Joseph Stalin once said, â€œThe death of one man is a tragedy, the death of one million is a statistic.â€
And while the former Soviet dictator used this bizarre quote to justify the killing of men, Ron Sladek, a Fort Collins resident, historian and son of a Holocaust survivor, has spent 18 years telling his familyâ€™s storyâ€”making sure they donâ€™t become just another statistic.
About 70 people gathered in the Lory Student Center Monday night to hear Sladek speak as part of an annual Holocaust survivor panel that starts Holocaust and Genocide Awareness week.
While Sladek, who was born in 1960, was raised with stories of how his father and grandparents survived the Holocaust, he represents an important aspect of the way the history is now being shared.
â€œIt was a little harder this year (getting survivors to come),â€ said Rabbi Allison Peiser, Hillel campus director at CSU. â€œSurvivors are getting older and more concerned about travel.â€
But, despite not being a survivor, Sladek has made a job of passing on the stories of his fatherâ€™s childhood memories from 1939 to 1945, when six million Jews were killed â€” 1.6 million of them children.
â€œOn my fatherâ€™s side wehave this legacy thatâ€™s both interesting and terrible at the same time,â€ Sladek said.
Sladekâ€™s father, Osi, came from a line of Jewish merchants from the Slovakian town of Presov where his father, an accomplished violinist, and his mother, known for her cooking, owned a shop in town.
â€œThey were lovely, lovely people,â€ Sladek said, looking at a picture of the young family taken shortly before the German invasion of Poland and subsequent change in Slovakia.
â€œIt was about the time of the end of their innocence and the end of their freedom because of when they were born, where they lived and what was going on in nearby Poland,â€ Sladek said.
In October 1938, Slovakia declared independence and allegiance with Nazi Germany. Soon, they passed anti-Jew laws that stripped Jewish citizens of their civil rights and made them leave their schools and jobs.
They began to â€œrelocateâ€ Jews further east to be put in work camps, but after a chance encounter with a German soldier, Osiâ€™s mother found out they werenâ€™t relocating people, but instead sending them to death camps.
It was then that Osiâ€™s parents enlisted the help of the Solcs, a Christian family in Presov that provided arrangements for hiding places, fake identification and protection papers to keep the young family from getting caught and deported.
â€œI donâ€™t know if you believe in angels or you donâ€™t believe in angels,â€ Sladek said, showing the audience a picture of the Solc family. â€œBut this is what they look like.â€
After briefly living with his aunt and uncle in Hungary, Osi and his parents took a taxicab to central Slovakia where there was a temporary uprising.
But after Germans took over the area they were living in, the family left, spending the bitter winter in shacks and caves in the countryâ€™s foothills and mountains, living on berries and snow.
Russian soldiers eventually found them after crossing the Russian front into a forest. From there, a former friend gave them shelter and a week later, they were back in Presov where they still faced considerable harassment, even though the war had ended.
After a move to Kosice, Slovakia, they began to rebuild their lives, eventually leaving for Israel in 1949 where Osi became an Israeli solider, entertaining soldiers with his amusing personality.
In an effort to pursue a life in show business, he immigrated to Los Angeles in 1957, where he met his future wife, settled down and started a family.
Years later, Osiâ€™s parents moved out to America to be with their son, but they died a few years later.
And while his father was open in speaking about his experiences, Sladekâ€™s grandparents never openly spoke about the years that changed their lives forever.
â€œThis isnâ€™t your typical Holocaust story,â€ Sladek said. â€œThis one has a relatively happy ending.â€
Senior Reporter Erin Udell can be reached at email@example.com.