Experiencing History Firsthand: Holocaust Survivor to Speak at YSU

Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

By Justin Wier

Photo Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.
Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

Irving Roth, a Holocaust survivor and renowned educator, will be speaking about his experiences at Youngstown State University’s Chestnut Room on Jan. 20 at 7 p.m.

Roth is a survivor of the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. He has dedicated his life to educating people on the horrors perpetrated by Nazi Germany and the dangers of propaganda.

“I will be talking about the step-by-step process from a personal perspective that began with the persecution of the Jews, and led to me winding up in a place called Auschwitz, and then Buchenwald, and then liberation,” Roth said.

Roth said it is critical to understand the “signposts on the road to Auschwitz,” so we can look at things happening in the world today and see if the same methodology is being used.

He pointed to the recent attacks in Paris, and the differences between the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the incident in which four people died at the kosher grocery store.

“The reason they murdered the people [at Charlie Hebdo] is because they objected to the cartoons, so that’s the excuse. But to murder Jews, they don’t need to do anything but be Jews, and that’s sufficient reason to be murdered. Their mere existence is sufficient cause to be murdered,” Roth said. “The horrendous nature of that must be understood by people.”

Sarah Wilschek, program coordinator at the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, saw Roth speak at Westminster College in Pennsylvania and was captivated by him.

“Survivors now are few and far between, and, more than that, ones that are still able to communicate well and travel and command a room are even fewer, so when we heard him speak, we decided we needed to have him [at YSU],” Wilschek said. “Mr. Roth is very good at communicating how propaganda affects a community. How you can turn an entire country against one specific group of people, and how it happens slowly. So he is amazing at explaining history in a down-to-earth way.”

Helene Sinnreich, director of the Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies at YSU, stressed the importance of hearing these stories firsthand.

“I think in our current society we’ve become a little immune to hearing stories of catastrophe and hardship, and having that personal connection has tremendous impact,” Sinnreich said. “It’s very hard to say ‘I don’t care about that’ if you’ve interacted with some individual.”

She said that in the case of the Holocaust, future generations won’t be able to experience these stories firsthand.

“There won’t be Holocaust survivors later to talk about it, and this generation needs to hear it, so that sixty years from now, you can say to your grandchild, ‘I met someone.’ When I talk to my mom and she says, ‘I met civil war soldiers in my lifetime,’ that has impact on me, that through knowing my mother I can reach so far back into history,” Sinnreich said. “I hope that our students meet this survivor and then are able to then tell their grandchildren, ‘I met a Holocaust survivor. You may be reading about this in a textbook, which may be as distant to you as when I read about the civil war, but I have a personal memory and connection to such a person.’”

The Youngstown Area Jewish Federation would like prospective attendees to RSVP by calling Sarah Wilschek at 330-746-3250 x123 or emailing [email protected], so they can get a headcount. The event is free and open to the community.