|UND Human Rights Center to host "A Holocaust Survivor Remembers"|
The Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies and The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) will bring the moving story of a Nazi death camp survivor, in his own words, to Grand Forks public and private school students and to the public at large Monday, March 23.
The UND Center, along with the Museum, will play host to Martin Weiss, who as a young boy was held in a number of brutal Nazi camps during World War II. Weiss will present “A Holocaust Survivor Remembers” at two venues March 23: for Grand Forks students, 9:30 a.m., in the Chester Fritz Auditorium; and again for the general public, 7 p.m., in the Memorial Union Lecture Bowl.
The Memorial Union Lecture Bowl presentation is free and open to the public.
The event will include an introduction by Ellen Blalock, director of the USHMM Survivor Affairs Office, a six-minute video courtesy of USHMM titled “The Power of Truth,” followed by an introduction of Weiss by UND Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies Director Gregory Gordon, who also serves as a law professor at the University.
The UND Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies and The USHMM are co-sponsoring both events.
This academic year, the UND Center has brought to Grand Forks and the University several special guests and dignitaries in the area of human rights matters, including Dr. Fred Lyon, who as a boy was persecuted, along with his Jewish family, during the horrific “Kristallnacht Pogrom” (Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938 in Nazi Germany. Lyon presented his first-hand account of the night Jewish-owned businesses were ransacked, nearly 100 Jews were killed and thousands others were sent to concentration camps.
Also, last October, the center welcomed to campus Gunnar Sonsteby, a Norwegian World War II hero and leader of that nation’s resistance against Nazi occupation. He also is an author and former bodyguard to the King of Norway, and regarded as the most highly decorated Norwegian citizen.
As part of this event, the Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies unveiled its "Nazi Occupation of Norway" digital archive, which for the first time in history makes the Nuremberg trial testimony and evidence related to the war crimes committed in Norway available online in full text, accessible from anywhere in the world. UND is one of the few remaining institutions in the United States that has a complete set of the historic Nuremberg trial documents.
Gordon explained that Weiss's visit is the culmination of a series of presentations in response to the rash of swastikas found on campus last year.
"Gunnar Sonsteby reminded our community that Nazi brutality was not only directed at Jewish people, "Gordon said. "And Dr. Lyon told the harrowing tale of a family that was able to escape Nazi violence before they were sent to concentration camps. Mr. Weiss will give a chilling account of what happened to families that were not so lucky. "We're extremely fortunate to have him. And we are grateful. There will soon come a time when there will be no more living witnesses to the horrors of Nazi depravity."
Martin Weiss was born Jan. 28, 1929, one of nine children in an Orthodox Jewish family in Polana, a rural village in the Carpathian Mountains of Czechoslovakia. His father owned a farm and a meat business, and his mother attended to the children and the home. Weiss attended the village's Czech schools, which were quite progressive, and like many of his classmates, he looked forward to leaving Polana. In March 1939, his life was changed dramatically when Nazi Germany and its allies dismembered Czechoslovakia. Hungarian troops occupied Polana, and Jews were subjected to discriminatory legislation. Czech schools were closed, and the students had to learn Hungarian. The democratic freedoms that the villagers had enjoyed under Czechoslovakian rule disappeared.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, conditions in Polana worsened. Two of Weiss’s brothers were conscripted into forced labor battalions. The family soon learned some Jews from the area had been deported to the occupied Ukraine, where they were killed by “Schutzstaffel,” or SS units.
In April 1944, Hungarian gendarmes transported the village's Jews, including the Weiss family, to the Munkacs ghetto in Hungary. In May, they were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center in Poland. Weiss, his father, brother and two uncles were selected for forced labor; the other family members were sent to the gas chambers. Next, Weiss and his father were sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, and then to the subcamp of Melk, where they were forced to build tunnels into the side of the mountains. His father perished there.
Weiss was liberated at the Gunskirchen camp, another Mauthausen subcamp in Austria, by U.S. troops in May 1945. He returned to Czechoslovakia, where he found some surviving family members.
In 1946, they immigrated to the United States.