Holocaust survivors reveal experiences for exhibit


A room in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is lined with photographs of those who died in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Photo by Dustin Livesay/The Jambar.

The Youngstown Area Jewish Community Relations Council is gathering interviews, records and other information about Holocaust survivors in the Mahoning Valley for a multimedia exhibit that will travel to local schools.

Helene Sinnreich, director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies, said the council was able to find and identify 162 Holocaust survivors in the Valley, but that only 10 are still alive.

“Our progress has been really great,” she said. “We were able to create a list of Holocaust survivors who lived in this area, and it’s much higher than the number of people previously believed to have lived here after surviving the Holocaust.”

The majority of Holocaust survivors found by the committee reside in Youngstown, Liberty and Boardman.

So far, the council has completed the life story of the Bill Vegh, a survivor of the Holocaust who has since passed away. Originally from Czechoslovakia, Vegh was one of many young Jews who had suffered in Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

But unlike his mother and five siblings who perished during the Holocaust, Vegh survived. He was liberated by Allied forces and came to the U.S. in 1948. Vegh then got married in 1952 and had three children, and he worked at Saramar Aluminum in Warren for 38 years.

Following his retirement, Vegh began to speak about his experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust. He spent 15 years of his life sharing his story, and continued to do so until his death in June 2009, Sinnreich said.

Rochelle Miller, Vegh’s daughter, said her father simply wanted everyone to know what had happened during the Holocaust.

“I’m honored and inspired. … Everything that he has accomplished through the years, he never … wanted accolades from anybody,” Miller said. “He just did it because he wanted to tell the story of what went on.”

Bonnie Burdman, director of community relations and government affairs for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, said some have spoken about the Holocaust “as if it didn’t exist.”

“[Vegh] said, ‘But, wait a minute. It did exist,’” she said. “I was there, and he started speaking about his experience to schoolchildren, community groups, teachers, whoever would listen.”

The Vegh exhibit will likely be presented in April at the Jewish Community Center. Sinnreich said that although the council may not turn every story into an exhibit, members would like to make more after Vegh’s.

“We hope to basically replicate this for other survivors from the Mahoning Valley and eventually have a larger exhibit of the stories of the survivors,” she said.