Ronell works to remind others of Holocaust horrors
During World War II, the Nazi regime killed 6 million Jews. Stanley Ronell, a survivor of the horrific events that took place during the Holocaust, shared his childhood experiences at Fairfield University during a recent lecture.
In a Holocaust Remembrance Service, co-sponsored by the university's Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, Kadima and Campus Ministry programs, about 150 people gathered to hear Ronell's poignant account of hiding with his mother in a Polish household, next door to where a German SS soldier lived.
"This was our `existence' for months and months and months," Ronell explained. "Food? Forget about it. Fresh air? Only when people were asleep did my mother bring me outside for a short amount of time. This is how we existed."
He told Fairfield University students, faculty and community members that his mother could be seen in public because, with her fair complexion and traditional Aryan light colored hair, she looked more like the Germans. Ronell, however, said that he inherited his father's genes. He was forced to stay in the tiny pantry closet at all times or risk being seen and persecuted by the soldiers.
In a lighter moment, Ronell smiled as he recalled how he would have gone "stir crazy" if his mother had not provided him with books. By candlelight, he spent his days voraciously reading Shakespeare's Hamlet, which was written in German, and a catechism book from the Catholic faith.
The Christian tome came to serve him well and he used the information gleaned in its pages to, again, escape from the Nazi's wrath. While they were living in a safe house, neighbors questioned their religious origins. To prove that they were Christians, as they had stated, Ronell and his mother went to church one Easter Sunday.
"As many of you know, there are very specific rituals for taking Holy Communion," Ronell smiled. He, of course, knew what to do from reading the catechism book.
Ronell also used his competency with the German language to his advantage. Having been taught German as his native language by a German nanny, Ronell alleviated the suspicions of a member of Hitler's Nazi Youth corps by addressing him in German. When the German youth called him a "dirty Jew," Ronell surprised his mother by retorting, in perfect German, "Why the hell did you call me a `dirty Jew'? Maybe you are a `dirty Jew' masquerading in a Nazi youth uniform!"
Ronell said that the shocked "hoodlums" allowed them to pass and continue their journey to safety. Every day, though, was filled with the threat of being discovered and sentenced to death, as so many Jews were.
"Every year I come to the Holocaust Remembrance Service and I hear that so much of the speaker's survival came out of this incredible, ironic luck," said Lauren Murphy, a senior at Fairfield University.
Ronell agreed, saying that his father was picked up by the Nazis as his brother-in-law and nephew were on the other side of the street. His father was deported to Auschwitz when Ronell was 5 years old. This was in 1939, shortly after the Germans had invaded Poland. Ronell's uncle, aunt and two cousins, though, managed to survive the war.
Describing the SS soldiers as "exterminators," Ronell offered straightforward tales describing their relentless persecution of Jews. An estimated 3,850,000 Jews were killed in Poland, which was nearly its entire population of Jewish people.
During her opening comments, Dr. Ellen Umansky explained that Holocaust Remembrance services are traditionally held in April to memorialize the Warsaw Ghetto's Uprising, which took place in April 1943.
On the first night of Passover, in an effort to give Adolf Hitler an early birthday present, the soldiers' goal was to "liquidate all of the country's remaining Jews," Umansky said.
"They fought back," she continued. "They fought back with whatever they had. They hoped the world would take notice."
In solemn services held throughout the world, people finally recognize the magnitude of loss and devastation bestowed upon the Jewish people.
"We vow not only to never forget but we vow to make the world a better place for all of us," Umansky noted.
Ronell survived hiding out in Poland and trekking through mountainous terrains to Hungary, where he and his mother were eventually liberated. In 1951, they moved to the United States and he studied mechanical engineering and business administration at City College of New York.
Although Ronell is a happily married husband and father, and has enjoyed a successful career as marketing professional, his mission is to tell people about the horrors of the Holocaust, he said.
"My eternal hope is that what you heard here today will put you in a better position to deny the deniers," Ronell emphasized. "Arm yourself with the facts because the propagandists have done their misguided homework. And, there are educators, I am sorry to say, who brainwash young minds with their warped agenda."
When the formal service concluded, Ronell stayed for about an hour to answer questions from the public. He mentioned that during one of his speaking engagements elsewhere an audience member commented that the Holocaust was nothing but "gossip."
Ronell also recalled a time at Brown University when a student compared more recent examples of horrific ethnic cleansing to the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Acknowledging that it is all "horrible," Ronell added, "The Holocaust is a unique event in recorded history because at no other time does a country go outside of its borders to murder people strictly because of its religion."
Easton resident Mitzi Hallac Liotta said Ronell's narrative was "powerful and painful to hear."
"And, he was one of the lucky ones who didn't have to endure a concentration camp," she noted. "I thought his point about how so many people died at the hands of the Nazis throughout the years when things kept escalating, before the official `exterminations' began, was very important."
Professor Diane Feigenson, who teaches a class called Literature of the Holocaust, said that it's important to keep talking about this important period in history.
"As long as we hear the stories and as long as we continue to tell about what it was like, there is a memory," she said.
For Ronell, he will never forget.
A student asked him if he wakes up every morning thinking about the horrific events from his past.
"I don't wake up with it, but I remember," he admitted. "The Jewish tradition teaches us that after a period of mourning, you have to move on."