By Briana Smith
When 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, Alex Konstantyn — then 7 years old — was liberated from the underground hideaway he had been staying in for two years, he stepped on Poland soil, overwhelmed with fear as he came in contact with Russian soldiers.
“I was told to be afraid of uniforms,” said Konstantyn. “I was crying. My mother was smiling.”
Russian soldiers surrounded him in a circle, some tapped him on the back, while others picked him up and gave him candy.
“I became a mascot to them,” said Konstantyn. “A little Jewish kid survived.”
April 30 marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. Hofstra’s Jewish Chaplain’s Office and Hofstra Hillel sponsored two events in commemoration. The first event, “Six Hours for the Six Million,” was a memorial reading of the names of Holocaust victims, and during the second event, Konstantyn told an audience of about 40 Hofstra students about his experience
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to hear someone’s personal journey,” said Rabbi Meir Mitelman, a rabbinic educator of Hofstra Hillel and University Jewish Chaplain. “Alex [Konstantyn] has an impact on students and myself, and helps us really appreciate our blessings.”
Hofstra Hillel continues to host these ceremonies to make others aware of the Holocaust and prevent any further tragedies.
“We have these events because if you do not teach about the Holocaust, then it is at risk of happening again, and a lot of people in this world think it didn’t happen,” said Jennifer Gold, the Hofstra Hillel president and a junior elementary education and Jewish studies major. “There isn’t a better way to learn about it [the Holocaust] than to hear about it from someone who had firsthand experience.”
Konstantyn told students about the many obstacles he had to overcome to survive, to show them that he never surrendered without a fight. At times, he had to walk through the snow, he ate food his mother found in the garbage or he did not eat at all, he slept underground in cramped spaces for years, and, his worst memory of all, witnessing his father’s death.
“The most significant thing I learned is that even when times seem rough, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Russell Vogel, a Hofstra Hillel member and sophomore psychology major. “You can always overcome obstacles. Just need to remain perseverant.”
Konstantyn continues to speak at schools, synagogues, and other Jewish communities to not only share his experience, but inspire others to speak up and put an end to corruption.
“We cannot be silent,” said Konstantyn. “We have to do, in our limited capacity, whatever we can to speak up against evil things happening around us. We are learning to live with and tolerate evil; that’s not good enough.”