A view from the past: Holocaust survivor visits Maryville

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“For some, the Holocaust feels like history, something you read in a book. “We bring a Holocaust survivor to campus not just to remember the past, but to inform our future,” said Erin Schreiber, leader of Maryville Hillel, as she welcomed Holocaust survivor, Mendel Rosenberg, on stage Tuesday, November 7.

Maryville Hillel, one of over 550 Hillel organizations on college campuses across the world, invited Mr. Rosenberg to speak to the Maryville community. Maryville Hillel is a Jewish organization that focuses on providing students of all faiths with educational opportunities in a diverse and accepting environment of learning and action. Rosenberg spoke in the auditorium last Tuesday.

When Russian-occupied Lithuania sided with Nazi Germany in 1941 to break ties with communism, Mendel Rosenberg was 13 years old and living at home with his mother, father and older brother.

July 17, 1941, Rosenberg’s father and older brother were arrested outside of their home because of their Jewish faith. Lithuania, because of communist tension, assisted Nazi Germany in what they believed was best solution to free themselves from Russia: eradicating the Jewish faith.

Rosenberg and his mother were able to free his older brother from prison, but their father was never seen again. The Rosenbergs learned that he and other prisoners were instructed to dig their own mass grave in the woods by the prison. Once finished digging, they were killed and covered.

Mendel and his remaining family were then relocated to a ghetto, or Jewish-designated living areas typically sanctioned near factories where cheap workers were needed.

While recounting his time in the ghetto, Rosenberg spoke mostly of the grueling work hours, strangely strenuous routines and a lack of food: “The days were hard, but we still had good days in the ghetto. But when they took us to Dachau, there was no such thing as a good day. Every day was just another day that you woke up alive.”

Rosenberg and his brother were separated from their mother and sent to Dachau concentration camp in Germany. Dachau was intended to hold political prisoners but became primarily a Jewish death camp after the Final Solution was posed in 1941. Rosenberg and his older brother were moved there in 1943.

Rosenberg had to fight to stay with his brother. He lied about his age so they would not have to be separated. He explained that his brother kept him going while at Dachau because he had someone to stay alive for.

However, the conditions at Dachau were inhumane and took a toll on Rosenberg’s body. When he realized that he could no longer work the jobs they were assigned, Rosenberg posed as a carpenter and worked on repairs around the camp.

One day, his brother went to work and never came back. Mendel learned later that his brother was transferred to another location and later beat to death for not completing a task quickly enough.

In May 1945, Rosenberg commented that liberation was the only thing left to live for. After the failed German invasion of Russia and the entry of the U.S. into the fray, camps such as Dachau were being quickly emptied, the prisoners transported to hide the evidence of the genocide.

The remaining prisoners of Dachau were forced into tightly packed train cars. Rosenberg guessed that between 80 and 90 people were left on the car for two days without food or water. When the Americans liberated them from the car, nearly half had died.

It took 35 years for Mendel to tell his story, but his passion for education is what brings him back to presenting. In a private interview with Pawprint, Rosenberg gives Maryville something to remember:

“Education is important and you should be proud of it; never stop learning, and teach every chance you get. With knowledge and stories like mine, we can make sure something as horrible as this never happens again.”

If you’d like to hear more about Hillel cultural opportunities around campus, contact Erin Schreiber at eschreiber@maryville.edu.

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