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The story of a Holocaust survivor

A photo of Holocaust survivor Irene Selig talking about her experiences

Irene Selig and her grandson Elijah Botkin, S'15, discussed Selig's Holocaust experiences at the 2015 Philip N. Backstrom, Jr. Survivor Lecture, "Talking with Grandma," as part of Holocaust Awareness Week.


Irene Selig’s story of sur­viving the Holo­caust is not an easy one for the grand­mother of four to tell. But she said it’s cru­cial that she shares it so young people will learn the impor­tance of speaking out against injustice.

Selig was the fea­tured speaker of this year’s Philip N. Back­strom Jr. Sur­vivor Lec­ture Series, which was held last Thursday as part of North­eastern University’s annual Holo­caust Aware­ness Week. Her grandson Elijah Botkin, S’15, also spoke at the event, which was titled “Talking with Grandma.”

My main reason (for sharing my story) is my grandson Elijah and his gen­er­a­tion,” explained Selig. “My only hope is that younger people will speak out against injustices…and embrace diversity.”

Born in Krakow, Poland, Selig was 12 when World War II began. The Nazis took her and her father from their home and sent them first to the city’s ghetto. Then they were sent to the Plaszów work camp, and then to Auschwitz, and finally Bergen-​​Belsen, where the British Army lib­er­ated her in 1945. Her mother died before the war.

While many con­sider Auschwitz—the site of more than 1.1 mil­lion deaths from 1940 to 1945—to be the most infa­mous example of the atroc­i­ties the Nazis car­ried out against Euro­pean Jews, Selig said Plaszów was her night­mare, in part because of her anx­iety about her father’s safety. The last time she saw her father, she said, was when he told her he was going to try to escape to a nearby camp where the pris­oners were not treated as harshly, and then would send for her.

When I lost my father I had two feel­ings,” said an emo­tional Selig. “The first was a feeling of regret because I never saw him again. And the second was guilt because of the relief I felt.”

Selig’s grandson Elijah is a math­e­matics and music major at North­eastern who was named this year’s Gideon Klein Scholar. This award honors the memory of Gideon Klein, a pianist and com­poser who was impris­oned in con­cen­tra­tion camps until his death in 1945.

As part of the award, Botkin com­posed an orig­inal musical piece by trans­lating a poem by a child impris­oned at the Terezin for­ti­fied city. Titled The Closed Town: Poetry from Terezin, the piece will be per­formed at the NU Choral Society Spring Con­cert on April 18.

I feel now that I have a respon­si­bility to make sure people con­tinue to learn about the Holo­caust and con­tinue to know what hap­pened,” Botkin said. “To learn from it and make sure it never hap­pens again.”

Lori Lefkovitz, the director of the Jewish Studies Pro­gram and the North­eastern Human­i­ties Center, hosted Thursday’s discussion.

This pro­gram main­tains a long­standing and impor­tant tra­di­tion at North­eastern of stead­fast com­mit­ment to Holo­caust aware­ness and geno­cide pre­ven­tion,” said Lefkovitz, the daughter of Holo­caust sur­vivors. “And a com­mit­ment to hear tes­ti­mony of the survivors.”

Holo­caust Aware­ness Week is pre­sented by the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and the North­eastern Human­i­ties Center in part­ner­ship with the Holo­caust Aware­ness Committee.

-By Joe O’Connell

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