Reflections of a Well Rewarded Holocaust Education Speaker

Tibor Klopfer is a member of the JCRC Holocaust Speakers Bureau, which is comprised of volunteers who share their family stories of the Holocaust with schools and organizations in the community. Today he shares reflections on the impact of being a member of the Speakers Bureau.

I have been a holocaust education speaker since 2013, sharing stories of my Hungarian Jewish family with about 8,800 students and adults. I present their stories in the context of World War II history and discuss current events in the US and worldwide to illustrate that the lessons from this vile past are, unfortunately, still relevant today. It is unquestionably important to review this history and teach these lessons. I hope to encourage my audience to be upstanders, to speak out and do the right thing when the time comes. But today, I would like to reflect not on the lessons I teach but on the lessons I have learned and how my life has been enriched by speaking about the Holocaust.

Through preparing to be a Holocaust speaker, I learned about my family history. My family didn’t talk about the Holocaust when I was young. I knew vaguely that my parents had survived concentration camps and that most of our relatives had been killed or suffered terribly. I remember once asking my father about the blue numbers crudely tattooed on his left forearm. He said, “The Nazis did that.” That’s all I ever heard him say about the Holocaust. It wasn’t until later, after he had passed away, that I learned about his first wife and two young daughters, all killed at Auschwitz. My mother eventually spoke openly. But my real education came from my uncle, Alex Star (z'l), as he helped me prepare to begin giving Holocaust presentations. We spent hours together and became very close in his final years. He gave me prewar photos and told stories that made our family members real to me, even though I had never met them. Speaking about the Holocaust also encouraged me to renew and expand contacts with relatives
in Hungary. On a trip to Hungary in 2019, with the help of some relatives, I reenacted Alex’s 1944 29-mile bicycle ride from Győr to Szil. He rode to be with his mother and nine-year-old sister, who had been ordered to pack up and report to a nearby rural ghetto. While they didn’t know it, their fate was to be deported to Auschwitz and murdered. When I returned home, Alex was proud to see the local Hungarian newspaper article about the reenactment, with the headline reading, “He bicycled for his relatives murdered at Auschwitz.”

A few days after my ride, through the efforts of a Hungarian history teacher and historian introduced to me by another relative, Szil’s mayor invited me to deliver my Holocaust presentation in the town hall, just a few blocks from where my grandparents’ home had been.

Speaking about the Holocaust has also introduced me to a wonderful community of fellow speakers and educators who have become friends, inspired me to improve my childhood Hungarian language skills, and motivated me to search out and connect with long-lost relatives in Hungary. I am well rewarded for doing good.


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