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"To meet someone like that was a pivotal part of the trip because so much had happened to her," said Stephanie, the host of 24/604, a new lifestyle show airing on Shaw TV. "She was one of those skinny people in concentration camp pictures that had actually survived."
It also helped Stephanie, a mother of two, understand the protective shell that some of her relatives had built around their emotions for years.
"They have such dark history," she said. "We have no concept of what they've been through."
Stephanie's husband, Rod McInnes, said the family got a chance to ask Herta questions.
"Some of the stories were unreal," said McInnes, a manager in the Vancouver video game industry. "She was 19 and her brother Harry was 15 when they got to Auschwitz. She remembers arriving. They'd get off the trains and they'd make the women go on one side and the men on the other side."
Herta told them about the day she arrived at Auschwitz, and saw Dr. Josef Mengele, nicknamed "the Angel of Death" for his brutal experiments, sorting out the prisoners.
"She remembers she was in the line and Dr. Mengele was there, and he would point. If he pointed to the right you were off to the gas chamber and if he pointed left you went to the working side of the camp," added McInnes. "Her brother was pointed to the right. She remembers that at all four camps she always got pointed to the left, which ended up being the safe side."
As the war ground to an end in 1945, Herta went on the forced march out of the concentration camps, when many of the prisoners died.
"It was three days of marching with no food, in winter conditions," added McInnes.
"She said the Canadians had found her. A soldier had picked her up and she weighed 74 pounds and he actually thought she was dead and went to throw her in with the bodies. She said she tried to say, 'Help,' but she couldn't even speak, so she groaned and he realized she was alive."
The Florians went to Auschwitz on a dark, grey day at the end of August .
It was the most emotional part of the trip, said Stephanie.
"My great-grandfather died in Block 11," she said. "We still don't really know what happened. You just want to know. If only those walls could talk."
Block 11 was the "prison within a prison" where prisoners were tortured and experimented on.
"For men, there was a 'standing cell,' 90-centimetres by 90 centimetres. They put four men in there and there's only enough air for one man," said Nick Florian. "Or they experimented on how much gas you needed to gas one person, so they could figure out how much they needed for the gas chambers. That's where my grandfather died. He went in there on Dec. 14, 1941 and died on Feb 18, 1942."
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