Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Holocaust survivor speaks on importance of tolerance at UMass

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian
Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

Students and members of the Amherst community packed the Curry Hicks Cage gymnasium to hear the stories and experiences of Holocaust survivor Chana Pfeifen Wednesday night.

Pfeifen sat beside her granddaughter, University of Massachusetts freshman Maxine Wiesenfeld, as she talked about her experience of being forced out of her home at the age of 10, and her journey through ghettos, transit camps and concentration camps.

The event was organized by UMass Hillel in partnership with the UMass Amherst Panhellenic Council, the Interfraternity Council, the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies and the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, according to the event’s Facebook page.

Before Pfeifen’s talk, Ben Casper, a junior biology major and member of the Hillel community, explained the importance of hearing the experiences of Holocaust survivors in person.

“It’s important for us to hear what happened and be able to pass it on,” Casper said. “We’re the last generation that’s going to get to hear it.”

Pfeifen told stories of loved family members that were beaten, tortured and murdered by the Nazi regime. She shared stories of family members that died during the Holocaust and spoke of its importance.

“(It’s the survivors’) duty to tell the story,” Pfeifen said. “It’s hard to talk about, it’s so sad.”

The Holocaust resulted in the extermination of approximately six million Jews and impacted the lives of countless others. Pfeifen spoke of the atrocities that she and the other survivors witnessed.

“Nobody should have the experiences of us survivors,” she said.

Although some of the events Pfeifen spoke of happened more than 70 years ago, the pain of recalling her experiences could be openly seen and felt. Pfeifen’s granddaughter supported her during the most painful testimonies.

Pfeifen also spoke of her life after the war and how she had to rebuild from scratch, including stories of her time in the Israeli Air Force, resettling her life in America and having to raise her two sons herself in the Bronx after the death of her husband.

Even though Pfeifen experienced and witnessed suffering on such a massive scale and in such a personal manner, she is thankful for her family and that she was able to help in the building of the Jewish and Democratic state of Israel.

Pfeifen spoke with great pride of her children and grandchildren. She also encouraged the importance of an education and respecting each other’s different religious views.

Pfeifen finished by urging the mostly student-filled audience to be accepting of one another and to treat people with kindness and respect. An injustice against one group of people is an injustice against all people, she said.

Keren Radbil, a sophomore natural resource major and member of the Hillel community, spoke of the importance of attending such events, especially after last month, when several anti-Semitic incidents occurred on UMass’ campus.

“The Holocaust is a prime example of hatred not being stopped,” Radbil said. “It’s on our shoulders to make sure something like this never ever happens again.”

Dan Curtin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @dmcurtin96.

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    Harrison ShecterApr 7, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Chana told stories about the best and worst of humanity she witnessed in such a short but crucial time in her life. While most Europeans she encountered were very happy to get rid of their Jewish communities, others showed her acts of kindness, often crucial to her survival, that would periodically restore her hope for humanity.
    That said, it was also a truly amazing and inspiring story of how the Jewish people can rise from the ruins to thrive again, despite the many hardships forced upon us throughout the ages.