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Earlier this year Poland adopted a law that makes it a crime to blame that nation for atrocities, including the Holocaust, carried out by Nazis during their occupation of Poland in World War II.

The law addressed use of the term "Polish death camps," which could be misconstrued as meaning facilities that were operated by or belonging to Poland during the war. 

Leon Shear, 91, of Beachwood, agrees with the law.

He should know. Shear survived three years in Nazi concentration camps, including the infamous Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

He argues that concentration camps may have been located in Poland, but they were created and operated by Nazis.

"Auschwitz is the ground of Poland," he said. "Poland was invaded by Germany."

Shear will be returning to Auschwitz for the fourth and possibly final time on April 10 with more than 150 Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) supporters from across the United States, other Holocaust survivors and Israeli military representatives.

The trip to Poland and Israel celebrates Israel's 70th anniversary (April 19), and according to Lane Schlessel, executive director of the Ohio FIDF chapter, is intended to "send a clear message, that we'll never forget."

Shear, who will be joined on the trip by his son and grandson, can't forget.

But his return trips to an old place of horror have gotten a bit easier since the first re-visit in 1997.

He remembered that during that initial visit, "I was extremely scared. When you were so young, being there and punished so severely, it was not easy for me the first time."

On return trips he was able to deal with the ghosts of the past; lighting a candle of remembrance at one particular gas chamber in Auschwitz where he knew his mother and sister had died. He knew, because he had to helplessly watch them go there.

Shear had been forced to leave his Jewish family in Bedzin, Poland, and work at a police station - cleaning, shining shoes and other menial tasks - before being shipped to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz consisted of three complexes near the Polish city of Oswiecim, where an estimated 1.1 million people were murdered.

Shear was kept alive as a camp worker. "Life was horrible because I wasn't used to this kind of treatment. I was 14 years old," he said.

At one point he was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he and other prisoners dug up potatoes. He noticed that Russian prisoners of war, also working the fields, were chewing something, and asked one what he was eating.

The man dug into the ground, pulled out a thick worm, popped it into his mouth, chewed and swallowed, then invited Shear to do the same.

"I put it in my mouth. I thought I was dying, but maybe not," he recalled. "I drank the juice, but I couldn't swallow the skin. The skin was tough. And I'd seen him eating it, no problem, so I start grinding it. He says, 'Eat!' So finally ground it down and swallowed."

He also swallowed his misgivings, and ate more. "I lived on it," he said. "It fills you. It does not make you sick. It's food."

One day he fell asleep at the fields and missed the return trip to the barracks. When he made it back, he was assigned to a block where prisoners were punished.

Shear's punishment was being hung by his hands until he passed out.

His next job was the best in the camp. "They called us millionaires," Shear said. "Why did they call us millionaires? When the transports [carrying people to Auschwitz] are not there, we had to open the packages, what they brought with them.

"They brought with them like they're going on a picnic," he added. "Salamis, chicken, cookies, chocolate, candy. All the goodies. So we did not eat worms. We ate good food. "

However one day, while helping unload the transports of new arrivals, he spotted his mother and sister in the line of people being herded toward the gas chamber. A friend forced Shear to stay away.

"He grabbed my hand and he says, 'Stay put. If you walk over there, you go to the chimney [crematorium] within 20 minutes.'"

Shear said he lost that friend during the regular selection of workers, deemed too sickly or weak, to be "liquidated" the next morning. The friend saw that his father had been selected, and opted to join him.

In a voice thick with emotion, Shear recalled, "That night I says, 'Look, you go to the chimney tomorrow, I go to the next day. We're not here to live. Remember what you told me about my mother and sister.'

"He says, 'I know. I want to go together.'"

Shear said he responded, "'No! One of us has to stay and try to survive another day, another hour.'

"I says, 'I have no illusion that I am going to be saved.'"

But in the end, "I lost my best friend," he said. "The only friend I had."

Shear said he never wanted to see the results of the gas chamber, but one day his work took him to that place of horror.

He remembered, "They was done gassing. They was pulling the bodies out . . . with a belt, like a loop, and two prisoners pulled them out. They were not done with that. There was men going in there with pliers, pulling out the gold teeth. The dead bodies were eyes open, glazed, the mouths open."

When asked what kept him going through the unending parade of atrocity at Auschwitz, Shear simply replied, "I want to live."

Shear said he was subsequently moved with other prisoners to labor camps in Germany until the day came - "May 3 1945. Four tanks, green, white stars in front where the cannon is. The hatches open up, black soldiers open up the hatch. I have never seen a black person.

"We talked among ourselves. 'It's a trick. Somebody is going to kill us.' But they said, 'America! America!'"

The GIs may have been part of the 761st Tank Battalion, nicknamed the Black Panthers.

The war, and Shear's ordeal, had ended.

"When the war was over, I was totally numb," he recalled. "I can't say I was happy. I had mixed emotion. What I saw always comes back. My mother and sister. The dead people being pulled out from the gas chamber. One time to see it is enough. Thousands and thousands of Jews died there.

"What did the Jew do to deserve that?" he added. "NOTHING!"

And yet he holds no hate from the past. "I don't come with hate. I left it where I came from," he said. "DON'T HATE. HATE KILLS. "

After the war, Shear emigrated to Northeast Ohio, got married to his wife of 68 years, Helen, and helped her raise a family that now includes four children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He worked as a service repairman for washers and driers, and has been in business with his son, Howard, for the past 25 years for a firm that installs card-operated laundry machines in housing units and universities.

On one of his return trips to Auschwitz, Shear found himself acting as an impromptu guide for a group of visiting youths, and he left them with a message that he still delivers in talks to young people.

"Well, what I want them to know is that evil things could happen," he said. "Innocence could be destroyed."