ONE of Australia’s most compelling voices of Holocaust survival was stilled this week, with the death of Kitia Altman, at 95.
The diminutive Caulfield North resident wrote about her traumas and famously debated Holocaust denier David Irving.
Growing up in Bedzin, Poland, Altman was taken to Auschwitz in a cattle train on a long journey without food, water or toilets.
“When the train stopped, we heard the iron bars being lifted from the sliding doors and dropping fiercely. That is a sound I’ll never forget,” she once said.
In Auschwitz, her arm was tattooed, and a guard, pointing to the chimneys, told her that would be her exit.
However, in 1945, Altman was liberated. Her mother and brother survived but her father died in a forced march before the camp was freed.
In Auschwitz, she made army uniforms in a workshop run by Alfred Rossner, a German, for whom she later testified, leading to his recognition as Righteous Among the Nations.
Moving to Australia in 1947, Altman began volunteering for the Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) in Melbourne from its inception in 1984.
She wrote about her Shoah experiences in a memoir, Memories Of Ordinary People.
Recalling her 1990s TV debate with Irving on A Current Affair, Altman reflected: “I don’t think he expected someone to debate with him like I did. This was a very important moment in my life because the community at large congratulated me for standing up to a man who denied the existence of the Holocaust.”
The JHC stated: “We remember her as a deep thinker and a powerful speaker, whose words of wisdom, delivered with grace and elegance, touched thousands of visitors at the Centre and beyond.”
JHC co-president Pauline Rockman told The AJN the OAM recipient “became a source of inspiration … and most of all, a dear friend … She opened my eyes to Holocaust survivors who were not seeking revenge”.
Friend and colleague Mark Baker posted on Facebook he found Altman to be “one of the most humanistic, poetic, astute and compassionate survivors of Melbourne’s Holocaust community. She spoke countless times to my university students. We were always mesmerised by they way she conveyed her traumatic account of Auschwitz in a deeply authentic, literary and layered way”.