Survivors share stories, history of Holocaust

Trinity CommunicationsMarch 03, 2017

Around 80 Trinity students (both undergraduate and graduate), faculty and staff members came to Melton Hall on Monday, February 27 to commemorate two Holocaust survivors, Agnes Schwartz and Frank Stern, during Shalom Student Fellowship’s Honoring Holocaust Survivors event.

During the hour and a half session, Schwartz (from Hungary) and Stern (from Germany) shared their experiences as Jews before, during and after the genocide. They recalled childhood memories of bombings, parents and neighbors being taken away to concentration camps and the tragic circumstances they faced as they were displaced from their homes and families.

Stern, who spoke first, explained the circumstances that led up to the Holocaust, detailing Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the growing animosity toward the Jewish people in the events that followed World War I. He emphasized the stories of Max Warburg, who had been forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles as representative of Germany and whose actions first initiated the thought of Jews selling out Germany, and Herschel Grynszpan, who assassinated Nazi German diplomat Ernst vom Rath with the intention of avenging persecuted Jews.

“A Jew had shot a German, so all Jews were responsible,” Stern said.

By the time that Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, antisemitism already permeated the German culture. As a German Jew, Stern experienced this sentiment first-hand, being called a “dirty Jew” among other more descriptive titles. He recalled having a female teacher for the first time in his Jewish school because all the male teachers had been arrested by German authorities.

Schwartz focused more on her personal experiences during the Holocaust. Her family became involved when she, her parents and her grandparents were unable to emigrate out of Hungary in 1942. The Germans refused them visas because of their Jewish status. Two years later, Hungary was invaded by Hitler’s forces and Schwartz’s family was pulled apart by illness and members being sent off to concentration camps.

Julia, the Schwartz family’s nanny, came to the “yellow star” (a Jewish designated building) where her family was staying and took Schwartz away so that she could be safe. Passing off as Julia’s niece, Schwartz lived with her until the war was over. While with her nanny, Schwartz still faced the continual danger of bombings from the Allied Forces.

“The question became, ‘what would kill us first—the bombs or the Nazis?'” Schwartz said.

Schwartz survived the bombings, living for three months underneath the apartment building she, Julia and the other residents called home. She reunited with her father soon after and traveled with him to the United States. However, even after the war, Schwartz still struggled with the childhood trauma and effects of the Holocaust.

The survivors’ stories were followed by a question and answer period, where those present were able to interact directly with the survivors. Some participants shared their personal testimonies regarding the Holocaust events, and others asked questions developed during the session.

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