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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Holocaust survivor speaks at Kristallnacht ceremony

Published: November 16, 2007
Section: News

Sidney Finkel, a Holocaust survivor, recounted his experiences as a child in Nazi Europe Sunday at Hillels Holocaust Remembrance Committees Kristallnacht Commemoration ceremony. His address was the culmination of a weekends worth of events hosted by Hillel that memorialized the Holocaust.

Finkel, 75, spoke about the progression of anti-Semitism during his boyhood in Poland, which reached its pinnacle with the systematic mass extermination of Jews. According to Finkel, anti-Semitism had been manifested in more passive aggressive means [before Kristallnacht or the night of broken glass]…after Kristallnacht, Nazis began to bully [the Jews. This]eventually led to the Final Solution.

As a boy Sidney, born Sevek, loved life. He had a wonderful sense of belonging that [he] didnt have when he left his hometown after the Luftwaffe firebombed it. He described his town as a segregated community [where] Jewish people had their own institutions. Vicious anti-Semitism was a component of everyday life, he said. Jewish children inevitably would get beaten up in public school.

Finkel described listening to Hitlermake one of those important speeches. It seemed like every other word was juden, jews. How they were the most rotten people in the world.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland;

the Nazis then destroyed Finkels town and forced the Jews into a specially designated place called a ghetto.

Finkel recalled, within an instant our lives completely changed[We had] lost everything. He added, we couldnt take anything with us except what we could carry in our hands, and there was no school, no more education. Life in the ghetto was characterized by severe privation. A majority of Jews in the ghetto had nothing, he said. At this point, we were nothing more than slaves.

Finkel also detailed the heart-wrenching execution of his sister, Ronia, and the defenestration of her newborn. Ronia had escaped the ghetto to give birth in a hospital;

however, a hospital employee informed the Gestapo, who came to the hospital, took the infant, opened up the window, and threw him out. Then, they took [Finkels] sister to the Jewish cemetery where they shot her.

In the fall of 1942, Finkel witnessed the Germans force a large portion of the ghettos population into cattle cars. He desperately wanted to believe the Nazis that these were work camps.

Before departing, Finkels mother implored him, you must be brave Sevek, and you must do everything you can to survive. You are our future. Tragically, the boxcars brought many riders, including his mother and another sister, to their deaths at Treblinka.

The following year, Sidney was deported from the ghetto with his father and brother. His town was cleansed of Jews. Seven hundred years of Jewish history would be no more. Through early 1943 to January 1945, the men of the family worked at two slave labor camps in Poland, managing to remain together.

In January 1945, Sidney was separated from his father and brother and relocated to Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany. Despite agonizing tasks, such as being forced to stack dead bodies, Sidney was able to survive. I knew I was going to live the entire timeI would never give the Nazis the satisfaction of dying, he said.

As liberating American forces approached Buchenwald, Finkel was once more transported by the Nazis, this time to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. By the time he arrived, though, the Germans had already fled, and he was finally free. He was reunited with his brother and one sister. Sadly, his father, mother, and two other sisters had already perished.

After spending several years in England, Finkel arrived in the United States where he continues to reside. He currently lives in Arizona with his family.

During a question and answer session, Finkel explained that he began giving speeches at venues ranging from elementary schools to universities after visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

After years of speaking, he still experiences pain when retelling his story. Discussing the Holocaust is sometimes mechanical…but not often enough, he said. Finkel also mentioned his involvement in a recent commercial concerning the genocide in Darfur. He noted that it was a great opportunity to bring the Holocaust forward, adding if [the commercial] saves a few livesisnt it going to be a plus?

Larry Sternberg, Executive Director of Hillel at Brandeis, praised Finkel as someone that has dedicated his time to telling about his experiences and very much cares about reaching many kinds of people.

Alley Schottenstein 08, President of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee, commented that Finkels talk was really interesting and very important because it shows the experience of a child going through such trauma. When we think about the Holocaust, we dont usually think about someone that age going through such trauma.

Describing Finkels story, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote, it will move all those who want to know why, in those dark times of evil, so much suffering was inflicted on children…You know how deeply I feel about memory. Manywill thank you for yours.