On Wednesday, Oct. 10, Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher shared her experience with Geneseo students. Attendance for the event was so great that the location was moved from Newton 204 to 202 to accommodate the audience.
Auerbacher prefaced her story by telling the audience how the Holocaust continues to affect humanity. "Had Hitler succeeded, I am sure that many of you would not be sitting here," she said. She then presented a slideshow which displayed visual images of the places and events she spoke about.
Auerbacher described coming from a "very patriotic" German Jewish family. She then recalled the horrors that came, such as 'Kristallnacht' when all of her windows were broken, or when her WWI veteran father was sent to Dachau. He was miraculously allowed to return, but was deeply saddened that the country he fought for had so turned against him.
Although she was not immediately transported from her home, she was forced to attend a school in Stuttgart, which was an hour away from Kippenheim, where she was from. Auerbacher was the only child from the Jewish school to survive the Holocaust.
In 1942, Auerbacher and her parents were transported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia where they lived in dismal conditions before finally being liberated by the Russians on May 8, 1945. After presenting her story, Auerbacher opened up the floor to student questions. Students asked several questions and many prompted thoughtful answers. When asked, Auerbacher said that she sometimes felt guilty that she survived when so many did not. "That's why I do these talks," she said. By raising awareness of the issue, she feels she can honor the thousands that were killed.
She also stated that she always receives a positive reception whether she speaks in Germany or America. She also called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "crazy idiot" for his alleged denials that the Holocaust happened. A student asked if she is able to forgive Germans who were involved in the Nazi movement, and she replied `that while she cannot judge every single person, "The ones who killed my family I never will forgive."
When asked where God was during the Holocaust, Auerbacher acknowledged that it was a good question and stated her belief that "God gave us free will and we did it to ourselves." She also stated that she believed she was able to survive the conditions of the concentration camp because of the "hopeful spirit" she inherited from her father.
After the questions ended, Auerbacher invited students to purchase any of her books, most notably "I Am a Star," and she gladly signed copies.
Student response was positive. "It was an interesting perspective," said senior Geoff Young, noting that most accounts of the Holocaust involve Jews being sent straight to death camps like Auschwitz. Sophomore Lisa Hatzinger agreed. "It was really interesting to hear it from a personal perspective," she said. "The presentation shed new light on the whole situation."
Inge Auerbacher has written four books, is the subject of a documentary called The Olympic Doll, and worked as a chemist for 38 years. Today she resides in Queens. Her appearance at Geneseo was presented in conjunction with the Office of the Provost, the School of the Arts and the department of foreign languages and literatures.