Auschwitz survivor baffled by bottle message

A French Holocaust survivor whose name was found in a bottled message on the grounds of Auschwitz this week says the discovery is a "mystery" to him.

Museum officials said on Monday that workers demolishing a wall that was once part of the Nazi death camp in Poland had found a hand-written message apparently signed by seven prisoners, only two of whom survived.

"I am a little shaken up by this bottle business - it's a mystery," Albert Veissid, now a sprightly 84-year-old, said at his home in Allauch in south-eastern France.

"It's incredible. I remember everything from the camp, from A to Z. As I speak to you now, I can see the images before my eyes.

"But this bottle business is an enigma. The biggest surprise of my life," said the former fairground worker, who was arrested by collaborationist French authorities in 1943 and deported to Poland the following year.

Dated September 20, 1944, the message listed the names and camp ID numbers of seven Auschwitz prisoners aged 18 to 20, all Polish nationals except for Mr Veissid, who worked together on the construction of an air raid shelter.

Workers found it packed inside the mortar of a wall of a building in the southern Polish town of Oswiecim that served as a warehouse for the camp's Nazi guards during World War II, and is now part of a local high school.

Mr Veissid said he remembered meeting the six Poles in question while working as a builder at the camp.

"It's true I did them some favours. There was food supplied upstairs and they used to steal tubs of marmalade, which I would hide downstairs," he said.

"Maybe they wrote my name in the bottle as a way of thanking me."

Further details about the message are expected to be made public in the coming days, the Auschwitz museum said.

Mr Veissid said he had spoken little about his experiences at Auschwitz, declining to give speeches in schools on his time there.

"But since this story intrigues me, I decided to play the game for once. It's a revolution for me."

Born into a Jewish family in Istanbul - then known as Constantinople - in 1924, Mr Veissid arrived in the south-eastern French city of Lyon as a baby.

As a young man he worked as a musician and a sweet-store vendor, before being deported.

He survived until Auschwitz was evacuated in January 1945, when he walked across Germany to France, arriving in a state so emaciated that his family struggled to recognise him.

"I was a walking skeleton. One more week and I wouldn't have made it back," said Mr Veissid, who took up work as a musician then as a salesman after recovering his health.

More than 1 million people, most of them European Jews, were killed at the twin Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi camps during World War II. In total, 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Others who died at Auschwitz included tens of thousands of non-Jewish Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Romas (gypsies) and anti-Nazi resistance fighters from across Europe. (Source: AFP)

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