For many Holocaust survivors, the tragedy of their experience has left them with more than the inability to speak on the topic.
?One of my friend?s fathers wouldn?t even stand in line at a restaurant, because it reminded him of the concentration camps waiting for bread or soup,? said Beth Soref, fellow of the Jewish Campus Service Corps.
But this past Sunday, Nat Kranowski, a retired accounting professor from Radford University, spoke to students about his experience of living through the German occupation of France during WWII.
Kranowski was born in Paris to immigrant parents from Poland. They were among 330,000 Jews who were living in France at the time. However, about 130,000 of those Jews were immigrants ? among them, Kranowski?s parents.
?You don?t start out by arresting the Jews that look like the French,? said Kranowski. ?You start out by arresting the immigrants who spoke French funny and looked different. The poor ones.?
First the foreign men, along with Kranowski?s father, were arrested. His father was put on a train en route to the death camps.
?I think he died soon after he got there, probably in the gas chambers,? said Kranowski.
The foreign women were arrested next.
?The French police came to our apartment and arrested my mother,? said Kranowski. ?I have a memory of some men looking through my silverware drawer. But they didn?t take me.?
Kranowski thought this was because he had French nationality and was a young child. He also felt that some of the policeman might have felt sorry for him.
His mother was also believed to have been killed a few days after embarking on the train.
The next time Kranowski encountered his parents was in the form of cards prepared by an agency and mailed to his aunt?s house in France. The cards gave his parents? names, place of birth, and date of birth. They also said in French, ?Put in an internment camp from this date to this date.?
Then, something happened that confirmed all of Kranowski?s doubts. A French Jew and his German wife exposed the living Nazis and tried to bring the guilty to justice. He had written two books, one of which contained the names of all the passengers on the train.
?I suspected my parents and looked to see if they were on the list,? said Kranowski. ?I saw the names of my father and mother. It was an incredible experience. And then, I knew what had happened.?
?It was the reality of my parents. They didn?t exist anywhere until I saw their names in the book.?
Soref said Kranowski?s story was unlike any other. ?I?ve heard many Holocaust survivor speeches about being in a concentration camp,? said Soref. ?This was a different story to hear how he was affected as a child and how his parents were taken away from him.?
Kranowski was not always so willing to share the pain of his past.
?I think this is the first time he has ever spoken about this,? said Sue Kurtz, director of Hillel at Virginia Tech and special events coordinator for the Judaic Studies Program in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department. ?His son was there and I don?t think he even knew about a lot of it.?
Kurtz had known Kranowski for about 10 years and knew nothing about his past. At a community board meeting, Kranowski offered to speak at one of the brunches Hillel had opened to the university during the year.
?I knew that he had some personal connection to the Holocaust and experiences from living in France,? said Kurtz. ?His wife said that in the past 10-15 years, he?s been able to open up a little bit more about it. This was him reaching out to say that he?d be willing to talk about it.?