Brodt, a native of Poland who now lives in High Point, N.C., shared his story of tragedy and strength through one of the darkest periods in history during his Feb. 13 visit to Elon.
Retaining his humor and liveliness, Holocaust survivor Hank Brodt spoke on Feb. 13 to an overflowing crowd in LaRose Digital Theatre about his story of survival and the importance of remembering the Holocaust and its impact.
Born in 1925 in the town of Boryslaw in Poland, Brodt was a prisoner in five Nazi concentration camps including Plashov, Matthausen and Ebensee. He and his family were forced into a ghetto and separated before being sent to camps. He would never see them again. In the camps, the work was neverending, Brodt said. Prisoners faced brutal conditions, and they were given little to nothing to help them survive.
“It wasn’t easy but at least we had a place to stay and a bed — not a good bed, but you stayed there,” Brodt said. “Around lunchtime they brought you hot water. It was supposed to be soup, but you were glad that you just got the hot water.”
After being freed, Brodt met an American soldier who gave him a job as a kitchen worker in a U.S. Army camp. The soldier gave him his address and told him he would “sponsor” him to come to the United States, but Brodt was unsure whether he would ever see him again because “talk is cheap,” he said. But that soldier stayed true to his word, and eventually helped Brodt immigrate to the United States in 1949.
Brodt would later join the U.S. Army, serving in Germany and Korea. He would also go on to testify at the trials of Nazi war criminals, including the trial in Dachau, Germany, of Amon Goeth, the commandant of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp in Poland.
Brodt said he was he had been reluctant to share his story, even when his children asked him to speak their temple. It was after moving to High Point, North Carolina, in 2005 that a rabbi approached him after finding out that he was a Holocaust survivor. The rabbi talked to him about the March of the Living, an annual program that brings people together for a journey from Poland to Israel to commemorate the Holocaust. He has since participated in the March of the Living more than 10 times.
With the help of his daughter, Brodt was able to find out more about what had become of some of his family members. His brother had passed away, but his sister-in-law was still alive and now lived in Israel. When he went to meet her and her two sons, she told him that his brother was buried in Minsk. Brodt was able to then go visit his brother’s grave.
“I found out I had a family,” Brodt said.
Responding to a question about the March of the Living, Brodt said the event serves to help him and others remember the events that have transpired. He said he made sure that he would always share his story. His daughter Deborah Donnelly wrote his memoir, “Hank Brodt Holocaust Memoirs: A Candle and a Promise,” which was available at his talk.
“Letting the grown-up kids know what it’s all about, what people like myself went through and being able to talk about it,” he said.
This event was sponsored by Elon Hillel, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, History and Geography, the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society and the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.