Liberation stirs memories that resonate today


Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief

For students of history, January 27 was a particularly solemn occasion, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland where more than a million men, women, and children perished during World War II.

The anniversary evoked memories of my first visit to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills several years ago, a tour organized by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman and then U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade. Scores of federal personnel were on hand for the visit to a place that documents the “unprecedented horrific crime” perpetrated by the German war machine.

McQuade, who spent 2010-17 as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, was among those who were particularly moved by the experience that day.

“I was talking with someone on the way in today and she said that the tour will ‘wreck your day,’” McQuade said that June 2016 morning. “Indeed it can, but while it is an incredibly sad experience, it also can be equally inspiring to learn about those who survived the Holocaust and the vital roles many played in changing the course of history.”

Her remarks were echoed by Friedman, a federal judge in Detroit since 1988 who is a frequent visitor to Israel on missions demonstrating his support for the Jewish homeland.

“The Holocaust Center moves me each time I enter its doors,” said Friedman at the time. “It traces the path of evil leading up to and during World War II, and yet it is full of stories of courage and heroism that need to be recognized fully in the years to come.”

In those “years to come,” we have seen a barrage of anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S. and across Europe, including several mass shootings in synagogues that claimed a dozen lives. The killings leave us to wonder if we have learned from the tragedy of the Holocaust and gauge our willingness to speak up against injustice in hopes of preventing further genocide.

Such thoughts have a deeper meaning for Jack Gun, a Holocaust survivor who told visitors part of his life story following that museum tour several years ago.

Gun, then in his early 80s, was 5 years old when the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II.

He was a native of Rozhishche, Poland, part of a Jewish family. His father helped run a fabric store and a wholesale tobacco business, and gave a “part of their home over to a Hebrew school for underprivileged children.” He was a “kind and generous man,” said Gun, who counted a Czech farmer, a Christian named “Mr. Yarushka” among special friends.

In 1941, Gun and his family were herded by the Nazis into the city’s “ghetto,” where food and water were scarce, and danger ever-present.

A year later, the ghetto would be “liquidated” by the Nazis, who marched some 4,500 Jews to their death in front of firing squads.

Among those killed were Gun’s parents and sister, while he and his brother escaped by hiding in a farm hayloft.

Over the course of the next two years, Gun and his brother would rely on the courage of Mr. Yarushka and a worker of his, who provided food and clothing to the boys while they were hiding in fields and forests.

After close calls, the brothers came out of hiding when the Russians liberated parts of Poland in 1944. A four-year odyssey took them to Russia, Austria, Germany, and the United States, where they bounced around from New York, to Pennsylvania, to Detroit, where, Gun would become proficient in English, graduating with academic honors from Detroit Central High.

As a teen, he was the subject of a local newspaper article, “He’s a Mere 15 But Has Lived 1,000 Years.”


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