People should keep the history of the Holocaust alive, especially as the last generation of survivors fades away, a Holocaust survivor said in his talk in the Brown-Alley Room yesterday afternoon.
“I would highly advocate, fight for it if you believe history should not be forgotten,” Sam Ponczak said. “That part of history should not be forgotten because it is the biggest crime that was done on everybody, not just Jews. It was a crime against humanity.
“It should never be forgotten. It needs to be understood why it happened.”
Ponczak, who is also a volunteer at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., was hopeful that Holocaust history would continue to be told. However, he did fear the chance that history would be lost, he said.
At a memorial service for the end of World War II in Washington, D.C., two years ago, Ponczak described seeing members of the Marine Corps, some veterans, around a dozen Holocaust survivors, three or four dozen high-school students, and no one else. There were no notices about the event in The Washington Post either, Ponczak said.
“That’s what worries me,” Ponczak said. “That somehow history becomes, moves into, the area of oblivion.”
The German government was guilty of this, Ponczak said, referring to an article published by The Times of Israel called “The long, twisted shadow cast by Nazi medical experiments.” In the article, a doctor, Hartmut M. Hanauske-Abel, criticized the German presentation of Nazi doctors as quacks and accused the German medical community of “enlightened amnesia.”
Germany’s Chamber of Medicine revoked his medical license because of his historical research.
“It was viewed by them as an assault on their dignity rather than a statement of facts,” Ponczak said about the German government.
Holocaust deniers also angered Ponczak, who could not believe, as a survivor, how someone could deny his experiences. People should try to reason with survivors, Ponczak said.
“Just being angry is not sufficient,” he said.
Much of Ponczak’s talk was dedicated to talking about his life story. He was born in Poland two years before the war broke out, he said, in a building that would become part of the Warsaw ghetto. His father escaped into the Soviet Union, and afterward, he said, his mother also crossed over with a 3-year-old Ponczak.
His family, refugees of the war, moved around to several countries. Ponczak spent time as a child in a town in Ukraine until the war ended, he said.
He recalled seeing young Jewish Soviet soldiers crying at the end of the war during a prayer service on Yom Kippur, moved to tears from what they had seen in the war. Aside from his own parents, only one of Ponczak’s family members survived the war.
His family would move back to Poland in 1946, and then they eventually went to France after the rise of anti-Semitism returned to Poland. When they were deported from France, they went to Argentina, where Ponczak’s uncle lived and Ponczak began working as a businessman with his parents.
Eventually, Ponczak and his parents came to the United States, where he got an engineering degree and met his wife. Now retired, he decided to volunteer his time at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in order to honor the memory of those who suffered in the Holocaust.
Uliana Gabara, the former dean of International Education, was interested in the talk because her personal story was similar. Her parents also fled into the Soviet Union when she was a baby, returned to Poland after the war and then came to the U.S. as an undergraduate, she said. She came back to Poland afterward, but when the anti-Semitic sentiment rose again, she returned to the U.S.
“Learn everything you can now, because someday they’ll be gone and you will feel stupid because you did not know the history,” Gabara said about the children of immigrants listening to their parents' stories.
One freshman, Nadia Neman, came to the talk because her first-year seminar professor, Aleksandra Sznajder Lee, was hosting the talk and also because she is interested in history.
“It’s not every day that you can hear a Holocaust survivor speak because there aren’t a lot left,” Neman said.
Contact reporter Kay Dervishi at firstname.lastname@example.org