In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Jewish Student Union (JSU) hosted speaker George Elbaum, a Holocaust survivor and author of “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows: Vignettes of a Holocaust Childhood.” The presentation was one of two events honoring Holocaust Remembrance Day and followed a tour of the New England Holocaust Memorial.
Elbaum, who was only three when Nazi leader Adolf Hitler invaded Warsaw, Poland, shared his story of surviving through Holocaust, escaping with his mother, moving to the United States, and eventually deciding to open up about his past and share his truth. According to Elbaum, talking about his traumatic life experience was very difficult, and he did not want to open up about his Holocaust experience for a long time after moving to the U.S.
“All through that time, all through those years, I kept the Holocaust at an emotional distance. I never talked about it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to see Holocaust movies. I didn’t want to read Holocaust books. And the reason for that was that my mom; I saw what it did to my mom. She was a very smart business woman and she was very successful, but she was haunted by the Holocaust and traumatized by the Holocaust of her dying age…I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I kept the Holocaust an emotional distance until November [of] 2009,” said Elbaum.
After watching Paper Clips, a 2004 Holocaust documentary about students at a Tennessee middle school who collected 6 million paper clips in honor of the lives lost to the Nazis, Elbaum decided to write a book on his childhood during the Holocaust. He finished the book three months later, in late March of 2010. After publishing the book, Elbaum was invited to speak at various events on Holocaust Remembrance Day. While he was nervous at first, positive reactions from the audience encouraged him to continue telling his story.
“I know when I finished, most of them were from [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and they said to me, you’ve got to keep doing this. You have got to keep telling your story, so by now, this talk is probably my three hundred and thirty first or second. Most of them are middle schools or high schools. The reason for that is that you guys are old enough to understand what I lived through and what I survived, yet you’re young enough to have an open mind and to decide for yourself whether you want to live your life on the side of truth and fairness and tolerance and the respect for others or on the side of anger and hate and prejudice,” said Elbaum.
According to Joseph Sun ’23, Elbaum’s story was inspirational and moving. He believed that Elbaum’s story means a lot to the Jewish community and needs to be heard around the world.
“I found it especially moving that he could not talk about his experiences from the Holocaust for much of his life, but when he finally opened up, it brought a whole world of stories, emotions, and truth to the rest of the world. Stories like Elbaum’s are crucial to maintaining truths and remembering the suffering of the Jewish community, which is important for everyone to understand, of all ethnicities and nationalities around the world,” said Sun.
To Elbaum, the Holocaust was a tragic event caused by anti-semitism. Having survived the event, Elbaum hopes that students who listen to his story learn not to engage in prejudice by always standing for, not against, something in this world.
“The answer is anti-semitism, hatred of jews, but anti-semitism is just like any other ‘anti’…It’s hatred for someone not because they’ve ever done anything to you, but because they’re different, maybe a different color skin, maybe a different way of worshiping god. All the ‘anti’ started nothing but negative, and they always always end in destruction. In this world, in your life as you go to maturity, please remember this: always be for something, not against something, if you want to do any good in this world,” said Elbaum.
Ethan Weinstein, President of JSU, agreed with Elbaum’s stance on speaking up to injustice. He hopes that Elbaum’s story, by telling the truth, inspired the audience to honor the legacy of Holocaust victims.
“I hope that from stories like this and the talk in general, the audience took away an understanding of their responsibility to honor the legacy of the victims of the Holocaust through keeping the truth alive. The biggest takeaway for me is that you have to speak up when witnessing injustice. The Germans didn’t start exterminating Jews immediately; everything started with much smaller actions of oppression that intensified step by step, and the people’s silence is what allowed it to progress to the point that it did,” wrote Weinstein in an email to The Phillipian.