WU alum, Holocaust survivor talks hope, tolerance

| Senior News Editor

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Chabad on Campus brought in Holocaust survivor Eugen Schoenfeld, who attended Washington University after being released from the concentration camp.

Eugen Schoenfeld, a Holocaust survivor, speaks in Graham Chapel to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The talk centered around Schoenfeld’s experiences with hope and tolerance as both a survivor and sociologist.Skyler Kressler | Student Life

Eugen Schoenfeld, a Holocaust survivor, speaks in Graham Chapel to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The talk centered around Schoenfeld’s experiences with hope and tolerance as both a survivor and sociologist.

Schoenfeld is the relative of two current Washington University students, sophomores Becki Zeuner and David Schonfeld, who introduced him at Graham Chapel on Wednesday night.

While he detailed his experiences living through World War II and his journey to Auschwitz, Schoenfeld focused his message on the importance of hope in difficult circumstances and on the problems of tolerance.

“If you lost money, it was nothing, but if you lost hope, it was everything. And it was this hope that kept us going,” he said.

Schoenfeld, born in 1925 in what is now Ukraine, was in his late teens when he was sent to Auschwitz with his family in 1944. He remembered the experience of the train ride there as his mother cried, as well as his separation from his family.

“Tears are coming down, and I asked her, ‘Mama, why are you crying?’ and she tells me and says, ‘Son, I had a wonderful life with your dad. I experienced a good life, and you children never had a chance,’” Schoenfeld recalled. “They formed us in two lines, the men and the women. Goodbye, Mother. Goodbye, Esther, Grandma, Aunt Ellie, goodbye.”

Schoenfeld then spoke about the question he asked his father as he was initially processed in the camp.

“I said, ‘Dad, how is it possible that now in the middle of the 20th century…with all the advancements in psychology and sociology and philosophy and the sciences, how is it possible that we are still so inhumane to our own people?’” he said. “And that question, ladies and gentlemen, became a force, a motivation, in me, later in my life even today.”

Schoenfeld, after completing his schooling, went on to chair the Department of Sociology at Georgia State University. He focused on the concept of tolerance in teaching sociology.

“The magic word that would cure all social issues, and what was it? Tolerance. And I accepted it. But slowly I started thinking, tolerance is not the be-it, the end-of-it-all thing that would create a just society,” Schoenfeld said. “If this is how I am to be to you, as a Jewish person, if I am to be tolerated, thanks but no thanks. I do not want to be tolerated…Everybody has the right to life. It is not tolerance I am seeking. If you tolerate me, fine. If you love me, fine. But I do not want that. I want my life as a human being—I have my right to exist, to be given a chance equally to everybody else for existence.”

Schoenfeld closed his talk by recalling his liberation.

“I was 90138. They never called my name, only my number. And here is a man who says ‘I am Lieutenant Schwartz.’ And I answer, ‘Lieutenant, I am Eugen Schoenfeld.’ I said my name. I am a human being right now,” he said.

eugenSkyler Kressler | Student Life

Graham Chapel was completely filled for the speech, and attendees ranged from members of the Chabad on Campus group to non-Jewish students to St. Louis community members. Those in attendance were grateful for the experience.

“It’s just so important to commemorate the Holocaust in any way we can. It’s not enough to just have one day. We have to take every opportunity,” junior Eli Horowitz said. “Like he said, he is 90; he won’t be around forever. I was really happy that so many people showed up. I think it means a lot to the entire Jewish community here—I saw a lot of people here who weren’t from the Jewish community, which means a lot. Aside from that, it was really interesting that he spoke about his life before and his life after, and it’s really encouraging to hear that he didn’t let the experience take over his life. Obviously it defined a large part of his life, but it wasn’t everything.”

Junior Jacqueline Morris, who helped organize the event, was working for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust this past summer when she came across Schoenfeld’s name. She was very excited to bring him in, especially because of his added relevance to the community.

“It was especially great because he was an alumni here—it meant a lot to us. Each year we’re trying to find a Holocaust survivor who has a different, new, unique story, so being that he actually came to Wash. U. after the war, he was a student here like all of us. It was something special,” Morris said.

Rabbi Hershey Novack of the Chabad on Campus group said he was happy with the outcome of the event, stressing the importance of hearing from Holocaust survivors especially as they grow older.

“As the memory of the Holocaust fades, the Chabad organization has taken a commitment to bring a Holocaust survivor to campus at least once per year until there are none left. It is important that the Holocaust not become a distant memory until the last survivors are no longer with us. College students today are the last generation of young people who will have the opportunity to interact with survivors, and we see it as very important to facilitate this intergenerational dialogue,” Novack said.

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Schoenfeld ended his talk by discussing his liberation. Previously, it said that Schoenfeld concluded by discussing the shuttering of Auschwitz.

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