HIGH POINT, N.C., Jan. 25, 2019 – Never forget. That’s the message Holocaust survivor Hank Brodt shared with the crowd filling Hayworth Fine Arts Center at High Point University on Jan. 23.
As Brodt, 93, recounted stories of his experience as the unwelcome guest of five Nazi prison camps and a forced labor camp, he said the story must be told and we must continue to honor those who perished.
HPU’s Hillel, the Department of History and the Office of Jewish Life invited Brodt to speak in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. With only about 100,000 Holocaust survivors still living today, the opportunities to hear them tell their story firsthand are fading.
“I’m so moved for the students,” said Amy Epstein, Jewish life coordinator at HPU. “There are so many of our Jewish students and our non-Jewish students who have never heard a Holocaust survivor speak and to have that opportunity will last a lifetime for them. You never forget what he has to say and the pictures that he paints will definitely help us all remember. We always have to remember.”
Originally from Boryslaw, Poland, Brodt was born on Dec. 1, 1925. He spent his teenaged years enslaved at camps including Plashov, Matthausen and Ebensee. He was liberated on May 6, 1945, by the troops of the U.S. 80th Infantry Division. The horrors he lived before liberation included a forced march with other prisoners for three days and nights without food or water.
When asked how he felt when he was liberated, he said, “lonely.”
“I’m not sure there was a dry eye,” said Epstein. “When you realize your entire family was murdered and you have no one, it’s chilling.”
Sammi Fronstin, a senior education major and a member of HPU’s Hillel, was among the crowd of at least 600 in attendance for the event.
“It means everything to have Hank here tonight to share his story with not only Jewish members of HPU but members of the entire community of all religions,” said Fronstin. “It means so much for him to be able to share his story and for us to gain knowledge on his experiences and everything he had to go through.”
After the war ended, Brodt testified in a war crimes trial at Dachau in 1946, and he testified against a Nazi war criminal again in 1967 in Bremerhaven, Germany. In 1949, he immigrated to the United States with the help of a soldier who had befriended him and helped him secure the necessary paperwork. In 1950, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed, ironically, in Germany. He also served in the Korean War. Later in his life, he discovered that his brother also had survived the Holocaust and he was able to reunite with his family.
A 2018 study commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that more than one-fifth of millennials in America are unsure if they have heard of the Holocaust. Brodt speaks openly about his experience to groups at universities, schools and churches to honor those who lost their lives and to ensure people never forget.
“I was asked a question and I was struck by it. ‘Would you ever forgive them?’ was the question,” said Brodt. “Forgive them, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you something else, I will never forget.”