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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nazi Camp Survivor Seeks Reunion

The first Russian that Aaron Zusman saw when the Pechora concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army was a young, short soldier. Zusman will never forget him.


"He was very thin, and he gave me a piece of stale bread," Zusman recalls. "Also he had a dog, a shepherd. The dog licked me. It was the first dog I had met that did not attack me."


That happened 50 years ago and Zusman, now 57, plans to commemorate the anniversary from March 16-19 by having a conference in Moscow and taking a trip with about 100 people to Pechora, in southern Ukraine.


Zusman, a neurologist, is expecting camp survivors from all over the former Soviet Union and the world to come for the five-day event -- if it takes place. Lack of money has kept Zusman from finding a meeting hall here, or even buses to take the visitors on the 20-hour trip to the camp.


Pechora was operated by the Nazis from 1941 to 1944, and the survival rate of prisoners was not high. Of the nearly 50,000 people who were held there at one point or another, only about 500 survived until March 1944. The camp was one of several dozen set up by the Germans after conquering Ukraine, where the extermination of Jews was just as vicious as in Poland and Germany.


In addition to his post at the Moscow Neurological Pathology Hospital, Zusman serves as president of the Interregional Jewish Organization of Prisoners of Fascist Concentration Camps and Ghettos, or ROOF.


ROOF provides camp survivors in Russia and the former Soviet republics with limited financial support, and Zusman often uses his contacts as a doctor to get them proper medical care.


As time goes by, fewer of the survivors are alive, and many have left for the West. Zusman is currently trying to compile a list of everyone who was in the Pechora camp -- "re-registering it," he says -- which the Nazis nicknamed the Death Noose.


Zusman was 4 when he entered the camp and 7 when the Red Army liberated it, but he remembers the time clearly.


"Every moment could have ended in death," he says. "No one knows the criteria for survival. Being smart or rich did not matter. I tried to be discreet. I never complained. If I ever found food, even a rotten potato peel, I would share it with my mother."


He tells about the dirt and disease and the lack of water. The only source of water was the river, and German soldiers used to hide along the path to the bank and use prisoners for target practice.


Zusman's father, who had been a haberdasher, died in 1943, but his mother survived the war and inspired him to start the support group, which he did 10 years ago.


Zusman estimated that it would take about $35,000 to finance the 50th anniversary activities. The group does not have close to that much money. Letters to mayor Yury Luzhkov of Moscow and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin have gone unanswered. Foreign Jewish groups have not pitched in at all. In fact, Zusman said that the only significant donation so far has come from Nikolai Alvazyan, an Armenian businessman who is not Jewish.


In addition to former prisoners, Zusman is hoping to attract Russian artists, musicians and young people to the festivities and the trip. Red Army soldiers who took part in the liberation of the camps are welcome, and Zusman would like to meet one man in particular.


"I would love to see that first Russian who gave me the bread again," Zusman says. "But I know that will probably never happen."