Today, people around the world are honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Among them is a South Florida man, who is about to turn 100 years old. As the Nightteam’s Karen Hensel shows us in her special assignment report, his life and service during World War II makes him part of “living history.”
Paul Weitzenkorn is the kind of man who still tips his hat when a woman walks in the room.
Paul Weitzenkorn, escaped Nazi Germany: “Well, that’s just the manners, my parents.”
But what few see behind the hat, the kind eyes and his soft voice is a man who has lived history.
Karen Hensel: “You helped catch Nazi spies?”
Paul Weitzenkorn: “Yes.”
Karen Hensel: “Tell me about catching Nazi spies and what that meant.”
Paul Weitzenkorn: “It felt very good.”
Paul was just 16 years old when Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass,” shattered Jewish lives across Germany. His family owned this department store, and that night, the Nazis threw Paul’s father into the Dachau concentration camp. Paul remembers the days that followed.
Paul Weitzenkorn: “We didn’t look out the windows.”
Karen Hensel: “Why not?”
Paul Weitzenkorn: “Afraid.”
Instead of Nazis, Paul now battles dementia. The memories are not always clear, and sometimes he admittedly does not want to remember.
Karen Hensel: “What do you think that we need to know and remember about the Nazis?”
Paul Weitzenkorn: “Actually, I don’t want to remember.”
Within months of Kristallnacht, Paul’s father was released from Dachau and his family fled to America. Paul joined the U.S. Army as an interpreter for military intelligence officers.
Paul Weitzenkorn: “Interrogating the prisoners in drawing the truth out of them. It was quite satisfying, personally.”
It was a job that would eventually send him back to his hometown of Mayen, Germany, and to this building where people he once knew were being held as Nazi prisoners. As he walked through the basement…
Paul Weitzenkorn: “It was a whisper through the ranks of prisoners whispering my name, Paul Weitzenkorn. I remember some German prisoner asking me, ‘What are they going to do with us?'”
Karen Hensel: “What did you say?”
Paul Weitzenkorn: “Same thing you did with us, but I paused a little bit and said, ‘but we are not that cruel.'”
A cruelty documented in Paul’s family photo album, which includes a handwritten section of “Children Who Did Not Survive the Holocaust.” Among them are these faces of an entire family gone. Paul’s aunt, uncle and their children, his young cousins, all sent to their deaths in the gas chamber.
Paul Weitzenkorn: “I will say this. Without this country, America, I wouldn’t have made it this far.”
Karen Hensel: “Why is that?”
Paul Weitzenkorn: “Because we were able to come to America and save our lives.”
A man who, after nearly a century, is grateful for his family and this country, all part of his own living history.
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