In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, local Holocaust survivor Leon Rajninger shared his story at a speaker event Monday hosted by the office of ASUC Senator Shelby Weiss.
Every year, International Holocaust Remembrance Day takes place Jan. 27. Rajninger spoke about the “silence” individuals experienced during the Holocaust, encompassed by violence and panic.
“It is crucial that we never forget the unconscionable genocide of the Jewish people,” Weiss said in an email. “For many students, this will be the first and last opportunity they have to hear a survivor recount his story first hand.”
Born March 21, 1931 in Bukovina, then-Romania, Rajninger was part of the third-largest Jewish community in Europe. Beginning September 1941, all Jewish people of Bukovina had to evacuate. Rajninger noted the one difference he and his childhood best friend Marcel had — “I was Jewish, he was Catholic.”
After seeing his mother place their family photographs in a garbage can, Rajninger recalled his and his family’s march to the railroad station to board their “death wagons.” As the last in line, his family began to fall behind the others.
With this opportunity, Rajninger’s mother traded money and her engagement ring for their lives, allowing them to escape the fate of the concentration camps. This was the first of Rajninger’s several “miracles.”
For the following years, Rajninger and his parents lived in a hut and endured long winters, periods of starvation and fatal illnesses until they were liberated and began the nine-day walk home. When they returned, the pictures remained in the garbage can — they now hang in Rajninger’s home.
Although the pictures were the same as when they left them, Rajninger’s relationship with Marcel had changed.
“We were the same in so many ways and different in one way,” Rajninger said at the event. “He would be a thriving young teenager, healthy and strong. I was sickly and thin, malnutrition had stung my growth.”
Despite their miracles, Rajninger and his family spent time in four displaced persons camps before leaving for the United States. After passing by the Statue of Liberty in 1951, Rajninger later joined the U.S. Army to “honor” the country that gave him “freedom.”
On Tuesday, Rajninger and other local Holocaust survivors celebrated Jewish tradition by taking part in L’Dough Va’Dough, a challah-making and braiding event organized by Weiss’ office.
“As human beings, we must learn about ourselves, that we are capable of both the bad and the good,” Rajninger said at the event. “I hope and pray that you and future generations should never have to experience such violence as I have. We must ensure … that we never forget.”