Story of Holocaust survivor, retired UC professor parallels story of Anne Frank

'My mother and I survived by a miracle'
Posted at 10:01 PM, Feb 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-27 07:52:21-05

CINCINNATI -- Dr. Henry Fenichel remembers the day he was led into Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Though he was just four years old, he remembers riding in a cattle car to the camp. He remembers walking down a narrow path surrounded by tall trees and Nazi soldiers who seemed even taller.

“My mother and I survived by a miracle,” he said.

Fenichel, a retired physics professor at the University of Cincinnati, shared his story of survival in front of over 100 people Sunday afternoon as the Center of Holocaust and Humanity Education unveiled its latest exhibit, “Anne Frank: A History for Today.”

Sarah Weiss, executive director of the Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, said the exhibit uses the story of the young, Jewish girl because she helped humanize the atrocities of the Holocaust through “The Diary of a Young Girl.”

“One of the most poignant entries for me in Anne’s diary is a statement that she says, ‘We can’t do anything to undo the past, but we can do something about preventing such things in the future.’ Each of us have the obligation to speak up against hate, against injustice and against intolerance,” Weiss said. 

Fenichel’s story is hauntingly similar to Frank’s; He and his mother went into hiding in the Netherlands in 1942, the same year the Frank family lived behind a bookshelf in Amsterdam.

Fenichel’s father was transported to Auschwitz, and he and his mother were eventually captured and transported to a concentration camp.

He’s not sure if he would have survived without his mother.

“In the camps we were together, and that’s what I think made it easier for me, that I had a loving mother,” Fenichel said. “God knows what she had to go through in order to make me feel like it’s part of ‘normal life.’”

All Fenichel has left of his father is a small, yellowed card.

“I have a card for my father -- the day he arrived at Auschwitz and the day they killed him,” Fenichel said.

Fenichel and his mother were liberated from Bergen-Belsen in the summer of 1944 when he was 6 years old. Anne Frank and her sister, Margot, died at that very camp one year later.

He lived in Palestine for a few years before boarding a ship for America.

The ship pulled into the New York harbor in January 1953, but Fenichel can still see the outstretched arm of the Statue of Liberty, beckoning him against a backdrop of skyscrapers.

“That was my wonderful welcome to this country,” Fenichel said.

Fenichel came to Cincinnati in 1965 where he raised his two daughters and taught physics at the University of Cincinnati.

Now, he shares his story, he says, partly “because it needs to be told,” but also so people can think critically about the dangers of stereotyping others. 

“You need to have someone to blame … and that’s frightening for someone like myself … and that distracts from the real problem.

"What is it about us as human beings that we do this to each other,” Fenichel said.

Fenichel has been back to the place where he was held prisoner.

A museum sits where the concentration camp once stood, but that narrow path he walked over 70 years ago still stretches through the forest.