Taking questions after his talk at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, Holocaust survivor Eddie Weinstein was asked if he ever thinks about taking revenge against his persecutors.
“I’m not a killer,” he replied. After five years of captivity and torment and six escapes, he joined the Polish army for the final year of the war, happy to finally get a chance to fight the Nazis; but, he said, he never killed anyone.
“I don’t forgive them, but I wouldn’t kill,” he told the students.
Weinstein — whose book about his experiences, 17 Days in Treblinka: Daring to Resist and Refusing to Die, is in its fourth English-language edition — addressed the school’s social studies students on Oct. 13. Born in Poland, he lives in Little Neck, NY, and is married to a fellow survivor.
Family friend David Frank, who organized his visit to the school, had taken time out from his work with Wells Fargo Advisors in Warren to attend the talk. He echoed Weinstein’s reminder to the students, that “they are the last generation who will be able to hear first-hand from the survivors of the Holocaust.”
Weinstein, now 85, has been speaking to schools since his retirement, reiterating the message that has become an anthem with those who lived through the Holocaust, that the tragedy and its victims not be forgotten so as to ensure that it not happen again, and that the young commit themselves to fighting intolerance wherever they see it.
“If you see injustice being done, don’t stay on the sidelines,” Weinstein told the silent, wide-eyed members of the audience.
Relating his near-death scrapes and the loss of his relatives and friends, the only time Weinstein’s voice shook was when he described seeing babies — some still alive — in a pit filled with bodies just shot by the Nazi guards. “After 67 years, I still see their beautiful little faces,” he said.
“If I was a writer, it would have been 5,000 pages, but I just wrote down what I experienced,” he said later, as he signed copies of the book for students and members of the public who had also attended his talk. Weinstein and his father were the only members of their family to survive, two of 16 Jews from their hometown of Losice, where before the war there had been 8,000 Jews. His father insisted that Weinstein record what they had endured.
The book, written when Weinstein was in a displaced persons’ camp after the war, was first published by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Memorial and Museum, in Hebrew in 2001. It was initially called Quenched Steel — referring to how his struggle strengthened him.
But the publishers felt too few people understood the reference. The crux of his story, Weinstein said, was his drive to survive.
A student asked how Weinstein feels about Germans now. With a shrug of wonder, he referred to the fact that this past June President Barack Obama was able to commemorate the Holocaust standing with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and survivor Elie Wiesel at the site of Buchenwald concentration camp.
“There were good people in Germany,” he said simply. “A higher percentage of Jews survived in Berlin than in other places. But people were very afraid.”
For more information about Eddie Weinstein’s 17 Days in Treblinka, visit www.zchor.org/losice/weinstein.