Two hundred seats were not enough to accommodate those who wished to hear the story from a survivor of the Holocaust in Dods Hall on the SUNY Fredonia campus.
To honor the end of the month-long observance of Jewish History month, SUNY Fredonia's Jewish Student Union partnered with the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo (HRCB) to bring in the survivor, Sophia Veffer, to speak this week.
Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo Director Sylvia Schwartz brought and introduced Veffer to the event after speaking briefly about the center. Schwartz shared her hopes for the presentation.
Holocaust survivor speaks during Jewish History Month celebrations at SUNY Fredonia
"In today's world, unfortunately, we see genocides still happening, in Darfur and Rwanda. Our hope is that by hearing today's survivor presentation, it will leave a lasting memory you will share with people you know," Schwartz said.
"You have the privilege of being the last generation of people to hear live survivor testimony," Schwartz concluded.
Veffer shared her experiences as a Jewish child being hidden in about a dozen different locations in her native Holland during Nazi rule. Eventually, she was captured and put into a camp just before the war ended.
OBSERVER Photo by Shirley Pulawski
The end of Jewish History Month at SUNY Fredonia was highlighted by a visit from a Holocaust survivor who was hidden in numerous locations in Holland during Nazi rule.
"Anne Frank was in a unique situation. She was in a single location for those years. ... Most people had to move around a lot. Most children were not with their parents. ... Children were usually passed as the children of the people hiding them. ... If it was a baby, they might pretend to be pregnant first, then have this child appear," Veffer explained.
"Most people willing to hide Jews did it for the money. They often weren't nice to you. Some were abusive. ... On my first night in one place, I broke something, and the woman was very angry with me. She threatened to throw me out after 8 o'clock," the curfew hour set by the Nazis. Veffer said she would have been picked up and sent to a concentration camp if she was sent out after curfew.
"Overnight, I gave up my childhood and became a psychologist, because I had to know what the people I was living with wanted, what they were thinking, so I could survive."
Veffer spoke not only of her historical experiences, but she also sought to share her thoughts and feelings about genocide and how it begins.
"When the Nazis first came, they didn't make any changes. Everything was the same for about four months. That gave people time to get used to the idea, and think 'Oh, this is not so bad. We can live with this.' And everyone thought Germany would lose the war quickly, so it would be over soon," Veffer said.
But after four months, Veffer said the changes were dramatic.
"When I speak, people sometimes ask me why more people didn't help hide Jews. We weren't allowed to go to the grocery stores. We weren't allowed to go to the public schools. We had to wear a star on our clothes, and we weren't allowed to visit non-Jews. After a while, not many people even knew any Jews because we weren't around them," she said.
To make a genocide possible, Veffer said three groups of people are needed.
"You have the victims, the perpetrators, and the by-standers. No one is born a murderer. You have to learn to kill. ... We learn all kinds of reasons to discriminate. ... until you don't see them as individuals anymore," Veffer said, while discussing the gradual process of accepting the denial of rights toward another group.
"Why am I standing here? I come and speak because I don't want you to be a bystander. I don't want you to judge people on certain traits," Veffer said. "It is important to be more vocal. If we see someone being discriminated against, we must remember those people are our neighbors. If they can not live in peace, then we can not live in peace," Veffer said, urging those present to stand up to others who deny rights and acceptance of people who may seem different.
"Bullying is wrong. It's embarrassing when you don't speak up because that is how it starts. ... It takes a lot of guts to stand up to them and say 'I don't like what you're saying.' Bullying is always wrong. ... It is a choice to not get involved."