On February 24, Hungarian Holocaust survivor Andy Sarkany visited Suffield Academy to speak with freshmen and the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Behavior class about his experience living in Budapest in the 1940s. He began with some history: Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933 and life became more difficult for Jews almost immediately. A mere five years later, on November 9, 1938, was Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass), which is considered the true beginning of the Holocaust. Jewish homes were ransacked, Jews were dragged out into the streets to be verbally and physically abused, and synagogues were burned down. By 1941 most of Europe was under the control of Nazi Germany or following their teachings.
Andy was only seven years old when he truly began feeling the effects of what was happening around him. While walking two blocks to school, people would spit on him, call him a dirty Jew, and tell him he should be dead and didn’t belong there. As a child he could not understand what others felt he had done wrong—but going to school became unbearable. After sharing this anecdote Andy looked at the students in the room and said firmly, “We need to wipe out the idea of hate.”
By 1940 Jews were already being forced into labor camps. This included Andy’s father, who was in and out of camps between 1940 and 1944. His father disappeared in February 1944, taken to a concentration camp as an able-bodied worker. By March 1944 Germany officially invaded Hungary. Andy recalls watching the soldiers marching in, with non-Jewish people cheering for them. Soberly, he said, “There is no good Nazi.” He and his family were moved into the Budapest ghetto in late 1944, hidden behind 7-foot walls from the rest of the city, cut off from what was truly happening in the world. They were forced to wear yellow stars on their clothes. Adults couldn't work. Food was scarce. If they were lucky, sympathizers might hide them—Andy’s brother-in-law was hidden for seven months, and his grandfather for five. Outside of the ghettos, there were thousands of concentration camps across Europe. Many Jews didn’t even make it there, dying on the train cars transporting them to the camps. They were used as slave laborers and in medical experiments. Women, children, and non-able-bodied people were murdered in gas chambers, most notably in Auschwitz.
Finally, by February 1945 Hungary was liberated. Andy’s father survived the camp he had been sent to but was in terrible mental and physical health, reliving the horrors of what he had been through for years after. He never spoke to Andy about what he experienced, changing the subject if his son ever asked. Twelve years after liberation, Andy decided there was nothing for him in Hungary and left for the United States, where he met his wife and they built their family.
Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. More than three million others—Blacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the handicapped—were killed as well, for not reflecting the image that Hitler saw as the perfect race. Perhaps one of the most important mottos Jews repeated after the Holocaust was: “Never again, never forget.” The news in the past few years has been shocking to Andy, where rallies showcased people wearing swastika armbands and Camp Auschwitz shirts. To challenge that narrative, Andy told the students, “We have the obligation to each other, to society, to speak up, to tell the truth... It is our obligation to be an upstander, not a bystander.”