Students, community members and middle school students will be remembering the words of Holocaust survivors Estelle Nadel and Eric Cahn forever.
The event, which is part of CU’s Holocaust Awareness week, drew a full room early Wednesday.
Estelle Nadel’s Story
Nadel spoke first. She lives in Westminster, but is originally from Boreck, Poland. During the Holocaust, she was a hidden child. She was the youngest of five, in a small class. She describes her pre-Holocaust childhood as “good.”
We were very religious people,” she said. “My father believed that nothing would happen to us, because he prayed day and night. … We didn’t have much, but we had each other.”
However, when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Nadel’s life was about to change. She was seven.
Her family tried to keep living life, but before long, her father and sister were rounded up.
“My father was on the left line,” she said. “My sister was on the right line.”
Her sister wanted to be with her father, so she switched lines.
“We were told that they were taken by train to Auschwitz,” she said. “They never made it there. They were taken to the fields and were shot.”
Her family soon realized that they could not go home and her mom decided she would go over to the gentiles to see if they would hide them.
[My mom] was really popular in the neighborhood,” she said. “She was a wonderful baker and cook. She helped the Polish people in the neighborhood bake for weddings and christenings.”
Her mom was turned down by one man who said it was too dangerous, but stayed with them for a night. The family soon moved into a small attic of another neighbor. Nadel’s mom would leave to ask for food three times a week. After six months, she was seen by three gentile young men, and they reported her.
“They caught her and tortured her, and they shot her,” she said.
It was down to Nadel and her two brothers. One of them left to get a job at a farm, because he looked enough like a gentile.
After a neighbor destroyed Nadel’s hider’s garden, the woman hiding her got upset and in return the neighbor threatened to report the children. Nadel and her brother went to stay with their aunt for two weeks, as Nadel’s hider invited the neighbors over to tea to convince them that she was not hiding a Jew. After Nadel and her brother returned, the Nazis came after a week. Nadel and her brother went to jail, but they managed to escape.
After running from the jail, Nadel soon lost her brother and asked for help from a woman near the jail. The woman was married to a jail guard but agreed to bring Nadel into her town and from there she ran to her aunt’s hiding spot. Her brother soon met her there.
They stayed there until the Russian Army liberated them. Her aunt was ill and soon died. Nadel couldn’t walk from lack of motion for such a long time. Her working brother considered converting to Christianity, since a family had been taking care of him. The three eventually ended up in America and arrived in 1947.
She lived in a hotel and then a foster home and would watch the same movie daily to learn English. Her brothers eventually went to work, and Nadel got adopted.
“The only thing we had to cling to [when hidden] was God,” she said. “You want to live. You don’t want to die.”
Nadel later returned to Poland, where she confronted the people who turned her mother in. There was no remorse.
“The most difficult thing was leaving there,” she said.
Eric Cahn’s Story
We’re here today to bare witness to the Holocaust,” said Eric Cahn, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. … Did this really happen? Yes. Did it happen to a small number of people? No. This happened to millions and millions of people.”
He then described the history of the Holocaust and how the Nazis, and Hitler, gained power. He described how seven evil men went on to cause 11 million deaths.
He described the knock on his front door on Oct. 22, 1940. He was 4 ½ and his sister was just a couple months old. His parents were with them, and they were taken from their German home to France.
They somehow managed to survive that winter in a detention camp. The French Resistance movement tried to rescue as many young children and babies as possible. Cahn and his sister were rescued, while his parents ended up at Auschwitz. His father was sent to the right and lived. His mom, the left.
She was killed because she was Jewish,” he said. “Period. No other reason.”
Hundreds of French families took in Jewish children and hid them from the Nazis. Cahn was taken in by a French, Christian family and was hidden in their basement. He said that the family made him comfortable, fed him well and spent time with him in the basement. It was difficult for a 4-year-old boy to remain as quiet as possible, but he did it.
Two years later, he was reunited with his sister in an orphanage. He also saw his father, who never talked about his experiences or what he did to survive. His father made plans for the two siblings to come to America to live with their grandparents. After his grandparents aged, he and his sister lived in foster homes and then an orphanage. He’s seen his father once since he moved to America, in 1970. Cahn and his sister stayed close and received educations. She even got her Ph.D.
Cahn said he has a great survivor support system in Denver.
Community members, CU students and students from Sacred Heart of Jesus Middle School in Boulder came to listen to the speakers.
Maggie Olson, a 14-year-old 8th grader at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Middle School, said that she learned extensively about the Holocaust in 6th grade and continues to learn about the Holocaust.
We find it shocking,” Olson said. “It is really sad. We have learned a lot about Auschwitz and what Hitler did. I’m really glad we came today.”
Her teacher, Ms. Corey, said that she is really glad that the school allows them to come listen to the speakers.
“It is an experience of a lifetime,” Corey said. “We are one of the only schools that comes here.”