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Virginia Tech students share stories of ancestors who died, survived the Holocaust

Published: Apr. 9, 2021 at 3:28 AM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - Beginning at 9 a.m. Friday morning, students, faculty, staff and members of the community will be reading the names of all those who died in the Holocaust.

For some students, the tribute is very personal.

“My grandmother and her side of the family are all from Kastoria,” Samantha Levy said. “Which is a very small textile town in northern Greece. And everyone there ended up going to the camps.”

“Even though it’s something that happened to my family it’s something that I will never understand,” Briana Schwam said.

Both Virginia Tech students, Levy and Schwam carry the emotional legacy of their families’ experiences during WWII.

“My grandma, her house was bombed,” Shwam said.

“There were a thousand Jews who went into the camps and only 33 ended up surviving,” Levy said. “My grandmother, her older brother and then my Aunt Lena were three of them.”

Like many Holocaust survivors, Levy’s and Schwam’s grandparents didn’t talk about the war. But their stories remain and are kept alive through the next generations.

“I had the opportunity to visit five concentration camps in Poland,” Schwam said. “I remember walking through that gate, remembering how my family did not get to walk out.”

“They lost everything in time. They lost everything,” Schwam’s mother Dr. Limor Glazer-Schwam said.

She told WDBJ7 the story of her parents, Zipora and Jehodah Glazer, who lived in Romania during the war.

Arrests, bombings, persecution, forced to move to the newly established Israel in 1951 - the memories never left her mother.

“Even in her last years she was, ‘Don’t tell anyone we’re Jewish.’ And she knew I was like, “Hello! I’m Jewish! I’m here! I so love, I’m so proud of my heritage!’ But she was very troubled because she was insecure so many times in her life,” Glazer-Schwam said.

But as with many survivors, they held on to the hope that life would be better for their children and grandchildren.

Which brings us to the Malcom Rosenbery Hillel Center at Virginia Tech.

“I kind of see it as a beacon of Jewish life here in Southwest Virginia,“ Susan Kurtz, the executive director, said.

Open to the students and community, Hillel at Virginia Tech is a resource for education.

“Really being a place where people can ask questions. There’s no judgement,” Kurtz said. “And it’s really been great after its inception eight years ago.”

Kurtz and some of the students are helping to organize Friday’s ceremony of the reading of the names of the Holocaust victims on campus, which had to be done virtually last year.

“I want people to remember because I want them to realize that, yes, it’s awful, yes, it’s terrible, yes, it should never happen again,” Levy said. “But Jews weren’t the only ones impacted by this. Everyone was.”

Friday’s event is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Virginia Tech Pylons.

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