Bristol Holocaust Center – Henry H Oster

– It’s really wonderful to
see so many people here. I know we have students from Bristol Agricultural High School right, over here in the front row and
we have many of our students from Bristol Community College and the teachers from
high school and from here, and people are still coming in. So this is wonderful. This is the third of the
program for the semester which is being presented by the Bristol Holocaust and Genocide Center. As I say I’m really, my
name is Ron Weisberger, I’m the director of the center and so pleased to see so many people, you are in for a memorable experience. Yesterday Dr Oster spoke
to 700 students and staff at Conley High School, high schools from all over the area so we’re
very lucky to have him again. Anyway, before we begin I want to welcome Dean Kathleen Pearl who’s
going to bring greetings from the college. (audience applauds) – Hello, how’s everybody doing? Good, good. On behalf of Bristol Community College and on behalf of our
president, President Douglas who can’t be here today I
would like to welcome you to this event and I’d
like to talk a little bit. I’m not gonna bore you I hope, but I’m just gonna talk a little bit about what’s happened in the last four years since I joined Bristol as a Dean. I want to let you know
about the scope of the work that Ron Weisberger and
the Holocaust Center has done since I’ve been here. We’ve had a large number
of prominent speakers, prominent Holocaust scholars, survivors. We’ve had the privilege
of meeting some survivors. We’ve run workshops
with teaching resources for classroom instruction. We’ve also through echoes and reflections, received a lot of material on
how to teach the Holocaust. So that’s been a very big
addition to what we do. Obviously you know this, we do outreach to high school students, ’cause I see a big
crowd of you here today. And we have a collection
of books and posters, and artifacts which is
growing all the time. People are often donating. Our events also involve
art and music, and theater and literature revolving around
the Holocaust and genocide. We have a comprehensive global
and historical perspective and I’ll give you a few examples. In 2016 we ran a conference
on the Cambodian genocide. In 2016 we also offered
a lecture on gypsies and their fate in the Holocaust. In 2017 we had a conference
on Native American genocide, and in 2017 we also offered
a program on euthanasia, euthanasia meaning pleasant death, if that can mean pleasant death, and on the T4 program which
was developed in Germany as a kind of systematic
way to categorize people who had lives that were not worth living, and to exterminate them. And that happened among
the mentally challenged, and physically challenge, epileptics. A whole range of people that the Nazi’s wanted to get rid of and did,
categorized as sub-human. In this spring in 2019,
we’ll be having a conference on women in Nazi Germany
and what kind of a role they played in terms of the
roll out of this regime. We have a good input from the community, the New Bedford Jewish Federation, and many individual donors
help us to put on the programs that we do. I want to say one last thing,
in all of the activities that I’ve looked at, the four
years that I’ve been here I see a kind of overarching
theme and the theme is, strength in what remains. I didn’t make this theme up I stole it from the title of a book by Tracey Kidder who wrote on the genocide
that happened in Burundi. It’s a wonderful book,
it’s a very good book. So what does strength
in what remains mean? For me, I look at in three ways, I look at the resilience
of people who’ve survived horrible events, I look at
moments of restorative justice where groups after the
fact, after a genocide, after the Holocaust have
tried to come together and peace together a life. In some cases that
involved the perpetrators and the survivors as happened
in Libera for example. And finally, strength
in what survives to me, means educating for
awareness, and that’s where you all come in because it’s important to be aware and to carry on the memory and the current reality
of genocidal initiatives that are even going on today. So with that pleasant sentence
I’m gonna welcome you again, and thank you very much. I’m really glad to see that you’re here. (audience applauds) – Thank you Dean Pearl. We are living in some interesting times and this type of
presentation is so important and the Dean said in
terms of having all of us be educated about what
can happen when bad things start to develop. Before the program begins
I just want to thank a few people as I usually do, because these things
never happen alone right. So first of all our center
has an advisory committee which provides an
important source of support for our programs, I won’t name them all, but they’re very important. We have by the way, we have a Facebook and we also have a, the other
thing, what’s the other thing that people do? Thank you. Those things on social media, so we’re all on there and all our programs will be connected to our website, that’s what I was trying, our website, which is connected to the colleges, so you can hear these speeches again. Not just one, but all the
number that we have done over the years. Also I want to thank a woman
who’s behind the desk there, Lynelle Dean is my assistant
who does all the logistics, couldn’t do that without her. We have volunteers who have
helped Judy and Gary Brown who are in here, Heidi Cipriano,
who’s on our student senate and Asher Sudric. So these are some of our advisors, I mean volunteers, did I
say advisor, volunteers. And we have other folks
as well who help us. I want to thank Sean Elliott who’s doing a lot of the technical work for the sound and Keith Tibo and his staff who’s taping. We have great technical
assistance at this college. Our thanks also to Jewish
Federation of New Bedford which helps to fund us, and the Holocaust Education
Committee of that, of the Federation which
we work very closely too. Cindy Oaken is here, she’s the co-chair. And also of course the
support of the college, with the assistance of the
Bristol College Foundation. All the money that we get
goes through our foundation, and that really helps us a lot. So there’s a lot of people to thank, finally I want to thank Odette Amarello and Gil Mendelson who are responsible for bringing Dr Oster here. I tried to get programming
and some I find it online, Gil Mendelson came and said I know someone who you need to bring and by all means we needed to bring him. I want to introduce Gil Mendelson who will introduce our main speaker. Thank you. (audience applauds) – Good afternoon. I would like to introduce
to you my good friend Dr Henry Oster, by the
way he’s celebrating his 90th birthday this week. (audience applauds) Henry as a young boy
