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The arrival of Holocaust survivor Aron Greenfield to Emmanuel’s campus filled the Janet M. Daley Library Lecture Hall from wall to wall on October 30, as members of the College community gathered to listen to his stories of incomparable hardship and survival during the years before, during and after World War II and the Holocaust.
Sponsored by a variety of departments in the School of Humanities and Social Science—Theology & Religious Studies, History and Political Science & International Studies—the event brought together many who were eager to hear a firsthand retelling from 92-year-old Greenfield. During his address, he spoke of the years leading up to his incarceration, the terror he faced day-in and day-out as an inmate at nine different concentration camps, as well as the everlasting, irrevocable effects the war has had on him for all his life.
Born in 1926, Greenfield lived with his parents and eight siblings in Szczakowa, Poland, until 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded just months after his bar mitzvah. It was here that trouble began to creep in and affect Greenfield's family, beginning with violent intimidation and ultimately years of personal tragedy. Throughout his talk, Greenfield recounted anecdotes of the many forms of horror forced upon him, including having to helplessly watch three of his brothers and his father taken to work camps before he turned fourteen.
"They came into my house in the middle of the night—some of them drunk—and lined us up, looked everybody over, and beat my father until he was bleeding," said Greenfield.
As he and his remaining family members were eventually brought to a concentration camp, Greenfield's mother encouraged him to lie about his age and to try and make himself look older—a ploy that would ultimately save Greenfield's life. Upon entering, Greenfield was deemed fit to be put to work and was separated from his mother and remaining siblings, of whom this was his last glimpse.
Left to fend for himself, Greenfield was transferred from camp to camp, at times stealing potatoes from the camp's kitchen in order to survive.
"I was a skeleton. I weighed maybe 80 pounds," he said. "This helped me gain some weight. The nutrients kept me strong enough to survive the Death March."
Once the camps were finally liberated in 1945, Greenfield learned that his sister Sarah was alive—the only other survivor from his family—and the two reconnected, although she was nearly unrecognizable due to all she had endured. In 1949, a friend of Greenfield's grandmother sponsored his and Sarah's voyage to New York, where they lived very briefly before relocating to Boston. Once in Massachusetts, Greenfield secured a job selling watches and soon met Martha, his wife of 47 years, with whom he has one daughter.
To this day, Greenfield remains eager to meet others who share his surname, in the off chance that they are long-lost kin.
"I have to see if we're related, with hope that some of it wasn't true—that maybe another survived," he said.