I had been bringing Holocaust survivors to La Crescent High School when I taught there.
Eighteen years ago, after retiring from teaching, I went to Rick Kyte, chairman of Ethics and Leadership at Viterbo University, where I was teaching History of the Holocaust, and proposed to him that we bring a series of Holocaust speakers to the area. Rick agreed and for all these past years we have been working together to make this dream a reality.
Since 2005, 21 Holocaust speakers and survivors have stood on the Viterbo stage, 19 of them survivors, and told their horrendous stories of inspiration. Like World War II veterans, Holocaust survivors are dying at an alarming rate. Soon the world will be left to rely on memoirs and videos to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.
My husband, Marv, and I have been blessed to spend time with all the survivors we have helped bring to our area, and their response is always the same. They cannot get over how honored they feel and how positive their welcome is. Their stories are not tales of doom and gloom but rather of love and hope. Instead of coming away depressed, audiences come away inspired and grateful for what they have. We may take our area hospitality for granted, but the survivors do not. I want you to know just how grateful Holocaust survivors are for your appreciation.
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To all of you who have come to hear our survivors, thank you for your graciousness to them and for recognizing how important it is to share their stories. The interest you have shown by attending their events and by the respectful questions generated following their presentations, show them how much you care about their messages. Our community has embraced our guests. The hospitality you have shown, and the interest in their stories and lives has not gone unnoticed. Thank you for accepting the gifts Holocaust survivors have given you.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23, we will bring Holocaust survivor Peter Feigl to the Viterbo Fine Arts Center to speak to our community free-of-charge. Ninety-three-year-old Peter, who graced our stage in 2012, will return in conjunction with the 16th annual Holocaust Educators’ Workshop at Viterbo for Holocaust educators March 23-24. He was scheduled to present a year ago but was unable to travel due to illness. Do come early to ensure getting a seat.
Peter was born in 1929 in Berlin, Germany, the only child of secular Austrian parents. Upon returning to Austria in 1937, Peter’s parents had him baptized as a Catholic to protect him from Nazi persecution of Jews, but he was still identified as a Jew by the Nazis. The Feigls fled several countries to escape continued discrimination and oppression, but Peter’s parents were arrested and murdered at Auschwitz in 1942. making him an orphan at age 13.
Helped by Quakers and others, Peter was hidden in various places including the French village of Le Chambon which helped save 3,500 Jews, mainly children. Peter wrote two diaries from August 1942 through May 1944. Defying all odds, both diaries were recovered after the war and have been cited in several documentaries, exhibits and books. Eventually in May 1944, provided with false identity papers, Peter was helped across the border into neutral Switzerland with the assistance of the Jewish underground and emigrated to the U.S. in July 1946.
He served three years in the U.S. Air Force. For 35 years, Peter pursued a career in international sales of aircraft and related services in the public sector and spent over five years as a Senior Negotiator in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He and his wife raised two daughters and have two grandsons, both Penn State graduates. Since retiring, he has traveled the world speaking about his experiences during the Holocaust. Peter is the only living diarist of the 14 featured in the book “Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust” edited by Alexandra Zapruder. Peter will sign books which will be on sale that evening.
To meet Holocaust survivors in person is to touch history. No two stories are exactly alike, but the sense of the story — the impact of terror, deprivation, and personal loss — touches the listener. It is difficult to describe the feeling of awe a person experiences when hearing history from one who lived it. Please do not miss this opportunity. It is only a matter of time before there are no more survivors to teach us the importance of not being bystanders when we see injustice occur.