‘We remember’: Holocaust survivors’ moving story shared

Posted at  10:10 PM on  May 2, 2019


On screen, in a video filmed in 2006, Hanna Adler cried as she and her husband Howard described the horrors of fleeing Germany during the Holocaust.

And in person, in a room filled with Congregation Emanuel members, a now 93-year-old Hanna cried again as the film brought back memories both terrible and bittersweet.

The video, “Escaping the Holocaust: The story of Howard and Hanna Adler,” was shown as part of a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony held Thursday evening at Congregation Emanuel. The ceremony included prayers for the more than six million Jews and five million other people who were killed during the Holocaust, as well as for victims of recent shootings at synagogues, churches and schools.

In the 2006 interview, Howard and Hanna shared memories of their lives and the path that brought them to America in the 1930s. Howard, who passed away in December 2016 at the age of 99, said in the video that their childhoods were very normal and happy until 1933, when Hitler rose to power in Germany.

After that, Hanna said, things changed quickly for her family. “We had to sit in the back of the classroom and no one could talk to us,” she recalled. “And after 1938 — Kristallnacht — we were not allowed to go to school anymore.”

People in their village who had once been friends turned on them, she said. “They had to prove what good Nazis they had become.”

Hanna described the terror she and her family felt as the Nazis came to violently arrest the Jewish men in her town, and were aided by those who had been neighbors.

“It sounded like a drunken mob outside, but it stopped in front of (our house). I recognized one of my high school teachers,” she said. “It was the people of my hometown who did this. That was a hard thing for me to understand.”

During this same period, Howard and his two brothers had managed to make their way to America and safety. When the Gestapo barged into the home of Howard’s parents and demanded their valuables, he said his mother was defiant — “My valuables I sent to American in the form of my three sons.”

Howard and his brothers would pull together enough money to bring his parents over to America in 1939. Hanna and her family would also make it to the United States. But both Hanna and Howard lost many relatives and friends to concentration and death camps and other brutalities.

Standing in Congregation Emanuel on Thursday flipping through the pages of an old photo album, Hanna pointed to face after face, noting sadly that “they had all perished” during the Holocaust.

The Adlers’ story is certainly one of hardship and sadness. But it is also one of hope and hard work and the bonds of family.

In the 2006 interview, Howard recalled fondly having to ask Hanna three times before she agreed to marry him. The trick was finding the right setting — in this case, the Statue of Liberty, which had been a beacon of hope to so many people escaping the Nazis. In the grass at the base of the monument, Howard proposed and Hanna said yes.

“When you see the Statue of Liberty, you really know you are free — the country is free,” Howard said of the deep meaning the site had for him.

Howard served four years in the Army beginning in 1941, including in the Normandy Campaign, and became an American citizen while on furlough during his service. Hanna became a citizen after they married.

“After being stateless and having no rights, you can vote and you are counted,” Howard said with pride. “If you really want to be successful, America is the land of unlimited opportunity.”

During Thursday’s ceremony, participants read the Mourner’s Kaddish, praying for a future that is filled with hope and love:

“We remember the six million jews and five million others … We also pray for the survivors, whose faith in life allowed them to rebuild in other countries their shattered lives, their destroyed worlds … in defiance of absolute terror and despair, an invincible hope…”

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