62 years later: Holocaust survivors offer Goodfellow with lessons in life, hope for the future

From left to right: Rosa Freund, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and Wanda Wolosky, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, talk to guests who attended one of the History of the Holocaust presentations Thursday at the base theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luis Loza Gutierrez).

From left to right: Rosa Freund, a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and Wanda Wolosky, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, talk to guests who attended one of the History of the Holocaust presentations Thursday at the base theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Luis Loza Gutierrez).

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- "I found out what hatred is," said Wanda Wolosky. "Everything that went wrong was blamed on the Jews, so when the Nazis came to Poland, they had an open field. They didn't have to work too hard."

Mrs. Wolosky is a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust in World War II. When the Nazis invaded, she was five years old.

She and Rosa Freund, a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, along with Dr. Gail Wallen, director of Holocaust Services for the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Southern Arizona, visited Goodfellow this week to speak about their experiences and what can be done to prevent this tragedy from occurring again.

The two survivors spoke at several sessions Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. In addition, a memorial ceremony was held Wednesday at the base chapel. The theme of the memorial was Children in Crises: Voices from the Holocaust.

During the sessions, Dr. Wallen and the survivors spoke of the horrors of the Holocaust and their personal experiences, saying that by the time it was over in 1945, it had claimed the lives of 90 percent of Jewish scholars, 80 percent of Jewish Rabbis, and six million Jews overall, including 1.5 million children. In addition, Dr. Wallen said, five million other people were also killed.

Mrs. Freund was born in Hungary, where she lived with her parents and her sister. When the Nazis came to power, her family was separated. She and her sister were taken to Auschwitz and the separated. Though she survived to the end of the war, her sister did not.

Mrs. Wolosky's entire family (with the exception of her father and an uncle, who fled to Russia) were interned in the Warsaw Ghetto.

By the end of the war, only she, her mother and three cousins survived (her uncle eventually returned, having been a prisoner in Siberia).

Both women said hope and strength of will were what got them through their darkest hours.

"I always hoped, always knew my brother would survive," Mrs. Freund said. "I kept telling myself, 'at least my brother will be there too.' After the camps we survived, we learned how to live," she added. "We learned how to make the most of life and living."

"I didn't want to die without first living," Mrs. Wolosky said. She said the hope to live her life rather than merely survive, added to a healthy dose of her mother's strong will, were what kept her going.

"What really saved me after the war was that I went to Israel," Mrs. Wolosky added. "Nobody was interested in hearing my story, because everyone had a story. I took the story and put it on a shelf, then tried to build a life."

That story stayed on a shelf until recently, she said. This last year was the first time she told her personal story to her daughter and grandson.

The survivors said they tell their stories for many reasons. Some tell the story to keep the tragedy from happening again. Others carry the message that life can and will go on, that there is life after trauma. All tell the story to keep the memory alive.

"No matter how many generations pass between the attempted genocide of World War II and now, the memory must never be lost," said Col. Barry Simon, 17th Medical Group commander, who introduced the survivors. "Except for a very few people here, this is just a story, not a memory - and that memory must go on."

Dr. Wallen said the most important thing for people to learn from the Holocaust is what can happen to a minority group "when the abnormalities of a society are allowed to become its norms." The program from the memorial service printed a quote from British Prime Minister Tony Blair that agreed.

"We remember above all that the Holocaust did not start with a concentration camp," Mr. Blair wrote. "It started with a brick through the shop window of a Jewish business, the desecration of a synagogue, the shout of racist abuse on the street."
Mrs. Freund agreed, saying that those who perpetuated the crimes were not the only people to blame for the Holocaust - equally guilty were people who stood by and let it happen.

"I blame those who didn't have to do it and did it willingly," she said. She also added that with a new generation, the blame cannot stay. "Today's generation of Germans are not to blame for what their grandfathers did," she said.

Dr. Wallen ended one of the sessions with a thanks to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in the audience, and a charge to remain vigilant to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never again seen.

"You are the gatekeepers and safeguards of democracy," Dr. Wallen said. "Thank you."