Holocaust survivor speaks about experiences, educating future generations at Osher series

Bernard Scheer, a Holocaust survivor, spoke Tuesday about his experiences during WWII in the final lecture in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute series. (Windsor Smith/DD)

Holocaust survivor Bernard Scheer spoke about love, hate, forgiveness and the dangers of history repeating itself as he shared stories about his survival Tuesday afternoon at the Mercado complex.

The lecture, entitled “Personal Reflections on Surviving the Holocaust and Life After,” began with a candle lighting ceremony and prayer in remembrance of the 6 million men, women and children who died during the Holocaust.

“For a long time I lived in silence and, only by a puzzling fate, I survived,” Scheer said. “I can still hear the voices of the victims.”

Scheer’s lecture was the last in a series presented by ASU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which began operating out of ASU in 2001. The program has on-campus classes that provide an atmosphere of learning and engagement for adults over the age of 50.

Scheer said it was important for him to survive the Holocaust so he could tell the story to others.

Scheer was 13 when German Nazi soldiers invaded his hometown in southern Poland, he said. His father was killed in front of him before they were transported to the concentration camps.

Scheer said he remembers the sound of the shrieking train in the night as they approached the camp.

“Terror and darkness surrounded the frightened people,” Scheer said. “They were alone against an indifferent world, deprived of their identity as human beings.”

Scheer said he questioned God, but never lost his faith, despite how difficult it was. He said he struggled most with being separated from his mother and brother.

“I wished my family was next to me even if it meant going to the crematoria, at least we would be together,” Scheer said.

Scheer managed to escape and hide from the Nazis for several years until the American troops liberated them in 1945. He moved to Connecticut after the war, where he stayed for 47 years.

Scheer now lives in Arizona with his wife. He travels to high schools and universities to share his story and teach people what hatred and forgiveness can do.

Journalism sophomore James Fawbush said the most important thing he took from Scheer’s lecture was “the human experience of wanting to survive” and being able to overcome such tragedy.

Shirley Talley, OLLI coordinator for the Downtown campus, said the message Scheer is trying to convey is important to all generations willing to listen.

“His message is one of hope and inspiration,” Talley said. “It is (one) of tenacity and sheer determination to make a difference in his life and the lives of his family.”

Scheer also stressed that soon there will be no more Holocaust survivors left to talk about their experiences of hate and oppression.

“This story has to be told for the sake of your children and your children’s children … There will be no one left to speak and possibly no one left to listen,” Scheer said.

Marian Catt, an OLLI student, said she wanted to attend this lecture to help reinforce what she already knew about the Holocaust so she can help others understand why it should never happen again. Scheer’s message is that we don’t want to forget our past, Catt said, but we’re already starting to.

“My task is to make people understand why what happened should not happen again,” Scheer said. “We survivors did not ask people for tears, money or pity. We wanted attention to transmit the message which we were witnesses for, to forget what happened is a victory for the enemy.”

Correction: March 27, 2013

A previous version of this article said James Fawbush is a social work sophomore.

Contact the reporter at cpatel6@asu.edu