Holocaust survivor Bernard Scheer spoke on his experiences during World War II as part of the Humanities Lecture Series on Thursday night at the Downtown Phoenix campus.
The second of three lectures, Scheer was chosen to speak because he is extremely passionate about this topic, said Mirna Lattouf, senior lecturer with the School of Letters and Sciences.
Scheer began his lecture by detailing his childhood in Poland, saying how at the age of 13, the arrival of the Nazi army suddenly changed his life. His family and the surrounding Jewish community were forced to live in a fenced-off ghetto and then in concentration camps, he said.
Initially, he said he welcomed the German soldiers and never could have anticipated what was to come.
“We never would have believed that hatred would turn to killing,” he said.
After a successful escape with his mother, Scheer said he lived in the forest surrounding his former town. It was only after he made a failed attempt to visit his brother, who was hiding at a local farm, that he was caught by Nazi police and sent to a concentration camp, he said.
He spent the rest of the war in the labor camp, until the final months, when he could hear American gunfire surrounding his camp, he said.
Scheer said he speaks in order to preserve the history of the war for future generations.
He fears a holocaust could happen again, due to the level of hatred and indifference concerning people who are discriminated against, he said.
“I hope that I am wrong, but I feel that it could happen again,” he said.
He gives lectures throughout the country in order to tell the complete story of his captivity. After arriving in the United States in 1946, many people did not want to hear his story, he said, and many others simply did not believe it.
“My whole presentation is geared not to be indifferent to non-Jews,” he said. “I gear to the young people.”
Knowledge of history is very important to the student Jewish community, said Jordan Brumer, the director of Jewish Arizonans on Campus, a student club at ASU.
“I think that it’s extremely important for them to know about their history and the experiences that their grandfathers went through,” he said.
Each semester, three lectures are given as a part of the series, and the topics of the lecture series are varied, Lattouf said.
“He feels that it is his calling to go out and spread the word about the atrocities of war,” she said, referring to why Scheer was chosen as one of the lecturers.
The lecture series has been extremely successful so far, Lattouf said, attracting students, faculty and the public.
The author of two books, Scheer said that getting his message out to all people, especially young people, has become the mission of his life.
“By the way, my books are at ASU, because I left them in the library,” he said, to the sound of laughter.