For Walter Plywaski and Doris Fedrid the passage of time has not dimmed the horrors of the past, and while the Holocaust destroyed millions of lives, the two have survived, carrying the weight of the nightmarish memories for over 60 years.
Plywaski and his family were forced by the Nazis into the Lodz Ghetto in Poland when he was 10 years old. After living four years under constant German control, Plywaski was moved to the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, where the life expectancy was only two weeks.
Fedrid’s story took a different path through the brutality of the Holocaust. At age two Fedrid developed rheumatoid fever and lost her hearing as a result.
Fedrid was only 14 years old when thousands of Nazi soldiers marched into her hometown of Tarnopol, Poland with their tanks and swastikas.
Fedrid’s grandfather was killed protecting her from a Nazi soldier who tried to touch her.
“I could feel the vibration of the shots,” Fedrid said, who used a translator to tell her story to about 100 CSU and Fort Collins community members in the Lory Student Center Monday night.
Her family later tried to hide but was eventually shipped to a labor camp, where Nazis worked the prisoners to death.
Plywaski and Fedrid witnessed inconceivable cruelties: a death wall where prisoners were shot, beatings for not responding during roll call, starvation and hangings.
One night, Plywaski recalled, the Nazis were burning children age seven and younger alive. Hearing the screams of those children, Plywaski lost his faith in God.
Plywaski said, “It was out of this world but definitely below this world.”
Fedrid’s account bore striking similarities to Plywaski’s.
“If you didn’t respond during roll call, they’d kill you,” Fedrid said. Being deaf, Fedrid relied on others to nudge her when her name was called in order to avoid being killed.
Plywaski’s father taught his sons a valuable lesson that still resonates with Plywaski today. He taught them “how to live by being ready to die.”
Plwaski’s father was later beaten to death by the Nazis in the camp.
Eventually, Plywaski escaped with his brother, disguised themselves as German soldiers and were picked up by U.S. Army GI’s.
“I wasn’t liberated, I liberated us,” Plywaski said, proudly.
Even today Plywaski remains indebted to the troops that saved his life.
“Those American GI’s .” Plywaski said, choked up and his eyes welling up with tears. Nothing more needed to be said.
Fedrid managed to escape with her family by crawling out of the labor camp, “going under the barbed wire, crawling under the dirt.”
Fedrid’s family went on the run, hiding in 22 different locations before finally escaping into Russia.
Josh Samet, the director of Hillel at CSU, said that the essence of Holocaust Awareness Week is to “never forget what happened” and to keep the stories alive.
Samet said that hearing someone who lived through the Holocaust speak is “an experience people will never forget,” and future generations of children “will never hear from survivors.”
Ashley Lauwereins, a public relations and marketing representative for Students for Holocaust Awareness and Collegian staffer, said that even today the Holocaust is very relevant.
“We must learn from the past to prevent it in the future,” she said.
At each of the Holocaust Awareness events this week, attendees can sign a petition to end genocide in Darfur that will be sent to President Obama.
As to leaders that have not acted to prevent tragedies like Darfur, Plywaski had only this to say: “Shame on you.”
Plywaski said that in order to prevent anything like the Holocaust from happening again, individuals should stop telling jokes that dehumanize people and to confront racism.
“That’s the way the world ends, with a stupid-ass joke,” he said.
Today, Fedrid will be available for a meet-and-greet at noon in room 213-215 in the LSC.
Staff writer Stephen Lin can be reached at email@example.com.