Survivor to speak at Yom HaShoah commemoration | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Survivor to speak at Yom HaShoah commemoration


Holocaust survivor Eric Blaustein was 12 when German officials arrested his father, along with thousands of other Jews, during Kristallnacht.

Now, he’s set to speak at the community Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as Yom HaShoah, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 15 at the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd. The JCC is holding the event in partnership with the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation

“Hitler took power when I started school, in the same week,” Blaustein said. That was in 1933, when he was 6. He remembers getting about five pounds of sweets for the first day of school – a German custom.

Eric Blaustein. Photo by Al Benson.

“I don’t think I knew I was Jewish at that time,” he said. “I found out a few months later.”

He was then sent to part-time Hebrew school. “I had never been in a synagogue until I was 6,” he recalled.

He said he came from an “upper middle class Jewish family” in Germany which found itself in a situation where “you’re fighting for your life.”

Blaustein’s father and many others were sent to concentration camps in connection with the Night of Broken Glass, Nov. 9, 1938 – Kristallnacht. Blaustein avoided the Nazis until late in 1944, just months before the end of the war. But at 17 he was sent to Buchenwald, where he survived until American forces arrived.

The 91-year-old lives in an assisted living facility in DuPage County, near Chicago. He teaches classes in Biblical history for other residents. “It keeps my mind sharp,” he said.

For a long time, he didn’t want to speak on the Holocaust. “It’s frankly impossible to describe in a good way,” he said.

He started giving speeches when he was around 70, in high schools, colleges and elsewhere.

He has talked to more non-Jewish than Jewish audiences, because he used to feel Jewish audiences should already know about the Holocaust. But in recent years he’s decided that young Jews need to be educated and he’s been more open to speaking to Jewish audiences.

“I have come to understand that this is very important to get across,” he said, adding that young Jewish people “have to be on their guard.”

In Germany, people were cheering Hitler and it didn’t matter what he said, Blaustein said. It was “a mass of uneducated downtrodden people who are looking for a savior.”

“I really believe there is hardly anybody left who is able to do this,” he said, and he has concluded that “as long as I can do it I will.”

Around this time of year, Blaustein generally gives 8 to 10 talks, he said.

“I can talk about it without any emotions,” he said.  “I trained myself.”

He said he’s learned that young people don’t like seeing older people cry. “If I get too emotional people don’t like it,” he said.

Blaustein left Germany for Palestine after the war. He fought in the Israeli 1948 War for Independence and served as an officer in the Israeli army. In his heart, he said, “I’m not a Holocaust survivor, I’m an Israeli.”

“My great-granddaughter had, last weekend, a bat mitzvah,” he said, in a late March interview with the Chronicle. “I have 11 great-grandchildren.”

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How to go

When: Sunday, April 15

What: Yom HaShoah commemoration, with keynote speaker Holocaust survivor Eric Blaustein

When: 3 p.m., Sunday, April 15

Where: The Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center, 6255 N. Santa Monica Blvd.

Cost: Free.