witnessed and experienced horrible events in Cologne Germany, and subsequently the concentration camps. Today his story is more
important then ever. Here is my friend, Dr. Henry Oster. (audience applauds) – Thank you. Good morning everybody. First of all may I
thank you for attending, I am sure there are many different reasons that you came to hear the
history that I experienced. I’m sure that you know
basically the term Holocaust. And I’ve always wondered
when people are interested, curious to come to hear me as a survivor, not as a person, what I can
possibly do to supplement the knowledge that you’re seeking. It’s not always easy to talk about it, but I have been doing it for
almost well over 50 years. Always hoping that it will
perhaps influence your life, mostly with hope for
tolerance to one another. And that makes everything
that I have to say worthwhile to share with you. I am a bit of an oddity in
that of many, many survivors that were able to come to this country, the majority share not much of their story because of language, vocabulary,
the pain that it takes to remind and recall things. But I find it worthwhile every time I see an audience like yourself. I know it’s a corny thing to say that everybody is a great audience. But I’m appreciative of the fact that I was invited to come
to Bristol Community College, my friend and teacher made it possible. Miss Emarello invited me
only because she heard from Gil that I’m around
and willing to speak. This is especially odd week in itself, tomorrow is the 80th anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass. The Germans called it Crystal Night, and that made it even
more significant for me to make the trip from
California with my wife Susie and it is a possible reminder nowadays of what we experience in this country, perhaps to listen of what
happened many years ago. I was born in 1928 and believe
me, there was such a year, in the city of Cologne in Germany. To be a German Jewish survivor, never mind I’m still being around, was a scarce and unusual mechanically, shall we say, mathematical probability because Germans were not interested to let Jewish children from Germany
survive if they could help it. I was born in the city of Cologne, and the city of Cologne
itself is an interesting city because in Roman times,
at the time of Jesus, Jews were forced to leave the Roman Empire, and the Roman Empire had an area adjacent
to some point in Europe that they called Germania. And for some reason or another, unknown, the Jewish people that
left the Roman Empire foundered a colony in that area. And the name colony or
Cologne exists to this day. It was a city that was basically
quite friendly to Jews, more so then other cities in Germany. And my family had settled
there for well over 180 years. I’m an only child, my
father was a director of a department store,
my mom was a housewife. Which in those days ladies
was more then a full time job, because there were none
of the conveniences that we know today. But I was a pretty happy
kid, as an only child, I was curious, naughty,
had a special nickname of Naughty Little Henry
and it was the life that I expected to be,
like all the other children in Germany, regardless whether
you were Jewish or not. The first day in school was in 1934, and as all children normally anticipate, curiosity, anxiety,
whatever feeling they had, a little fear maybe, away
from home for the first day. We received in Germany, something that cheerleaders might use, a megaphone that you carried with
a great deal of pride, filled with goodies like
candies, little toys, anything that made the day
a little bit more palatable. The problem was the first
day was also an ominous day because as we left school
we were greeted by children of slightly greater age, big difference, they were all dressed in
Hitler Youth uniforms. When Hitler came to power in 1933 the society, the civility,
everything in Germany was turned upside down. But the one thing they believed
is that they were superior. Better then anybody else, everybody in the most
unimaginable way was below the German mentality, the German society. And one way you could distinguish people is to put them in uniforms and put flags all over these places that
you cannot even imagine, from churches, to anything. So we were greeted by these children, who had been indoctrinated
that the children coming out of the school
were to be harassed, beaten, spat on, throw things at them because they are no longer
human, they’re below human, they’re like vermin, they’re like rats, and just not to be tolerated. I didn’t think it was the
worst thing in the world because I was not hurt,
although I did see the parents of those children
standing in the background with their arms folded,
watching what was going on. Interspersed with police
men to make sure that this chaotic activity stays
within reasonable bounds. That was the first experience
that I was not a German child, that I was less then them. Even thought the German
families had been Jewish, are no different then
any of your religions. You’re Americans, what
your religious belief have nothing to do with your citizenship. That’s a private thing, but we all share those who are citizens, we are Americans. That wasn’t good enough in Germany. My parents calmed me down and they said there was not going to be
anything like this happening, little did we know. That was the beginning
of the outward showing that Jews were not to be tolerated. Germans had already, from 1933
built concentration camps. These were facilities in all,
I won’t use the word fairness, let’s say all accuracy,
were to hold people that the Germans did not feel worthy to be in their regular society. The predominant population
were of course Jews. Predominantly Jewish
males, but they were also heavily occupied by Germans
who were not Jewish. That the Germans felt
were not to be tolerated in their society, obviously
resistance fighters. Other religions, there were Mormons, there were Seventh Day Baptists, there were Bishops of the Catholic Church who did not agree with
even the church doctrine of tolerance, of keeping people in line, keeping people in a
reasonable way of living, and so they had to be incarcerated. Much of the German population
knew everything about it, they were intimidated by it, and made it a very easy
excuse not to be of any help to the minorities that lived in Germany, and had lived there for many years. 1935 came along without any warning, the Nuremberg Laws were declared, which were laws declaring
that there are no longer any rights, all that you have studied about our civil rights, predominantly, most of our memory, our
lack of civil rights to the African American
population of the 60s. That’s one civil right, an important one, the right to vote, need I
say more, even in these days. But the fact was civil
rights means a lot more, we were not allowed to have any property, the homes were invaded and
