For the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust, survivor Bernard “Bernie” Igielski visited Hofstra Tuesday for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Now 86, Igielski twelve years old in Poland when World War II erupted and was saved from the gas chambers by a doctor in Auschwitz four consecutive times.
“There was chlorine powder on the floor, and from the fermentation I developed a rash and I was diagnosed as having scarlet fever, that to me was salvation,” he said. “I was quarantined, put in a hospital for contagious diseases, and every few days they would come clean out the hospital and take people to the gas chamber. But the doctor knew I wasn’t sick.”
In one very close call, the doctor was not present when the Nazi officers came to collect Igielski, but was eventually able to arrive and save him. “I was next in line to the gas chamber, and the doctor came in saw me…he saved my life,” Igeilski said.
Despite suffering early in his life, Igeilski said he holds no anger toward the Germans. “With all that I saw, with all that I encountered, I never hated [them], I was never bitter," he said. "I don’t believe you can truly love yourself if you hate someone else.”
During his speech, Igeilski noted that young people need to understand what true suffering is, and not to hold emphasis on hardships in life that really aren't as difficult as they seem. "Do you have to go through a Holocaust to see what life is really about?” he asked.
Rabbi Meir Mitelman, Hofstra's Rabbinic educator and Jewish chaplain, was moved by Igielski’s story, and described how Bernie was a commentary on the resiliency of the Jewish people.
“It’s kind of beyond logic that the Jewish people are still here, the fact that we are still here is a miracle," he said. "Everyone who has tried to destroy us is not here, and the Jewish people are thriving. From a religious perspective it’s a miracle, and thank you God for this miracle."
Hofstra Hillel President, sophomore Jenn Gold noted how important it is for stories like Igeilski's to be reserved.
“It’s something that really needs to be done. We have to keep telling the story, if we don’t tell the story it will get lost and people won’t remember," she said. "Having [Igeilski] come and speak to us teaches us to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”