SMC Gathers for Holocaust Remembrance Day
In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, SMC invited Mary Bauer, a Holocaust survivor, to share her story.
Mary Bauer, 92, sits on stage before a large audience. Her voice does not waver. She remains steadfast and composed. For the most part, the audience remains somber. At times, however, their reaction to Bauer's words is palpable. Some gasp. The sound of camera shutters opening and closing intermingles with sniffles as listeners fight back tears.
On Thursday, May 2, Santa Monica College (SMC) students, faculty, and guests gathered in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Sponsored by the Associated Students (A.S.) and the Inter-Club Council (ICC), the event took place on the Main Stage in the Theatre Arts building. ICC Communications Officer Nathan Silberberg organized the event and interviewed Bauer.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day takes place on January 27 to commemorate the day that Auschwitz, the largest and most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps, was liberated. The twenty-seventh of Nisan, which fell on May 2 this year, is Yom HaShoah, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day. In honor of this day, SMC invited Bauer, a Holocaust survivor, to share her story.
Baur was born in 1927 in Budapest, Hungary. Though an only child, she had a large family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. She described her childhood as idyllic, full of ice skating and skiing in the winter, and swimming and taking bicycle rides in the summer.
Her life changed in 1944, when German soldiers marched into Hungary.
"Everybody was white," Bauer said. "Everybody spoke the same language. What was the distinction? The yellow star. So they had to put a mark on to make a distinction between the people."
Soon thereafter, she and her family were told to pack their suitcases, but they were not told where they would be going or for how long. When they reached the railroad station, boxcars were waiting for them. Before boarding, a Hungarian soldier demanded their jewelry. Bauer watched as her friend's earrings were ripped from her lobes.
"That was the first physical brutality I experienced, the blood streaking down her dress," Bauer said.
Rather than cite statistics, Bauer preferred to share her own experiences and memories. "I hate to refer to us as statistics," Bauer explained. "Because in every statistic, I want you to remember all the time is always one by one by one, human beings…not a statistic, not a number."
The dehumanization of Jewish people was a common thread throughout Bauer's story. "People were stuffed like sardines," she said when describing the train ride to Auschwitz. "There is no food, water, a bathroom…One day later, can you imagine the stench?"
The tattoo Bauer has on her arm is another example of dehumanization. She described the tattoo as "taking away the last ounce of dignity: our name, our identity. I became a number."
While she and her mother were allowed to remain together, many were separated. Young children, older people, and the infirm were sent to gas chambers where they were killed.
"I was not liberated in Auschwitz," Bauer explained. "Before the Russians came to liberate Auschwitz, we were forced to get out…January in Poland is snow. Cold. We had to march out of Auschwitz in the snow."
The journey later came to be known as the Dead March, during which only a third of people survived. Her mother, though she lived, suffered severe frostbite and lost several of her toes. No one else from her family survived the Holocaust.
Bauer's story is particularly harrowing in light of recent tragedies. On Saturday, April 27, a man opened fire during a memorial service at the Chabad of Poway near San Diego, California. According to CNN, one woman was killed and three others were injured.
Six months earlier, to the day, was the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting, which claimed eleven lives.
Bauer expressed her fear and dismay over the current state of affairs in the US. "This was the country of liberty, freedom, equality. Melting pot of cultures. Well, my disappointment today, watching Nazis marching in American soil."
Bauer urged audience members to listen to her story. "It's no distinction what color is your hair, what shape is your eye, what color is your skin," she said. "We are all people for crying out loud. This is America. Not anymore."
Update 05/14/2019 to include additional event details