things were taken away. No receipts with no intention
of getting any return. Everybody lost their
jobs, their occupation, their profession over night. You went to work with
an office or a clinic or anything like this, you
were greeted by men in uniform telling you this is no
longer your business. We were no longer allowed
to have apartments, apartments you were allowed to have. Homes, nothing in a
domicile way was allowed to be in your property, we
no longer could do anything about the fact that we were Jews. When you went out you
saw signs on buildings, street cars, buses,
trains, stores, anything, saying Jews are forbidden. This was not the way that
you expected to live, but you had to face it. As far as I was concerned
it wasn’t all that bad, why, because from 1934
to 35 was the only time I was allowed to attend school and when you’re seven
years old and you’re told you cannot go to school you
don’t mind that too much. But little did you know
that this was going to be the beginning of something
that no one could imagine. In 1935 when this happened
my father of course lost his business and
occupation, and you stayed home. We had a lovely apartment
in a gentile old building, which when the owner was
told Jews were not allowed to remain we had to find
refuge somewhere else. So we ended up in a one bedroom apartment with a small kitchen, occupied
with eight additional people. Friends, relatives, they lost their homes. These buildings were
specifically designated to remain in Jewish ownership, to make what the Germans
called Ghetto houses. Pack them in, cram them in, and preferably don’t let them out. We had little reason to go out. From the time that we moved in I happened to be the only child, and so I slept on a wooden
bench in the kitchen, and that was the closest I became to sleeping in a bed til 1947. The other members in the group in the home took turns which couple would
use the bed in the bedroom, the rest of us we had to make do. In 1938 things changed in
the most dramatic fashion. As a matter of fact, precisely tomorrow will be the 80th
anniversary of that event, and I can promise you there
will not be too many people worldwide who could be witness
to that particular day. And so you can imagine
that I make this visit, this trip, and this
presentation, for me at least, a very special one. The night of 1938, November
9th, we heard noises outside the small apartment. We looked out, there were a
tremendous number of flames, dogs, the Germans did everything
at the darkness of night, the dogs to call complete
confusion, disorientation. We looked out with
enormous number of noises we couldn’t explain, it was called the night of broken glass, or the Germans call it crystal night. That was the day, the
night that physical abuse to the German Jews was
the very, very first one organized, even though
the Germans, the Nazi’s claimed oh it was spontaneous, really, in every major city all the synagogues, community centers,
anything remotely connected to Jewish ownership was
burned, was burnt to the ground because the Nazi prohibited the response of the fire department, not
to extinguish the flames. The broken glass of the looted stores that were completely littering the side was reflecting the flames of the building, gave the name Holocaust,
which means to burn. The fact that these things
happened all over German cities was simply taken as a sign, well you know, it’s a national policy, and after all, it’s only Jewish property. The stores that had been left alone for supplying the Jewish
population in 1935 were the ones that were simply smashed and littering of all
the goods were looted, was just part of a funny
event the Germany people took advantage of. The German people were
surprisingly very enthusiastic, and very supportive, some by fear, and some by the conviction
that they were better, and they thought this was
one heck of a good night to show their strength and
their hatred of the German Jews. 30,000 men were arrested to
be put in concentration camps. Now when Hitler came to power in 1933, they had built the very
first concentration camp, outside of Munich, but
by the end of the war, in Germany alone were over
2000 concentration camps. Concentration camp was not
necessarily originally intended to be killing fields, but
it turned out very quickly by overcrowding and malnutrition that whether you were
Jewish or German National, your life expectancy was not very long. These 30,000 arrested
men, build additional, enlarge existing ones. My father was lucky
enough not to be taken. With that particular climate to live in, you might ask yourself, for heaven sakes why didn’t you guys leave? What are you hanging around for? There was no hanging
around, you couldn’t leave. You were in a police
state where everybody, Jew or Gentile was known
to be where they reside, what they were doing, they could get you just like that in a moments notice. But you had to have an exit
permit which the Germans reluctantly gave, even
though at the beginning of Hitlers rise in 1933
there was 600,000 Jews, in a total population
of 60 million Germans. We made up a one single
percent of the population, and by 1938 and 39 perhaps, many of them were somehow able to leave, and it’s estimated that
the total population was around 380,000. As far as Germany was concerned, there must be a way to eradicate. With the original intent of
putting the German children in uniforms, they were also informed that the next thing we
must do, we must get rid of German Jewish children. Indeed there were transports
to England predominantly that would take children of the families who couldn’t get out, they did allow the German children to
leave, I have no idea why I was not chosen by my
parents to be sent away. So I stayed, I had an immediate family of 19 direct family members that I knew, of which I am the only survivor with the exception of an uncle. And it was only, believe it or not, four weeks ago, my German research in the translation of my book
and expanding it in German that I was given 17 other names, these people I knew by
name, but I did not know they were relatives, because they simply didn’t share my fathers
or my mothers family name. So even as late as 80 years later, you find out that you
lost more family members then you were aware of. But that were the conditions in 1938, no chance to leave and unfortunately there wasn’t a country in the world, including our home right here, that would not accept any refugees. Sounds a little bit
familiar right now, I know. You hate to see repetition
of your own history from years ago and have
to live through it. 1939, September 1st, Germany decided to start the Second World War. Now of course it was World War II, but the reason I choose
