Holocaust survivor Helga Melmed to speak at Kristallnacht event

Publication Date

Helga Melmed, a survivor of Auschwitz and Nazi hard labor camps, will speak Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 5:30 p.m. in the Nott Memorial in a commemoration of the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

Holocaust survivor Helga Melmed

Considered by many to be the start of the Holocaust, Kristallnacht took place Nov. 9-10, 1938. On that night, German Nazi paramilitary forces attacked Jewish individuals and their property in a widespread campaign of hatred and violence that left smashed glass from vandalized Jewish homes, shops and synagogues strewn across the streets. World War II broke out a year later.

“It is an absolute privilege to hear Holocaust survivors speak first-hand, in person,” said Laiky Rubin, adviser to Chabad at Union, which organized the event. “We are at a time when antisemitism is rearing its ugly head all over the world. This event is important, now more than ever.”

Melmed’s talk is free and open to the public. It is co-hosted by the Department of History, the Office of Intercultural Affairs, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the Religious Studies Program, Sigma Delta Tau and Sigma Phi.

Melmed, of Venice, Fla., was born in Berlin, Germany in 1927, and lost both of her parents, Freida and Georg Arndtheim, to Nazi brutality. She was deported to Auschwitz in 1943 and worked in forced labor camps near Hamburg before being sent on a death march to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she was sick with typhus, typhoid fever and tuberculosis. The British liberated the camp in April 1945.

Melmed went on to live in Sweden, New York City and Philadelphia before settling in Florida. A widow and mother of four, she worked for a dozen years as a nurse with the state Department of Health in Sarasota County. She has had many speaking engagements in the U.S. and internationally about the Holocaust.

“Helga Melmed’s story is a testament to the strength of the human soul,” Rubin emphasized.

“Liberated at age 16 from Bergen-Belsen, she was a 46-pound walking skeleton. Despite the horror and suffering she experienced, Helga has refused to let hatred in her heart, and she shares her story of impossible challenge and resilience, and the lessons that people need to take to heart for the future.”

Melmed has said she continues to share her story because “I keep hoping people will learn from the memories that I have because there’s so much antisemitism out there now and hate and violence don’t work – all they do is bring war. We’ve got to learn to get together and respect each other and love each other rather than hate each other.”

Hillel will host Holocaust survivor Ruth Mendel on Thursday, Nov. 9 at 5 p.m. in Old Chapel. That talk is also open to the public.