A Holocaust survivor understands the importance of studying the Holocaust and Genocide major. Peppie Decker said she believes becoming educated on the Holocaust is important because understanding of the topic can help prevent hateful behavior in the future.
“I think it is wonderful if you are educated because you can teach other people and tell other people [about the Holocaust] and help prevent it from happening again,” Decker said.
Peppie Decker is the grandmother of KSC student Michaela Curzman.
Decker shared that she experienced the human capacity for evil first-hand.
She spent part of her childhood, from when she was eight until a little older than ten, in the Concentration Camp Bergen-Belson.
Decker said she faced a lot of frightening situations during her time in the concentration camp.
Decker explained her family stayed together because of her parents ability to work.
Her mother cleaned the generals’ houses, she said. However, like many people in the camps she became sick. If not for the bravery of Decker and her twin sister she would have been tossed aside and sentenced to death.
Decker and her sister guarded their sick mother, shielding her from the view of the Sanitation guards by lying on top of her.
Decker recalled she was scared for her mother’s life because the guards looked directly at the bed. “They were right close to the bed they were looking at the bed. I was very scared, we were very scared,” Decker said.
Decker continued and said the most traumatizing experience she faced was at the beginning of her life as a Jewish refugee. German soldiers forced her father and other men to speed walk for three days. During this time they were deprived food and water. If someone was unable to maintain the pace, they were shot.
Decker said another terrifying time in the camp was when they were ordered to get ready for transport to another area. “You didn’t know where you were going to go,” said Decker.
During transport you could be separated from your family, she explained. Decker said without her family’s presence in the concentration camp she does not believe she would have survived.
“I don’t think I would have come out, no, no. I don’t think I would’ve made it no, no absolutely not,” Decker said.
Decker’s mother is the one Peppie said she believes she owes the most to for her survival. Decker described her mother as a tough woman who was very determined to survive the War.
“My mother was very strong and she was like we have to get out we have to get out,” Decker said.
In 1945, Decker’s account indicated the SS ordered Jewish refugees in Bergen-Belsen to be transported to Treublitz in Czechoslovakia. During that transport, aircraft bombed the train and finally Russian soldiers liberated the prisoners.
Decker reflected on her emotions when she was liberated. “I was happy because I was free,” Decker said.
Despite their liberation Decker and her family did not escape torment. The Russian soldiers came to the house her family inhabited searching for women and alcohol.
Peppie and her sister escaped sexual harassment because malnutrition made them look like young boys. Decker’s mother had to hide in the basement in order to avoid abuse.
“I was scared to death,” Decker sated. “They had a cellar in the house and my mother would go and hide in the cellar,” she continued.
After much mistreatment one might believe Peppie Decker would harbor hatred for those who persecuted her family. However Curzman described her Grandmother as forgiving.
“My grandma has a different view on it [different opinion of her persecutors] like some people say they hate Germans where my grandma would never say that she loves all people,” noted Curzman.
That is not the perspective that Decker held immediately after she was freed, however.
“At the time I was liberated I felt very hateful. But as I got older I said to myself I’m not going to be bitter, it happens and life goes on,” Decker stated.
Decker said she believes these experiences teach you how to forgive.
Molly Palmer, a junior Holocaust and Genocide Studies major at KSC also recognized the importance of studying Genocides. Palmer said it changes your perspective on everyday wrongs.
“It makes small things not as important like if someone cuts you off on the road your not going to be mad at that,” Palmer said.
Studying Holocaust and genocide has not only developed Palmer into more of an expert on the subject but has changed her attitude towards other people. “I like to think it has made me if not more compassionate and less uncompassionate,” reflected Palmer.
The Holocaust and Genocide major at KSC provides something more than just a historical education, it provides people with the ability to better themselves and their community through the understanding of how to treat people kindly. Professor C. Paul Vincent from the Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studies discussed the importance of understanding the human ability to harm each other. “I see our program as addressing a need for humanity to understand that we have the capacity to mass murder each other. It’s not just something the Germans did it’s something that we can see is anywhere; it’s in our marrow,” Vincent said.
Students explore that human capacity at KSC, the home of the first Holocaust and Genocide Studies major. When Curzman was asked about how her families experience changed she said, “I would say that because of everything that my family went through, family is very important. Everyone in college should recognize their family—the world can change in a second so really respect your parents, respect your grandparents.
Do everything you can to make a difference and to make life better.”
Anna Glassman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org