Holocaust survivor: My father said, ‘We’re home, we’re going to be safe’

Hershel Greenblat, a Holocaust child survivor, tells how his parents resisted the Nazi invasions of Poland and Ukraine. Alva James-Johnson

Ledger-Enquirer – Hershel Greenblat’s family album contains photos of relatives he never met.

It includes one of his grandparents holding his mother as a baby girl, and another of his father posing with his parents, siblings and other relatives.

In the pictures, his parents were among the few to survive the Holocaust; the others were murdered in concentration camps and gas chambers.

“I never had the pleasure of a grandmother, or the pleasure of a grandfather,” he said to a captivated audience of local educators.

Greenblat, a Holocaust child survivor, shared his story as keynote speaker for a program titled “Teaching About the Holocaust: Lessons for Today,” which began Thursday in the Cunningham Center at Columbus State University. The free, two-day professional development workshop was organized by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust in partnership with CSU’s Department of Teacher Education, drawing educators from Columbus and surrounding areas.

Greenblat said teachers are a link between generations, and he challenged those in the audience to educate their students about the Holocaust.

“Six million human beings — Jews — were murdered for the simple reason that they were Jews,” he said. “One-and-half million of those were children under the age of 12 — innocent children that were Jewish. They were beaten in the streets, humiliated, dogs were sicced on them.”

He said some people ask, “Why didn’t Jews fight back?”

“Well, we did,” he said. “There were hundreds and thousands that fought back, hundreds of thousands that hid in the forests, hid in sewers, hid everywhere they could to fight back.”

Greenblat said his father, Abraham, was just 19 years old when the Nazis established a ghetto in his hometown of Lublin, Poland, in 1939. He joined a resistance movement and fought with rocks and whatever other weapons he had at his disposal.

When the Germans began looking for his father, he fled across the border into Ukraine where he met another resistance fighter, Mary, who would become his wife. Mary Greenblat gave birth to her first child, Hershel Greenblat, while they were hiding in a cave.

One afternoon, his parents left the cave to search for food and supplies. They ended up in the middle of a skirmish, and a vehicle exploded. A piece of shrapnel hit his mother in the upper part of her right leg, causing an injury that bothered her for the rest of her life, Greenblat said.

By that time, the German invasion of the Soviet Union had already begun and Greenblat’s parents moved frequently to avoid capture. Life changed dramatically when they were transported from Russia to American-controlled Austria. They lived in displaced persons camps for five years while waiting for permission to emigrate to the United States.

Greenblat said the family originally wanted to go to Israel, but couldn’t get in because of a blockade.

On Nov. 16, 1950, they boarded the USS General Bellou Army ship and headed for America. Ten days later, his father woke him up and told him there was something that he needed to see. As they stood on deck, tears began to run down his father’s face.

“And then I looked out, and I kind of saw what he was crying about,” Greenblat said Thursday. “What I saw was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen — the Statue of Liberty. She was lit up. I guess it’s the imagination of an 8-year-old, but I had never seen anything like that.

“My father said, ‘We’re home, we’re going to be safe,’” he said.

The family disembarked at Ellis Island and entered the United States. They later settled in Atlanta, where his father eventually purchased a small grocery store in a midtown neighborhood called Buttermilk Bottom. Greenblat described it as a “black ghetto” where children walked barefooted and hungry.

“My father kind of said to himself, ‘Hey, I just left where we were being treated like animals and here I am in America where people are being treated like that. Why? because they’re black.”

Greenblat said his father owned the store from 1952 to 1969, and his parents helped to clothe, feed and get medical assistance for people in the neighborhood.

One day, Martin Luther King Jr. visited the store, and he and Abraham Greenblat became close friends, he said. They shared stories, and learned from their experiences.

At the conclusion of his speech, Greenblat told the teachers that Holocaust survivors are passing on, and it will be up to them to carry on their legacy.

“You have to teach those beautiful kids sitting in front of you in your classroom of what happened,” he said. “But not only that, you have to teach them how to love each other, how not to be bullies, how not to judge the child sitting next to them because they’re Asian, they’re black, or Hindu or whatever.

“That is your job,” he added. “Teach them that America does not tolerate discrimination. That we’re all one country.”

Originally published HERE