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Survivors and heroes Iowans and others showed the best of the human spirit during Holocaust

April 28, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles on Lessons of the Holocaust, stemming from the presentation at the Estherville Public Library. The presenter, Brad Wilkening, provided a wealth of material with parallels to things happening in the world today, and we wanted to explore them in a longer form.

Brad Wilkening shared the stories of several heroes and upstanders who stood out in a time of horror and violence.

Wilkening said the lesson of the Holocaust is "a lesson in humanity."

Phillip Gans was arrested with his family June 24, 1943 when he was 15. Gans' mother and sister were sent to the gas chambers at Birkenau, Auschwitz II while Phillip, his brother and father were sent to Monowitz-Buna, part of Auschwitz III.

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"I could always say there are so many people who are older than me who could understand things much better than me and it was okay. But now I realize that many of the survivors are dying and I am one of the youngest who still has some memory of what was going on. I decided I have some obligation to do itbecause in some sense, there was nothing new under the sun. I never saw the sun during that time."

-Harold Kasimow

In 1945, Phillip was part of a death march as Germans kept prisoners on the move in response to Allied advances. U.S. soldiers liberated him when he was 17 years old.

Gans was the only survivor of 21 family members. Since 2000, he has spoken to over 60,000 students, urging them to join his campaign to "erase the hate" and to never be a silent bystander.

Janine Oberrotman is an Iowan whose sister was Anne Frank's best friend. She said, "It's a terrible gift to be the survivor."

Harold Kasimow was a professor at Grinnell College. He went into hiding and for 19 months from the age of two the family lived in a hole under the floor of a cattle barn.

Kasimow said, "You know, no sunshine, no light, hunger all the time, every day, just trying to survive."

He added, "I could always say there are so many people who are older than me who could understand things much better than me and it was okay. But now I realize that many of the survivors are dying and I am one of the youngest who still has some memory of what was going on. I decided I have some obligation to do itbecause in some sense, there was nothing new under the sun. I never saw the sun during that time."

Celinda Biniaz is a young survivor of Schindler's List, from which the epic movie of the 1990s was made. Eventually she graduated from Des Moines North and Grinnell College.

Biniaz's parents were tailors in a factory that was on Schindler's List of places from which he wanted to exploit Jewish labor. Biniaz was eventually put on a train of women going to Auschwitz. Eventually Schindler liberated the women.

David Wolverman was the last concentration camp survivor in Iowa. Not everyone taken to the concentration camps had a tattoo, but Wolverman did. When his sons asked about the tattoo, he said it was the number of girls he dated in high school. Wolverman said he told "the lucky lie," about his age, 15, but he said he was 18.

"Eighteen is the number of life l'chaim," Wolverman said. He survived the labor in the camp because he acted as and pretended to be an adult.

Wilkening said he teaches kids that the answer to bullying is to be an upstander, that friends hold each other accountable.

"Upstanders take the righteous action. If we're going to see evil in the world and not do anything about it, we're part of the problem." Wilkening said.

"We have a calling to elevate goodness at the expense of evil," Wilkening said.

 
 
 

 

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