Nandor Markovic was lying in the gutter, awaiting death. He had already seen his best friend shot in the head, but Markovic could not take another step on the German-led march in 1945.
"I won't waste a bullet on you," a soldier said. "You're already dead."
He doesn't know how much time passed before he felt a shovel near his body, then looked up to see the face of an American soldier.
"Lt. Kirsch. He nursed me back to life," Markovic says, sitting one recent morning at a cafe on Beverly Boulevard. "That was the first time I had pancakes."
Markovic, today the owner of International Silks and Woolens, believes it is his mission to help young people understand the import of the Holocaust. It is why he attended the March of the Living, and why he independently sets up speaking engagements at local schools year-round to share his story.
Markovic -- known to everyone as Marko -- was oldest of six siblings in a Czech town of "200 tallesim" in the Carpathian Mountains. When his father was taken away in 1941, 15-year-old Marko helped run the shoe and clothing business until that too was taken away. In 1944 all the Jews in town were rounded up in the synagogue and shipped to Birkenau. There his mother, two sisters and a brother were immediately killed.
Marko survived through six concentration camps before he was liberated. He joined the Israeli underground in Europe, playing a role in adventures involving British diplomats he still cannot speak of with impunity today. He joined the Israeli army and fought in the War of Independence, and in 1949 came to Los Angeles.
Marko's ready smile and winning charm -- along with his bravery and generosity -- made him a star among last year's Los Angeles March of the Living delegation. He bought the girls flowers for Shabbat, and the teens still call and drop by the store to say hi.
Participant Miri Cypers remembers walking on the train tracks to Birkenau, when Marko asked them to sing with him "Ani Maamin," the anthem of the survivors that means "I believe."
"Marko told us that when he was in the camps and had seen what was going on, he had a hard time believing in God, and couldn't sing 'Ani Maamin,'" Cypers says. "But he said that after witnessing the vitality and the strength we had shown on the trip, he wanted to sing the song now with us. After seeing the vitality of the Jewish youth and the example we had shown, he could sing the song, 'I believe.' " -- JGF