By Laina Miller
Minnie Osher, a Holocaust survivor and determined optimist, spoke to over 200 students, parents and relatives at this university on Friday about her life before, during and after the Holocaust. The event was hosted by Maryland Hillel as part of its Family Weekend programming.
Introduced briefly by her granddaughter, Jessica Silverman, and her great-granddaughter and student, Lexi Silverman, Osher told her stories with often vivid details and a sharp sense of humor.
When she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen by the British, Osher said, her cousin Luba was inside the camp barracks, and she was very sick. Osher came to her and told her that they had been liberated.
“Minia,” Luba responded, “you don’t see I’m dying?”
“Yes,” Osher retorted, “come now, die later.”
This dry wit permeated every story that Osher recounted. When describing how a soldier smashed a rifle across her face for attempting to get a bit of food, she made light of her teeth getting smashed, saying, “Nothing happened, I’m still alive.”
For all of her good humor, Osher’s story was still a dark one. She was one of six children, with an enormous extended family, and only 13 years old when the war broke out. She was forced from a happy life of school, ice skating and familial joy into a dark world wherein her entire immediate family died.
Osher suffered the terrible horrors perpetrated by the Nazis all over Nazi-occupied territory: the Lodz ghetto, Bergen-Belsen Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
Osher also related a stark reminder of the impact that these horrors had on her life after liberation until this day: sometimes, she might see a boy playing on the street, and what she sees in her mind’s eye is her brother, dead in the Lodz ghetto.
But Osher’s story is ultimately a story of victory, from her perspective.
“I beat Hitler,” she joked, referencing the beautiful family that she built after the war.
And one could easily see that she did. Osher married shortly after liberation, had children, moved to America and worked with her husband to build a life of her own. Four generations of Osher’s family stood before the crowd at the Hillel event.
That image, the four generations as a strike back against those that tried to kill her, was an image that stuck with several students in the audience as incredibly impactful.
“That was really amazing to see,” Mia, a public policy major, said. “In a sense, we won, by seeing that.”
Hannah, a psychology major, agreed. “Just seeing, like, the four generations of her family up there, was really beautiful,” she said.
Speeches from Holocaust survivors like Osher are incredibly important, especially as their generation ages and passes away. Osher, who is a spry 93-year-old hard at work in business with her daughter, Pauline, brings a particular power to the event.
As Ari Israel, the executive director of Maryland Hillel, pointed out, Osher never had the opportunity to go to college the way that students at this university do. The Nazis took over Lodz when she was 13, and the camps were liberated six years later. Despite Osher’s deprivation of educational opportunities, she built a life for herself as part of the American dream.
To thank her for her speech, Israel presented Osher with a Maryland Hillel Certificate of Education, which she accepted with surprise and grace.