A Story Never Forgotten.
On October 22nd, 2018, myself and many other Steward upper school students and faculty members had the incredible privilege of hearing Dr. Roger Loria speak about his personal experiences while growing up as a Jewish boy during the Holocaust. After just having read and been deeply moved by Elie Wiesel’s Night, an autobiographical account of Wiesel’s life in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, I felt so overwhelmingly honored to be able to hear from another Holocaust survivor, and this time in person.
He began his presentation by providing some background information about the beginnings of World War II and the Holocaust, in case there were those in the audience who were unfamiliar with the details of these historical events. In doing so, he shared with us some truly startling statistics about the Holocaust, revealing that an estimated 6 million Jews, 3 million Polish, and 500,000 LGBTQ+ individuals were killed during these horrific times. These statistics chilled everyone listening to the bone.
After this preliminary portion of his presentation, Dr. Loria then began to delve more into his own personal story by showing us photos of his family members, such as his father, mother, aunts, and uncles. He told us that he was so incredibly thankful to have pictures of his family, because many other survivors are not as fortunate. He also shared with us that he will forever be indebted to a kind Christian women who selflessly risked the endangerment of her own life so that he could have these photos today. As soon as these pictures were shown, Dr. Loria revealed that he was the only survivor from his father’s side of the family to survive the Holocaust. This immensely heartbreaking sentence sparked a noticeable pause within the crowd, a deafening silence as everyone listening thought of their own families and just how blessed they were to have them in their lives.
Dr. Loria then told us the story about the time in which he first encountered the Nazis as a young boy. According to his recollection, he had been playing with some rocks outside when he saw a car pull up next to his house. The Germans came out from these cars, entered the house behind him in which his mother was currently located, and began cursing at the women in the kitchen. With the Germans temporarily distracted, Loria’s mother managed to sneak outside, grab her son and run for her life into the woods. She learned many years afterward that all of the women in that kitchen ultimately died in concentration camps. After fleeing and narrowly escaping capture, Dr. Loria said that he then traveled around Europe with his mother for a long time, desperately trying to outrun their seemingly inevitable fate of ending up in a concentration camp like the women in the kitchen.
Something that remained consistent throughout Dr. Loria’s utterly inconsistent upbringing during the Holocaust was his hope for a better future. In his eyes, this better future which he imagined was dependent on the Allies, specifically America, coming to rescue him by winning World War II, something evidenced by a picture that he showed us of himself during this time in which he was seen hopefully waving an American flag. Eventually, after many long and treacherous years, this wish finally came true for Dr. Loria, with the war finally coming to an end. However, this was after the loss of the majority of Dr. Loria’s family and his once beautiful, childlike innocence, making the win hardly feel like a victory.
Yet despite the immense sadness of Dr. Loria’s presentation, the most impactful part of his speech was his final message of love and peace. Even after all of the hardship and the suffering that Dr. Roger Loria has experienced in his lifetime, he still chooses to have an optimistic outlook on life, something which I found very inspirational. It is an outlook on life that he urged us to adopt as well, claiming that as long as you are continuing to be kind to others, you will always feel a sense of warmth and fulfillment in your own life, knowing that you are indeed making a positive difference on the world around you.
With many survivors of the Holocaust beginning to pass away due to old age, now, more so than ever before, it is imperative that we make active efforts to hear their stories so that we may never forget them. As the last generations who will ever be able to listen to their experiences firsthand, we need to cherish the time we have left with these heroic men and women, committing their stories to paper in addition to memory so that future generations may be able to listen them as well.
Additionally, we must take Dr. Loria’s message of spreading kindness to heart if we hope to enact change in the world we see around us. On a planet that too often choses cruelty over love, we must do everything we possibly can to tip the scale in the other direction. Whether it means doing something small like opening the door for someone or something big like fundraising for a cause that you are passionate about, these acts of kindness do add up and they can make a difference, even if it might not be evident at first glance.
Dr. Roger Loria is a man who inspires me to use my voice to promote love and positivity. His incredible life and his message of spreading love and positivity in spite of life’s most insurmountable obstacles will never be forgotten. He is the embodiment of inspiration, persistence, and courage, and I am truly honored to have been able to listen to his story.
Picture link: https://www.vaholocaust.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Roger-Loria-2.jpg