Posted by: mollyrossiter | February 15, 2009

Happy birthday, Fred

Fred Gilbert turned 90 on Sunday.

An Alzheimer’s patient at the Mercy Hallmar Center in Cedar Rapids, Fred didn’t know who we were when photographer Cliffe Jette and I stopped in to see him Wednesday morning, but he was glad for the company.

His daughter, Lena Gilbert, of Springville, invited us to come and talk to Fred about his past — one that he can’t remember but for bits and pieces of small recognition.

He remembers the camps. He can sometimes recall how old he was when he was captured, or when he escaped before being recaptured.

Lena remembers the stories from her childhood and fills in the blanks.

Fred Gilbert is a Holocaust survivor, a past that Lena says makes his 90th birthday even more remarkable. His story was in Saturday’s Gazette.

“When you think about all he’s been through and he’s still here to celebrate his 90th birthday, that’s really something,” she said.

Fred spent more than five years in 19 different camps, escaping once for a few months bef0re being recaptured — a feat that should have gotten him killed, but miraculously he was allowed to survive.

He’s seen the torture and felt the horror — he stayed alive at one camp by serving as barber for the officers; a toe was cut off at another camp when, weighing less than 100 pounds and weak from hunger, he was a few seconds late for role call.

He was at the camp in Dachau, Germany, when Allies liberated it on April 29, 1945. That was where he met his wife, Ann, another survivor. She passed away in December.

Fred’s stories and those of the thousands of Holocaust survivors are dwindling as survivors age. The youngest survivors — those born in camps within the final months — are in their mid-60s. Those like Fred, who were in their mid-20s when the camps were liberated, are nearing or passing the 90 mark.

If you get a chance to stop and hear a survivor speak, take the time to listen.

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