Community remembers Holocaust, hear stories of victims, survivors

Catherine Hyman, Managing Editor

The FMU Multicultural Advisory Board (MAB) hosted Dr. Lilly Stern Filler, daughter of Holocaust survivors, as the keynote speaker of its annual International Holocaust Remembrance program.

The event, held in Lowrimore Auditorium on Jan. 25, invited FMU students and faculty as well as Pee Dee area locals to attend. It began with a welcome address issued by MAB member Hannah Adams and an introduction of guest speaker Filler by MAB member Carly Hardin-McCoy.

Outside the auditorium, there was a wall of Holocaust photos designed to further portray the realities of the Holocaust and help students prepare themselves before attending the event.

After being introduced, Filler approached the stage to give a speech to audience members about her family’s personal experience with the Holocaust and the impact of the Holocaust as a whole on the people who faced it.

Filler told the audience that her parents, Jadzia and Ben Stern, were Jews born in Europe. During the Holocaust, each of her parents were forced into concentration camps, living with what Filler called unimaginable, horrific circumstances.

Filler said that the experiences her parents had with the Holocaust was so traumatic for them that they rarely spoke of it—it was far too painful. Filler learned a lot about their experiences after discovering her mother’s private writings.

Filler told the audience about her mother’s experience traveling to the concentration camps. Her mother was one in a crowd of people who were forced to stand for days on end in a moving vehicle, without food or even a place to use the restroom. For her mother, this was the epitome of inhumane treatment. The Jewish people were not only senselessly, systematically murdered, but first everything taken from them, she said.

The one thing Filler clearly remembers her father telling her about his experience was that he survived by “luck—pure luck.” He told Filler that as he approached Auschwitz, he became aware of a scary fact—that if they told him to go through the right entrance he would live, but if he went through the left entrance he would be going to his death. He told her he was directed to the right, and that was the only difference between life and death.

Mason Jones, senior English major, said that having someone with a personal connection to the Holocaust can be a good way to impart the reality of the event. “It helps make things much more real than an academic approach usually makes,” Jones said. “That said, the speaker only shared anecdotes from her own family’s experience, whereas in previous years the speaker shared much more detailed information regarding the atrocities committed by Fascist Germany.”

Filler said she grew up as an American citizen, but her parents’ experiences and the effect of the Holocaust made her childhood different from her peers. She remembers feeling different from others because she never had any extended family—no grandparents, no aunts and no cousins.

For Filler, the Holocaust was never a distant event that she could brush off and forget about—she was reminded of the effects of it in her parents silence. She talked about the numbers tattooed on their arms and in the times when they did tell her about it. Filler said it was personal for her.

Filler said she believes that it is important to never forget about the Holocaust because it’s when you forget about the horror of historical events that they repeat. She believes that listening to the stories of survivors makes us witnesses, and that being a witness brings the responsibility of taking action.

In quoting from her mother’s writings, Filler described her mother’s belief that the people in the towns near concentration camps had to know about what was happening.

“All you could smell was flesh, it burned your soul,” Filler read. “How could they not know?”

For Filler, spreading these stories is about preventing these horrors from happening again. She said that although there are safeguards today that should protect us from having another such event, she sees patterns that reflect the beginnings of the Holocaust.

“Holocaust is not a term for all the evils of the world—it is exclusive to this event,” Filler said. “We have to remember, though, that before the Holocaust, no country, with the exception of the Dominican Republic, stood up to open their borders to Jews. During the war, the U.S. wouldn’t let anyone with a relative in Axis territory into the country.”

Filler said that not only do we need to remember the Holocaust for the memory of the lives lost and the hurt that occurred, but to never allow this history to repeat.

“We must never forget— never again,” Filler said.

According to Filler, this is the reason her mother showed off her tattooed numbers rather than hiding from them and the reason Filler shares her family’s story: to forget means to let it happen again; to remember is power.

Jones said that he believes that we can use our knowledge of the Holocaust to prevent such things from reoccurring.

“We should stand against hate speech, racism, nationalism and violent ideologies as much as possible,” Jones said. “Everyone has the freedom of speech guaranteed them by the Constitution, but as a democracy, the people have a duty to silence genocidal and white supremacist rhetoric. These ideas are what led to the Holocaust, and they are becoming more common again less than a century after the Holocaust ended.”