More than 60 people filled Heyssell Hall at the Moniteau County Library on May 14 to hear an Auschwitz survivor tell his story.
As a Christian Catholic teen born in Poland, Gunther Skaletz entered Auschwitz for a hotel apprenticeship in 1943.
Not knowing the city was occupied by Hitler and Nazi soldiers, Skaletz was arrested and placed in a labor camp when the Gestapo raided the hotel.
“It was not just the Jews who were punished,” Skaletz said. “If you were a doctor, a teacher, or journalist, or lawyer, or businessman and did not display a pin that you belonged to the Nazi party, you too vanished.”
At age 15, he witnessed many deaths from dehydration and hard labor.
The words his stepmother said to him often became a mantra for his life.
“‘My son,’ she told me,” Skaletz said, “‘never forget to pray, keep your faith, your hope, your courage … and never give up.”’
After six months, he was freed because the hotel and casino owner negotiated with the Gestapo to release the 24 employees.
As the crowd listened, Bettina Skaletz-Whitman, Skaletz’s daughter, cried silently.
His story included two bombings in Berlin, homelessness, becoming a soldier for the German army and a 24-day walk across Poland. He arrived in the U.S. and was able to accomplish his dreams.
“After eight long years of hunger, despair, abuse, loneliness and trauma,” Skaletz said, “I used all my efforts nearly to survive from day to day.”
“I was now able to start planning my future. … Because of my Christian upbringing by my parents, Christ became a part of my daily life. My faith was the foundation of facing all of my past (and) present challenges because I believed that ‘nothing will be impossible with God,’ Luke 1:37.”
He completed high school and college. After which, he became a hotel businessman and later retired. At 91 years old, he shares his story with crowds. He serves as a sir with the Knights of Columbus, donates to the Red Cross and gives scholarships to high school seniors in memory of his wife.
Skaletz was the third speaker brought by the Friends of the Moniteau Library. Chairman Susan Borts said the board aims to promote the use of the library and its services.
In the audience, California High School sophomore Gwendolyn Yarnell said she came because history interests her. Afterward, she said she was glad she did.
“It was so powerful,” Yarnell said. “I felt like it was really important especially for kids my age.”
From her front-row seat, she said it changed how she perceived history.
Dolores Burger said she thought it was a wonderful account. “The truth should be told about the things that happened in the camps in Germany,” Burger said. “We shouldn’t forget.”
In closing, Skaletz had the crowd repeat a poem from a German philosopher written in 1812.
“Nothing should be more highly priced than the value of each day.”