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As America Remembers Holocaust Victims, Ventura County Man Tells Incredible Story Of Survival

Holocaust survivor Michael Mark of Thousand Oaks (right) lights candle at National Day of Remembrance ceremony at University Village, Thousand Oaks

May 5th was the National Day of Remembrance, a day where we commemorate the more than six million Jews, as well as the others systematically murdered by Nazi Germany during World War Two.

Hundreds of people were on hand for a ceremony at University Village in Thousand Oaks, during which six Holocaust survivors lit candles to commemorate the lives of those who died.  One of them was a Ventura County man who survived two concentration camps.

One of those people was Michael Mark, of Thousand Oaks.

Born and raised in Eastern Europe, virtually his entire immediate and extended family, dozens of people, were wiped out by Nazi Germany.

Mark was born, and raised in a small town in Czechoslovakia, near the Hungarian border. Germany took over his homeland without a shot being fired in 1938. After Hungary aligned itself with the Nazis, Hungarian troops took control of the region where he lived.

With Russian forces pushing German forces back in 1944, the Nazis took control of the area. Hungary’s 800,000 Jews were ordered to pack their bags.

The Jewish families in his town had all of their valuables taken by the Germans, and were forced to live in an open field for a month before they were marched to a train station, destination unknown.  As bad as the trip was, nothing prepared them for their arrival at the most infamous Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.  

Left versus right: a split second decision by a Nazi officer.

Left meant death, and right meant a chance to live, as a slave. 

Mark, his older brother, and father were steered to the right, where they had their heads shaved, their clothes replaced with prison rags, and they were assigned to an overcrowded, lice filled bunkhouse.

Mark, his brother and father worked 12 hours a day at a labor camp, trying to survive on a piece of stale bread, and two bowls of watered down broth a day. As American and Russian forces advanced, the three were moved from camp to camp back from the front lines, five in all.

Finally, in the spring of 1945, there was a forced march with no food, and freezing temperatures. His father died during the march. Days later, as the surviving prisoners from the march were locked into a barn to sleep, their German guards fled. Mark and his brother connected with American troops, who gave them food and got them first aid.

When they returned to their hometown, the news about their family was terrible, with no known survivors. Later they learned their mother survived the camps, but died after five months in a hospital in Switzerland. Mark and his brother emigrated to the U.S., and in a strange twist, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and was part of the occupation forces in Germany.

With new lives in America, Mark didn’t talk about the Holocaust for decades, but now, at 91, he feels it’s important to tell those stories to young people, so the Holocaust, and the mistakes which led to it won’t be forgotten.