Irving Roth, a survivor of three death camps during the Holocaust, reminded listeners on Tuesday night to not stand by as people are degraded and turned against.
Roth spoke to a large group of people at First United Methodist Church in Amite. The lecture was a part of Fanfare and put together by the Amite Arts Council.
Charley Vance, president of the arts council, said that he had gotten to idea to bring in Roth to speak because his wife teaches his book in her English class at Sumner High School in Kentwood.
“There is so much polarization in today’s society, I thought this was just one way to help that problem,” said Vance on why he chose to have Roth come speak.
According to Gavin Genringer, a student in Lynn Vance’s high junior honors English class, the class created haikus for each chapter of the book and painted card stock with watercolors and then put them together on a board. They also made a copy of the poems and bound them together in a book for Roth to take with him wherever he goes.
Roth grew up in a quiet, small, close-knit community in Czechoslovakia. He came from a good family. He lived in a house with his grandparents, parents, older brother, and nanny. His father even owned his own business.
He said growing up he never recognized the difference between different religions. He said all religions lived harmoniously together in his hometown.
“I could say my life was beautiful,” said Roth.
All of that changed in 1939, when he started witnessing the slow segregation and demonization of the Jews.
One day when he was 10 years old, he went to the park to play with his friends, but a police officer told him he was not allowed to enter the park because of his religion. Later that year, he was told Jews couldn’t own luxury items or wool. He was forced to turn in his prized sheep skin coat to the police.
That same year, his nanny, a friend and the woman who helped raise him, was forced to quit her job because no woman was allowed to work for a Jewish family.
In 1940, on his first day of school, he was denied entrance from his school because he was Jewish. When he went to soccer practice that afternoon, he was told he wasn’t allowed on the team any longer.
Roth said no one ever said anything or stood up for him because the Nazis had penetrated the minds of everybody else with hateful propaganda.
That same year, the Nazi party made a law saying no Jews could own businesses. To prevent him from losing his business, Roth’s father signed over the business to a close family friend, Albert. At first, Albert did not interfere with the business, but as the months went on, he gained more control. Eventually Roth’s father became just a manager in his own business.
In January 1942, the Nazi’s implemented their last phase of the eradication of the Jews, death camps. By summer 1942, six death camps were operating all over Europe.
Roth recalled one Friday night that over 1,800 of the Jews in his hometown were taken to the synagogue and locked in there for 36 hours. After the 36 hours, they were taken to a train station and sent away. Roth and his family were spared because his father was still working in Albert’s business.
Roth and his family escaped to Hungry where he was separated from his parents. His parents had gone to Budapest for jobs and the boys and their grandparents moved to a small town in Hungry.
In spring 1944, Roth, his brother, and grandparents were taken from their home, brought to a ghetto and then taken to Birkenau, where he received his new identity, a number tattooed on his arm. After a few days, he was moved to Auschwitz.
There he was forced to do chores, follow the rules, sleep in over capacity quarters, got very little food, on the good days.
On the bad days, Roth said, they were taken to the gas chambers and told to strip. From there a doctor would examine you to see if you were still healthy enough to work. If you weren’t, you never came back from the gas chamber.
On Jan. 18, 1945, he became a part of the death march from Auschwitz to Buchenwald. He said Auschwitz was a hotel compared to the conditions at Buchenwald.
One day, the gathered all of the prisoners up, they started separating the men from the boys and picking out different boys. Roth’s brother, Bondi was one of the boys. Roth said that was the last time he ever saw his brother.
A few weeks later, Roth decided he had to escape or he was going to be killed. He was able to hide for many days before he was found. When the guards caught him, they took him out to kill him, but then an American air raid started and they were forced to take cover.
The next day, all of the guards were gone and the only people left were the prisoners.
“You may not know what the Messiah looks like, but I do. One is black and one is white,” said Roth about the first time he saw the American soldiers that came to rescue them.
Roth was taken care of by the American troops and medical personnel before returning to his home in Czechoslovakia. There he found his mother and father. They had survived thanks to a nurse, her daughter and son-in-law, who was a party of the Nazi army.
“Their legacy is when you see hate, prejudice, murder, unfairness, do something,” said Roth about the people that took a stand and help keep his parents and many other Jews alive during the Holocaust.
Roth emphasized standing up for what is right and when you see something you know it wrong, do the right thing because he said, with the Holocaust, the world stood by and did nothing.