Rabbi Philip Lazowski of West Hartford, Conn., shared his story on Wednesday night of surviving the Holocaust 70 years ago.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — In another decade, the survivors of the Holocaust will be all but gone.
The witnesses of one of the greatest horrors ever inflicted on a people, a civilization, a continent, will pass, their voices silenced.
Those dwindling numbers moved Rabbi Philip Lazowski of Connecticut to set down his own story of survival 70 years in the book "Faith and Destiny."
"My story is a lesson to show the Nazis brutalized, murdered and oppressed a civilization," Lazowski told the roomful of eighth-graders and community members at Clarksburg School on Wednesday night. "And how the world stood by and did not care.
"Let me tell you my story ..."
The story of Lazowski began in 1933, three years after his birth, when Adolf Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. He was the firstborn of five in the town of Bielica. He was a child when Germany invaded his Polish homeland; a child when the Nazis rounded up his family; a child when he watched people being murdered; a child when he hid, cold and starving, for 2 1/2 years in the forests of Lithuania; still a child when the war ended.
His story was illustrated throughout the school gymnasium by the eighth-grade class of Michael Little. The Holocaust studies program, now in its 7th year, had selected Lazowski's travails as a way to better understand not only that era but the effects of prejudice and hatred in any time.
"Our wish up here is to eliminate prejudice through education," said Little, a recent recipient of the Zola-Rubin Professional Development Grant from the University of Hartford's Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies. "Through observation and instrospection, we want our students to understand their choices have a profound consequences in the world and they will shape their own future by how they treat one another."
Clarksburg students illustrated Lazowski's story as part of their Holocaust studies.
The annual event is the culmination of the program in which the students express their research through writing, images and, sometimes, dioramas — all put into context by the keynote speaker.
Student Ricky Ramos thought his class did a good job in pulling the exhibit together in the time they had. Ricky had concentrated on the period when Lazowski had found himself rounded up in the ghetto in Belarus.
"I think he did a good job," Ricky said. "He explained a lot about his past and gave a lot of detail of what happened to him."
Lazowski's story, like that of so many other survivors, is one of close calls, sudden salvation, quick thinking and strength of will.
Separated from his parents, he was caught in a roundup and quickly noted that the elderly and very young were sent off in one direction, while those with skills and their families were being sent in another. He asked some of the adults to say he was their son, but they refused. "They had their own problems," he shrugged.
But a nurse with two young girls figured if they would accept her two children, why not three? They did, and Lazowski was at least briefly reunited with his own mother. He was 17 when he and his father and surviving siblings made their way to the United States. He worked days and went to school nights in New York City, learning Engish, then attended university, earning several degrees.
Despite his fractured childhood, he had something of a happy ending. Through a casual conversation at a wedding, he learned that the woman who had saved him was living in Hartford, Conn. Both her daughters had also survived, one of whom, Ruth, would become his wife. Lazowski would serve at two synagogues over the years, retiring in 2000, and becoming a chaplain of the Connecticut State Senate and the Hartford Police.
Only one photo exists of Lazowski as a child, so students searched for appropriate images to show what he experienced.
'My last sight of Bielica was painful. I was born there. Many generations of my family had lived and died there. I had known peace and contentment there. Now, suddenly, it was part of the past. I looked for the ruins of our house but couldn't see them in the dark. It was just as well.'
After publishing "Faith and Destiny" in 2006, he became more active in telling the story of his survival — and the loss of so many others. Millions died, he reminded his audience, not only Jews, but Russians, Christians, and others.
"Not only did they die, they were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated," Lazowski said. "While the German people were looking the other way."
The world can't sit by in silence again, he said. "People who are not conscious of their past have no assurance of their future," Lazowski said. "I firmly believe that by studying the past we can build a safer and sounder tomorrow."
Little thanked those who made the program possible, including Lazowski, Elaine and Robert Baum for underwriting the children's trip the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Rabbi Robert Sternberg for his expertise, and World War II collector Darrell K. English for "his lifelong efforts to teach about the Holocaust through the silent voices of artifacts."
"In this small country school, we have chosen not to forget," he said. "We have chosen to take action in order to raise awareness."
The event was recorded for later broadcast on Northern Berkshire Community Television.
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