the Second World War is because it’s precisely that, they started the First World War, precisely 25 years earlier. Germans were always interested in war, in conquering and feeling superior over any other country in Europe. September 1st 1939, they started the war by invading Poland. And with the invasion of Poland, the German Nazi’s now had a major problem, while there may have been
380,000 Jews left in Germany. In Poland they inherited over
three million Polish Jews. And with German efficiency
they would find a way to eliminate and to
eradicate that many people. So they built facilities
around the major populations, or major cities in Poland
with a singular purpose. Not concentration but extermination camps. And with pure German efficiency,
when people arrived there, there was no overnight stay, you arrived and you died in manners I will describe. We managed to live through
1941 in the city of Cologne, surviving bombing raids,
and by my presence, fortunately none came to close to do harm to my family or me. And we were told that you need to be ready to be taken away to a
place where you’d get work, clothing, decent food, some
housing, it’ll be alright. Just report to leave Germany. In a way you were happy to leave Germany, because we were ignorant what the trip to whatever destination might mean. And we reported like good citizens, we were put on a train,
rode for about three days, and were taken off and
we were faced by people who greeted us in a physical
condition that’s indescribable. I sometimes watch
television, channeling around and come across some
zombies and that’s exactly what they looked like, hollow eyes, malnutrition, dirty,
just looking through you rather then at you, and
they said welcome to Lodz. Lodz was a ghetto in
Poland, in the city of Lodz. A ghetto by German
efficiency was very easy. They took the most
dilapidated part of the city, the most run down, almost
uninhabitable buildings, and they shoved into that
area 160,000 Polish Jews who received us with a
little bit less then kindness because we were competitive for
the food that was available. There was always a little
bit of a rivalry or animosity between Polish and German Jews. The Germans I’m sure thought
that would contribute to an earlier demise. We were given a place that
was not possible to describe. But basically very simple. It was a room, there were 20,000 rooms, taking care of 160,000
people who were crammed in with 18 other people. There was no room to stretch out at night, we took turns pulling our knees up or stretching out in
the little bit of space. We were put there in rooms
that have absolutely no additional amenities, no heat,
no water, no electricity. The broken windows were just too bad, if you had to freeze at night, and only the proximity of body to body, exchanging body temperature
kept you from freezing. There were no facilities
like restrooms or toilets, that was not their problems. That which you had to
do with the excrement actually caused the spread of disease, hey they didn’t have to kill you, you died of natural causes. We were put to work, my father had to fix the electric fences around the ghetto, my mom had to work on a
plates that went under the military boots of the German armies. In a miraculous way I
was stationed to work at the agriculture department. If it wasn’t so tragic in the consequences I would almost have to
laugh out loud today, agriculture department,
you’ve got to be kidding. What agriculture could
you have in building next to building, next to building. Oh yes I did see a small
area between some buildings, a little grassy area which
I thought may have been a playground, abandoned playground. Indeed from the building
to the fence of the ghetto that surrounded it was a
field that I was designated with 30 other people to cultivate, a shovel, a rake and you
go to work, 12 hours a day. Turn the soil, make it
work, get rid of the weeds. Most of which if they
were edible you would eat. The reason you would eat
anything you could find, because you’re full and total
food provision each week, every Friday afternoon was
a single loaf of bread, for the whole week, period,
no other food distribution. Unfortunately my father did
not last even five months, came home one evening,
leaned against the wall, fell asleep not to wake again. We worked, we were being supervised, when they talk about slave
labor it is not imaginable to reasonable population what that meant. I had of course a good
fortune working there, why? Because I was given the
chance to commit a great crime in the whole ghetto, to steal food. These seeds that we
had to plant were peas, beans, lentils, hardly enough even corn, but mostly potatoes. We had to plant them and
make sure that were would be a harvest later on in the year. I put holes into my pocket,
tied my legs at my ankles in my trousers and hoped
that the body search every night would not reach that far down. And indeed by my presence
here, it never did. Had it been detected, or had
I walked with the rattling of the dry seeds I would have become what the Germans proceeded to
call, Sundays entertainment. Sundays entertainment usually
consisted of the execution on that little grassy
area between buildings, where Jews were surrounded
and forced to attend, to exhibit the execution by hanging. Now I worked on the field
with two men, brothers, that I thought kind of odd. They were husky, in our kind of perception they could have been pro football players, but they had one
particular hobby and habit, that occasionally on Mondays
they would come to work and hand me a slice of bread. It was like winning a lottery scratcher, it was just a miraculous thing which I happily shared with my mom. Of course I didn’t question
why they gave it to me, I was 13 year old little
kid, scrawny, malnutrition and to find in addition
to what I could steal, a slice of bread was phenomenal. The food that I stole was not digestible, because we had no facility,
no heat, no cooking, no utensils, so you ate
the beans, the peas, whatever they were, you almost worked them like a chewing gum, but
protein was protein. The first time I was forced to
attend Sunday’s entertainment I was prodded with a
bayonet to raise myself up about the height of the adults,
the dogs that the Germans always had with them, killer dogs, over 200,000 dogs in their canine corps, all trained to be killers,
all ready to attack. I raised up and to my
great shock and surprise I did not believe my eyes. Who were the executioners of the ghetto, the ones who were absolutely
on a weekly basis, hanging the Jews, being forced to do this, but my two benefactors who
gave me a slice of bread. I always thought that maybe
they gave me a slice of bread to reduce their sense of
guilt of executing Jews because it wasn’t necessarily
on a voluntary basis. I took me 70 years just to mention that, when people asked me to write a book. I thought I’d never write
a book of my experience but a patient of mine insisted
that he and I write a book. And we were all done, he says, Henry what do you want to call it? He says you know I have
