Next time I will be in Eretz Israel we will not be able to meet at your table in the Mikado shopping mall north of Tel Aviv as we usually did over the last years. Noah can’t come anymore. I met him last time in June and I had the chance to see him even twice because normally he was always so busy planning meetings, lectures, trips abroad or writing articles. Only once in the past 8 years he had to cancel because of a flu.
It was in summer 2010 when a delegation of journalists and historians was invited by the German State Department to see what Germany was doing to keep memory alive. The following story Noah constantly told as introduction to everyone who did not know me: I was sent to pick him up at the airport because I speak Hebrew and the organizers thought it would be great to welcome him by someone speaking Hebrew. To be honest I didn’t really know what to say apart from how his flight was and where the hotel was. At the reception I translated German – English – Hebrew like a machine until Noah said: I understand every single world the receptionist says because I speak all three languages. From then on we spoke German only if others joined us and did not speak German. Working as a guide for many years I have met guests that did not speak the language of the perpetrators. Noah told his story in every language – he was fluent in French as his native tongue, Hebrew, German, English, Spanish, Jiddish and Dutch and he wanted to tell everyone what had happened. So did he with us and we heard his reports from Auschwitz, Dora – Mittelbau and Ravensbrück. I will never ever forget this first time although I heard these reports many times later again when Noah spoke to another audience I was part of.
When he was about to leave for the airport we agreed that we would meet again most probably in Israel because I had made plans to go to Tel Aviv only a few weeks later. So this was the beginning of a friendship which lasted only eight years but eight years of a wonderful and intensive friendship. When we said goodbye Noah said to me in German: wir können uns auch dutzen – so we skipped Sir or Mister just called us Noah and Olaf.
I don’t want to summarize his life here because many facts are already known and told again in most of all articles published in the Israeli and even German press after he died. What is of special importance to me from all I learnt from Noah? Here are the answers:
There were only wonders that helped him survive Auschwitz and the other camps. He met Mengele in person and was the only one who dared to talk to him which helped him save his life.
I could not keep my tears away when I heard the story of the man who asked all in the cattle car to stand up to say kaddish for his father when they were evacuated to Germany. One of the corps they were sitting on was this man’s father. I heard this report several times later on. I never noticed an emotional outburst when Noah spoke.
Here are another sentences that Noah taught me: “We cannot explain the Holocaust, we can only describe it or Auschwitz was not liberated but evacuated.” Noah always spoke of the Germans never about the Nazis, so do I now.
In December 2010 Noah returned to Berlin to present his book “12 rolls for breakfast – reports from Auschwitz”. Unfortunately the little but important book was never reprinted for money reasons – This book should be used in teaching history at school but Noah told me several times that there was no money for a second edition. NO money in Germany? It is the same with the maintenance of the memorial sites of the former German extermination camps Bełżec, Sobibór , Chełmno and Treblinka. Poland is taking care of it.
In my copy of the book Noah wrote: “To Olaf. A friend. A real one (and also a linguistic genius)”. I know that there have been a lot of reports from the concentration camps and extermination camps but it is Noah’s clear descriptive way of writing short reports that make them so unique leaving a deep impression on you. “Miklos could not understand it” is one of the chapters in the book that really shocked me. A Hungarian university teacher even wanted to keep kosher while facing death in Auschwitz. Noah aged 18 “adopted” a man who was three times his age and helped him stay alive a little longer.
Over the years of our friendship Noah took me to very interesting meetings in Israel he was invited to. Once he discussed the question whether the next generation and the one after the next one will still remember the Holocaust as we do today or in other words are we paying less and less importance to what happened then? Another time we travelled to the Golan Heights to visit a school where Noah reported about his life. I don’t have to mention that it is not easy to go to a school in Israel and see daily life there. For me it was a special life time experience and Noah also made me speak to the young kids about today’s Germany.
Apart from that I still remember our diners at “Benny the Fisherman” in the Tel Aviv Harbor. It was one of his famous restaurants whose owner he of course was a friend of. Here we got always served the same delicious food and a bottle of red wine. Noah loved to have a glass of Hermon red wine. We sat there talking and talking me asking questions over questions…..
Noah you were an extraordinary friend to me and I miss you so much.