Despite the painful memories, Holocaust survivor works to never forget
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
They were hustled through the camps, filed into lines and forced to march. Through the day, they trudged toward a different slave camp, and were beaten if they ever collapsed. Their skin was bruised, their limbs were kicked in and shrunken. Their hope was damaged as badly as their bodies.
If you go
What: Holocaust Remembrance Program
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: B’Nai Israel Jewish Center, 3830 NW 16th Blvd.
Sponsored by: The Jewish Council of North Central Florida
Cost: Free and open to the public
"We were skeleton-like beings; we were zombies," said Dr. Walter Ziffer, who was 14 when the Nazis deported his family from their hometown of Czechoslovakia in 1941. "We looked like hell. H-e-l-l."
On Sunday, as part of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Program, Ziffer will discuss "How The Holocaust Impacted My Life" at B'nai Israel in Gainesville.
"Rather than chronologically, I'm taking a number of experiences that have left a residue in my life," he said.
People should never forget, and they should never stay idle and ignorant when they can be informed and make a difference, he said. One of his great concerns is that Americans aren't aware of the issues surrounding them, and fail to act on the information they receive.
First it was slave labor. Then it was concentration camps. Starvation was the norm, and torture was a daily occurrence for four years.
Ziffer, now 86 and a well-known biblical scholar and philosophy professor at Mars Hill College in North Carolina, passed through seven camps in total.
He saw people shipped to extermination camps and broken through violence, but the one thing he said he will never forget is the silence.
Because the pain didn't just come from soldiers — it also came from those who saw everything and refused to speak.
When they stumbled through towns, no one came to their aid, he said. The people just watched from their windows.
"We could see the venetian blinds in the window moving," Ziffer said. "They saw us miserable-looking people moving by, and falling down, and nobody came to our help. This just happened day after day after day. It's never erased from one's memory and one's soul."
Using his experiences from Germany during Hitler's fascist rise to power, Ziffer wants to emphasize how important it is "to become intelligently and politically involved while we still have the time."
"You have to inform yourself, and you cannot limit yourself to one side of the issue," he said, "even if it may be unpleasant to do so."
After his speech, he hopes people question their own democratic involvement.
"We are the people, we make decisions," he said. You have to make your voice heard in one way or another. And sometimes that's dangerous. But what choice do we have if we want true progress to a better world?"
Before he was a professor, Ziffer was a pastor, said his daughter Elizabeth Ziffer, 59, who lives in Gainesville.
She always remembers her father as "a do-er."
"He was very aware of world affairs," Elizabeth said. "For him, it was getting up in the morning and reading the paper as well as the holy scripture, and putting these things side by side, and wondering: What is my role in the world?"
Ziffer said he speaks passionately about the subject because the lessons are too valuable to be reduced to a paragraph in history.
"I don't particularly enjoying doing this," he said, "but people need to know about this. I think that within 10 years, there'll be nobody around to continue raising consciousness and sensitivity."