a problem, he said, I’m American, I’m not Jewish. You didn’t live like most survivors, a year, half a year, maybe two years, you lived 17 years of
your life in Germany, 12 under Nazi domination. And over four years in
ghetto and other camps. I just cannot believe that there wasn’t a single human being who ever extended to you and your family an act of kindness. I said Dexter that’s routine, but when we finished the book he said, now what do you want to call it? I had no clue, he had not clue. But then he brought up the
fact about this act of kindness and I said you know if you think about it, I have to agree that that slice of bread was about the only
kindness in all the years that I experienced, and that is why the book is called The
Kindness of the Hangman. It was about two months
after the book had come out that I realized and I
accepted in my own mind that it was a tribute to two men, brutal as they were, forced as they were, kind as they were, giving this
little kid a slice of bread, and that’s how the title came to be. In atrocities the things
that went on in the ghetto need not be mentioned,
but in 1944 we were told that you can bring your
mom, or any family member to be given an insignia
to bring in the harvest of the little plot of land
that we were taking care of. We went and found ourselves in a trap. My mother and I were
immediately put on train, covered livestock wagons,
and were taken away from the ghetto of Lodz
to destinations unknown. The train rode for a day or so, came to a stop in the afternoon, they raised me up to
the barbed wire windows to find out, maybe to read
the Polish or German name of the city we’re in, there wasn’t any. All you could see was yellow, wires with insulating attachment on poles. The yellow was fields to be harvested. The Germans waited for one
thing, the darkness of night. The train moved on, a few hundred yards, the doors were ripped
open, we were ripped out, torn out, bitten out, prodded out, all and we waited for
the darkness to create confusion, panic and total disorientation. We jumped off, were immediately
forcefully separated, by the dogs, by guns, by bayonets, women go on the other side. My mom was taken away,
torn away as if she, like a tornado, no time to say anything. The brutality of separation by force cannot be described, not even in the book. She merged into the
marching column of women that was proceeding to
the end of the platform, that was the last time I
ever saw or heard from her. None of this was yet to
be known what would come. I’m now in the middle of
the adults, of male adults, we had to march, we came to
the end of the railway station, an officer stood there,
looked at you for a moment, and with the swagger
they pointed to the right or to the left. You had no way to escape,
you had to follow orders. We entered a barrack, we were stripped, they shaved our hair,
we were given a shower, maybe 10 seconds, and we were
pushed out the other end, and found myself in a
clearing, sort of a courtyard. I’m pushed against a
building, a gray building with an enormous smoke
stack and a huge flame but an odor that none
of us had experienced. There were men waiting in blue
and white striped uniforms and saying welcome to Auschwitz. That was the first time I
had ever heard of that city, the other half of the
column entered the next, the adjacent barrack, they were stripped, they lost their hair, they
were not given a shower, but they went through
the shower facilities with shower heads, instead of water it provided poison gas, and
these were the gas chambers of Auschwitz, while the
building I was standing in was the crematorium. Now Auschwitz needs to be
given a little explanation, were two facilities, the
arrival point by trains from all over Europe was called Birkenau. This was the facility
with the gas chambers, the 90,000 men destined to be
killed or to be put to work. They were the crematorium,
there were many other facilities that were used by German factories, and you arrived there with no knowledge what was going to happen to you. About a mile and a half further away was a concentration camp Auschwitz, although the name encompasses
all the factories, all the facilities, but
they were two separate, one was the killing facility, and Auschwitz was those that
were actually being used for slave labor. We were told that you are
lucky to have survived, and it was long after
the war that I found out that it is hard to believe,
not even 1/10 of 1% of arriving juveniles
were allowed to live. You had to be 15 years, or at
least look 15 years and older to have any chance,
and not every one those were allowed to live, it was at the whim of the one who made the selection. So anybody that was 15 years or younger was immediately put to death, that’s why you have the
largest killing of children in Auschwitz, with approximately more than a million and a half people were killed in that one facility, predominantly the children that arrived died within the same day
that they came to that place. Auschwitz has a name that meant a lot, it’s probably the most famous camp, it has a distinction being in Poland that the largest number of
people having to die there. The adults tried to be kind and said whatever you do don’t ever volunteer. We received a slice of bread
and maybe every other day a bit of soup, your life expectancy was six to eight weeks. I don’t even recall how long I was there, but one day I had to visit the latrine. A rare visit indeed when you
only get a slice of bread and occasional soup but
the miraculous timing that had been so frequent in my case which I could never fully understand was that that particular time
somebody came in and said, looking for juvenile volunteers. Now about 90,000 inhabitants in that camp, it is estimated there were
not even 250 children. I not only decided to go, I
ran and by idiocy at the time not only did I go to
volunteer, I even raised my arm and said hey I speak German, take me. I assumed that since almost all the others were Polish, Hungarian, Czechoslovakian maybe speaking German would be a bonus, a benefit, an advantage. And indeed 130 and myself were chosen, we were given a number, a tattoo, anything to debase you, demean you, or to keep your register. We’re never even sure
whether they kept the name but they did, not that I recall giving it. And so we were tattooed with
a painful arm on a truck, taken to a mile and a half
away to camp of Auschwitz where we were put to
work the following day working in stables. We were walking there on a short distance and saw these barracks
that were seeming to be a, shall we say, promising
structure for survival. They shoved us in, we
find ourself in stables. Each being given the assignment, take care of several horses, which was kind of odd but as it turned out Germany invaded Russia with
