ONE might expect those working in a museum about the Holocaust to be sorrowful, or at least somber.
So it was rather surprising, during a visit to the Sydney Jewish Museum, to have a smiling, serene-looking man with a Dutch accent come up and introduce himself as a survivor. ``My name is Harry Fransman,'' he said, and proceed to tell an amazing tale of starvation, cruelty, bitter cold, and his eventual escape.
``I was 19 when the Germans invaded Holland on May 10, 1940,'' Mr. Fransman says. ``I was sent to an Auschwitz work camp for three years. We did terrible, heavy labor; labor that could be done by someone who had good food. But we were starving. We talked about food, our families, and hoping that we would be free one day. I never gave up hope.
``In 1945 we knew the Russians were on the way, because we could hear cannons. They evacuated the camps and pushed us forward for 22 days. For all that time, we never had any food at all. People too weak were shot; there were thousands of bodies by the road. I remember an SS [Nazi police] man was going to shoot me. But somehow the gun didn't fire. So he hit me on the back with the butt of the gun. The gun broke. So he took out his Luger [pistol], and I started to run.'' He avoided that man, but was still in captivity.
Days later Mr. Fransman and two close friends were loaded on an open cattle car bound for Buchenwald. One died; the other, close to death, opted to stay as Fransman escaped when the lights went out in a station. Only an hour later, he met the Gestapo and told them he was fleeing the Russians and was given food. He encountered one kind person after another, managed to leave buildings right before they were bombed, and encountered ``many, many miracles. The things that have happened to me, you would think I was fibbing. It's hard to believe it was possible.''
Back in Holland, he found that only one sister in his family had survived. He emigrated to Australia. On board the ship, his tatooed number, 177147, was removed by the doctor. In its place, is a long scar with a hint of blue ink. Since his arrival in Australia, he has worked at a number of jobs. Now he volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a Roman Catholic charity, as well as at the museum. He's also a grandfather of 13. He says his memory of the early years is clearer now than it was 15 years ago, and he has nightmares every night about his ``three years in hell. But I have no malice or revenge anymore for the Germans. I always liked people,'' he says. ``When you see so much misery, you don't get hard, tough. I was always optimistic. I wanted to see my parents again. Unfortunately I couldn't. And I wanted to live and tell the world what happened.''