Ivor was just 12 years old when he was taken to Auschwitz and survived with the help of his older brother and several strokes of fortune.
Our Memory Makers project paired Holocaust and genocide survivors with nine British artists, who responded to their stories with works of art for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015. Filmmaker and animator Gemma Green-Hope met Holocaust survivor Ivor Perl at his family home. Gemma and Ivor discussed family, memory and hope – and how the lessons of the past can shape our future.
Gemma created this animated response to Ivor’s story.
Ivor Perl was born in a town called Mako in the south of Hungary on 4 February 1932. He grew up in a family of 11, including his mother, father, four brothers and four sisters. Only Ivor and his eldest brother Alec would survive the Holocaust.
Ivor’s childhood was riddled with instances of antisemitism and if he could go through a day without having stones thrown at him, abuse shouted or his hat knocked off his head, it was a small victory.
Yet for most of the war he and his family were relatively safe from the clutches of the Nazis. Although Hungary was allied to Germany, and its population was very antisemitic, the Hungarians were not prepared to bow to the Nazi pressure and go as far as systematically murder them.
This changed in March 1944. Hungary was making secret peace negotiations with the Allies in the face of a Soviet invasion and Hitler found out, sparking a Nazi occupation. The first of 147 trains deporting Jews to Auschwitz began soon after. Nine out of 10 were murdered upon arrival.
Ivor was 12 years old when he was squeezed into a cattle truck with 75 other people. After days of cramped suffering and people dying around them, he arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau and joined Dr Josef Mengele’s selection line with his older brothers, a decision that saved his life. Had he followed his mother, sisters and younger brother he would have faced certain death. Upon reaching the front of the line, his fate rested in the white-gloved hands of Mengele. The 12-year-old Ivor recalled what prisoners had shouted at the cattle trucks as the train rolled in to Auschwitz-Birkenau about telling the guards they are 16 years old. He lied and Mengele’s finger pointed him away from the gas chambers. It was another decision that saved his life.
Ivor was put into a barrack in Auschwitz I, which at this point served as a holding camp for prisoners awaiting orders to begin forced labour. His days consisted of wandering around the camp between roll calls and the meagre meals. With the Russians descending upon Auschwitz from the east, the Nazis aimed to liquidate the camps to cover their tracks and head west before their arrival. Ivor was put on a train destined for the Allach concentration camp in the Bavarian region of Germany.
The conditions in this smaller camp were somehow worse, with endless wheelbarrows to carry around the dead and dying. Ivor was soon confined to the sick block with a bout of typhus. No one stayed in the sick block long before the German doctor on hand would condemn those too ill to death. His brother Alec knew this, deciding to save his life by dragging him out under the pretence of taking him to the toilet. Ivor recovered away from the rest of the ill prisoners. It was one of a number of times when Alec saved his life.
After a few months at Allach the Nazis moved the prisoners on again, marching them for seven days to Dachau in the spring of 1945. Ivor and his brother Alec would only spend two nights here before being liberated by the Allies in May.
With only each other left from their family, they remained at Dachau for months as it became a displaced persons camp before emigrating together to England in November 1945.
Ivor moved around a lot before settling in London where he found himself in the clothing trade in which he went on to run a number of businesses. He soon met his wife-to-be Rhoda and married her in 1953, going on to have four children.
Gemma Green-Hope is an animator and illustrator based in Wales. Narrative, nature and memory are all themes that appear in her work, which combines stop-motion with elements of drawn animation, film and photography. Her recent short film ‘Gan-Gan’used her grandmother’s old possessions, diaries and letters to create an animated tribute to her – which aimed to capture a part of her unique spirit and share it with the world.
She feels a personal connection to the project as her stepfather’s grandmother was killed in Auschwitz. Gemma wants to help ensure that survivors’ memories and experiences are not lost to history.