A worn, manila folder sat on the table in front of George Vine, 85, with two words handwritten on the label: “Holocaust Records.”
As he talked, he carefully placed his documents back into the folder with a paper clip, only to pull them out again within a matter of minutes. During the span of a half-hour conversation, he repeatedly drew out the paperwork, original records from his arrival to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1942, where atop was a handwritten note with a reminder to “speak slow.”
Vine and 49 other Holocaust survivors gathered at the University of Michigan Hillel to speak intimately with about 200 students for the sixth annual Holocaust Survivor Luncheon on Sunday. The event was organized by the Conference on the Holocaust Committee, an eight-person team led by co-directors LSA junior Michelle Kappy and LSA senior Samantha Schwartz.
In the same format of past events, students were encouraged to engage with survivors over lunch. At table 22, Vine began the event by sharing his experiences during World War II with LSA sophomores Mary Bari and Nicole Berman and LSA junior Blake Orman.
In accordance with his note, Vine spoke slowly and eloquently as he shared his story. When he was 12 years old, his family was taken from their home in Ciechanow, Poland where they lived in a ghetto before traveling by cattle car to Auschwitz in 1942. He remained in concentration camps until 1945, when his camp near Munich, Germany was liberated by American forces.
Vine was the only member of his family to survive, losing his parents and four brothers in the genocide.
Vine described that the words his father told him in the crowded cattle car on the third day of their four-day transport to Auschwitz served as his motivation to survive in the camps.
“He leaned over to me so my mother shouldn’t hear, and he says, ‘Son, I apologize for telling you that the Germans are wonderful people.’ And then he lowered his voice and said, ‘We are going to die here. We are going to get killed. I leave you a commandment: you must survive. You must do it. Because no one in the world will ever believe that you are telling the truth,’” Vine said.
Vine was separated from his parents after arriving in the camp. He said the words of his father echoed in his mind after arriving at Auschwitz, and about 10 days later he devised a plan to leave his bunk at night and get shot by a guard.
“As I was going out trying to get myself killed, I heard those words from my father, and I knew I couldn’t do it. And I’m here to tell the story myself,” Vine said. “The reason I try to talk slowly is because I want you to believe me, and what could be more than showing you documents, real documents, that I found after the war hidden in Auschwitz, that told the story.”
Vine then referred to the two scanned documents in his manila envelope: the records made by the Germans upon his arrival to Auschwitz.
After liberation, distant family members brought Vine to the United States in 1947, where he lived in New York before settling in the Detroit suburbs in 1952, according to his biography in the event program.
Vine found his Auschwitz records after returning to the camp for a tour later in his life. For him, the documents serve as key pieces of evidence in illustrating the truth of his own experiences and the experiences of millions of Jewish people throughout Europe.
Vine added that though the events were difficult to speak about at first, he now finds inspiration sharing his story with others.
“You got a happy Holocaust survivor,” Vine said. “I’m living with hope … and the greatness you can do for mankind and for yourself by being kind.”
Another survivor at the event was Albert Fein. Fein said he and his family were deported to a ghetto in Ukraine in 1941 and managed to escape death by pretending they were Christians, ultimately receiving identification from the Germans verifying they weren’t Jewish, an act that saved their lives.
Fein’s daughter Renee, who helped bring survivors to the event through her work at the Program for Holocaust Survivors & Families Foundation in Detroit, explained why her father has attended the event at Hillel since its conception.
“He feels it’s important to tell his story to younger children,” Renee Fein said. “The story is really important for them, for all the survivors, to let people know what happened to them because they are the last of the survivors. The youngest survivors right now are in their late 70s, and in five, 10 years they are going to be gone and it’s our responsibility to tell their stories.”
For Business senior Lindsay Davis and LSA senior Jessica Randel, the highlight of the event was talking with the two survivors at their table, Lola Taubman and Kathy Sattler.
Both survivors, currently 87 years old, met in Auschwitz as teenagers in 1943 when they were assigned as bunkmates. The two women were separated before the end of the war, not sure if the other had survived. Miraculously, they found each other by pure coincidence in Detroit in 1953.
“I met her on a street in Detroit,” Sattler said. “I said to my husband she looks familiar … so I went over and tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around.”
Sitting across from the two women, Davis said their story seemed surreal.
“It’s something you only hear about in movies about reconnecting in the middle of a street eight years later,” Davis said. “I think it’s beautiful that they come to an event like this and are still sitting at the same table and we can hear that story from both of them. It just says a lot about the human spirit and persevering and continuing on.”
Many students attending the event had family ties to the Holocaust through their grandparents who were survivors. Kappy, who provided opening remarks at the luncheon, said all four of her grandparents survived the Holocaust and organizing the event helped her continue sharing the stories of her family.
“It’s important for my family to have this connection and for me to continue telling my friends and strangers,” Kappy said. “(Survivors) here know my grandparents, and they know my name and they love hearing, ‘Oh, you’re so and so’s grandchild.’ I’ve grown up having survivors as grandparents and it’s easy for me to connect with these survivors.”
A new edition to the event this year was a violin performance by School of Music, Theater & Dance freshman Maxwell Karmazyn. Karmazyn’s grandparents are also both survivors who lived in a military internment camp in Morocco. Karmazyn, who is a violin performance major, shares his musical talent with his late grandfather.
“My grandfather was a violinist and he used his violin playing to help him survive the Holocaust by teaching the commandant’s daughter of the concentration camp how to play the violin for better care for both he and his wife, my grandmother,” Karmazyn said.
Karmazyn closed the luncheon after a ceremonious candle lighting with a performance of the theme from the movie Schindler’s List, composed by Itzhak Perlman.
Schwartz said the Conference on the Holocaust Committee will host another annual event in the spring for Holocaust Remembrance Day, where the group will read the names of those who perished, and they plan to organize a trip to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Mich. later this year.