A few years ago I was asked to speak publicly about the
Holocaust of which I am a survivor. Not having sufficient courage
at that time, I had to refuse. However things have changed in the
past year, chiefly because of Steven Spielberg's movie "Schindler's
List." The film brought the horror of the Holocaust to the
consciousness of the civilized world. I also realized that my
generation of victims and witnesses will soon be gone. When I was
asked again this spring if I would speak to schools under the
auspices of the St. Louis Holocaust Learning Center, I agreed.
My first assignment was to speak to the 8th graders of a parish
school in Ferguson. I did not know what to expect as I came to a
class of about 40 students plus some parents and faculty. As I
stepped to the lectern, I was shaking and my hands were trembling.
My voice, however, held out and was steady. It was very difficult
to describe that tragic period of my life.
I talked of my childhood, my loving parents and family. We
lived in the city of Lodz, Poland - an industrial city of about
750,000 population. Lodz was famous for its knitting mills
producing woolens, linens and silk. My parents and I lived in the
suburbs in a comfortable house with a garden. My father was a Latin
professor. I loved school, especially the history classes, foreign
languages and sports. I was planning to go to college after
graduating from high school, and my dream was to travel and write.
Our normal way of life was interrupted suddenly when the German
army invaded Poland Sept. 1, 1939. The Germans regarded themselves
as Aryans - a superior race. The Poles, who were Slavs, and
especially the Jews were regarded as inferior. Adolf Hitler, the
German Fuehrer, decreed that all the Jews were to be exterminated.
The Jews were imprisoned in the ghettos, sent to labor and
death camps, like Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka and many others,
where they were poisoned by lethal Zyklon gas and burned in
crematoria. Some starved to death behind the barbed wires of the
camps like Bergen-Belsen. This was all according to Hitler's plan:
the Final Solution.
Eleven million innocent men, women and children perished in the
Holocaust - 6 million of whom were Jews - during the German
occupation of Europe between 1939 and 1945, until some of us who
had survived were liberated by the Allied Forces. Genocide like
that should not be allowed to happen again. It is up to all decent
citizens in every nation to do everything possible to prevent a
horror like that from happening again.
As I was speaking and looking at the audience of girls and boys
and some adults I saw interest and compassion in their faces. I saw
tears in many eyes.
A question-and-answer segment followed; the questions were
intelligent and pertinent to the subject. …