Holocaust survivor shares struggle at Hillel event

GVL / Robert Mathews
Martin L

GVL / Robert Mathews Martin L

Austin Metz

Students, faculty, and community members filled the Grand River Room to hear guest speaker Martin Lowenberg, part of Genocide Awareness Night, hosted and organized by the Grand Valley State University student organization Hillel. Lowenberg, a survivor of the German Holocaust, currently travels to raise awareness for genocides like the Holocaust.

“Holocaust is a Greek word meaning burning humans by fire,” Lowenberg said. “In the second world war, it happened and it happened the way it should never happen again. It was the largest event in history where six million Jewish people perished and five million non-Jewish people.”

Lowenberg was born on January 21, 1928 in Schenklengs, Germany and was one of five children. Growing up, Lowenberg saw the pain and torture the Jew’s experienced even early in Hitler’s reign.

“My childhood was not much to speak of,” Lowenberg said. “As a matter of fact, it was robbed of me for 12 years. Too many people are unable to talk about that today because they are mostly gone today.”

Lowenberg shared stories of his life growing up and included the time he was beaten by four schoolmates because he was Jewish, and was then forced to sit on a board filled with tacks and nails. One thing he made clear was that although World War II was from 1941 to 1945, torture of Jewish people began as far back as 1933.

“Kill the damn Jew, we don’t want them,” Lowenberg said. “Hitler said, ‘I want all the Jew’s to go to Palestine’ because he wanted them all together so he could kill them all. He wanted them all together because he wanted to kill every Jew on the earth.”

The event, which was planned by GVSU’s Sammi Fine, has been in the making for the past year and began during one of Fine’s social work class.

“I have been working on it for about a year and I’m a social work major and in a couple classes we are presenting on acceptance, inequality, and diversity, and what not,” Fine said. “I was utterly shocked at how little people knew and how ignorant people were to genocides around the world and what is still going on.”

Although the event was centered around the Holocaust, a powerpoint that was shown beforehand exposed the different genocides that either have already happened or are currently happening today.

Examples included The rule of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Stalin’s reign in the USSR, and the active genocide in Darfur.

“I think awareness needs to be brought because without knowledge and awareness, you can’t get rid of ignorance,” Fine said. “If people are not aware of something that is going on, you need to be taught. I think it’s important especially for university students because we tend to be in our little university bubble and not aware of really what is going on around the world.”

Noah Zucker, president of Hillel, hoped that along with gaining awareness about the Holocaust, those in attendance would take home a better picture of what is happening in the world.

“I really hope they get a better understanding to what is happening,” Zucker said. “You learn about the Holocaust in school and you say ‘Okay, that happened’ but to be able to hear someone’s story who lived through it and had to see these horrific things that happened. Really, you can get a deeper understanding of what human torture is like and so just that deeper understanding that this did happen and we can’t let it happen again.”

To Fine, it is important that students know the truth so they can make a difference in the future.

“It is more important for us as university students to be aware of what’s going on because we are the future,” Fine said. “We are the ones who are going to make a difference in the future. Out of all people, we need to be educated about these things.”

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