California State University East Bay

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California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

California State University East Bay

The Pioneer

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Heller Recalls Horror of Holocaust

Holocaust Remembrance Day (also known as Yom HaShoah) is an internationally recognized date to remember and commemorate those who survived or died in the Holocaust during World War II.

Often falling on a day in either April or May, it is at this time where Holocaust survivors recall upon their experiences to their local communities as a way of preventing history from repeating itself.

That was the objective of the Tri-City Interfaith Council as well, as they held their 28th Annual Holocaust Remembrance Service during the evening of May 1 at Temple Beth Torah in Fremont. Representatives from the synagogue and other local religious groups, such as St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, led the attendees in remembering those who have fallen and those who live to tell how it happened.

Quotes by various Holocaust survivors were read aloud and prayers were said in both English and Hebrew. Seven candles were lit at one point—six of them for the six million Jews who were killed in the six main death camps, and one for the countless number of others who were also murdered.

It was Neil Heller, a resident of San Carlos, who introduced the guest speaker for the evening: his father, Holocaust survivor George Heller.

Born and raised in Hungary, Heller grew up in a middle-class family. As time went on, more and more anti-Jewish laws were passed and it became very difficult for Heller and his family. Eventually, like many Jews in Nazi-occupied countries, he and his family were sent away to concentration camps as well.

Heller went as far as to recall even the most unbearable moments for him while experiencing the Holocaust. He was involved in a three-day march where the only food he ate was grass.

He was, at one point, kept in a barn with 150 people with only one source of water available to them. He even recalled witnessing an inmate denounce all hope and drop dead right afterwards.

What motivated Heller to keep going forward was a line from the book of Exodus found in the Torah: “I put before you life and death. Choose life.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Finally, on May 5, 1945, the U.S. Army liberated Heller and the other inmates of the Mauthausen concentration camp. By that time, he was 21 years old and weighed only 80 pounds.

Heller decided put his ability to speak five languages to use, serving as a translator for the United Nations. After a year’s worth of work, he was rewarded with a visa to the United States.
Although he came here with only the shirt on his back and $2 in his pocket, he became a successful computer technician and is now a proud father and grandfather.

The lessons Heller had to offer from his experiences were to always stand up for what you believe in and how “your neighbor is not to be tolerated; your neighbor needs to be accepted.”

He ended his presentation in a comedic fashion by holding up a sign that read, “It’s possible!”

Following Heller’s presentation, donations were made to Facing History and Ourselves, an international organization that educates students how to have a more moral view on historical events like the Holocaust and how to prevent events like that from happening in the future. The service ended with the reciting of the Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) and a moment of silence was held for Holocaust victims.

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Heller Recalls Horror of Holocaust