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Surviving the horror of Auschwitz

By CNN's Chris Burns

Koenig: "A lot of people committed suicide when they saw there is no hope."
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Sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, survivor Adam Koenig recalls the horror of Nazi concentration camps. CNN's Chris Burns reports.
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BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- Adam Koenig was one of eight siblings in a Jewish family.

A week after World War II began, at age 16, he was sent to a concentration camp. It was the beginning of nearly six years of horror.

"They take off our hair, haircut, the clothing away, had a shower, cold, and they hit us," Koenig remembers. "My first impression was, that's ... (what) hell would look like."

Koenig survived Sachsenhausen and other Nazi death camps as a manual laborer. In October 1942, he was transferred in a cattle car to Auschwitz.

''Who isn't able to work they sent to Birkenau, which meant to come to the killing factory. That we knew, we saw it, you could smell it. It smells like burnt meat. Sweet. A certain smell, it's hard to forget it.

"A lot of people committed suicide when they saw there is no hope."

With Soviet troops advancing on Auschwitz in January 1945, the Nazis moved tens of thousands of prisoners -- Koenig included -- to other death camps.

''Later in history they called it the death march. And it was like that. Those who couldn't continue, and fell, were too weak to continue to march, they were shot."

Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 60 years ago this week. Less than three months later, on April 15, British troops liberated Koenig at Bergen-Belsen.

But it wasn't a day of joy for him.

''Maybe I felt that the ...the damage must have been so much for the family that I couldn't expect any good things," he says, fighting back tears.

Indeed, Koenig would learn that four of his younger brothers and sisters died in the Holocaust as did his parents -- his father at Auschwitz.

''After 20 years I decided to talk about it. And if I didn't manage to keep my feelings in a certain way, I wouldn't do that. It would be too hard."

Koenig's wife, Maria, also was at Auschwitz. They met as they and other survivors searched for loved ones.

As retired teachers, they continue to lecture to keep the Holocaust memory alive. At age 82 and a great-grandfather, Koenig remains on a mission.

''People who have the experience, they have to do something. They have a certain responsibility that the things which happened shouldn't be for nothing."

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