On Nov. 12, Salt Lake Community College had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Inge Auerbacher, author, chemist and Holocaust survivor.
Nov. 9 and 10 marked the 81st anniversary of the first major riot against the Jewish people known as Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass.”
The riot began when Adolf Hitler, then the chancellor of Germany, learned that German diplomat Ernst vom Rath had been shot and killed in Paris by a Polish-Jewish student, Herschel Grynszpan. The outcry for retaliation was met with an order given by secret police chief Heinrich Muller.
Muller ordered the police to stand down on any actions taken against Jews and their synagogues. The firemen stood by as the synagogues were vandalized and burned to the ground.
The violence symbolized a literal shattering of the Jewish people’s existence in Germany. Auerbacher recalled her memories of this time and the years that followed.
During the Kristallnacht, her father and grandfather were arrested and taken to Dachau concentration camp. They were allowed to return home just a few weeks later and told their families of the horrors they faced there.
By 1938, Jews were banned from attending local schools and eventually most public places in Germany. Auerbacher was forced to attend a Jewish school, miles away from home, but eventually that school was closed as well and Auerbacher lost eight years of schooling and education.
Auerbacher and her family were forced from their home, joining her grandparents in a small town just outside of Ulm, Germany. In October 1940, all the Jews were deported and sent north to make the states “free of Jews.”
All across Germany, people stood and watched as their friends and neighbors were forced into trucks.
“Had more people cared, I think this wouldn’t have happened … the bystander is just as guilty,” Auerbacher says.
In December 1941, transports to the east began. Auerbacher recalls that her family was to be sent to Riga, Latvia. Miraculously, her father managed to get a letter to the secret police stating he was a disabled war veteran. Auerbacher, with both of her parents, were pulled from the transport.
Auerbacher’s grandmother was not as lucky, however. The rest of the transport, which included her grandmother, continued to Riga and into the forests to be slaughtered.
More than 50 mass graves exist in that Latvian forest, with over 50,000 people buried below.
“For all intents and purposes, I should have been in one,” Auerbacher states.
A few months passed, and another set of deportation papers arrived. This time, Auerbacher received a new identity: XIII-1-408. Her family was sent to a school gymnasium, where all of their belongings were confiscated and searched.
They were told, “you won’t need this where you’re going,” Auerbacher recalls.
From there, they were sent by train to another camp and arrived two days later in a little town outside of Prague. It was a small fortress town in the Czech Republic, where the concentration camp, Terezín, was located.
Immediately after exiting the train, they were told to drop everything and march. Her parents sheltered her from the blows as the guards rained down with their whips.
“We marched into camp in broad daylight and no one did a thing to stop it,” Auerbacher says.
The camp was surrounded by high brick walls lined with barbed wire and wooden fences. Their beds were cement floors, the water was polluted and they had very little food. Their rations were small pieces of bread or potatoes that had often begun to rot.
“We were held there like cattle waiting for the slaughter,” Auerbacher recalls.
It was at this camp that nearly 140,000 Jewish people died. Two-thirds were shipped to Auschwitz to be killed, and nearly one third died of malnutrition.
“Only one percent of them made it, and I am a part of that one percent. 15,000 children under the age of 15 died in that camp,” states Auerbacher.
On May 8, 1945, the camp was finally liberated.
“I never lost my faith in God,” Auerbacher says, reinforcing that her love for her faith and for humanity is what keeps her going today.
Auerbacher travels the world telling her story so that we may never forget the tragic and horrific things that took place. By telling her story, she hopes history will never repeat itself.
Auerbacher asked those in attendance: “Had Hitler won, who would have been next? Many of you might not be sitting here today if he had.”