John Carroll University students marched on campus and held a memorial service for Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, April 18 in order to honor the victims of one of worst genocides in history. One victim, survivor Roman Frayman, came to share his own personal story of survival in a lecture titled “Miracle of Life.”
Frayman was born in 1938 in Sosonowiec, Poland, a year before the German Nazi regime led by Adolf Hitler invaded his country. He told the audience the story of how the Holocaust impacted his family, his experience living in the Srodula ghetto and how he was able to escape at the age of three to the home of a righteous gentile, Maria Balagova.
He lived with Balagova from 1941 to 1945, when he was reunited with his parents. He believes that the reason he lives today is because of the existence of miracles.
Frayman said, “Every time I tell my story, I say the only reason I am here to speak to you is purely a miracle. Miracles are defined as something that happens that should not have happened.”
It was a miracle that Frayman survived when the Nazis came for the thousand Jews remaining in the Srodula ghetto. Infants and young children could not be taken to the death and work camps; they often were killed on the spot. He remembered standing outside, huddled in a blanket with his family, hoping the Germans did not notice him.
“It was another miracle that the Germans did not find me,” Frayman said of that experience, “I can’t explain it. I mean we just stood there and the German shepherds walked around. None [of them] barked and then we were told to march.”
This was not Frayman’s only miracle. His mother befriended a German soldier within the camp and it was with his help that he was able to escape the work camp within a suitcase.
He was then taken to the home of his mother’s Catholic friend, Balagova. He lived with her for four years, and was raised Catholic during that time, until he reunited with parents after the camp’s liberation in 1945. A few years later, the family traveled to the United States in search of a better life and opportunity.
Frayman believes that through sharing personal stories and remembering the past, we as human beings will be able to learn from our mistakes.
“I think that one of things that bothers me the most is that human beings have not learned a lesson from the war,” says Frayman. His statement was said in regards to the repetition of was through World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and what is currently going on in the Middle East.
“When will people learn? I wish I had an answer,” he said.
The Jewish cultural group on campus, Hillel, brought Frayman to JCU to share his story so that people could learn from the message that he shared. Senior Nicolle Simonovic, president of Hillel, is related to a survivor and believes in the power of collective memory.
Simonovic said, “As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, it is especially meaningful for me to participate in Holocaust Remembrance Day. We came together as a community to ensure that we not only remember, but that we must also never forget the senseless atrocities that were committed against innocent people.”
The JCU students in attendance had an overall positive response to Frayman’s story and message about the importance of remembrance in the preventing of such tragedy.
Freshman Emily Schwabenbauer said, “I thought it was a very beneficial experience and it is something you hear about and read about all the time and it is just so different to hear about it in person. It makes it more real. It is important not to forget, so it doesn’t happen again.”
Senior member of Hillel, Zak Zippert said, “I think having Mr. Frayman come in was a great experience for JCU students and faculty. To read or watch a movie on the Holocaust is one thing, but to actually listen to someone who lived through it tell their story is completely unreal.”
Freshman Liz Nies said, “I thought it was a really great experience and hearing it from someone firsthand makes it so much more personal.”
Hillel is an organization on campus that celebrates Jewish traditions including holidays, activities and the Sabbath on Fridays. As a religious affiliated organization on campus, their mission is to bring awareness about Jewish culture and support Jewish graduate and undergraduate students.