They are the survivors of the survivors of one of the greatest horrors in the world’s history: The Holocaust. And they live among us.
These are stories the Nazis never wanted told. These are people the Nazis wanted to forever silence.
But the stories of these men and women, who age from 87 into their late 90s, and who represent the last of the generations who escaped the Nazi death machine, aren’t merely stories of tragedy and horror, although there is that.
They are stories of hope. Humanity. And the human spirit,
A team of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee journalism students banded together with the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center to capture and preserve the stories of 10 Milwaukee-area Holocaust survivors. The HERC is also sponsoring a series of community forums showcasing the survivors’ stories.
Think you know everything there is to know about the Holocaust? Think again. You will learn the story of the young man who repeatedly tried to escape Germany before the Nazis arrived. Turned away as a refugee from an America struggling with the Great Depression, he eventually made it here. Then, he did the unthinkable: He returned to Germany. As an American GI.
You will learn the story of an elderly woman who sits in Shorewood surrounded by art – art paid for by “blood money” – the reparations from the German government which put her in a concentration camp. As with the others, though, she has stubbornly refused to give into bitterness, to anger, to hate. Instead, she has turned to hope, and she surrounds herself with beauty paid for in blood.
“I told myself, ‘Don’t you ever hate,” says survivor Raye David.
It is this common thread – the ability to see light in darkness, to focus on hope and not hate – that binds these survivors even more so than the tragedy they lived through. It might be one of the reasons they not only survived the Holocaust but also survived its aftermath. Their stories are particularly resonant today as many mentioned events in the news – talk about Muslim databases; ISIS’ mass graves and executions of religious minorities; the terrorist attacks in Paris; the controversies over Syrian refugees.
“The Holocaust was so much evil with neighbor turned against neighbor and father turned against son and son against father,” says survivor Phil Freund. “If we can’t get along within the family of human beings, there’s something wrong. We were put on this Earth not to discriminate, not to treat people bad, but to help out fellow human beings.”
One survivor immediately went back into survivor mode after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. You see, she had seen before how quickly society can disintegrate. They all had.
These are their stories. They are important. Because they are stories that were not supposed to be told, they must be.
Student Jonathan Powell’s eloquent piece on Lee Marnett starts off the series. He writes:
He is ageless.
It’s not because he chose his own birthday. Or because at over 80-years-old he’s still exercising daily. And it’s not because he can still recall events that happened nearly 75 years ago with remarkable detail.
Lee Marnett is ageless because he is eternally optimistic. It’s because he employed more resolve before he was 10 years old than some men do in their entire lifetime. And beyond all else, when you look into his eyes, you see the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of the eldest sage simultaneously looking back at you.
It’s painful to think that those eyes have seen the lightless depths of humanity’s most visceral forms of malice. But Lee’s story isn’t about pain and suffering. It’s about redemption. And for all the horrors that were cast on innocent people, Lee did his part to try to make up for it with good. And still is.
For all the savagery he saw, he practices kindness. For being stripped of all he had, he offers charity. When all seemed entirely lost, he found hope. And to this day, he is still doing his best to help restore that balance.
Lee Marnett is many things. He is a business owner, husband, humanitarian, multilinguist, storyteller, and Packer fan. Most of these things you can simply tell just by his actions or short bits of conversation. But there’s one thing he probably won’t tell you unless you ask him.
Lee Marnett is a Holocaust survivor.
He is ageless. It’s not because he chose his own birthday. Or because at over 80 years old he’s still exercising daily. And it’s not because he can still recall events that happened nearly 75 years ago with remarkable detail. Lee Marnett is ageless because he is eternally optimistic. It’s because he employed more resolve […]
A soft-spoken man nearing 90, Nathan Taffel, sits in his small Mequon ranch home remembering a cheerful childhood as a young boy with curly hair and bright blue eyes. (Video story by Amanda Porter; print story by Daniel Zielinski) It was a cheerful childhood for a time, anyway. He thrusts forward an arm to reveal […]
The frigid November wind whipped the door of the split-level house in Shorewood, WI. At 87-years-old, Raye David hobbled down the cascading stairs with a hand fashioned cane. As she sauntered back up, her teal pajamas accented the crimson walls. (Print story by Dylan Deprey; video story by Tyler Nelson). Paintings caressed every inch of […]
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When Phil Freund was eight he had hope ripped away from him while sitting in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. He escaped the terrifying regime that was Nazi Germany. He thought he was saved. He was with 908 innocent people attempting to save themselves and their families to try and start a new life in […]
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Edith Schafer once described her living quarters growing up during the Holocaust in a room she cannot even describe as an apartment to a young group visiting her home. She blocked off her living room to about the size of her area rug. She laid down a few pillows and blankets, brought in one chair […]
The birth of a child for many can be a special moment. Being surrounded by loved ones in a hospital and gazing into the eyes of a newborn baby for the first time are moments that aren’t easily forgotten. When Edie Pump was brought into this world on May 18, 1942, her parents were on […]
Susie Fono is 7-years-old. She cowers in front of a wood stove in a small room crammed with people. Bullets slam against the outer walls of the building, and bombs rattle in the distance. The year is 1945, and the Soviet Red Army is battling back the German troops that had occupied her family’s home […]