Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A return to Auschwitz: A return to hope

Serena Ganesan

Vladimir Munk was 95 years old when he made the journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau in January 2020 with Julie Canepa, Paul Frederick and Bruce Carlin.Canepa was playing music for the residents of the Lake Forest Senior Retirement community in Plattsburgh, NY when she met Munk. Munk never made it a point to tell people that he was a survivor of the Holocaust, but he did acknowledge it if it came up in conversation. His deep friendship with Canepa led to him sharing stories from his past and as she put it, “the writer in me was horrified and deeply moved.” With Munk’s consent, she wrote a seven-part series on The Sun Community News.

But the story did not end there. The NPO,  Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, reached out to survivors of Concentration Camps and invited them for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland on Jan 27, 2020.  Munk was allowed to bring one companion, and he chose Canepa.

She then had the idea to ask Paul Frederick and his friend, Bruce Carlin to accompany them and film the documentary. Frederick had already sat down with Munk and videotaped an interview at the insistence of Canepa. Knowing the potential of this trip, Canepa claimed Frederick to be a part, who then reached out to Carlin.

“You could feel the evil,” Carlin said, when asked about how he felt when he first walked into the camp. 

Canepa agreed with Munk’s statement of being in a cemetery, but to her, it was a silent journey back in time. She narrated how she met other survivors too; a lady who was a part of the twin experiments and lost her twin sister as well as the family of another survivor who backed out of the trip at the last moment. 

Frederick talked about his out-of-the-body experience: waiting at the back near the crematorium for 12 hours and removing the ashy mud from his boots back at the hotel, and then realizing that it is probably the ashes of the people. 

Vladimir Munk was 17 years old when he was deported to the prisoner camp in Terezin. He saw death, violence and hatred, but he also found love. He lost 37 relatives including his parents in the concentration camps. This man has been through hell and it was not that long ago.

“Why me, why not the other?” Munk said. “We should watch carefully what is happening around us. It can happen anytime, anywhere.” 

He pointed out that not only can being a victim of violence occurs anytime, but so can becoming an instigator of said violence. All people are capable of descending into a spiral of aggressive hatred because it is so easy to hate. Holocaust denialism is still rampant so is the denialism of other ethnic cleansings. 

“I hope so. But I don’t know,” Munk said, when asked about whether things can change. 

History repeats itself, but who are humans collectively as a race if not a hopeful one? So, it is highly important, now more than ever, that the stories like that of Vladimir Munk are amplified.

“Return to Auschwitz: The Survival of Vladimir Munk” premieres on Saturday, Sept 18 at 7 p.m. in the Strand Theatre, Plattsburgh, NY. There will be an additional screening Friday, September 24 at 7 p.m. After each screening, a Q&A with Vladimir Munk and the film’s producers, led by Emmy-nominated Mountain Lake PBS host Thom Hallock, will take place. Tickets for the documentary are available at or through the Strand box office. Admission is $20 per person for General Admission. The fee is $5 for students with ID or code SUNY-2021 if tickets are booked online.

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