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Friday, October 20, 2006

Holocaust survivor warns of the evils of hate

Gizella Abramson believes she knows why she survived the Holocaust.

Gizella Abramson“I’m here because of you young people,” Abramson said. “I made myself survive, so I could tell the world the preciousness of freedom.”

And she spoke of the evils of hate that led to the extermination of six million Jews in concentration camps during World War II.

“There is nothing worst than hate,” she said. “Hate eats you up first.”

Abramson traveled to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke to tell the story of a young Jewish girl’s nightmare journey through the Holocaust, from the Polish ghetto to the work camps where millions perished.

She was a guest Tuesday of UNCP’s Multicultural Center, and she spoke to an overflow audience in a classroom in Old Main. Her lecture, which lasted two hours, was supported by the endowment of the Robeson County Hebrew Congregation.

Now in her late 70s and living in Raleigh, N.C., Abramson is a member of a dwindling number of Holocaust survivors. She is clearly driven to tell her story.

All of 4-feet 9-inches, Abramson delivered an eloquent and animated talk. She is the daughter of an educated Polish family and was 11 years old in 1939 when war loomed and hostilities towards Jews reached her native soil.

“The Germans came from the east and the Russians from the west, and we had only 45 minutes to gather our belongings and get out of our home when the communists came.”

Abramson told the story of successively more brutal and murderous assaults by SS storm troopers and local police on Jews and others. Early on, 3,000 young men were rounded up and only 22 returned.

Gizella Abramson

“We did not exist in this world,” she said of the Jews. “The next order was to wear white armbands with the six-pointed Jewish star sewed on it. They were extremely precise. They wanted very small stitches.”

A time of great hunger had commenced as the Jews were removed to ghettos and later to camps. Babies were taken from the village square by trucks.
 
“The Gestapo arrived in their black uniforms and black boots,” she said. “In all my life did I ever see such shiny boots. You could see yourself in the reflection.”

“It is strange I didn’t hear any wailing from the mothers,” she said. “They had stone faces. Their screams must have landed in heaven because those babies were never heard from again.”

Because she was blond with blue eyes and spoke many languages, Abramson was enlisted to forage for food outside the walls of the Luck ghetto. She returned with scraps because food was scarce everywhere.

Polish farmers, who were Christian, hid her for a time after escaping the ghetto.

“These Christians knew what would happen to them if we were found,” Abramson said. “They were the righteous among the righteous. There are trees around the Holocaust Museum in Israel with their names on them.”

Because of her language abilities, Abramson was useful to the underground resistance movement. She was captured and taken by cattle train to a work camp, where prisoners were sorted for work or death.

“There was a girl just like me standing in line in front of me,” she said. “They told her to go right, me left. The ones who had pimples on their faces did not live.”

In the Polish camp, Abramson worked with 273 women in a German factory. There was little hope, little food and a death sentence for “anything that did not please the SS.”

“Friends were very important,” she said. “If your friend had a little hope, it came to you too. I did survive.”

Weighing 42 pounds, Abramson recovered in an American hospital and later moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. Abramson said she was consumed by hate, especially for the Germans.

“I was angry at the whole world, and I hated everything that was German,” she said. “I realized that hate kills, not German people.

“I realized that if I continued to hate, it would give Hitler victory,” Abramson said. “Forgive no, but I do not hate.

“I have seen such hate in my life,” she said. “I have seen them laughing like hyenas while killing babies.

“Students ask, ‘do you remember the pain?’” she said. “I have scars on my body, but what I remember is the hate. Why did all those brilliant people have to die?

“Respect is the most important thing,” Abramson concluded.

Robert Canida, director of UNCP’s Office of Multicultural and Minority Affairs (OMMA), said it remains important for the next generation to hear the Holocaust story.

“Ms. Abramson told me that she did not have a story, she had an experience to relate,” Canida said. “It is an important story to pass on the our students.

OMMA is currently preparing for Native American Heritage Month with several events planned in November. Cynthia Hunt, from the Lumber River Legal Services, will be speaking on the Lumbee Recognition Bill and John Oxendine, from the Lumbee Tribal Office, will speak on Lumbee Indian culture and traditions at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 15.

For more information about programs at the Multicultural Center, please call 910.521.6508 or email oma@uncp.edu.

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