Auschwitz survivor Elie Buzyn reflects on the marks of inhumanity that untold millions of people suffered from 70 years ago.
...a system to strip people of any identity, reducing them to a number...
He eventually settled in France when World War Two ended.
In 1959 he had his prisoner number tattoo surgically removed.
He said to us: “This tattoo was firstly part of a system to strip people of any identity, reducing them to a number. Secondly, the tattoo was a way to prevent escapes from some camps.
“To me, this number was my parents’ grave stone. You do not walk around with your grandparents’ or parents’ grave stone on your back to show ‘look, I had my father, my mother, they died here, here is the stone!’ For me, symbolically, that’s what it was.
“And so I decided to take it off, to take it off, but only if I could keep it.”
Buzyn kept the piece of his tattooed skin in his wallet for decades. Then one day it was stolen. He was devastated. He even thought about re-tattooing himself.
“I had it removed at first because I didn’t want it to be a part of me. I wanted to have it by my side. But many years later I realised that the number was a part of a memory that had great significance.”
He took on the role of witness as a duty, speaking in schools and accompanying groups to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Like other aging survivors (he is now 85), he increasingly entrusts others with the role.
He keeps a photo of his tattoo, along with handwritten words for the young.
“…[May they] pass on this memory to my grandchildren, wherever they may be, and perhaps also to later generations.”