Holocaust survivor speaks to UMD students

by EMILY KALLMYER

Mark Strauss was 11 years old when World War II began for him in Lwow, Poland, now present-day Lviv, Ukraine.

In the first year of the war alone, 85,000 Jews in his town were murdered. The remaining 15,000 Jews – including Strauss and his parents – were forced to relocate to a guarded Jewish ghetto, where Strauss remained until he was eventually smuggled out.

“The way I survived– I was hidden by a Polish Catholic family,” Strauss said. “I was in a little tiny room for a year and a half, incarcerated. Incarcerated.”

The 85-year-old Holocaust survivor spoke to UMD students yesterday at the Ben and Ester Rosenbloom Center for Jewish Life about his experiences during the Nazi occupation of his home country from 1941 to 1945.

Strauss often shares his story with a wide variety of audiences, but in particular, he tries to speak to high school and college students. He said he gains satisfaction and gratification by speaking to young people.

“They get a feeling for the horrendousness of that incomparable tragedy of the whole era we call Holocaust,” he said.

Strauss specifically asked to invite non-Jewish students and students who had never heard firsthand stories before.

“He recognizes that as the generation is growing older, the value of hearing firsthand stories like his is just increased,” said Lindsay Goldman, the Jewish Experience associate at Maryland Hillel.

Strauss hopes to get young people interested in history by sharing his stories.

“You can’t enjoy the present or plan for the future without the past,” he said. “It’s very simple.”

Still, he acknowledges that it’s a challenge to attempt to convey the magnitude of the Holocaust in a limited amount of time.

“It’s very difficult to bring many things into an hour or forty-minute speech,” Strauss said. “Holocaust is a whole vast era of brutality.”

Today, Strauss has five published novels, in addition to a multitude of oil paintings. His work is featured prominently around the world, including at the Holocaust Museums in New York, London, Paris, Warsaw and Lviv, Ukraine.

His semi-autobiographical novel, Crumbs, is based on his life as a Holocaust survivor and oil painter.

Strauss' semi-autobiographical novel, Crumbs. Emily Kallmyer // Pulsefeedz
Strauss’ semi-autobiographical novel, Crumbs. Emily Kallmyer // Pulsefeedz

Strauss came to speak with UMD students in October of last year and his artwork had a strong impact on the students who attended that event.

“Students connect really powerfully to it,” Goldman said. “The outpour of interest and support is remarkable.”

In Vain by Mark Strauss. Emily Kallmyer // Pulsfeedz
In Vain by Mark Strauss. Emily Kallmyer // Pulsfeedz

Between 75 and 100 students attended his talk last night, which followed an intimate dinner he shared with about 15 students.

The event was hosted in addition to Holocaust Remembrance Day programming in the spring, which typically features a Holocaust survivor who comes and shares his or her story.

“It’s not about a story, it’s about a conversation,” said Ari Israel, executive director of Maryland Hillel, during his address to students at the dinner.