By Shayna Han
Students, faculty and other members of the Union community gathered in Reamer Auditorium to hear Holocaust survivor Herbert Lewis talk about his experiences during World War II last Thursday, April 19 for the third year in a row.
Lewis’ granddaughter, Dani Horowitz ‘12, is a senior now and has attended all of his talks.
Lewis was taken, at the age of 13 from his hometown and sent to a labor camp in early 1942, where he made strikebolts, the ammunition of anti-aircraft guns, for the Nazis.
Lewis spent time in Buchenwald and Flossenbürg, two Nazi labor camps, until being liberated from Flossenbürg by the American Third Army in April 1945.
The day he was taken away by the Nazis, the group of prisoners, including Lewis, passed back through his town.
Lewis described how he heard his mother calling his name, and reached his hand through the slats of the truck. That was the last time, Lewis said, “that I heard my mother’s voice and touched her hand.”
He went on to describe life in the camps. Lewis stated that “in the morning, many times I woke up, [and] the guy next to me was dead.”
“Hunger is a very, very painful thing,” he said. When he and a group of camp inmates volunteered to clean up a bakery in the nearby town of Weimar, they found still-fresh cakes in the basement.
“Believe me, when we got finished, there was not a crumb left,” Lewis said.
On the train from Buchenwald to Flossenbürg, Lewis described a kind of mystery. “There was always one empty car in the end of the transport,” Lewis recounted, “and I noticed when we were going onto the train that car was empty.… Why is there an empty car in back of the train? Sure enough, I found out when we got there. That back of the car was for bodies by the time we got to that next camp. There must have been hundreds and hundreds of bodies piled up in that empty car.”
In April 1945, Lewis was liberated by the American army. He described how he and his fellow prisoners felt a few minutes before leaving the camp: “So we’re sitting there. We didn’t know where we’re gonna go, what we’re gonna do, what’s gonna happen to us.”
“This coming Monday, the 23rd, is the day I was liberated,” Lewis told the audience.
Lewis ended his talk with a thank you to his audience, and the importance of remembering.
“If you remember that you witnessed somebody who was there,” Lewis said, “like Elie Wiesel said, ‘If you listen to a witness, you become a witness yourself.’ ”
After Lewis’ lecture, two Hillel members read the Jewish prayer for the dead, including within the prayer the names of the camps where Holocaust victims were murdered.
Many students were fascinated by Lewis’ talk, such as Mary Kate Farber ‘15. “My area of study is the Holocaust, I want to do my thesis on it. I love hearing first hand accounts, it’s such a unique experience and you won’t get it in the future,” Farber said.
When asked what he wanted to say to Union, Lewis responded, “The only thing I want to say is for them to remember. To carry on the legacy, because there’s not too many people like me around anymore. And everyday, every month or so, it can be less and less and less.”
“So I hope that these people, these kids here, who are now here, who are listening to all this, plus the books that they read, that they’ll be able to pass that information on to the next generation and to the generations to come.”