4 Lessons from Holocaust Survivor: Martin Weiss

Dana E. Brede

Sitting on a desk in Claver Hall, there were a pile of flyers that read: Join us Tuesday, November 4th, to hear Holocaust survivor Martin Weiss speak at Regis University. Without any hesitation, I opened the calendar app on my cell phone and set a reminder for myself so that I would not miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. Over seventy-five years have passed since the onset of the Holocaust, and the remaining survivors are few and far between. It was important for me to attend as I have relatives on all sides of the Holocaust. November 4th arrived and I tried to emotionally prepare myself for what I was about to hear. I have spent much of my academic and professional life researching the myriad of examples of genocide throughout the international community. I’ve heard stories that have been passed down in my family about WWII and the Holocaust—but I’ve never felt what the words and data meant until I was packed in a chapel with 150 people hanging on every word that Martin Weiss spoke. He commanded the attention of the chapel because he provided first-hand testimony about a facet to humanity that most of us will never fully understand or comprehend.

Martin’s Story

I will briefly synopsize Martin Weiss’ story, although I fear that my version will scarcely do his account justice.

In 1944, after years of segregation, mistreatment and uncertainty in Poland, Martin and his family were deported to Auschwitz—Martin was only 15-years-old. Upon arrival to Auschwitz, those who survived the initial inspection were forced into slave labor. Sadly, most of his family did not make it past the inspection. All in all, the selection process was very rapid—in a matter of minutes everyone was funneled off of the trains and told to go to the left or to the right of the inspection area. One line went straight to the gas chambers while the other indicated survival—albeit an uncertain nightmare. Martin attributes his passing of the selection process to the fact that his father placed 3 coats on him to keep him warm. He looked stronger and larger than he actually was. About a month after arriving at Auschwitz, Martin and his father were transported to Melk, a sub-camp of the Mauthausen concentration camp, in Austria. Prisoners in Melk were forced to carve tunnels into the side of the mountains with nothing more than small hand tools. Shortly before the camps were liberated, Martin’s father died from a combination of exhaustion and starvation. As allied forces closed in on the Nazis, Martin and other prisoners were forced on a death march that challenged the nature and resolve of the human body. Had he stumbled or fallen—he would have been killed. Martin and the other inmates were marched to Gunskirchen where they were liberated by the U.S. Army in May of 1945. The following year, Martin moved to the United States and he later joined the U.S. army and served in the Korean War. Martin married Joan and together they have two children and four grandchildren.1

Weiss has devoted his life to traveling throughout the United States and sharing his story about the Holocaust. He also volunteers his time at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. His story is nothing short of gripping and powerful. Click here for a more detailed account of Martin’s story.

4 Lessons or Food for Thought:

1. Regis University provides a myriad of opportunities to connect students and educators with the community. I feel so blessed to be affiliated with a university that unites students and the public through diverse, shared experiences. I, for one, am so grateful to have attended Martin’s account of survival—but more than that—I felt uplifted by his compassion for humanity despite seeing it at its worst. To ensure that you do not miss out on opportunities that may interest you, check into the Regis University Event Calendar.

2. As the numbers of Holocaust survivors dwindle every year—so are the stories of their generation. For “never again” to truly mean “never again”, we must educate ourselves about the precursors, warning signs, and lessons of the generations before us to ensure that history does not negatively repeat itself. If human injustices are happening around you—speak up.  Be an advocate and a voice for those who can’t speak up for themselves. Consider the words of Matthew 35: 35-36:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.2

3. The Nazi regime, much like a fine-oiled machine, became a catalyst for hate. Unfortunately, there are many regimes throughout the international community that operate under the same objectives. There are many different course offerings through the criminology degree programs that in some way connect to international law, implications of genocide and/or crime on a global scale.

4. You are the next wave of those with careers in criminology, and one day the torch will be passed on to you to prepare the next generation. In terms of preventing and anticipating criminal behavior—what are lessons that we (as professionals) can take away from Martin’s story (or stories that parallel his) that can have a lasting legacy for criminologists? Keep this question in mind as you work through your educational journey.

***Below is a link where you can find ways to get involved and resources: http://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/take-action-against-genocide/resources

Special Thanks:

  • Regis University Student honor societies: Alpha Sigma Lambda and Lambda Pi Eta
  • Martin Weiss and his family

Work Cited:

1Paraphrased from Martin Weiss’ speech at Regis University—November 4th, 2014 and http://www.ushmm.org/remember/office-of-survivor-affairs/survivor-volunteer/martin-weiss for correct spelling of the camps and sub-camps that Mr. Weiss was transferred to and from between the years of 1944 and 1945.