"Anyone can go to the Holocaust museum [in Washington DC] but not everyone gets this experience." ~A. Speitel (student, 17)
Anneliese Nossbaum speaks to 800 students
This is verbatim of the article from the Times Leader on December 15th, 2011. The link may no longer be available.
A Voice of Survival
Anneliese Nossbaum shares her tale of life during time of horror.
HAZLE TWP. – One of the few items Anneliese Nossbaum brought with her when she boarded a train headed to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi Germany in 1944 was a photo of her father.
The young teen had cut out the image of his face and smuggled it into the camp after Nazi soldiers told their Jewish captives they had to leave behind all of their belongings before entering the camp.
Nossbaum hid the photo in her mouth whenever she stood in line to take a shower so the soldiers wouldn’t confiscate it.
“It lasted only a short time, and I cried bitterly when his face faded away and all that was left was the piece of paper,” Nossbaum, now 82, told more than 800 Hazleton Area High School students Wednesday as they sat in silence, spellbound by her story of surviving the Holocaust.
Nossbaum, of Philadelphia, shared with the students “certain happenings” in her life in Nazi Germany and concentration camps “that either shaped me or they pulled me apart.”
Crystal Lyons, an English teacher at the Hazleton Area Career Center, said her freshmen honors English students had read “Night,” a book by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father, Shlomo, in Nazi concentration camps.
Lyons contacted the Holocaust Awareness Museum in Philadelphia and program director Phil Holtje agreed to bring a survivor to speak at the school if there was a sizable audience. Because the Holocaust is covered in the U.S. History course taken by juniors, Principal Rocco Petrone agreed to an assembly for the entire junior class as well as Lyons’ freshmen.
Nossbaum told the students how her life changed in her birthplace of Guben, Germany, as the Nazis began their systematic genocide of millions of Jews. For much of her childhood, Nossbaum said, she “was able to go anywhere I wanted to go.”
By 1935, her family’s citizenship was revoked. They were banned from public places such as swimming pools. She was not allowed to go to school. Still, she could see a movie now and then, she said. “It was a special treat for me. It felt safe to be there.”
Nossbaum also felt safe in her synagogue, where her father was a cantor.
“The synagogue had become my second home.”
On Nov. 10, 1938, the Nazis burned down her second home.
“Someone rushed into our school and shouted that our synagogue, my synagogue, my home, was now on fire. How can I describe the feelings of helplessness, sadness, as I walked along my father’s side … neither one of us saying a word. … My world was breaking. I was falling apart,” she said.
When Nossbaum was 12, the Nazis ordered her family moved to a cloister. “We could have escaped so easily. But where to? Who would have helped us? In 1941, the cloister became my prison. … 474 people were interred, seven people survived, all women,” she said.
In July 1942, the family was deported to Czechoslovakia. And in October 1944, Nossbaum was deported with her mother to Auschwitz.
Upon arrival, her head was shaved and she was selected to work in the slave labor camp. Five days later, she and her mother were sent to a factory in Germany, where she was forced to make airplane parts. She celebrated her 16th birthday there. A scrap of bread was the present she received from her mother, a gift she cherished.
In April 1945, Nossbaum and her mother were deported to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. On May 5, the U.S. Army liberated them. Afflicted with tuberculosis, her mother died in a hospital that December.
She described coming to the United States in 1946 and passing the Statue of Liberty as “a glorious moment” she’ll never forget.
Freshmen honors students Maria Trivelpiece and Layne Miller said they were moved by Nossbaum’s stories about saying goodbye to her father and seeing his photo fade away day by day.
Larissa Wright said Nossbaum’s story gave her a “stronger realization of what actually happened” in the Holocaust.
Benjamin Eboray said hearing Nossbaum speak after taking history classes “made it a lot more personal. The history books can only tell you so much.”
Becky Auman said the experience was “like stepping back in time. It’s like stepping into their shoes. … This taught me a lot.”