By Eliza Macdonald
The Holocaust was the culmination of great bigotry but, as one Holocaust survivor argues, the endings of World War II and the Holocaust did not eliminate it. It is alive and well all over the world, said the survivor who spoke as part of the University’s observance of Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Day sponsored by Campus Jewish Life and Bucknell Hillel.
On April 21 in Bucknell Hall, quiet settled over the crowd as people intently listened to Alex Rosner speak about his childhood and how he and his family survived the 10 long years of the Holocaust. His final words to the audience at Bucknell Hall were that ignorance caused the Holocaust, and that people can’t explain or justify ignorance, only fight it.
“The problem with speaking about the past and remembering the events is that the forces which were present then are brought into the present and while it may be interesting and it may have benefits, there’s nothing like confronting a real life witness; you dig in the ashes, the Devil comes and grabs you by the throat,” Rosner said after minutes of silence.
Once in America, Rosner learned English quickly and pushed the Holocaust and his childhood out of his mind. He didn’t talk about the events of those years for 40 years of his life until finally a rabbi asked him to speak to a group of people in Kansas. That is where his life as a speaker began.
Rosner, who was born in 1935 in Warsaw, Poland, was the only child to a shopkeeper’s daughter and a violinist. While he grew up in Kraków, Poland, Rosner says he has no real memories before the start of the war.
“[This story is important because] the Holocaust isn’t such a distant, far-away thing, and this man is a survivor living among us and these people have their stories to tell, and they live among us,” Hannah Kotler ’13 said.
In 1940 Rosner and his family were taken in a truck into the woods where Nazi soldiers had been given orders to shoot all the people who arrived. Fortunately for the Rosner family, the soldiers refused and the people were left in the woods to find their way back to Kraków.
Rosner commented on his good timing in another example where he happened to go for a walk one day out of the ghetto he and his family were living in when he was about six or seven years old and got lost for hours. In those hours, all of the other children in the ghetto were taken away to a concentration camp.
“Where did the knowledge come from for me to take that walk?” Rosner said. Remembering the events proved difficult for the speaker, as many times he had to pause and regain his composure.
The movie “Schindler’s List” did a decent job depicting the actual events, Rosner said. His own family was saved by Oskar Schindler. Although every event in the movie really happened, Rosner said the violence was toned down, a comment that was greeted by gasps and murmurs among the crowd.
After being freed from Auschwitz concentration camp by American troops, Rosner and his family moved to New York City in 1946. Rosner remembers that his understanding of human nature had been completely disrupted by the Holocaust.
“I asked my father to get me a riding crop, like the Nazis had had, to beat women with. I thought that’s what it meant to be a man. Until I met the American soldiers, who played baseball, laughed and played music. When I heard that music, I thought I was in heaven,” Rosner said.
Rosner also argued that the Germans were not uniquely qualified to start the Holocaust, that they weren’t born with any special talent to be cruel. He emphasized that young people today need to take away from the Holocaust that when you see bigotry in your face, you have to challenge and stop it. Although it may take some sacrifice, sitting quietly makes you complicit which, in his eyes, is worse.