inadequate military equipment and they used nearly two
million horses to invade Russia. None of this was known to us. The one thing that shocked all of us, there were no human beings there, who took care of these
horses, how can that be? Simple you worked 12 hours a
day, it would have been a joy, you work 16 hours a day,
taking care of the horses which are more important
because all of these horses were pregnant, this was a
huge horse producing facility. We had no fear during the day
that something would happen because the horses were
important, more then human beings, but where were the people that took care of the horses before? Simple, they were malnutrition,
they had to work that long, when you got to the point
you no longer could perform they shipped you back the mile and a half in order for you to be killed. That was the end of your life expectancy. In January of 1945, we
were forced to represent ourselves to leave the camp of Auschwitz, it became what is commonly
known as a death march. A death march is simple, you
put a whole lot of people together, force them to
march with the threat, if you don’t keep up you’ll be executed. We used the military, prisoner of war, marches the same way,
that’s why they all fear and obliged to follow the rules because death is waiting,
if you fall by the wayside or behind. Not everyone survived the death march, we were put on trains,
this time they were open cattle wagons, open livestock wagons. Again the train took off
to destination unknown. The very next day we hear noise that was sort of unfamiliar. We wondered, it became very
obvious in no time at all, looking up at the sky
and see two airplanes circling the train. I was quite surprised and puzzled because of all these
people there were not many who knew the German insignias
on military equipment which I did, but they didn’t have that. They had circles, no crosses. I could not understand what that was. We did not know til 1945, just five months before Germany lost the war that Europe had been invaded, much
less in being in Poland and Auschwitz, we didn’t know
Germany was losing the war. The Allies did and they
realized that Germany was drawing all the military force from other countries they
occupied back into Germany to defend Germany itself. And the rule and the order was, don’t let it happen. Flying over a train looking
down and seeing open wagons, all in blue and white stripe uniforms, Allied fighter pilots could
not tell friend from foe. And we were attacked by a
machine gun, attacked two times. My good fortune was I was
put into the railroad wagon very early and was against the front, fortunately not being in the line of fire. Consequently we lost about 1/3 of those that were with us, the
train kept on going, with the carnage, the
wounded and the dying. A few days later we arrived up the hill, we were unloaded, I could not move, I looked like a frog,
and like two handles here they picked me up and I
was informed that I was back in Germany. Just what I needed, the
land that didn’t want me, now I was back in a
concentration called Buchenwald. Buchenwald was an elitist camp that held a lot of German national non-Jewish and illegally, nothing
too it for the Germans, Russian prisoners of war,
and these two people, these two groups tried desperately to keep 1500 boys that had been collected alive. We were put in a barrack
that used to be a stable in order for the law
that the Germans had set, not to have Jewish children survive, we were infected with Typhus. Starvation took it’s toll, other disease, from rats, from lice, there
were bunks that we slept on, not enough for everyone
to be accommodated. Somehow many of us, 926 as a
matter of fact did survive, and on April 11th, after
not having had food since April 1 for ten days,
where people were dying all over the place and
we were too weak to move, we hear noises again that were unfamiliar, which turned out to be tanks. The fear that we had, because we’re told that no camp will be allowed to remain, it will be flattened to the ground by tanks, bulldozers,
flamethrowers, grenades, machine guns, anything. And the fear that we had immediately that we might have 30 seconds to live, but I myself lifted myself up, looking out the window with
the little strength I had and I was convinced I lost my sanity. I see the tank, I feel
I have about 30 seconds before being blasted out
of the face of the Earth, but it didn’t happen,
and when I looked closer I was convinced my sanity
has gone down the drain because I’m looking at a white
Star of David on that tank. That is not possible, but
looking up at the turret was a soldier, an officer,
who was yelling in Yiddish, a language most European Jews understand, you are free, you are free,
we are here to free you. That was an American, it was
General Paton’s third Army, predominantly armored
that had sent up the tanks to liberate the camp. The medics of the third army came quickly sorting out the near dead, the dead, and more likely to live
and we were taken into the building that had been
vacated by the German guards. The Red Cross came in rather rapidly, trying to say that we would be given all the care they can
get which was not easy in a war zone in an
isolated camp up the hill. And the other thing in
international regards, they took all what we call data, whatever you can give about
family, birth, anything, with the hope they would possibly be able to reunite families. Not much of a chance of that. We did all that we could, Jewish organizations came quickly, waiting for us to gain strength that we might be able to
transport somewhere else, and offered refuge in either Switzerland, France and England. I decided I will never
set foot on German soil, I will have to leave
and preferably not even European soil. I chose to go to France
because we were promised a ship would be leaving sooner or later from France to go to
Palestine, now Israel, which would be a homeland
for all the Jewish orphans, and hopefully there would
be a way to make a life. Two weeks before the ship was to leave, a gentleman came to the orphanage and said I am from the American Consolute. I am here to see Henry Oster, and so I was made acquainted to the gentleman who informed me that the Red Cross had taken the names from all the survivors wherever they could find them and asked worldwide publications to list every Friday afternoon the names of the newly discovered survivors. And indeed the uncle who was
lucky enough to leave Germany in 1938 to go to Philadelphia
had moved to Los Angeles, and found my name in the
Los Angeles newspaper, including the Jewish publications which obviously made every
effort to list every name. And I arrived here in 1946. One of the earliest surviving arrivals because there was a quota
system as we had then and now, in immigration and obviously
German quota was quite large, but Germans could not come
