Holo­caust sur­vivor urges stu­dents to fight in­jus­tice

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - News - By Erin Kay­ata

STAM­FORD — Ju­dith Alt­mann’s life changed for­ever the year she was 14.

It was 1939, the year Nazis in­vaded her home­town of Jasina, Cze­choslo­vakia. Alt­mann had to start wear­ing a yel­low Star of David and couldn’t go to school. Nazis took her fa­ther’s gen­eral store and the fam­ily’s horses and cows.

The fam­ily was left with one cow, which Alt­mann’s mother used to make cheese and but­ter. Once a month, she hired some­one to bring the food to Alt­mann’s older sis­ter in Poland. One day, the per­son came back and said the food could not be de­liv­ered. The per­son wit­nessed the ex­e­cu­tion of Alt­mann’s sis­ter who was forced to strip naked and watch her chil­dren be shot be­fore she was killed.

Alt­mann told her story, along with oth­ers from her time in Auschwitz, to sev­enth-graders at Scofield Mag­net Mid­dle School on Fri­day.

It was Alt­mann’s 13th visit to the school and came shortly af­ter a study from the Con­fer­ence on Jewish Ma­te­rial Claims Against Ger­many showed two-thirds of mil­len­ni­als do not know what Auschwitz is while one-fifth haven’t heard of the Holo­caust.

“We’re very lucky, “said Jen Robert­son, a sev­enth-grade art teacher who helped co­or­di­nate Alt­mann’s visit. “Es­pe­cially with kids of this age, it’s very im­por­tant for them to be exposed to the idea of the Holo­caust. A lot don’t know about it un­til we do this. To meet a sur­vivor, they’re the last gen­er­a­tion to get to do that.”

Scofield Prin­ci­pal Scott Clayton said Alt­mann’s visit co­in­cides with the sev­enth-graders’ study of Euro­pean his­tory, as well as their read­ing of “Night” by Holo­caust sur­vivor Elie Wiesel.

“They walk away com­pletely stunned some­thing like this could’ve hap­pened not that long ago,” Clayton said. “They can read about his­tory, they can see videos, but the most pow­er­ful thing is when they can see a woman who sur­vived Auschwitz.”

Alt­mann and her fam­ily were ar­rested and brought to Auschwitz in 1944. They ar­rived on May 21, which Alt­mann re­mem­bers as the last day she saw her fam­ily, most of whom were killed in the con­cen­tra­tion camp. As Alt­mann was be­ing led away from her fa­ther, he put his hand on her head, like he did when bless­ing her on Fri­days, the Sab­bath, and told her “Judy, you will live.”

“These were the last words I ever heard from my fa­ther,” she said.

Over the next year, Alt­mann went from Auschwitz to la­bor camps where she sur­vived on scraps of bread and black wa­ter. At one point, she broke her wrist, but was saved by an SS of­fi­cer who took her to the hospi­tal be­cause she wanted to keep Alt­mann around for her lan­guage skills.

“Learn all you can,” said Alt­mann, who speaks seven lan­guages. “You will use it for liveli­hood and knowl­edge. In my case, it kept me alive. No one can take this from you.”

Alt­mann was freed in 1945 af­ter sur­viv­ing the death march to Ber­gen Belsen and bat­tling ty­phus. She moved to Swe­den and spent a year re­cov­er­ing from her ill­ness be­fore im­mi­grat­ing to the United States in 1948. Now 93, she has lived in Stam­ford since 1975 when her job in technical writ­ing and de­sign moved her here.

De­spite ex­pe­riene, Alt­mann said she tries not to hold onto hate. In­stead, she speaks at about 50 schools a year and en­cour­ages stu­dents to in­ter­vene when they see in­jus­tice.

“It’s im­por­tant to reach young peo­ple,” she said. “They should cre­ate a bet­ter world.”

Tyler Size­more / Hearst Conn. Me­dia file photo

Holo­caust sur­vivor Ju­dith Alt­mann shares her story last year.

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