Thursday, October 12th marked the second event for the Futures. It was with great honor that Gene Klein, one of the few remaining holocaust survivors and his daughter, Jill Klein, were able to join the group of sophomore and junior student-athletes.
Jill Klein, who is a doctor in social psychology kicked off the evening by delving into the history of the Holocaust and tied in how big the role of resiliency played for her father. Jill then gave her father the floor to recount very distinctly the horrors that he experienced while in one of the concentration camps in Auschwitz, Poland.
Gene shared with the group a detailed account of his experiences starting with growing up in Hungary with his family; mother, father and two sisters. Living a normal life as a young boy, Gene spoke about the day that Nazi soldiers came to his home town, separated the community and loaded everyone up into cattle cars. At the time it was 1944, Gene was sixteen years old when the Nazi regime started taking over, he and his family among his other community members were completely unaware of what was going on. They were loaded up into the cattle cars frightened and that day started the most horrific year for Gene and his family.
Gene and his family, after traveling three days to an unknown destination in cattle cars packed with 80 humans, limited food and water, made it to the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland. Gene vividly recalls what happened next; men, women and children being separated with no explanation, everyone having to disrobe, shave their heads, take cold showers, get a new uniform and a number to become their new identity- Gene recalls losing his identity at this point. All prisoners were divided into two groups; those who would be assigned to slave labor and those who would be immediately disposed of via gas chambers. Gene was placed in the group of thousands who would be performing slave labor, but he was in fact separated from his entire family, not knowing their fates.
Months went by, thousands of others have been killed or died from disease including his father who had been brought to the gas chambers on the first day. Gene is thinking of just two things that helped him stay alive; that his mother and sisters are alive, and that he has to stay alive for them. Gene, very stoically and carefully shared his experience, reflecting on the hardships that he and his fellow prisoners endured. He reflected on two weeks during his time where he worked with a German engineer and recalled that it is those two weeks that saved his life. He was able to leave every day, for two weeks with the German engineer for a special project, and not only that, the engineer provided him with extra food. Gene, with great emotion said that German engineer saved his life, and he is grateful to him.
Following all of the trauma in the concentration camp, Gene spoke about the day they were all liberated and the happiness that everyone so clearly felt, but not only happiness but resiliency. Gene is one of the very few Holocaust Survivors who is able to “put his experience in a dark cubby and not talk about it” expect for when he does speaking engagements. In essence, Gene is one of few who can try to forget about what he experienced. Gene, once being liberated was reunited with his mother and sisters, and went on to live an extraordinary life knowing that what he experienced in Auschwitz made him that much stronger.
When asked what he missed the most while being a prisoner he mentioned five things 1. Family 2. Food 3. Water 4. Peace and quiet 5. Laughter. Gene mentioned that laughter is the greatest action, and he realizes this now because for the entirety of being in the concentration camps, he didn’t smile once. Gene lives his life to the fullest, he will never forget the horror he experienced and in turn does not want anyone to forget what occurred. Much of what was spoken about could be translated to leadership; resiliency, coping skills, and building relationships. Gene speaks all across the country to share his story, to educate, and it is with great privilege that the futures were able to hear from someone as heroic as Gene Klein.
What’s next for LEADS? First-Year Initiative Ready-to-Role event on Monday, October 23rd.