Mark's father was one of four brothers all born in Germany in the early 1900's. Each survived the Holocaust through very different means. Mark's uncle, Oskar, was on board the St. Louis and when the ship returned to Europe, he was luckily selected to go to England.
How did he come to be selected to go to England? Mark told me that at one point before Oskar traveled on the St. Louis, when the family was investigating ways to escape Nazi Germany, Oskar's mother had been writing to friends in England and trying to get admitted there.
When the JDC worked to determine which passengers aboard the St. Louis to send where, they came across files that noted that the Blechners had tried to gain entrance to England or knew people there and so they assigned Oskar to go to England. Talk about the hand of fate...
Mark's father was not so lucky. He spent the war in multiple concentration camps and somehow survived. Mark explained that his father never talked about his experiences until he was in his late 80's. At Passover every year, his father would cry when they got to the part in the seder about the mortar. Mark would ask him, "Why are you crying?" And his father would say, "I used to work with bricks, that's all. Now, leave me alone."
Then one time, Mark went to visit the National Holocaust Museum in D.C. and was looking at a giant photo-mural of prisoners laboring in a work-camp. There, he saw his father. He finally understood why his father cried during the seder--that, in fact, he had worked with bricks.
Mark's father began to open up about his experience and shared with Mark many of his traumatic memories. Mark also has an amazing collection of family artifacts that he shares with students during school visits, including a postcard his father sent while a prisoner at Auschwitz, and also the postcard he sent immediately after his liberation from Belsen.
To learn more about the Blechner Family, visit www.blechner.com.