Holocaust survivor speaks at WCU

Walter Ziffer, a Holocaust survivor, speaks to WCU audience. Photo by Kaylyn McCarraher.

Walter Ziffer, a Holocaust survivor, speaks to WCU audience. Photo by Kaylyn McCarraher.

Walter Ziffer, a Holocaust survivor, delivered a speech about the history of the Holocaust and his personal experiences Thursday, April 24, in the Ramsey Center.

The Jewish Student Organization sponsored the event in honor of the Holocaust Remembrance days.

Ziffer, 87, was born in Poland to a Jewish family. His family spoke German and had German educations, but that was not important in 1939 Europe.

As Ziffer explained the timeline of events, he paused when he got to Sept 1, 1939 — the day that Nazi forces invaded Poland.

“I could not sleep that night for some reason. I got up and went looking for my father. He was not in bed next to my mother like he usually was. I continued to look. I found him on our balcony,” he started his story. “I said to him ‘Daddy, what are you doing out here?’ and he said ‘Son, listen.’ So I listened and I heard strange sounds. There was glass breaking, screaming and crying. It was chaos. I asked my father what was happening. My father said ‘I am afraid they are burning our synagogues.’ I said to him ‘Daddy look, it’s a new day. The sun is rising over there.’ My father looked back at me and said ‘Yes, but I am afraid that this is our sunset.’”

At that moment he knew something bad was happening. He was 12 years old.

He went on to tell about his hardships in the camps. He had been stationed at seven different camps over the period of time. He faced different struggles at each. He recalls his identity number- 64,757. He did not have it tattooed on his arm like his father and so many others did, but as he said, “it isn’t one of those things you forget.”

Fortunately, his immediate family survived although he lost several cousins and other family members.

As a conclusion to his speech Ziffer capitalized on remembering the past: “If we do not remember the past, how will we make a better future?” He stressed the importance of education and telling children and grandchildren about past events so we can become a better society for the future.

Ziffer now lives in Weaverville, NC with his wife Gail Rosenthal. They have 6 children and 12 grandchildren. He earned his PhD and teaches courses in Judaism, early Christian History, Biblical Hebrew and comparative religion at Mars Hill College.