Ruth Kapp Hartz, a Holocaust survivor, was the keynote speaker for Weber State University’s Holocaust Remembrance Week on April 8.
The theme for this year’s Holocaust Remembrance is “be the light in the darkness.”
“It encourages everyone to reflect on the depth humanity can sink to, but also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to be the light before, during and after the genocide,” Hartz said. “‘Be the light in the darkness’ is an affirmation and a call to action for everyone.”
Hartz wanted the keynote’s focus to be about children, given that she was a child who survived the Holocaust. One and a half million children perished during the war, making their death rates higher than those of adults since Jewish children were met with death as soon as they arrived at the concentration camps.
Hartz was only four years old at the start of World War II. She was born a refugee as her parents fled Germany to immigrate to the U.S.
Because her family could not obtain the papers needed, they instead immigrated to what is now Israel and later to France when the war broke out.
Only 6-7% of European Jewish children survived. They would often be hidden in places such as farms, barns, cellars and convents. They had to hide their identity by coming up with new names and denying all past relationships. They also had to lie to not give away their own families.
These events impacted their sense of identity, including staying silent for many years after the war.
“We had to embrace silence, seek memory, comprehend our identity in a morally distorted, chaotic world bent on our destruction,” Hartz said.
At the time, Jewish people of German descent arriving in France would be considered enemies despite Hitler stripping them of their German citizenship.
In the French refugee and internment camps, men would be given the option to join the French Foreign Legion, a military branch, with a promise to release their wives and children. Hartz’s father chose this option, and her family moved to a rural village in France.
Because Jewish laws imposed by Germany also applied to Jewish people in France, they were required to wear the Star of David and have their IDs stamped with the letter J, making them easy to arrest.
Hartz’s family decided against this, instead taking on fake identities and lying about their Jewish background.
Her family received fake IDs with the help of her father’s friend, who worked at the city hall.
Hartz was later taken to an orphanage that helped hide Jewish children from the police and was able to reunite her with her parents at the end of the war.
A year after the war had ended, her family moved to Paris. There the Red Cross approached them to notify her father that none of his family members had survived.
Her mother’s parents were liberated from a concentration camp by the Red Cross, and they were reunited with her family.
Hartz’s parents and grandparents would never speak about the war and their experience at the camp, but her mother would show her a photo album showing their life before the war.
“By our very survival as children and our actions as adults, we have proven our enemies wrong,” Hartz said.