On Jan. 14, Hillel Waterloo, the centre for Jewish campus life in Waterloo, welcomed Max Eisen, a Holocaust survivor, to speak at Wilfrid Laurier University. Eisen captivated students as well as community members with his story of struggle and survival.
“I’m a very fortunate man to be able to stand here and tell you this,” said Eisen. “Be very careful what you buy, because when lies become the truth things go upside down for an entire society.”
Eisen was born in Czechoslovakia. In 1944 his family was forced off their farm and taken to Auschwitz.
Eisen spent nine months in the camp as a slave labourer, and Jan. 14 marked the anniversary of when S.S. units took him on a death march.
For over three months he was taken across Europe by train and foot in what he jokingly called “his tour of Europe.”
He noted that most of Europe looked the other way when Jews were being taken prisoner.
“We need to think about this very seriously, how people get on board the monster. How the lies become the truth. They said, ‘make the lie big; the bigger the lie the sooner people will believe it,’ and this is what happened to Germany,” he said.
Eisen was finally freed on May 6, 1945 by the 761 Black Panther Battalion.
“So now you are free you would think that we would all get up and sing and dance, but you know, we couldn’t get off the ground,” he told the audience. “The war was still on.”
Eisen was thankful of the efforts of two men in helping him survive. Dr. Tadeusz Orzeszko, a Polish doctor who gave him work in Auschwitz to keep him safe, and Staff Sergeant Johnnie Stevens, who led the squadron that freed him.
Long after the war, Eisen was able to establish contact with Stevens and the family of Orzeszko and thank them properly. Eisen was the only surviving member of his family. He made his way to Canada in 1949 and he has been speaking for over 21 years. He has no desire to stop now as he sees anti semitism creeping up again.
“As long as people deny [the Holocaust], I will stand up and say what I have to say,” he said.
Hillel Waterloo will have another speaker coming later this month in order to educate the public regarding the Holocaust.
“I think Holocaust education in general is such an important thing,” said Rachel Malin, president of Hillel Waterloo.
“Because it is not going to be possible soon. You are not going to get a first-hand account of what happened. I think it’s important to recognize this is something human, this is something that happened and affected so many people.”