Fanny Starr said she lost her will to live when she entered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp months before it was liberated by the British.
“I told my sister, ‘I don’t want to live. I don’t have nobody,'” Starr said upon entering Bergen-Belsen.
Starr said her sister, Rena Alter, grabbed her by the collar of her striped outfit.
“She grabbed me by my clothes, stood me up and said, ‘This is our life, no mom, no dad,’” Starr said.
Starr shared her experience as a Holocaust survivor in the Nazi concentration camps with over 1200 students Wednesday night for the 20th annual Holocaust Awareness Week. Rebecca Chapman, a freshman at East High School, and Alex Ingber, the Vice President of Students for Holocaust Awareness, asked Starr questions about the Holocaust.
Starr, born in 1922, was a teenager when her family was forced into the Lodz ghetto. According to Starr, there was very little food, and people received food once a month if they were lucky.
Starr and her family were taken to Auschwitz in a train car of nearly 60 people after the ghetto was liquidated in 1944.
Starr remembers Auschwitz as a horrid place where the Jewish people were stripped of their clothes, and their identities were reduced to numbers. She remembers seeing the writing “Arbei Macht Frei” and Dr. Josef Mengele in his black uniform as she got off the train.
Starr remembers how Mengele assessed each Jew who got off the train and decided who looked healthy enough to work or who would be sent to the gas chambers.
“My youngest sister, (as) we were standing in the line to see him, … pinched my cheeks, and I pinched her cheeks to look (healthy),” Starr said.
Starr remembers laying in a field in Auschwitz, looking up at the night sky as bodies burned in the ovens.
“The sky was red, and the smell was horrid,” Starr said. “You could smell the body smell and the hair smell. We could see the ashes coming down like snow.”
Starr lost her mother and two siblings to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Her father starved in Dachau.
She said she and her sister came to America in 1951. Starr said they visited a cemetery to say their goodbyes to family members even though their family’s bodies “were just ashes.”
Over the years, Starr has questioned why the Jewish people were placed into concentration camps and killed, but says her experience helped her become a better person.
“I became a better person, and I care about humanity,” Starr said. “Don’t forget and don’t forgive their crime against humanity.”
Starr encourages people to educate themselves about the Holocaust and be open-minded to other people’s differences.
Rebecca Chapman, one of the moderators for Evening with a Holocaust Survivor, has interviewed Starr twice about her experiences with the Holocaust. Chapman said she continues to share Starr’s story to educate others on the events of the Holocaust.
“I think it’s really important to make other people aware of everything that’s going on, and make sure people are still recalling everything that happened,” Chapman said.
Tahani Mohamed, a sophomore Human Development and Family Studies major, said she never educated herself on the Holocaust, but attending Evening with a Holocaust Survivor helped her draw parallels with her personal history.
“It really touched my heart because my mom is from Sudan, so she’s also been through war,” Mohamed said. “Hearing the same thing, but from a different culture or a different ethnic (group), it makes a really big difference in my life. I really appreciate the opportunity CSU has given me to meet a survivor.”
Starr is concerned that under the current presidential administration, she will become a victim again.
“I’m very much against this government, and I’m very scared I will become a victim again,” Starr said. “(President Donald Trump) is not the human being to be president.”
Starr says she continues to speak to counteract anti-Semitism present in the world today.
“(Anti-semitism has) grown in such a record way,” Starr said. “I speak to not forget. I will never forget it — the crime they committed against humanity.”
About 1200 people attended the event in the Lory Student Center Wednesday night as part of Holocaust Awareness Week. A memorial service will be held in remembrance of Holocaust victims Friday at 1 p.m. at the Lory Student Center Plaza.
Collegian reporter Haley Candelario can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @H_Candelario98.