Tenth Annual Holocaust Remembrance Day

Samantha Mathewson

On Tuesday, April 9, keynote speaker and Holocaust survivor Anita Schorr visited the University of New Haven to honor the tenth annual Remembrance Day.

“You must remember. But most important, you must act,” was Schorr’s message. The event was held in Dodds Theater at 3 p.m. and was free and open to the public. The date chosen coincides with the worldwide observance. The Remembrance Day was established because Jews wanted to memorialize those who suffered or perished, and it is held annually on the 271st day of the Jewish calendar year.

Mario Gaboury, associate dean and professor and interim provost, opened the event and welcomed the audience. “It is a very stirring ceremony,” said Dr. Ira Kleinfeld, the associate provost for graduate studies, who followed Gaboury with the ceremony’s introduction.

Schorr then joined students in a candle lighting to remember those who have fought through their struggles. This year, for the first time before Schorr gave her reflections, there was a dramatic reading performed by the UNH theater program of a famous Yiddish song, “Es Brent,” which is about a mob attack against Jews in Poland where no one acted to intervene. “Don’t just stand there, brothers, with folded hands,” the lyrics read. “Don’t stand there, put out the fire!” The song is a rallying cry to not stand by idly.

Schorr is one of the youngest Holocaust survivors. The lone survivor population is diminishing daily. Schorr was eight years old when Nazis invaded her hometown in Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1941. She was number 71,569, which is tattooed on her left forearm. She was first sent to a Terezin concentration camp then later to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland. She survived on her courage and digging trenches during WWII.

Schorr’s brother and mother were taken to the gas chamber and murdered in Auschwitz, and her father was shot and killed just two days before the war ended. Schorr survived Auschwitz because her mother pushed her into a line of women who were being sent to slave labor in Hamburg. She was nearly 15 when she was liberated in Bergen-Belsen. She never saw her family again.

“The punishment for everything in Auschwitz was being shot,” she said. She was imprisoned for four years. The hardships she faced began with suffocating cattle cars that delivered the family to their first camp, to starvation, daily humiliation, disease, gas chambers and crematoriums, forced labor and, finally, liberation from Auschwitz by British soldiers on April 15, 1945.

After liberation, Schorr lived in Prague, and a year later she joined Haganah, the Israeli underground. She then went to Israel to participate in the war for independence, living on a border kibbutz, a farming collective. “It was the most amazing thing. We would plant these seeds into the ground and they would grow into beautiful fruits and vegetables,” she said. “And at the same time, we were building a new country. This was the driving force that made me feel human again.”

Schorr, being the only member of her family to survive, tells her story to ensure that the nightmares of prejudice and violence she and her fellow Jews endured would not happen again.

When living in Israel after the war, Schorr got married and had a son. Schorr now resides in Westport, Conn., and after 30 years of silence, is an activist who encourages her audience to make sure that another Holocaust is not possible.

After visiting the Holocaust Museum, listening to recordings of the stories of survivors and watching the powerful reaction in the room, Schorr knew she had to share her story. “I found my voice,” she said. “Speaking about it is a way of honoring and immortalizing my family. And it keeps me strong.”

“Nobody stood up,” she added. “Nobody said ‘no.’” Schorr aims to “show you what happens when you don’t stand up to bullies. We have to be guards. Remembering is not enough.”

“If someone is being bullied or marginalized, she said, “Step in. Be a hero. Don’t stay silent. Speak out. This takes guts, but it is what we must do as people.”

After hearing her previous speeches, Kleinfeld said he felt compelled to ask Schorr to give the keynote address this year. When he asked her to tell her story to UNH, “She said, ‘I can tell you my story, but how will you be different from hearing this? What will you do?’”

Kleinfeld responded, “the remembrance event is meant to make an impression on our students. It is for all of us to reflect and ask, ‘Do I have the courage to act?’ We also pay tribute to the righteous, those who risked everything to step in to help.”

Following Schorr’s reflections, there was a tribute to honor Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish architect and diplomat, who is credited with saving the lives of 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary by issuing special passports and sheltering them in Budapest properties designated by Wallenberg as Swedish territory.

Over 80 victims’ names were read, followed by a moment of silence and private contemplation. The names that were read were family members of the UNH community. President Kaplan and members of the Holocaust Remembrance Day committee read the names.

There were concluding musical pieces and a memorial blessing. In addition, students in various clubs, USGA, the genocide class taught at UNH, and volunteers were among the many who participated in the event.