Auschwitz. The Holocaust. Courage. Survival. All of these words tie together a time in our world’s history that led to men and women sharing their stories and experiences. Whether directly or indirectly, the Holocaust has touched many lives. Vicky Knickerbocker, (’78) and UMD alumna, was given the opportunity to travel with a Holocaust survivor. Her story, and others, fuel the Baumler Kaplan Holocaust Commemoration Lecture series which starts on Thursday, April 18, helping us all to remember, to share, and to discuss the past.
To begin the Baumler-Kaplan series, be sure and attend the presentation on Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. The room will be announced once it is secured. Presented by Sheila Isenberg, the main focus will be on Mission Impossible: Varian Fry in Marseille. Isenberg is the author of A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry. In Europe during World War II, the country proved to be a testing ground for a wide range of brave acts by many who would not have characterized themselves as particularly valorous. Isenberg will speak about the relatively unknown American journalist, Varian Fry. Fry was a well-educated antifascist who arrived in Marseille in the autumn of 1940 determined to be of assistance to Europe’s intellectual elite. His efforts resulted in the rescue of well over 1000 artists, writers and philosophers, including Marc Chagall and Hannah Arendt. **The 2013 Baeumlber-Kaplan Holocaust lecture on Mission Impossible: Varian Fry in Marseille, is cancelled for April 23rd and will be rescheduled in the Fall semester of 2013. The Royal D. Alsworth Institute for International Studies apologizes for the inconvenience to those interested. The scheduling of this event at the time of two unexpected snowstorms made it impossible for the guest speaker to fly into Duluth.**
Among the Alworth Institute Brown Bag events, a Holocaust-specific presentation, Nazi Concentration Camps: Sadism and Strategies for Cultural Annihilation, will be held Thursday, April 18th at 12:00 pm in the Library 4th Floor Rotunda.
1978 Alum Spotlight
Vicky Knickerbocker, a 1978 UMD alumna, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology-Criminology. She is currently a Human Services and Sociology Instructor at Inver Hills Community College in Indiana.
Recently, she was chosen as a recipient of a $1,800 teacher’s scholarship which allowed her to travel to Poland to participate in a “Seed of Forgiveness” tour led by Eva Kor, a child survivor of Dr. Mengele’s twin studies experiments. Knickerbocker was one of 12 Holocaust educators chosen nationally by the Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors (CANDLES) Museum for this monetary stipend. Knickerbocker joined the tour with 100 other Holocaust educators and their family members from several different states and countries.
“I had the privilege of traveling to Auschwitz with Holocaust survivor, Eva Kor, one of Dr. Mengele’s Twins,” said Knickerbocker. “This was an incredible learning experience which greatly broadened my knowledge of Eva’s experiences and will help me better authenticate the life lessons that college students can learn from studying the Holocaust.”
Knickerbocker has been teaching a 3-credit Holocaust course at Inver Hills Community College for the past four years. She is planning to enrich and fortify her teaching curriculum in the course by incorporating the videotapes, personal narratives, and pictures she and other educators recorded and produced while touring in Auschwitz. During the tour, Kor identified significant historical artifacts and ruins in Auschwitz that were associated with her being a child inmate of this death camp from May, 1944 to January, 1945.
Several of the most important historical artifacts and ruins that Kor pointed out were the railroad tracks, the selection platform, the huge posts of electrified, barbed wire fencing, the gas chambers, the guard towers, the crematoria, and a cattle car. She played a significant role in the deportation and murder of her mother, father, and her two older sisters. Standing on the selection platform, she recalled a tragic story of how the Nazis had forcibly marched her family members and another 100 Hungarian Jews onto a train, packed them into a cattle car, and transported them for 4 days to Auschwitz in Poland without any food or water. She also reported that she and her sister Mariam were chosen to survive because they were identified as identical twins and were abruptly separated from their mother immediately after their arrival in Auschwitz in May, 1944.
Kor also escorted travel participants to view the girl’s camp where she, her sister, and numerous other twins were housed in triple-decker bunks in a dirty, smelly, wooden barrack that was a former horse stable. Kor informed the group that the twins were considered “privileged” because they did not have to go outside to use the public latrine and they were fed dinner on a daily basis which consisted of a small slice of bread and a brownish fluid that everyone called “fake coffee.”
At the end of the Auschwitz tour, Kor took group members to visit Block #10 which was the experimental block were Dr. Mengele performed many painful and inhumane experiments on twins including Kor and her sister Mariam. Kor recalled that three days a week, Dr. Mengele would have the children marched to his lab so that he could perform intensive studies and blood extractions that left them exhausted. She stated she hated injections and being jabbed to give blood samples. According to Kor, one of the injections the Nazi doctors gave her made her extremely ill and she nearly died.
Knickerbocker reports that another important historical location that was visited in Auschwitz was the liberation site where Kor retraced the steps that she, her sister, and many other sets of twins had taken on the day the Russians freed them from the Nazis. “Participating in this liberation trek was a very somber experience,” said Knickerbocker. “Eva led our group down a rocky path that was still completely lined by electric barbed wire fencing that the Nazis had erected 65+ years ago to imprison those they deemed racially inferior. The historical remnants of imprisonment were eerie reminders of the evils of racism.”
Knickerbocker found that it was also an inspirational pilgrimage as Kor emphasized the importance of not dwelling in the past, but looking ahead. “She wants to be remembered not as a victim but as a survivor who had three very important life lessons to pass on: never give up on yourself, never judge others unfairly, and always forgive those who have caused you personal
Kor’s eyewitness testimonials are a valuable teaching resource in Knickerbocker’s future Holocaust courses. “The testimonials will greatly personalize students’ readings of the two books Eva has written, Echoes From Auschwitz: Dr. Mengele’s Twins: The story of Eva and Miriam Mozes and Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz,” said Knickerbocker. “The video documentation will help students gain a more empathetic understanding of the pain and suffering Eva and her family members experienced because they will be able to intimately see and hear her personal perspectives about what she experienced in Auschwitz.”
Knickerbocker contends Kor is an exceptional role model who has many positive life lessons that can motivate her future community college students to do well personally and professionally. “Seeing what an optimistic and upbeat person Eva is will give them hope and confidence that they too can overcome some of life’s adverse circumstances. They will be awed by Eva’s committed effort to keep the memory of the Mengele Twins alive by establishing and maintaining the CANDLES Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana for the past 17 years.”
After returning from this trip, Knickerbocker has collaborated with several Minnesota State College and Universities (MnSCU) educators to make it possible for Eva Kor to present her unique Holocaust experiences and words of hope and forgiveness to a larger public audience this fall.
You can also check out the UMD homepage story.