A crowd of nearly 100 listened intently as Holocaust survivor Clara Knopfler, 84, shared remembrances of her day-to-day survival in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The stories they heard were deeply personal, colored by hope and horror.
Knopfler’s visit was part of Read 2 Succeed @ Norco College, a program that encourages students, college employees, and community members to read a common book. This fall, that book was Knopfler’s “I AM STILL HERE - My Mother’s Voice.”
Knopfler was born in Transylvania, Romania, and later lived in Hungary. In 1944 she was taken to a Jewish ghetto before being transported to Auschwitz and Riga concentration camps, and later to labor camps in East Prussia. After liberation, she endured a three-month trek back to Romania. In 1962, Knopfler immigrated to France and eventually settled in the United States.
In her book, the author describes how her mother’s faith and three-point philosophy of life helped them survive the holocaust. “Pray, love, work, those were the three things my mother preached in order to maintain hope,” Knopfler told the audience.
Knopfler‘s faith in God allows her to love in spite of the treatment she underwent. She believes in the power of education, and that humans are more good than bad. Her mission, she says, is to stop hatred. “You have to have your own judgment. Don't do anything in the extreme. Be a participant, not a bystander. Get involved. Indifference is terrible.”
Knopfler points to an experience with two SS guards that occurred during her internment. The guards, in surprising moments of humanitarianism, acted in ways that saved the life of Knopfler and her mother on at least two occasions. She sees this as proof that “we can live together without hate, injustice and intolerance.”
Knopfler, who does about 15 speaking engagements each year, said that one of her proudest achievements was being the keynote speaker at a California event in a Catholic church that brought together three religious leaders: a priest, a rabbi, and the director of Islamic studies.
Audience members appreciated the opportunity to experience a poignant literary account of the Holocaust and to interact with the author who lived through that catastrophic event. Several students were deeply moved, many reaching for tissues as they listened.
“The story about the bread as a birthday cake touched me the most,” said student Cynthia Myers. “I’ve just decided that I’m no longer a picky eater.”
Damon Nance, dean of Technology and Learning Resources at Norco College, organized the event. “Keep in mind that we are the last generation who will be able to personally hear from Holocaust survivors,” Nance said. “It falls upon our generation to make sure that these types of events never be allowed to happen again.”