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SUBMITTED by Kate Chamberlin, Daughters of the American Revolution

Henry Silberstern was the honored guest speaker at the Col. Wm. Prescott Chapter of the NSDAR on Wednesday, May 20 at 1:00 PM in the chapter house, 119 High Street, Newark, NY. Silberstern’s powerful story about being in Nazi concentration camps evoked strong emotional responses and questions from the audience.

Henry Silberstern speaking at DAR meeting in Newark

Eight-year old Henry Silberstern’s life began to change in 1938, when France and Britain signed the Munich Agreement. This agreement ceded an area of Czechoslovakia called the Sudeten Land to Germany. In 1942 Henry was sent to a camp for the first time.

It wasn’t until April 15th 1945 that an Allied convoy of a Canadian contingent of the British Army liberated prisoners of Bergen-Belsen. It was Henry's 15th birthday.

The deprevation of food, water, clothing, and privacy evoked a mother’s question: How did you survive? Silverstern reflected that the children’s priorities are, quite naturally, different from the adults’ priorities. He mentioned that not being allowed to go to school, he thought it was great; however, his parents understood the significance of what was happening. When asked if he’d ever returned to see the camps, Silberstern remarked that he remembered every thing as dark and dirty, but when he returned with his wife and several students, the camp had green grass, trees, and was all spruced up. He said that upon viewing the barracks and bathrooms, he could still smell them, even though years had passed.

Silberstern has kept in touch with many of the boys who survived the Holocaust. Some of the survivors never got over what happened to them; others have put it in perspective and have gotten on with their lives. One of the boys is more like a brother to Silberstern, who had no family after the war.

In response to a question about history repeating itself and could the holocaust happen again, Silberstern said: “Well, I don’t think we’ve learned much.”

Silberstern has noticed an increase in the demand for speakers on the Holocaust and that first person accounts by survivors are getting fewer. Speakers can be contacted through the Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information, Jewish Community Federation, 441 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607; Ph. (585) 461-0490 x250; Fax (585) 461-0912; Bonnie Abrams, Director, babrams@jewishrochester.org.


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