unless you were Jewish. I arrived here to finish up for at least the students that are here today. I had an empty brain, I came here without the language skills, I had no information about
much of what might happen, except my history, I had
to go to school here. Of course I had no money, no possessions. My uncle and aunt who had
no children of their own because the hardship they encountered living in a new country received me better then any parents. They had a little service
station during the war, and I decided I had to
do something to help out to improve their lifestyle. And I insisted on taking the night shift, which I did after school. Which happened to be
watching from the station, I was selected to go to a school that gave three hours of
English language course, and I managed for 10 years to do so. My uncle and aunt were
very kind to take somebody coming, like kid falling out of the sky but they said you have to
do something in repayment. You have to make
something out of yourself, but with an empty brain
anything I could learn more or less got stuck. And I found myself surprisingly at the end of two and a half years graduating
at the age of nearly 22, because I was almost 18 when I arrived. And I decided to follow their advice. I was surprised to find myself eligible to go to university. I went to UCLA with the
idea that I would like to become a dentist because
of poor dental care, or no dental care during the war. I needed frequent visits to the dentists, and I liked the idea
of becoming a dentist. Unfortunately, believe it or not, the only anti-sematic
experience I had since coming in 1946 was my application
to dental school. At the time there were two in California. Berkeley was one that would
be willing to accept me under the conditions I’d
have to return to my homeland because I would not be allowed
to practice in California because I wasn’t a citizen. The other university showed
the first and only sign of anti-Semitism of an
entering class of 100, only two would be allowed to be Jewish and I was not able to
make any contribution to the money that they needed, and was consequently not accepted. As I always say I will not mention the name of the University,
but the initials are UCS. (audience laughs) It is not in all fairness, it is not that kind of
institution any longer, as a matter of fact it’s the university that houses Mr Spielberg’s
Shoah Foundation, which is documenting nearly
60,000 survivors stories that you can look up on YouTube and read my story, everybody else’s. As I left the school I discovered the school of optometry
which was not connected to USC, happened to be
the adjacent building. A friend of mine wanted
to be an optometrist, his father was, I felt
well, two generations, that must not be too bad, oh what he heck. Why don’t I take an application. I was admitted and four weeks later entered the school of optometry with no idea what an optometrist does. No clue, I never needed an examination, and my family was still young
enough to need one of them. However, I practiced for 60
years and I was very proud to be an optometrist. The idea was that I had
managed to find a home, a country that was only imaginary. Talk about a country that’s great. I found that, I managed to do all I can to find anything that
would be worthwhile doing by making certain voluntary contributions like Cedar Sinai medical center, and I started speaking when I was asked to speak at the museum of Tolerance. Been speaking there for 43 years. Now what about Germany? I swore never to go back, in 2011 I received a phone
call from the city of Cologne, would I consider visiting
since they have a program all over Germany, major
cities, inviting survivors. I won’t give you my opinion why they do it but it was certainly, if I may say it was sort
of like kissing your behind and that isn’t going
to make it any better. I rejected it, two weeks later I received a call from the Mayor to say I would like you to consider something. 2011 is going to be the year, that it’ll be the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the 2011 Jews that you and your family were in. Only 23 survived the war,
you’re the last living one of that 2011, would you
not consider coming? I discussed it with my wife and family, and I said you know, I don’t want to go, but I have to go. And people ask me but Henry, 70 years you’ve told us that, what’s
the one reason you go now. You have to forgive the
obscenity, but this was it. Flipping the finger to the
Germans and being a survivor, and being able to rub it
in was a hell of an amount of motivation to make that trip. We did, my wife Susie and I
went back a second time in 2015 for the liberation of the
concentration camp Buchenwald, it was it’s 70th anniversary. And basically that has been
the story of what I can convey to you what it means to
have survived the Holocaust. We do have to consider ourselves living in a great country,
not to make it great again. I think day before yesterday is gonna be one of the greatest days
this country has ever seen. We have a greatness in this country but it’s always been
with a, and I don’t mean, sorry to say it, I don’t mean
to politicize this speech but I’m so proud of this country. We have seen what greatness
can be in this country, what it’s always been because we now have 100 or more women Congress,
that never happened before. (audience applauding) We have now two Muslims,
two Native Americans, that never happened before. Whatever it may say, I
think you can realize when you listen to the news that it is something that
needs to be celebrated. And I have maybe shocking news for you, that I believe Mr Trump, I
won’t call him President, Mr Trump has actually achieved his agenda, and will leave a legacy
that he made it possible for the world to see what the population of this country really can
do to prove itself great. We don’t have to be told
to make it great again, but to me at least this country has been the absolute greatest and I’m very proud to at least convey the idea. (audience applauding) Thank you. – I know we soon have to go to class, Dr Oster has, there are
some books you can see, that he will be outside
and if you’re interested in purchasing them he’ll autograph it. Happy to do that. Also certainly be happy
to answer any questions that you may have. – Any question, nothing is too sensitive. – [Male] I would just like
to say that I’ve toured Auschwitz and Birkenau and Jewish history and the Holocaust museum
but nothing has been so touching as just to see
someone who’s personally been there and to hear your experience. – Thank you. – So I’d just like to say thank you. – That’s very kind of you. (audience applauding) – I’ll answer any questions. Yes please. – [Female] After reading your book I was curious to find out if you had ever found out what happened to your friend? – Say what? – [Female] You had a friend at one point, – Yes.
