100-year-old Holocaust survivor to share story in Poway on anniversary of Chabad shooting

Joseph Alexander shows the identification tattoo he received at Auschwitz.
Joseph Alexander shows the identification tattoo he received at Auschwitz during a talk at the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Holocaust survivor Joseph Alexander, who lived through 12 Nazi concentration camps during World War II, will share his story April 27

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A 100-year-old Holocaust survivor, who lived through 12 Nazi concentration camps during World War II, will share his story at the Chabad of Poway. The event, titled “Day to Remember — An evening with Joseph Alexander,” will be on April 27, four years to the day since the shooting at the Chabad.

Alexander wants to tell what he went through to honor those who were killed in the Holocaust — his mother, father and five brothers and sisters — and 6 million Jewish people.

“God has kept me here so I can tell people what happened,” Alexander said. He is the only member of his immediate family to live through the Holocaust.

Alexander, who has shared his story across the country and around the world, will recount his six years from 1939 to 1945 in a dozen Nazi concentration camps, including the death camps, Dachau and Auschwitz- Birkenau.

After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Alexander, then 16 years old, and his mother, father and five brothers and sisters were forced to go to the Warsaw Ghetto, where he saw people dying in the streets. Later he was forced to go to Auschwitz and other concentration camps where he barely escaped death and had to do hard labor with hardly any food.

In the freezing winters, there were only a few blankets, and Alexander saw fellow Jews share them as they helped each other get through the night.

“I never stopped believing in God — I never lost faith,” Alexander said.

Alexander recalled being forced with other Jewish residents into a cattle train with 40 to 50 people in each box car. “We were without food for three days. About 40 percent of the people were dead when we got to Auschwitz,” he said.

When Alexander was sick with typhus, he didn’t let anyone know. “I didn’t want to be sent to the hospital because people who were, never came back out.”

Alexander said the worst moment was when he encountered Josef Mengele, known for conducting inhumane, and often deadly, medical experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz.

One night, Alexander and others were selected by Megele to go in two lines. Alexander was forced to go in the left line with children and the weak and sick, who were going to be taken by truck to Auschwitz. He ran back to the other line, and walked to the camp.

“If I hadn’t run to the other line, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “The people in the other line went to the gas chamber.”

Near the end of World War II in 1945, Alexander was among thousands who were forced to march from the camp in Dachau to the German town of Tegernsee, where they were to be executed. But he was among those liberated by American and Allied troops in the midst of the death march.

Alexander said it was very hard to talk about what he and loved ones had gone through, but he started
sharing his story in the the late 1990s because he felt he owed it to his family to tell what happened.

Since then he has spoken globally at museums, high schools and community venues. He usually invites questions after the talk.

The event announcement calls Alexander’s visit “particularly meaningful since it marks four years since the tragic and anti-Semitic shooting at Chabad of Poway,” where one woman was killed and others were injured by a gunman.

The announcement describes Alexander’s presentation as aremarkable story of resilience, courage and hope. His message is one of triumph over adversity, and it will inspire all who hear it.”

Alexander has received thousands of letters from high school students with whom he shared his story. “They write that they will never forget what I told them,” Alexander said.

“I told them I never gave up,” Alexander said. He also tells them, “I never carry a grudge, it doesn’t help anything, it just makes you sick.”

The event at 7 p.m. is free. Reservations are required for security purposes at chabadpoway.com.

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