• Holocaust survivor Paul Kraus (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Paul Kraus defines survival. Born into a Nazi forced-labour camp where death was frequent, he survived against the odds. Throughout his adult life he has battled cancer - and survived - time and time again.
By
Peter Theodosiou

14 Jun 2016 - 2:17 PM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2016 - 3:45 PM

When you meet Paul Kraus it's impossible to believe that he has undergone extensive life-saving brain surgery years earlier.

A meningioma tumour had wrapped itself around his brain and without going under the knife in 2013, he had no chance of surviving – but he persevered and remained sharp-minded and exuberant.

This latest battle with cancer was one of three that Mr Kraus has faced during his lifetime.

His eyes light up when he speaks about his wife Susan back home in northern NSW and his two sons who have followed career paths into medicine and aviation.

But, that gleam dims slightly when we touch on his horrific past.

Born on October 20, 1944, Mr Kraus spent the first six months of his life imprisoned within the Viehofen forced-labour camp in Austria during World War II.

A year earlier, German forces captured his mother Clara and brother Peter, and forced them into a Jewish ghetto in Yugoslavia, where malnutrition, disease and murder were frequent.

After a short time in the ghetto, Ms Kraus and her son were forced onto a cattle train bound for the infamous Auschwitz extermination camp, where up to this point, hundreds of thousands of Jews had been systematically executed.

Allied bombing had damaged train tracks leading to Auschwitz, which forced German-aligned Austrian authorities to divert their captives to Viehofen.

Mr Kraus doesn't remember much about his time in captivity, but recounted much of the story in 2012 when he began writing a book about his mother's life, 'Fear No Evil'.

"The Holocaust was a huge tragedy of world history," he tells SBS.

"He (Hitler) was a madman, far worse than Mussolini. He was just a racist man who decided to wipe out an entire people, that was it. I feel the anguish, just as the the Greeks did, just as the Italians did.

"I can honestly truly say, I hold no nastiness against them because these are different Germans these days, they aren't the same as they were 70 years ago."

With Germany on the back foot in April 1945, Ms Kraus escaped from the camp with her two sons and embarked on a cross-country trek to Budapest, where the family remained hidden until the war's end.

"My mother got one of the prisoners to cut a small hole through the fence and she escaped," Mr Kraus says.

"By April 1945, time was on her side. If the SS (German paramilitary organisation) caught her, my mother would have been shot instantly.

 

 

"They would have finished her off, like they did to many people during the last year of the war.

"My mother was a heroine, what she did was very unusual. She risked her life very severely to save herself and us."

Ms Kraus eventually reunited with her husband, Emery, who survived captivity at the Mauthausen concentration camp, where more than 150,000 Jews had been executed during the war.

Many family members were among the millions who perished in the Holocaust.

 

The family immigrated to Australia in 1948, settling in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood.

For Mr Kraus, settling in Australia as a European immigrant was tough during the first decade.

"It was a totally different era than it is today," he says.

"We were called 'refos' and Australia was a very intolerant country at the time. In those days after the Second World War, for the next 15 years that, if you were a European, you were not accepted."

The family was eventually recognised by the Australian government as permanent residents in November 1950.

Mr Kraus went on to receive his Bachelor's degree at Macquarie University and later achieved Masters degrees in arts and education at the University of Sydney.

He later worked as a modern history and English teacher.

 

 

Surviving cancer

Mr Kraus survived the Holocaust, but this was just the first in a series of near-death encounters he would be forced to endure. 

In 1997, aged 52, he was diagnosed with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

He got the disease decades earlier when he worked in his father's chemical factory in Lane Cove.

He recounted breathing-in asbestos dust during renovation works at the facility.

Given between six months and one year to live, Mr Kraus decided to visit the Gawler Cancer Foundation in Victoria, where he said he learnt to radically change his lifestyle.

He was cleared of the disease recently, something which he said "astonished" his doctors.

"Cancer is after all a lifestyle illness," he says

"I had huge vitamin C injections and a couple of other medicines. Medically, I was given up on.

"When I was diagnosed, I thought I wouldn't see my children grown up and get married. It's just truly a miracle that I have survived."

 

 

Mr Kraus was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2012 and he continues to receive treatment for this disease.

He has written several books about his experiences, including 'Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers: A Patient's Guide' and 'Faith, Hope, Love and Laughter – How They Heal'.

Mr Kraus admits to have lived a charmed life.

"I thank god for every day I've got, that's the important point," he says.

"I thank god every morning that I'm here. There have been a lot of situations where life could've gotten me, but I'm truly lucky I feel.

"Have I lived a charmed life? I say yes of course."

He's currently in the process of completing a book containing poems he had written about his life experiences.

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