NORTH BRUNSWICK — “Remember to take action, and remember to remember.”
The closing remarks of Linwood Middle School’s Holocaust Remembrance Evening April 23 summed up the theme of the night.
Students and teachers from Linwood, along with township officials, recognized the commemoration of the Holocaust through songs, speeches, a prayer, a candle lighting and a proclamation.
The keynote speech was made by Sol Lurie, a Holocaust survivor who spent five years in six different concentration camps in Europe before being liberated by Americans in 1945.
Lurie was born on April 11, 1930, in Lithuania, but on June 20, 1941, he began 1,388 days of a “nightmare” before being freed April 11, 1945. He said one night his family was told to pack their belongings and wound up in a synagogue for three days.
There were 28,000 Jewish people kept in an area of two square miles surrounded by barbed-wire fences, and each family only got one room to stay in. They would only get 8 ounces of bread per week and lived in starvation.
“We weren’t Jews no more. We weren’t humans no more. We were animals. But we weren’t treated like animals … we were like insects,” he said.
In October 1941, Lurie said that the prisoners were assembled in a field and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. had to march back and forth in front of German soldiers. He said 9,200 people, 4,200 of whom were children, were separated into two sections and the people on the right side were ordered to dig ditches. As they did so, the soldiers shot at them so they fell into the ditches. The next day, Lurie said soldiers made the rest of the people bury the bodies, and then they, too, were killed.
“One man escaped … and said the earth was still moving because people were still alive,” Lurie said.
In one instance, Lurie’s father tried to protect Lurie, his cousin and his cousin’s baby by hiding them in an underground hole in a stable. However, when Lurie’s cousin moved hay off the hole because she was wheezing from asthma, German soldiers saw her and took her baby and swung it around on the tip of their bayonet, killing it.
Lurie took this opportunity to try to escape, and eventually ran out the back of the stable, hopped a fence and hid in the waste pile of an outhouse. He said when he got home, despite his appearance and smell, his mother embraced him because she had thought he had been killed.
“There’s nothing like a mother and a father,” Lurie said about the appreciation children should have for their parents.
Then, in 1944, Lurie said that only about 1,500 of the original 28,000 Jews he was with were alive. They were put into cattle cars and transported to a different camp and were eventually kept with French prisoners of war. They were then taken to Auschwitz- Birkenau in Poland where they should have been sprayed with gas but only water came out from what Lurie called “a miracle.”
In December of that year, the Holocaust victims were then put into a “death march” during a cold winter, wearing only striped pajamas and wooden shoes. After a night resting in a barn, anyone who did not wake up to continue walking was burned alive inside the barn. This left only 23 boys in Lurie’s group who continued on.
In April 1945 Lurie said they finally heard American tanks getting closer to their camp. He was finally freed, but he said that the food provided by the Americans killed about 10,000 people as a result of dysentery. He survived again and was eventually reunited with extended family in the United States. He later found out that his mother was killed, and without giving specific details, Lurie said he was allowed to see his father during a special visit in 1968 while the rest of the family was held hostage overseas to ensure his father’s return.
Proud to be in the United States and wanting to protect his new homeland, Lurie fought to be included in the draft for the Korean War, but was shipped to Germany instead of Korea because he could speak German. This was a blessing in disguise, because one night as he laid down his sleeping bag in a field, he felt a tree branch poking through; the branch held the chain and good luck charm he had lost during the transport between concentration camps.
He also said he felt a sense of pride in going back to Germany.
“I said, ‘You wanted to annihilate this little Jew, but I’m back as an American soldier, a proud American soldier,’ ” he said.
When he moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Monroe, he found out that one of his neighbors was on the first American tank to liberate his group. Although his neighbor cries every time he sees Lurie, Lurie has been very open about his experiences and speaks to students in order to spread his message of hope and determination, and to encourage youth to be accepting and tolerant.
“Not all Germans were bad. I don’t hate all Germans. I only hate the Germans that were bad and killed innocent people,” he said. “I hope one day we’re going to have peace in the world and not hate.”
Contact Jennifer Amato at