By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Mississippi State University students had the opportunity to hear about one of the most significant events in modern history from someone who lived it firsthand.
Holocaust survivor Anne Jaffe shared her story with students and faculty at the university yesterday.
Jaffe was just 10 years old the Nazis invaded her small village in eastern Poland. Immediately, the Nazis imposed harsh rules for the Jews in the village — they had no rights, were forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing and all of their valuables were taken away.
“I remember a feeling of shame. I haven’t done anything wrong, but whenever I walked out on the street and met one of my Christian friends and I was wearing a yellow star, for some reason I felt different,” she said. “I don’t know why I felt ashamed, but I did.”
The Nazis began rounding up people and killing them on a regular basis. First, it was the leaders and those who were educated.
“I cannot describe to you the feeling of constant fear, from morning until night. We had no idea if we would see the next day,” she said.
On two separate occasions, she and her family were among those chosen to die. The first time they were saved because her mother, a seamstress, was chosen to make dresses for a Nazi officer’s wife. The second time they were saved because her father’s work was considered valuable to the Nazis. Each time, they were among the only ones who were saved.
“To this day, I still feel guilt for not turning back to say goodbye to the ones I left behind, because I left my aunts, my cousins, my best friends, but the feeling of having another chance was so strong that I ran and did not turn back,” Jaffe said.
Eventually, the family was sent to a ghetto in a neighboring village. On Nov. 1, 1942, a group of freedom fighters attacked the town and freed the Jews from the ghetto. A fighter told Jaffe’s family to run into the woods and hide. With several siblings in tow, including her baby brother, their family escaped into the woods where they spent the next year and a half.
“Nobody wanted to be with us — we had a baby on our hands. We were left all alone at a bonfire,” she said. “I wished I was dead. It was not just the terrible cold, not just the terrible hunger, the infestation of lice, the fear of being captured, it was physically extremely, extremely difficult. I preferred being dead to this difficulty. But I want you to know it was worth it.”
On July 4, 1944, Jaffe said they had their own independence day. They were liberated from Nazi control by the Soviets. At that time, they had no idea about what had been going on throughout the rest of Europe.
Jaffe said she and her family survived simply because they were lucky. Of the 350 Jews from her village, just 32 survived.
After living in a displaced persons’ camp in Germany for several years, she and her family came to the United States.
“We chose to come here over 60 years ago. I will tell you nobody is more grateful to this wonderful country than those of us that have survived two dictatorships,” she said.
Jaffe said she has made it her mission to make sure the world does not forget what happened to her people.
Despite the horror she endured, Jaffe preached only kindness and tolerance, which she said she learned from her father.
“We were so resentful and hateful that no one did anything to stop it. When I expressed my feelings to my father, he sat me down and he told me ‘I heard you say that you hate the world; you hate the people that have not gone through what you’ve gone through. That’s a terrible thing to say. We were victims of hatred,’ he said. ‘Hatred will consume you. You will never had a normal life,’” she said. “’Teach people through tolerance, through acceptance and be a role model for your children and other people in your life.’ And he was absolutely right.”