By Laura Shaposhnikova
“If good doesn’t speak, evil will flourish,” said Rubin Sztajer, a Holocaust survivor.
Sztajer lived through a period of the worst, most evil crimes against humanity in recent history. He is a man who stands by his words. For years, he has given speeches to people who request to hear his story. He has vowed to be a voice for all who were murdered.
Despite his accented English, Sztajer clearly described the horrors of the tortured stages of his childhood. On April 7, students and family gathered in the Stamp Student Union’s Colony Ballroom for a Yom HaShoah Holocaust vigil.
Horror after horror, Sztajer tried to tell the audience all he could of the twisted time, although he preemptively explained there are some things he doesn’t talk about because they are too hard or too graphic for anyone to ever relive. The audience heard the stories starting from a cramped, unhygienic, and desperate ghetto apartment Sztajer lived in with his family of eight to the hell he experienced in the concentration camps.
He stayed even-toned and composed throughout nearly all of his horrific account, but when he came to his last moments with his mother, Sztajer’s words caught in his throat. Nearly 75 years ago, German soldiers tore him from his mother’s arms. They kicked him aside and stopped him from saying goodbye to her or his three younger siblings. All were destined to die. His last memory? Their tortured faces as he, a young emaciated boy, was dragged to unknown terrors.
Even decades later, the pain has not receded. Even after years of retelling, the separation still stings this survivor’s heart.
“I am most appreciative of Mr. Sztajer’s willingness to share his incredibly horrific journey with the crowd,” said freshman Amanda Schwartz, a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. “While I only know a small part of my family’s struggles, I know how difficult it can be to speak about the painful experiences to close family, let alone a crowd of people.”
Like Sztajer, each generation needs to repeat the questions— what could they have accomplished? What could they have achieved? Each survivor tells the story of all who were murdered and all the potential that was lost.
The event wrapped up after a presentation by the Jewish Social Service Agency, an organization that helps local Holocaust survivors living below the poverty line.
Sophomore Akiva Lichtenberg, chair of the education committee for Kedma, the Orthodox student group on campus, recited a memorial prayer and the mourner’s Kaddish. Lichtenberg is the grandson of four survivors, all originally from Eastern Europe.
“Their families, and really all of Eastern European Jewry, were mostly destroyed by the Holocaust,” he said.
The Jewish Student Union and Kedma co-sponsored the event.