TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Human history is marked by cruelty so deep people may find it hard to believe it actually happened. But there are survivors to bear witness and urge us to learn from the horrors humans can inflict.
KGUN 9 On Your Side talked with a Tucsonan who survived Nazi death camps—and who feels he must tell his story now.
Bill Kugelman has lived almost 98 years. He feels future generations should learn the hard lessons that nearly killed him almost 80 years ago.
“To realize the capability of humanity to turn into the most vicious creatures on this earth. We have that built into us.”
He was a teenager, living in Poland when the Nazis sent him and his family to concentration camps. For him the first camp was Auschwitz, then a smaller camp called Kaufering. There was forced labor and not enough food to hold off the ache of starvation.
“As I walked in it to work, I used to bend down and pull broadleaf grass to chew on. And then you smoke dried, dried leaves. When you roll that up in a piece of paper, whenever you could find that and you pretend that was a cigarette and that killed some of that hunger.”
Kugelman says they grew numb as they lost hope they’d ever be free of the hunger, the beatings, the fear— or ever be free again..
“You just did not react to things anymore. It's just like you beat the dead horse. That was it. That's the way we reacted to the punishment of the guards.”
The Nazi guards ran off when American soldiers closed in on the camp. Kugelman says he and his fellow prisoners were so weak they could barely react to their rescue.
Kugelman and one brother who survived went to Sweden. His mother and sister made it there when a member of the Swedish Royal family convinced the Nazis to release groups of women. Kugelman’s father died before the war, one brother died in the camps.
After a few years in Sweden the family moved to New York. Kugelman started as a stock boy in a shoe store and was eventually able to open a shoe store.
Fire destroyed that store. Kugelman came to Tucson to visit an uncle. His wife loved our area and they built a new store and new life here.
He says even now, he can’t bring himself to give a full description of life—and death in the concentration camps. But he knows the sort of cruelty that built and powered the camps is with us today.
“That's why I feel that the story of the Holocaust should be kept to humanity's face as a mirror. They should be as a mirror of look at yourself, what you're capable of doing.”
Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 30 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered more than 40 Space Shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.