By Kevin Gaddie
/ Published April 13, 2021
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Delaney Gonzales)
A Holocaust Days of Remembrance virtual event was held here April 9.
The guest speakers were Molly Gross, a Holocaust survivor; Lori Ripps, her daughter and Rabbi Robert Declau, from a local Jewish temple, whose grandparents escaped the Holocaust.
“The Holocaust was the most horrific example of hatred, bigotry, discrimination and racism in history,” said Mark Zeid, project officer, in opening remarks.
Zeid said between 1933 and 1945, more than six million Jews and more than five million non-Jews were killed during Nazi Germany’s occupation of most of Europe.
Ripps assisted telling her 93-year-old mother’s story of living through “great sadness, stolen youth, murder, bravery and resilience.”
The Nazis invaded Gross’ hometown of Bendzin, Poland in 1942 when she was 14.
She and other family members were sent to Peterswaldau, an all-women German concentration camp. There, the prisoners were either selected for work or killed.
Gross said her last memory of her mother was offering her shoes to cover her mother’s bare feet, moments before she was shot, Ripps said.
“Her mother was lying there among the dead and wounded, wearing her shoes,” she said. ”It is a painful memory for my mother to this day.”
Gross’ mother survived the shooting, but was murdered weeks later, Ripps said. Gross’ father died in the Auschwitz gas chambers.
Gross worked making ammunition and sewed uniforms for the Hitler Youth.
During two-and-half years in the labor camp, Gross endured beatings, starvation, illness and saw many atrocities, Ripps said.
Gross and her sister were liberated by Russian troops in 1945 when she was 17. She now resides in Pensacola.
Declau’s grandparents, Joseph and Lili Idelkovitz, barely escaped the German occupation of Austria in 1938.
His grandfather, an electrical engineer, was born in Sumatra and his grandmother was from Romania.
Declau recalled the takeover of his grandfather’s electrical engineering business in Vienna.
“The Nazis marched into my grandfather’s business and declared it was no longer his,” he said.
The pair escaped incarceration because he had a Sumatran passport, which did not identify him as Austrian, Declau said. They made it to a train station and eventually to America, where they shortened the family name to Declau.
Joseph’s brother, Daniel, a doctor, survived Auschwitz by performing medical experiments on prisoners. He also eventually made his way to America.
“My grandparents and my uncle were never the same after their experiences,” he said. “They hardly talked about it afterwards.”
Zeid said everyone should remain vigilant in preventing another Holocaust.
“Racism, bigotry, discrimination and hatred still exist to this day,” he said. “The Holocaust did not accomplish its goal because many people fought against it. We must continue to stand up against these terrible evils, so we don’t experience another Holocaust ever again.”