From a glance, it would be almost impossible to guess that he was 93 years old. He showed up at the Rutland Free Library on Oct. 17 ecstatic to be there, bouncing across the stage and cracking jokes like he was a comedian.
It was even more amazing to hear Werner Reich’s story of being a Holocaust survivor who was kept in Auschwitz II for almost a full year and was transported to several other concentration camps.
During the presentation, he discussed the political issues leading up to the Holocaust and Hitler’s first six months in office in which several well-known Jewish men and families were killed, all possible sources of the beginning of the Holocaust.
Reich then discussed his time in concentration camps. He was in four camps total, starting off with Terezin, then moving to Auschwitz II, then to Auschwitz I, then to Mauthausen.
“I’ve frequently been asked ‘What was the worst thing that ever happened to you while you were in the camps?’” Reich said. “The worst thing to me was that I was aware every single day that this may be my last day. I was 16 years old and any day I could have been sent to the gas chambers.”
His presentation gathered a room full of members of the Rutland community and to listen to his story, but also to speak theirs.
Abe Leber and his wife came to the presentation to listen to the survivor’s experiences and try to understand what his father, a holocaust survivor as well, went through.
“My father never really opened up and it was never a subject that I wanted to talk to him about since I saw how hurt he would get whenever the topic was brought around,” he said.
Patricia Aldrich has always read a lot about that time in history, but coming to see someone who lived through it and has unimaginable memories is better than any book she could read, she said.
But a large majority of the crowd seemed to come to see Reich because they believe the injustices that he was a part of are beginning to repeat themselves within our politics today.
One attendee said that this is a “subject matter worth reflecting on so that we don’t repeat history.”
Another member said she is also concerned about the relevance of the Holocaust today. She said our country being run by hatred and she said she could never imagine that this country would ever get to this point.
Reich said he doesn’t know exactly why people come to hear him speak, but he knows that the only way we can get through our hardships is by living as a society being responsible for one another.
“Don’t be indifferent to other people’s suffering. We have to live as a group and a society together. We each have to be responsible for each other. It’s a very ethical rule or a rule of survival of any society. We have to be kind without expectation of return,” he said.
He mentioned that in being there for each other, it is not something that we do for the benefit of privilege.
“If I were to pick up a gun and start shooting, the police would come. But what would happen if there was no police. That’s what we need to be,” Reich said.
He explained that if we don’t take care of each other, not necessarily the Holocaust happens, but similar bad things have the potential to happen. He hopes he can help people to understand that and start to do that.
“The question is; how could the Holocaust have been avoided? By hearing the voice of the majority … but the majority was silent. If we ever want to change anything, we cannot be silent. We have to stand up for each other,” Reich said.