten - and never repeated. Gans now tours the United States speaking against hate and intolerance.

Staff Sgt. Nathan Greer contributed to this article.