Holocaust survivor Mark Schonwetter speaks to Elon community

Mark Schonwetter along with his daughter, Ann Arnold, share their family's story of surviving the Holocaust on Tuesday, Nov. 15.

Elon University students, faculty and community members gathered at the Turner Theater on Tuesday, Nov. 15 to hear a story of fight and survival from Mark Schonwetter GP’23, a Holocaust survivor.

“May this story hit you in a way you will never forget,” Interim Dean of the School of Communications Kenn Gaither said to the audience.

It surely did, as Schonwetter told his story from the beginning to present day, detailing every hardship he, his sister and his mother faced when forced to shelter from the Nazi regime. His family spent time in the attics of farmer’s homes, living off berries and plants in the bushes of forests, and staying in fields, moving locations at the sight of German machine guns.

Mark Schonwetter speaks in Turner Theater about his experience during the Holocaust at Elon University on Tuesday Nov. 15, 2022.

And through it all, he stayed completely silent. One winter, Schonwetter and his family spent a winter hiding in the home of a farmer. He recalls the farmer telling his mother that the other hideaways, “Don’t cry, they don’t laugh, they don’t talk. Silence.”

But today, Schonwetter refuses to stay silent and hopes that by telling his story, he can increase awareness and open the door for students to lead a life of kindness and compassion.

“We cannot erase this from our memory,” he said. “If we forget, who knows, maybe some other dictator will try to get rid of another group. We must remember.”

Schonwetter, a grandparent of Lexi Arnold ’23, now shares his story with the help of his daughters, Ann Arnold and Isabelle Fiske. The two women came together to create the Mark Schonwetter Holocaust Education Foundation. Through this, they hope to spread knowledge about Schonwetter’s story and provide the necessary funds for teachers and schools to give lessons related to the Holocaust.

Mark Schonwetter speaks in Turner Theater to Elon University students, staff and faculty about his experience during the Holocaust at Elon University on Tuesday Nov. 15, 2022.

In addition to the foundation, Arnold put her father’s story to paper and published the book “Together A Journey For Survival.” Copies were available for purchase after the event.

“For six months straight, I bothered my father,” Arnold said. “Every week, asking him questions for this book.”

The book details her father’s story with the greater intention of educating the new generation. According to their website, 66% of U.S. millennials don’t know what Auschwitz was, and only 25 states mandate Holocaust education. Hearing Schonwetter’s story allowed the Elon community to listen to a critical source of truth and learn the importance of acceptance.

“Why can’t we live together in peace,” Schonwetter said. “Regardless of who we are — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, black or white, doesn’t make a difference — we are all human beings.”

Michael Abbell, father of Alex Abbell ’02, left a bequest designated to Holocaust studies in response to the moving experience that Alex had as a student on a Holocaust studies trip to Europe, making it possible for survivors such as Schonwetter to visit campus. Abbell wanted other students to have the same opportunity to learn about this dark period in history and to enrich the experience for them through his gift. Abbell passed away in 2018.