In 1939, the Nazis took over a 15-square mile area in southwestern Poland for the purpose of building the infamous prison camp Auschwitz. Fast forward nearly 75 years, and Angelenos gathered Friday to mark an area of the same size around Los Angeles with a flash mob.
From 12 p.m. to 12:10 p.m. on Friday, participants stood and held up signs to represent groups the Nazis persecuted — including Jews, homosexuals and political prisoners. Cars honked and passersby stopped to stare.
The remembrance, sponsored by the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, was a part of International Holocaust Remembrance Day — and the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
At least 30 people showed at the corner of Pico and Robertson, including a Holocaust studies class from Bishop Conaty-Loretto High School. Mark Rothman, the event's organizer, said he predicted hundreds showed at the other boundary checkpoints.
At least two Holocaust survivors were present to speak to participants, including Elisabeth Mann, who was sent to Auschwitz when she was 18 and lost her whole family there.
Mann described one of her last days in Auschwitz, when the S.S. took she and other prisoners outside to begin hustling them out of the camp in the wake of approaching American troops.
"We were lined up and the machine gun was behind our backs, ready to shoot us," said Mann. "But I was so overwhelmed by the spring day — the sky was blue and the grass green. I was so happy that my girlfriend who was standing next to me and many others told me, 'No — they'll really kill us.' I didn't believe it."
Sure enough, Mann said that several months later she and others were escorted out of cattle cars in Sweden.
"They didn't want to shoot us," she explained, "because the Americans were coming. And the sound of the gunshots would have brought them straight to us."
"We're doing this to give people an understanding of the commitment the Nazis made to evil," organizer Rothman explained. "We know what we can do with a space of this size if we're not careful. What can we do with a space of this size and bigger to make sure we have a 21st century that's better than the 20th?"
Rothman wanted something that would "include as many different neighborhoods as possible." And the signs, emblazoned with labels like "JEW" and "HOMOSEXUAL," were regularly held by those who didn't claim that identity.
"Catholic girls held up the sign for Jews, for example," explained Rothman. "The bottom line being that when one group is persecuted, fundamentally, we are all persecuted."
(Audio of Holocaust survivor Elisabeth Mann telling her story is above.)