This story was originally published in the Nov. 17 issue of Fourth Estate.
Connor Smith, Staff Writer
This generation of college students is the last cultural generation that will have the privilege and opportunity to speak to a holocaust survivor and to hear their story. The center for Jewish campus life at George Mason hosted a touching event in remembrance of the Holocaust.
Last week marked the 70th anniversary of the Nazi’s invasion of Hungary.
To commemorate this event, Mason’s Hillel hosted Expressions of the Holocaust: Storytellers in the JC Cinema.
It was an event involving members of the local community to remember the memory of those who died during the Holocaust.
“When Ross [Diamond] asked me to be a part of this I immediately said yes. What’s gone into this event is a lot of passion for educating people today on what happened, so we can honor them as they are entitled,” Event Coordinator Jordan Beauregard said.
It was more than a mere reception set up in the JC Bistro. Congressman Gerry Connolly was in attendance and acknowledged the survivors and their family members present.
The event also featured a one act play “Uniform” written by a Mason alumni, presentations from Rabbi Laszlo Berkowits and András Symonyi, former Hungarian Ambassador to the United States, a short film courtesy of the DKA film fraternity, and an exhibit on the Hungarian Holocaust entitled “Our Forgotten Neighbors.”
The exhibit told stories of the Jewish residents of Pápa, Hungary. The tale of how this exhibit made its way to the JC Cinema is a story in itself.
The exhibit was created by András Gyekiczki and originally displayed in an abandoned synagogue in Pápa. It stood as an educational tool for its residents and as a resource for those who had never met their parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents.
“It’s simply fascinating that so many people came tonight,” said Former Hungarian Ambassador András Symonyi said. “You can fill an auditorium with people who care about this, so many Jews but also non Jews who are interested in learning about this. People who only have only one generation removed or are actually survivors to be able to tell their story is very important. Hungary has still not done enough to admit, not the mistake but the terrible decision they made in 1944, that trauma is still in Hungarian society.”
It is very easy when writing a textbook that has to cover hundreds of years of history, not to focus on the lives of the people that lived through the holocaust, but to merely say what happened in a chapter or two. It is an entirely different thing to bear witness to the oral history of the people who lived it.
As the evenings presentations drew to a close a reception was held, and survivors were given the opportunity to speak candidly with students, family members and their fellow survivors.
Conversations flowed freely, students captivated by the wisdom and insight given with each new anecdote.
Anne Herrmann who grew up Nuremburg, the city that became famous for its post war tribunals, spoke not only of her time spend during the holocaust but fascinatingly what happened next. Anne escaped the horrors of the Nazi regime and sought to immigrate to America, unfortunately at the time America had strict quotas on the number of Germans allowed to immigrate until 1948.
“My number was high, so I had to spend the time in England, to spend two years, but I was lucky to get out of Germany,” Herrmann said. “So I had to spend it there as an ‘enemy alien’ and report to a police officer once a week.”
Anne’s time spent in limbo was not spent in vain; she married, had a son and worked in the graphic design departments for NBC, CBS and the New York Times. Today she is 92 years old.
Mason’s own Maria Dworzecka was one-year-old when the Nazi’s invaded her homeland Poland.
“There is a group that as created about 25-30 years ago called ‘children of the holocaust’ this was for people who were younger than sixteen when the war ended,” Dworzecka said. “I am one of the younger. When we started meeting we realized we weren’t talking before because people think a child will just forget. Those last thirty years we started talking, this group is very important to me.”
It was not even that Dworzecka knew her source of anxiety, “and you sometimes don’t even connect it with the holocaust until you start talking with other people, and someone says something and you say ‘oh! That’s why I feel that way.’”
“For years it was hard to talk to strangers, I can now, but my daughter used to say ‘do not talk to strangers unless my mother needed something then she sent me to them’,” Dworzacka said.
She stayed in Poland until her 1968 when the new regime started to turn anti-Semitic like their Nazi predecessors. Dworzacka went on a vacation to Israel and obtained a refugee visa to the United States in Vienna upon her supposed return. She since received a Doctorate in Physics and has taught at Mason since 1983.
Photo credit: Erika Eisenacher