Hillel commemorates Yom HaShoah with week of events
Before World War II broke out on Sept. 1, 1939, Theresa Nayman was like any other Jewish teenager living in Poland. More than 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland before the start of World War II. Some families lived there for several centuries, but none of them could predict just how dark their lives were about to get.
After most of her family was killed, Nayman was forced into the Lodz Ghetto, where work was hard to find and food was scarce. She survived alone, only to be thrown into Auschwitz in 1944 when the Nazis cleared out the Polish ghettos. In Auschwitz, known to the Poles as “Oswiecim,” she managed to make it onto a list of 200 workers assigned to work in an ammunition factory. She managed to live until the camp was liberated in May 1945.
In memory of close to six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust—as well as its survivors—Baruch College’s Hillel hosted several events to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance week. One of these events included Nayman giving a talk to Baruch students. That was on Thursday, May 5.
On Monday, May 2, the Holocaust Remembrance Week kicked off with a 20-minute ceremony and video commemorating the Holocaust.
On Tuesday, journalism professor Eugene Marlow shared his reflections on the Kristallnacht.
On the night of Nov. 9, 1938, Nazis set synagogues on fire and destroyed Jewish businesses, homes and schools. The shattered glass that sprinkled the streets gave this night the name of Kristallnacht, which translates into “night of broken glass.”
Wednesday’s Stories of the Holocaust was co-sponsored by G.L.A.S.S. and The David Project, with several members of Hillel and G.L.A.S.S. in attendance.
Unlike the previous two events, the collaboration highlighted different groups affected by the Holocaust, particularly homosexuals, Jews and Roma, also known as Gypsies.
The Nazis would force them to wear badges, such as a pink rectangle, brown triangle and a yellow six-pointed star, representing homosexuals, Roma males and Jews, respectively.
“I think it was well-received,” Yakov Weingarten, who organized the event, said. “I think a lot of people got something out of it and felt like they were involved in a Holocaust memorial.”
Members of Hillel lit a candle for those who perished in concentration camps. A member of Hillel also recited the kaddish, a Jewish prayer to God often said to commemorate the dead.
“Living in this country you learn about the Holocaust in high school, you learn about it as you get older, but we do grow a little de-sensitized to exactly what happened,” said Naimul Khan, president of G.L.A.S.S. “When you can hear the perspectives of someone that has been through it through their writing or someone who has a close relative that has been through it you kind of understand how massive that atrocity was, and you understand the impact a little better.”
Despite being 91 years old, Nayman seemed energetic when she and her caretaker spoke at the event that took place on Thursday during club hours. Though the conversation was open to the public, the audience was largely comprised of members of Hillel.
Despite all of the atrocities committed to her and her family, Nayman does not grieve the years that she lost.
Before the war she had a family, but,by the time she went to the Lodz Ghetto, her immediate family was dead—save for an older brother who immigrated to Palestine before World War II. Nayman later said that she never heard from her older brother after the war.
“I had a good life. A hard life, but a very good life,” she said.
Though Nayman managed to survive Auschwitz, it is clear that her time was not easy. Prisoners lived on two slices of bread and a bowl of soup a day. When she bathed, she was only able to use cold water. Because Nazi soldiers always patrolled the barracks where prisoners lived, she did not talk to anyone during her year there.
Things got particularly difficult in 1945, when the Nazis would take the prisoners out on death marches in an attempt to escape the approaching Allies.
Nayman was liberated from Auschwitz in May 1945. Although she witnessed the Nazi atrocities first hand, she claims that she never lost her faith.
In 1948, she, along with other displaced Jews, were given the opportunity to move to Israel or the United States. Though she was happy that Israel was created, Nayman, along with her husband and child, went to live in the United States in 1949. As the speaker recalled, the family entered the country on a Friday. By Monday both she and her husband were already working. Three weeks later she was able to communicate with her new friends in English.
“Don’t let anybody put you anywhere,” Nayman said at the conclusion of the event. “You have to fight for anything you want in your life.