CSM students relive horrors of Holocaust through guest speaker
Holocaust Museum volunteer shares his stories about hiding in Hungary during WWII
The Holocaust ended in 1945 but that tragic page in history is still remembered to this day. By seeing the faces and hearing the stories of survivors, many are able to understand the genocide and persecution that millions of the Jewish population in Europe faced for years during World War II.
On April 14, a speaking engagement held at the College of Southern Maryland La Plata Campus showed the college’s support for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “Never Again” theme by inviting Holocaust survivor Peter Gorog to share his remarkable story and shocking experiences during such a tragic time in history.
CSM communication, arts and history professor Christine Arnold-Lourie said this is the fourth year that CSM has brought someone from the Holocaust museum to speak to students. She believes it is important to expand students’ understanding of the meaning of diversity.
“Having a speaker come here to tell their individual story makes it real for the students. It is important to be able to connect a person with the event and the literature that they are studying. The students will also realize that words matter, actions matter and they can learn from Mr. Gorog’s experience,” Arnold-Lourie said.
Gorog, 75, is a Holocaust museum volunteer who grew up in communist Hungary. Gorog was born Péter Grünwald in Budapest, on March 10, 1941, but in fear of antisemitic discrimination, he changed his family name from Grünwald to Gorog in 1962.
Gorog explained to CSM students how the increase of oppressive antisemitic laws, forced labor battalions and labor camps that were established in Hungary affected his own life. Gorog’s father was forced into a labor battalion where he was given little food or clothing, and then was declared dead after Gorog’s birth.
In March 1944, German forces invaded Hungary and the Hungarian government ordered the Jewish families in Budapest to move into houses marked with a yellow Star of David. Fearing further persecution if they moved into that particular housing, Gorog and his family found refuge with a Christian friend.
Gorog spoke about how his mother was arrested by the Hungarian police and taken to a street jail. His mother escaped two days later and then Gorog’s family fled to a Budapest ghetto, where they spent most of their time in the basement during the frequent air raids.
“When my mom was taken, I was 4 years old. I was left behind with a family that hid and they took care of me so I was well fed, told a story and then put in bed. If your mother disappears for one or two days and at the same time you are well taken care of; it’s not a big deal in many people’s lives. But as a child I had no idea what was happening in politics. I didn’t even know there was a war,” Gorog said.
However, the future had a lot in store for Gorog. He later earned a master of science degree in electrical engineering and participated in the design of the first Hungarian-made computer. Gorog came to the United States in 1980, where he worked on various NASA projects such as the Landsat program, the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope.
“There is so much false information about what happened during the Holocaust and I want to make sure that people are well informed and hear from those who lived through the Holocaust,” Gorog said. “I also want to make sure people can use this information whenever they see signs of wrong doings in ethnic groups, or people who look different from us, and are picked on, bullied or discriminated against, hopefully people will not stand by, but will do what they can to prevent having another genocide.”
Gorog retired in 2014 and has a wife, five daughters and two granddaughters. It was apparent to the students that Gorog’s destiny was far greater than the tragic events that surrounded him in Hungary.
“I truly appreciate the student who asked why the Jews were picked on for so many years. That was an important question because the Holocaust didn’t just happen overnight and her question showed that the students really got my message about never again allowing discrimination to prevail,” Gorog said.
Languages and literature instructor Rachel Heinhorst said that sharing stories with others is powerful and influential. The power of language had a profound effect on the students who heard Gorog’s story.
“I hope that this firsthand account of the historical era will help the students and others rebuild an empathy that is definitely needed in society,” Heinhorst said.
Peter Gorog, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum volunteer, speaks to a group of more than 50 students at the College of Southern Maryland La Plata Campus last week about his experiences during the Holocaust.
Peter Gorog, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum volunteer, showed CSM students photos of the forced labor battalions and camps that were established in Hungary when he was a child during World War II.