The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Holocaust survivor tells his story to SMU students

Philip Bialowitz, one of eight living survivors of a revolt at the Nazi death camp Sobibór, continued to fulfill his mission to tell his Holocaust story to a group of nearly 200 SMU students and faculty in McCord Auditorium Thursday night.

“If anyone survives, bear witness to what happened here! Tell the world about this place!”

This is what the then 16-year-old Bialowitz heard the leader of the Sobibór revolt address the prisoners before their escape to freedom.

October 14, 1943 marks the 70th anniversary of the revolt at this Nazi camp and the evening’s event title “Never Forget,” certainly rings true.

Between April of 1942 and October of 1943, Bialowitz and about 250,000 Jews were sent to the camp at Sobibór in Poland. Bialowitz is one of a select few to have survived this camp, where the sole purpose was mass murder. On October 14, 1943, around 300 of the remaining prisoners planned a revolt to kill German officers.

Bialowitz escaped several times and admits that there were many times when he thought he would die at the hands of the Germans.

“At least if they kill me, I’ll have peace,” Bialowitz said. “We will die fighting in honor.”

When he finally saw the German officer on the floor covered in blood and his brother and two Russian soldiers alive and covering him up, he was relieved.

“I felt a rush of happiness,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘this is for my family and for all else who will perish at the hands of Germans.’”

Near the end of his speech, he told a Jewish story where a Rabbi asks a son, “what have you done with your life?” This was an especially impactful line in the scope of his larger message, according to students.

“It really made me think about what I wanted to do with my life and the impact I want to have on the world,” senior Becca Swarm said. “It is amazing to think that in a few years, these lectures will not longer be possible. It is a difficult topic but one that must be discussed if history is not going to repeat itself.”

Bialowitz said that he owes his life to many people, but he especially owes it to the heroic leaders of the revolt at Sobibór, Sasha Perchersky and Leon Feldhendler. They implored fellow prisoners to promise that anyone who survived would continue to tell the story of Sobibór. They asked that they not only tell of the atrocities committed during their time there, but also of the courage of the Jews who fought the Germans.

“So, here I am, Sasha!” Bialowitz said, who has fulfilled that promise ever since then. “I have dedicated my life to telling this story of the innocent people who perished in the middle of the forest.”

He attended the event with his son, Joseph Bialowitz, who lectures internationally on ways to more effectively remember and teach about the Holocaust.

“It is hugely important to know not only how they died, but how they lived,” Josepth Bialowitz said, urging students to seek out detailed and visceral experiences from the Holocaust.

SMU’s Embrey Human Rights program sponsored the event, which was led and facilitated by director Rick Halperin, who also urges students to continue their studies on genocides such as the Holocaust.

“We don’t spend a lot of time in the United States talking about World War II,” Halperin said. “We are moving away from it.”

After his lecture, both Philip and Joseph led a question-and-answer and Philip closed by singing a traditional Jewish song. He stayed after his lecture to sign copies of his book, which nearly one-quarter of the audience waited for in anticipation.

Even today, Philip Bialowitz believes that there is still a fear and hatred of people who are different.

He said, “We look to a better day, a better future, a world without hatred, a world without genocide.”

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