Register, March 1, 2015
Survivor Shares Her Story
and Is Honored by Mayor
Sandy Stimpson During a Powerful Educational Program
When Agnes Tennenbaum entered the
showers at Auschwitz concentration camp she didn’t know if she would be
cleansed with hot water or choked to death with gas.
“A tremendous fear gripped me. My
heart galloped in my chest,” said Tennenbaun, 93, as she read from her short
story memoir, “When The Magic Was Gone.” Her thick Hungarian accent, heavy with
horrible memories, filled the Ben May Main Library’s Bernheim Hall with
gravity, history and honesty.
“Silently, I cursed the Germans,”
she continued from a chair onstage. “I imagined the floorboards would open to swallow
our dead bodies.”
The Auschwitz survivor, who has
lived in Mobile for nearly a decade, captivated a near-capacity crowd of all
religions and ages with her story.
Tennenbaum, who lost her parents,
siblings and aunt in the Holocaust, revisited the darkest passage of her life
as part of an event intended to both honor her strength and spirit and commemorate
the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The evening’s program, which also
included presentations from Mayor Sandy Stimpson and more community leaders,
was sponsored by the Gulf Coast Holocaust Center, the Mobile Christian-Jewish
Dialogue and the Mobile Public Library.
A very excited but reverent Mayor
Stimpson presented Tennenbaum with an honorary proclamation and also read from
the book “How Do you Kill 11 Million People?” by Andy Andrews. Stimpson also
brought some historical treasures loaned to him by Andrews.
The Mayor showed the audience an
assortment of armbands used at Auschwitz to identify various groups of prisoners. Most people know Jews were forced
to wear a yellow star, but there were other stigmatizing synbols as weil.
For example, homosexuals had a pink
triangle, Roma, or “gypsies,” wore a brown triangle, Jehovah’s Witnesses had a
purple triangle, and political nonconformists were identified with a red triangle.
At the conclusion of his
presentation, Stimpson said to Tennenbaum, “You are absolutely beautiful.”
the tale in context
Tennenbaum’s tale was put in
context by a handful of community leaders and historians:
Spring Hill College European
history professor and former history department chair Patricia Harrison gave a
brief history of Auschwitz.
Rickie Voit, a dedicated community
volunteer involved in the Mobile Jewish Film Festival, Mobile Jewish Federation
and many other organizations, spoke frankly and powerfully about the
significance of Auschwitz for Jews.
“Our pain as Jews never goes away,”
she said. She also stressed that Auschwitz should not be viewed as a source of strength
and asked the crowd to consider how much better the world would be today if the
millions of victims had been allowed to survive, thrive and contribute to
society instead of being exterminated for no reason.
Jerry Darring of the Gulf Coast
Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education, focused fiercely on the
challenge Auschwitz presents for Christians. He exhorted them to take an active
role in acknowledging and discussing the atrocities and said that to ignore it
or be indifferent to it is sinful. Darring, who is Catholic, even pointed out
problematic passages in the New Testament that still contribute to
anti-Semitism. He referenced a line from the Book of John where Jesus refers to
Jews as “the children of the devil.”
Although there were many death and
labor camps throughout Europe during World War II, Auschwitz is considered the
epitome of the horror of the Holocaust and what can happen when others who
think they are somehow safe sit on the sidelines and look away while an
innocent, oppressed minority is punished and persecuted.
It is estimated that in its five
years of operation, about 1.1 million people, predominantly Jews, were
exterminated at Auschwitz through gassing, starvation and other methods. The
camp in southern Poland was liberated by Soviet troops on Jan. 27,1945.
At the end of the event, dozens of people
lined up for autographs and hugs, and Tennenbaum gladly accommodated them. North
Mobile Christian School student Caleb Moncrief was one of the audience members
who asked for an autograph. “I don’t know if I’ll ever meet anyone like her
again,” he said.