For Johnny Jablon, making the trip to Poland for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is part of his revenge against his Nazi tormentors.
The 94 year old who now lives in Montreal arrived in the concentration camp alone as a 17-year-old boy. Upon arrival, he was stripped of his identity and forced to survive in block 19 of the facility as inmate 174131.
“We came on the tracks,” he told CTV News. “We were beaten and dogs were after us.”
“We had to strip completely -- only shoes -- and stay maybe two (or) three hours and they had speeches: ‘You dirty Jew’ (and) ‘You have to be clean to come to the camp.’”
Jablon said 39 members of his immediate and extended family died in the Holocaust.
Nazi German forces killed roughly 1.1 million people at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during the Second World War, mostly Jews, but also Poles, Russians and Roma people.
Monday marked 75 years since the camp was liberated by the Soviet army.
Jablon is one of about 200 camp survivors, including 13 Canadians, to make the trip to Poland as part of Monday’s commemoration of the liberation.
During the commemoration, guests marched through the now-infamous gate to the facility and placed candles at a memorial to the victims that sits amid the remains of the gas chambers.
Marian Turski, a 93-year-old Polish Jewish survivor, said the destruction of the Jews began with small incidents that were tolerated and escalated from there.
Jablon saw this first-hand as a young school boy in Krakow, Poland, the last place he would call home before he and others were forced into a ghetto.
“They called me the dirty Jew,” he said. “I was sitting in the back alone, because nobody wanted to sit with (the) Jew.”
While Jablon has been back to the camp several times since he left, this is the first time he’s brought along his 23-year-old grandson Daniel.
“Now I have the memories and the stories and I can pass that on to my children, because they won't have that first-hand knowledge that I got from my grandfather,” Daniel said.
Despite his age, Jablon isn’t done returning to the camp. He is planning another trip to Auschwitz in April.
With files from The Associated Press