To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Holocaust survivor visits Brandeis for International Holocaust Remembrance Day

408. 6 million. A simple letter ‘J’ on an ID card. Those who attended Ms. Inge Auebacher’s visit to Brandeis this week may have noticed how the events that she recounted were simultaneously so personal and impersonal. On the one hand, Ms. Auebacher had her life defined by numbers and generic markers, such as the three-digit number used to identify her during her time in a concentration camp. On the other, here was a woman who saw it all, and lived to tell the tale. 

This week the Shapiro Campus Center Theater found itself full of students, faculty and friends of the community to hear the story of Ms. Auebacher, a child survivor of the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what was then Czechoslovakia, to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and remember the 6 million Jewish people who lost their lives. 

Much of the event was a retelling of a childhood marked by pain. Auebacher was born in Kippenheim, Germany, in 1935, three years before the Night of the Long Knives, the night that she recounted the Nazis coming to fill the local synagogue in her town with pig food and then destroy it. Her family never wanted to leave Germany, but the moment to do so came when her father was denied the chance to join the Army because of his faith. Auebacher’s family was uprooted and moved to a village 1,000 miles away to live with her grandparents. 

Now a citizen of the United States, and someone who has chosen not to claim German citizenship, the first time that Ms. Auebacher ever went to school was when she was 15, in Brooklyn, after moving to the U.S. Only one Jewish school was maintained by the state in her hometown, since segregation was mandated at the state level, and her identity was constantly denoted in a public fashion—notably by the Star of David that she was forced to wear and by the ‘J’ printed on the front of her travel documents, both of which she owns to this day. 

Auebacher has, on several occasions, returned to Europe and visited the sites where such events took place. Speaking to The Hoot after the event at Brandeis, Auebacher described what that experience is like. “In 1966 I went back for the first time. It was a dreary day and I went by myself. It just seemed like the children running around there were like ghosts.”

Even today, she continues to routinely travel to tell her story to all. When asked why telling her story was so important today, she said, “We’re getting older and already you have people who say it never happened. Even now it’s more important than anything, now you have this hatred returning, we need to wake up the world. They’re already twisting the stories… Education is the thing that people must have. Learn about each other. [The Holocaust] was perpetrated by people who were educated, and that made it so much different.”  

Even with her illustrious career as a chemist in the U.S., Auebacher noted that she has but two heroes. The first, a little girl who one day approached her on her train journey to school and silently gave her lunch. The second was her grandmother’s maid, Theresa, who was responsible for saving two photo albums. It is those photo albums, Auebacher explained at the event, that makes it possible for her to show us what life was like at talks like this, and to continue sharing her story with the world to remind us: never again. 

Brandeis’ Center for German and European Studies (CGES) was involved in the organizing of this event. The director of the Center, Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL/ENVS/WGS), told The Hoot, “I was so happy to see so many students at the event. It’s so important that we keep talking about the Holocaust. Yours is the last generation that has the fortune to hear from survivors like Inge Auerbacher directly. I hope that having met her, and heard her tell her story will be an important memory for all who attended. It certainly is for me.”

Moving into the future, Ms. Auerbacher was clear about what she wants this generation to do. “I want people not to hate each other, to get to know each other, like they do in my neighbourhood. Love is more important than hate.”

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