– Did he pass? – You made no friendship in
most, under these conditions, everybody was only worried about making it through the next day,
sometimes the next minute. But in Buchenwald I encountered a friend who became a friend, along
with a more famous one, Elie Wiesel was in the camp
and also in the orphanage with me, my friend survived,
we were oddly separated because he stayed behind,
I tried desperately to find him here, I knew he was coming. I looked in New York everywhere, but he lived in Long Island, and after 40 years we found each other. He passed away the year
the book was published, just unfortunately in time
to dedicate the book to him. Things are not explainable
under these conditions, I’ve wondered many times why me? The incidents that I
encountered and survived, I have never been able to explain. My wife Susie of course believes that I must have a guardian angel because you know people ask me why do you think God saved you? He/She, brown, yellow,
white, did not do that, that’s human beings who do that, with a feeling of justification that’s very difficult to explain. It’s not the only one, we have genocides, a term that was coined after the war, no during the war, 1944 in Rwanda and all over the world you have atrocities where people feel, anybody below them does not deserve to survive and people will slaughter each other. Half through our history, and I’m afraid in the future as well,
hopefully not as much as it was in the past but I mean we just had eight miles from where I live, the killing last night of
people, 13 people died. I don’t know why it is that
people feel the right now, I must, this is not planned,
but that’s how I feel. This country is based on violence. I know we like to be
peaceful but the basis is, this is a country that was
based on immigrants and refugees coming to this continent and slaughtering the Native Americans and
feeling they had the right. We had our Founding Fathers
to my great surprise, writing a constitution, The
Declaration of Independence, We the people, who were
the we, not the native, not African Americans, not
the hard working farmers. Special people that were
educated, had property, and we had of course
truly a country divided. When you had brother fight
against brother in a Civil war for the sake of slavery. Then we had a reconstruction era, what was this justice, vigilante justice. Everybody with the pistols and we glamorize it in the Western. It was an era that we had the founding of the largest group of terrorists almost any country had, the Ku Klux Klan. Not only that they paraded
in Presidential parades, inaugural parades, we
accepted and tolerate it. Then we had of course
the era of prohibition, where crime and violence was glamorized with the machine gunning with
the cars running through. Of course we had radio
with mystery program, television. What kind of programs do you watch folks? All guns, collision, explosions, military, and we enjoy that as entertainment. And the very, very worst that followed, video games, you have tick tack toe when you play it, no way,
the kids are all behind guns, and killing is the
sport and the amusement. And you wonder why people pick up guns and execute innocent people
who are dancing in an evening, and we have to live with that. The intolerance that
we show to one another we have to learn because intolerance is pretty much part of our history even though we are blessed
and fortunate enough to have a rich country, and
we have different people living supposedly together
with different ideas except the one to live in peace. We have to learn, any other question? Yes please. – [Female] Did you ever
find out what was the fate of the executioners from the Lodz Ghetto who had given you — – They were only Jews,
there were no others. The ghetto means only Jews. They were born in Poland, I don’t know how observant as Jews were but there were no other,
there was no question, nor any other faith, no. That’s what made it so difficult perhaps, Jews executing Jews by,
they would have been killed if they didn’t do it. They were picked because
they were gigantic. They could handle the people. Yes please. – One more question and then Dr. Oster will be available with his
book so you can ask a question. – [Female] I was just
curious what your number was? – You’re welcome to see my number. I’ll bring my sleeve
up and you can see it. The number is 7648, you
were labeled by number in order to be categorized
like branding cattle. Only Auschwitz, was the
only camp that did that, and to be accurate never when you got in, never because they never
expect you to live. Only when you were taken out like I was, were you given a tattoo, it was brutal and many people ask me why
didn’t you get rid of it. And I said I wouldn’t get rid of it because what I had to do
to earn it so to speak. They say well doesn’t it bother you? – I say not the least because I survived, and I made it my license plate
on my automobile as well. The world doesn’t know
what it means but I do. (audience applauding) Thank you, thank you very much.

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