You could hear a pin drop. Close to three hundred eighth grade students from LaGrange Middle School took their seats in the Meyerhoff auditorium at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC. Today, they would not be visiting the four floor permanent exhibit, but would be hearing a first-hand personal account of the Holocaust from survivor Henry Greenbaum. Their silence imparted respect for the museum as a living memorial to the Holocaust, but it did not last for long. When Henry walked into the auditorium, the students welcomed him with a standing ovation, cheers, and applause. The moment sent chills down everyone’s spine.
Henry casually took a seat on the edge of the stage, and for the next 45 minutes told his story. It was heart-wrenching to hear what Henry lived through and to note that at the time he was about the same age as the students listening to him speak. The war ended when he was only 17 years old. He endured working in a munitions factory while living in the Starachowice ghetto and survived life in a slave labor camp, Auschwitz concentration camp, the satellite camp of Buna-Monowitz, Flossenbürg concentration camp, and the death march toward Dachau.
Perhaps most riveting was Henry’s description of freedom. He said that to this day, the word “free” gives him the chills. To have safety, to be able to bathe, to have water, to have food, to have health, to not have to march, to sleep on sheets instead of boards, and to have a haircut were commodities Henry had not experienced for five years. He described the American soldiers who freed him as “his angels”.
Out of the eleven members of his family, only Henry, his two brothers, and one sister survived . When Henry discussed his father’s unexpected death in 1939, he said his father was “the lucky one,” because he did not have to live through the war. Henry came to United States in 1946. Henry’s older brother is still alive at age 101.
When Henry finished telling his story, the students thanked him with loud applause. It was certainly an experience they will not forget.
Henry is one of more than 90 Holocaust survivors who serve as volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. These volunteers help both in public outreach as well as in the Museum’s library and archives. They tell their stories, act as tour guides, greet visitors, and help other survivors and their families find information about their loved ones. Their service to the museum and their presence in the visitor experience are invaluable.
We would like to thank Henry Greenbaum for his willingness to share his history with us and to the Holocaust Memorial Museum for graciously hosting us at the museum!
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