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13 April 2007

Capacity Crowd Attends Holocaust Remembrance

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Eugen Schoenfeld

By Jennifer Bacchus
Jacksonville News Staff Writer

For more than a year, Eugen Schoenfeld was held captive in the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. It was an experience which taught him not only the value of respect, but how to be humane.

Schoenfeld shared a few of his experiences with a capacity crowd at Jacksonville State University’s Stone Center Theatre last week during the college’s annual Holocaust Remembrance.

The theme of this year’s program was children. Over one and a half million boys and girls were killed during the Holocaust, many because they were deemed to young to work in the camps. One of the children killed was Shoenfeld’s brother.

“We marched in front of a guard who was standing far away. Every time I looked we seemed nearer and nearer,” said Schoenfeld. “All his did was point to the left or to the right. If you’ve heard the stories you know that if you were pointed to the right, it meant that you lived, and if you were pointed to the left that meant that you were not fit, or he thought you were not fit to be working.”

He shared with the crowd that, of his losses to the Nazis, it is his brother’s death which haunts him most.

“I still dream about the camp,” said Schoenfeld. “There is one persist dream that I have that I will go to some foreign country and someone comes to talk to me and it turns out it is my brother. It is not my mother, not my sister. I always dream about my brother.”

Schoenfeld discussed two days – the day he arrived at the concentration camp and the day he left. On the day he arrived, he realized for the first time in his life how cruel people can be to others.

While showering after his arrival, someone took one of his shoes, so he asked a supervisor, or capo, what he should do about the problem. The supervisor told him to knock on a window of a nearby building and humbly request a new pair of shoes. Schoenfeld did this, knowing he wouldn’t necessarily receive kindness, but hoping they would grant his request.

Not only did they not give him a new pair of shoes, their only acknowledgement of his request was to rap him twice on the head with a small club. Following the episode, he went to his father in tears.

“I walked back to my father crying and my father said, ‘What happened?’ I tell him what has happened and he says ‘Why are you crying?’ I said, ‘Dad, I’m not crying because it hurt me, of course it hurts. I am not crying because it hurt me. I am crying because how it is possible that today, in the middle of the twentieth century, here in what now is Germany how people can be cruel to each other,’” said Schoenfeld.

This incident became a motive behind much of his writing. He wondered how he could explain to his readers what had happened to him. He decided there was only one way to guard against such things happening again and that is to tell others not to give in to people who say they have all the solutions and all the answers, explaining Germany had done just that when they accepted Hitler as their leader.

May 1, 1945, was Schoenfeld’s last day in camp. The day before, the Jews had been told they would leave camp the next day. Only the non-Jews or those who were in the hospital and unable to travel would remain in camp.

“I said to myself ‘I think I’ll stake my claim with the non-Jews, I think I’ll have a better chance of surviving,’” said Schoenfeld.

He went to the hospital where he found his father and uncle. There they stayed until the nearby sounds of battle died down. Slowly, they peeked out – only coming out of the building when they realized all the guards were gone.

He met American soldiers on the road outside camp. One, a lieutenant, offered him the chance to kill one of the more ruthless supervisors from the camp.

At that moment, Schoenfeld realized what the Nazis had not been able to take from him.

“I was in a camp. They tried to brutalize me. They tried to take away my humanity. They couldn’t do it. Because what my parents instilled in me was no matter how bad it was, I remained a human being. To kill him, I cannot do that,” said Schoenfeld.

It took Schoenfeld years to be able to think for himself and to speak his own mind, one of the side effects of living in the camps which didn’t go away just because he regained his freedom. As he regained the ability to think freely, he saw two choices in the way to remember his experience – a negative way, one in which he would constantly be thinking of ways to hurt those who had harmed him, and a positive way, where he could learn never to treat anyone like he and the other Jews were treated.

Lauren Lemmons, the daughter of Dr. Russel Lemmons of JSU’s Department of History and Foreign Languages, contributed to the program with a candle lighting in memory of those who died during the Holocaust. Winners of the “Imagining the Holocaust” writing contest were also recognized.

At the close of the event, all Jews present in the audience were invited to gather on stage for a recitation of the Kaddish, a prayer usually said by mourners at the death of a close relative. As Schoenfeld led the prayer, they recited it in remembrance of those who were murdered during the Holocaust.

About Jennifer Bacchus

Jennifer Bacchus is a staff writer at The Jacksonville News. She can be reached at 256-435-5021 or via e-mail at

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