March 22, 2023
Nat Ross was forced to dig his own grave in Auschwitz. A Death March almost killed him. He just turned 101.
The very act that saved Nat Ross in Auschwitz also almost killed him.
Nat was tasked with building a sewer system in Auschwitz. When he found scraps of potatoes nearby while working, he immediately hid them in his pants. Every week, the Nazis forced the Jewish prisoners to take off their clothing and throw it into a big pot of boiling water for disinfection. Nat tied the potato scraps into his pant leg and boiled the potatoes along witevenh the clothing. These scraps sustained him.
Then the SS guards discovered his tactic.
They dragged him to the side and forced him to start digging his grave.
“With a gun to my head, I dug and dug. I knew it was my last moment of life. I didn’t know what was on the other side, so I started praying. I didn’t just pray for myself, I prayed for all the people in my life, including my Christian friends.”
The Nazi guard demanded that he lie next to the grave to see if he would fit. When they determined that it wasn’t long enough, he was commanded to get up and keep digging.
The very moment he got up, another prisoner collapsed.
The guard looked at Nat and said, “Well, isn’t today your lucky day?”
He moved the dead prisoner into the grave intended for Nat.
Nat felt tremendous gratitude, while experiencing survivors’ guilt at the same time. Death surrounded him daily. He frequently saw prisoners committing suicide by throwing their bodies against the electric gate.
Nat felt he had a mission to live so that he could one day retell his story.
After years of torture, his will to survive waned. Word was getting out that the war was over. The Nazis collected prisoners from each camp and forced them to march in the winter snow with no shoes. Anyone who collapsed was killed.
The guards did not want to waste a bullet; instead of shooting, they stabbed prisoners with the back of their bayonet. They would use bullets “wisely”, killing three prisoners standing in a row with one bullet.
At one point during the death march, the SS guards stopped by a farm for a small break. Nat saw some haystacks but knew that if he dared to lie down, he’d be killed. He didn’t care. If they are going to kill me, let them kill me here, and he fell asleep. He woke up 17 hours later and everyone was gone.
Two other prisoners were hiding nearby. A local farmer saw the three men and snitched. A German soldier found Nat and took out his gun to kill him.
Nat screamed out the Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael!
The German pulled the trigger, but the gun malfunctioned and Nat ran to safety.
Nat couldn’t find the emotional strength to share his story until later in life. Particularly difficult to recount is what happened to his mother.
When the train arrived to Auschwitz, his mother was taken from him. All he wanted to do was hold his mother and give her a kiss. Nat started crying as he recalled, “I can see her face in my mind. Right in front of me she was trying to grab me and I was as trying to grab her but I couldn’t reach.”
His mother and two sisters were killed immediately.
When he and his son, Jay, went back to Auschwitz, Jay wasn’t sure how his father would react.
“His mind became compartmentalized. He was emotionless but he knew exactly where his bunker was. He remembered every detail 70 years later.”
Nat was the only survivor on the tour and they treated him like a celebrity. He showed everyone the various sections of Auschwitz using his firsthand memories to guide the group.
He held it together at Auschwitz but later broke down by his grandfather’s grave when he was alone with his son.
The Nazis treated him like an animal, but Nat didn’t let others treatment determine his worth. He knew his worth came from God.
Nat still strongly believes in God. “I get up to pray every day. It gave me strength then and it gives me strength now.”
Despite his strong memories of Auschwitz and the nightmares he continues to have, he doesn’t hold hatred in his heart. Nat believes hatred comes from ignorance. “Schools aren’t teaching the Holocaust anymore! My beautiful granddaughter gave a speech to her class about the Holocaust and shared my story and not one person had heard of the Holocaust.”
Nat remembers and shares his story today so we won’t forget.
In honor of his 101 birthday, his whole family flew in to share this auspicious moment.
Strangers from around the globe sent cards and well wishes.
Mitch Edelstein, the executive director of the assisted living home where he lives said, “We had to close the phone lines for several hours because we were overwhelmed with the amount of people calling to wish him a happy birthday.”
“I felt so much love,” Nat said. “My heart was swelling and I was overwhelmed with joy.”
Wyoming News republished with permission from AISH.com