SANFORD - In an emotional presentation mixing horror and hope, Dr. Debbie Long recounted her parents' struggle through Nazi concentration camps during her presentation at the Fourth Annual Holocaust Remembrance Event presented by Central Carolina Community College.
Long, who spoke at the college on April 21 through an arrangement with The Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education of North Carolina, is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors who later spent years as refugees, wandering through postwar Europe before being admitted to the United States and settling in suburban Chicago.
Her mother survived the Lodz Ghetto in Poland before being moved among three Nazi concentration camps beginning with the notorious Auschwitz. Her father survived a death march from the Bor copper mines in Yugoslavia, when hundreds of Hungarian Jews were shot or died from exhaustion, before enduring three concentration camps in Germany.
Projecting photographs from behind a laptop, Long began by introducing her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, describing their lives on the eve of World War II and their fate in the Holocaust.
Only her parents and one grandmother survived.
As she showed one photograph of a Jewish child sitting behind a fence in the Lodz Ghetto, Long pointed out the Star of David attached to the young boy's coat. She explained how they were forced to wear the star on their front and back, so Nazis "could see a Jew coming and going."
When she finished the story, a restrained gasp rose from many in the crowded Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center auditorium.
Long traced her mother's journey from the ghetto into packed cattle cars pointed toward the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. As her mother and grandmother entered the camp, they were pulled apart and pushed in different directions.
Her mother, then in her early 20s, quickly learned what was happening around her.
"When she was finally taken to a barracks," Long said, "my mother asked somebody there, 'What is happening at this camp? Where is my mother?'
"And her campmate pointed to the chimneys of Auschwitz-Birkenau and said, 'Your mother's there in the smoke.'"
This time, the gasp was no longer restrained.
Long followed the story with brief audio clips of her mother describing her experience at Auschwitz for a documentary about Holocaust survivors. In one, she recalled comments made by Elie Weisel, a Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor.
"Elie Wiesel called Auschwitz the 'Planet Auschwitz,'" Long's mother said in the recording. "Because Auschwitz doesn't belong to a civilized world."
Though the Holocaust took place more than 70 years ago, the lessons remain relevant today with domestic news about vandalism in Jewish cemeteries, threats to Jewish community centers and aggression toward other groups.
Long says she is dismayed to see a rise in antisemitism and attacks against ethnic groups and immigrants. At the same time, she's not surprised, acknowledging that hatred has always been an unfortunate part of the human experience.
Despite it all, she holds on to some hope.
"It is heartening to see many, many good people, particularly young people, stand in support of immigrants and other minorities in recent months," she said before the presentation. "Their resistance to acts of hatred and their responses to such events as cemetery vandalism are a potent sign that education and experience make a difference."
Long has been researching her family history and searching for surviving family members for more than 50 years. But now, with the Holocaust generation passing into history, she feels a particular urgency to keep their memory alive.
"The torch has been passed to me and the other children of survivors," she said. "We are not only witnesses to the traumas inflicted on our parents, we are also to some extent carrying the trauma within us. It is both a burden and a great responsibility to carry their stories forward."
Dr. Debbie Long recounted her parents' struggle through Nazi concentration camps during her presentation at the Fourth Annual Holocaust Remembrance Event presented by Central Carolina Community College on April 21 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford.
An exhibit presented by the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust was on display at the Fourth Annual Holocaust Remembrance Event presented by Central Carolina Community College on April 21 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford.