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Belgian Holocaust survivor succumbs to coronavirus

Henri Kichka (1926-2020) wearing his Auschwitz cap at a memorial in 2014. © Belga

Henri Kichka, the only one of his Polish-Jewish family to survive the Holocaust, has died of Covid-19, his son announced. He was 94.

His father-to-be had escaped Poland in 1918, faced with the rise of anti-Semitism there. His mother followed in 1924, and he was born in Brussels in 1926.

In 1940, when he was 16, the Germans occupied Belgium. His father decided it would be safer to flee, and the family headed for the south of France. But they were soon arrested and returned to Belgium.

In 1942 he and his father were arrested by the Nazi occupier, and he spent the following years in camps including Buchenwald, Sakrau, Blechhammer and Gross-Rosen, before ending up in Auschwitz.

In January 1945 the Russian army was approaching, and the Nazis forced their prisoners to undertake what would become known as the March of Death. Out of 5,000 prisoners who started the march, only 500 survived, among them Henri and his father Josek.

Since the end of the war, he devoted himself to telling his story and that of millions of others, especially to young people, with the aim of making sure the story was kept alive even as those who had lived it died off.

On Saturday his son Michel, an author and cartoonist based in Israel, issued a statement:

“A small microscopic coronavirus has succeeded where the whole Nazi army had failed. My father had survived the Death March. But today ended his March of Life. He had just celebrated his 94th birthday, confined to L’Heureux Séjour de Bruxelles, a wonderful home where he was surrounded, cared for, appreciated and loved. I had the chance to speak to him one last time on the phone this morning. My sister Irene, who was by his side, told me that he was wearing the T-shirt I had designed for him for his 90th birthday: my father at the foot of the family tree of the Kichka family.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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