Despite the rain, dozens gathered at Buttonwood Park's Holocaust Memorial and many more filled the main sanctuary of Tifereth Israel Congregation for New Bedford's 35th annual Holocaust Memorial Observance Sunday evening.

During his remarks in front of the monument, Mayor Jon Mitchell reiterated the importance of learning from our past.

"We have to think about the present, and in the present there are instances in which we have to question whether folks have gotten the lessons of history," Mitchell said. "In other words, we wonder whether the demand, the admonition of 'never again' is being heeded."

After the brief ceremony, 11 candles were lit in remembrance of victims and carried to Tifereth Israel Congregation.

For the second half of the program, Holocaust survivor Dr. John Saunders spoke about his experiences in the concentration camps and life after liberation.

Saunders, born Ignacy Silberherz in Poland in 1925, described his life as a series of "miracles." These included surviving an escape from Auschwitz, subsequent recapture, and a face-to-face encounter with Auschwitz's "Angel of Death," Dr. Joseph Mengele. Saunders was mistakenly identified as a Polish Catholic and managed to avoid persecution for his Jewish faith.

After Saunders was liberated from Mauthausen-Gusen by the 11th Armored Division of the U.S. Third Army, he attempted to make his way back to his home in Poland. He was stopped by a man who remembered Saunders boarding a train in the Warsaw Ghetto that told him there was nothing for him to do but keep moving forward and never look back.

"He told me 'There's nothing there for you, you must go forwards,'" Saunders said. "I ran away shortly and I never saw him again. He was an angel coming to tell me 'Go on with your life, there's nothing in the back.'"

In 1950 Saunders arrived in America where he attended Tufts School of Dental Medicine, served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War, and ran a successful private prosthodontics practice in Boston for 35 years.

Greg Desrosiers/TSM
Greg Desrosiers/TSM

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