- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2020

OCEAN SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) - It’s been 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp established by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

Historians estimate 1.1 million people were killed in Auschwitz under Nazi rule during World War II. Gilbert Metz was one of the survivors.

Now, his grandson Joseph Metz of Ocean Springs is sharing his family’s history to keep it alive in the memories of future generations.

“My grandfather was in Auschwitz and is a survivor of the death marches from Auschwitz to Gross-Rosen, and from Gross-Rosen to Dachau,” he said.

In 1943, Gilbert Metz was a 14-year-old living in France, which was occupied at the time by Germany. It was hard time for Jews. They were not allowed to work and could only shop for two hours each day for food and necessities. They couldn’t go to concerts or movies, and they couldn’t meet in groups that had more than eight people. They were not allowed to go to the synagogue and were forced to wear a yellow Star of David displayed on their clothes to identify them as being Jewish.

Gilbert and his entire family were arrested in March 1943 by the Germans. They were loaded into cattle cars that were filled shoulder-to-shoulder with people also making the four-day trip. The dehydration on that trip would leave Gilbert’s aunt dead. Her death would be the first of many deaths Gilbert’s family would experience at the hands of the Nazis.

When they arrived at Auschwitz, the men were separated from the women and children. Lying to the Nazis, Gilbert told them he was 16 instead of 14 so he could stay with his father. It’s a move he believes saved his life. His mother and ten-year-old sister were killed in the gas chamber that same night.

Gilbert would spend the next two years in Auschwitz, where he saw unspeakable horrors.

In an interview before he died, he recalled that difficult time:

“One memory that still haunts me is having to drag people to ditches, douse them with gasoline and set them afire. Some were still alive. There were children, babies … I still hear their screams. Even after I was married, I would wake up screaming in the middle of the night because I could still see the faces. The death of my father is also an experience that haunts me.”

Toward the end of January 1945, when the Russian Army was getting closer to Auschwitz, the whole camp of 50,000 prisoners were marched for seven days in the snow and cold without coats or warm clothing and shoes.

“The rail lines were being bombed, there was heavy watching of the rail lines and so they moved them to the forest,” said Joseph. “If you walked to fast, if you walked too slow, or just if they wanted too, they would shoot you.”

Gilbert father was among the thousands killed in the last mass selection in the days leading up to the march. An additional 40,000 Jews would die on the march to Gross-Rosen.

When asked what motivated Gilbert to fight for his life, Joseph said: “In December, before his father was to be gassed, Gilbert saw his father one last time. His father told him, ‘You are going to live. You have to live to tell the world what they have done to us.’”

And that’s exactly what Gilbert did.

When the fighting again came close to the camp, the prisoners were transported to Dachau, where they were liberated by American soldiers on April 29, 1945.

Gilbert moved to the States to live with his aunt in Natchez, where he would finish high school. After attending Tulane University in New Orleans for two years, Gilbert was drafted in the Army. He fought in the Korean War before making his way back to the Magnolia State to start a family and a business.

Gilbert and his wife Louise began Metz Industries in 1978, which would grow to include sales reps in Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Alaska. They settled in the Jackson area and had three children.

Now, his grandson Joseph is on the Coast teaching history and sharing his family’s amazing legacy.

It’s something his grandfather also did.

In 1998, Gilbert would share his story with the world thanks to an online portal created by director Steven Spielberg. The Shoah Foundation is a collection consisting of over 55,000 audiovisual testimonies of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides.

“Instead of asking, ‘Why me, why us?’, my grandfather didn’t necessarily accept it but he embraced it,” said Joseph.

Joseph says he’s thankful and proud of not only his family’s resilience during such a dark time in history, but also the strength shown by everyone who survived the horrors of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Most Holocaust survivors that you see could have turned their back on the world and so many of them have not. They continue to try to be ambassadors for good.”

Now, it’s his turn to educate others and pass the story on.

“Everyday that we’re breathing, his story and our family’s story continues.”

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