By Jen Maldonado
Picture waking up one morning, turning on the radio, and instead of hearing the music you listen to every day, you hear that you are being sent to live in a ghetto where you are forced to work and witness members of the community die on a daily basis.
This is what happened to David Tuck when he was a child living in Poland, right along the German border, during the time Adolf Hitler was in power. He would go on to be a survivor of the Holocaust.
On Nov. 22, the Student Education Association (SEA) and Hillel, Rider’s Jewish student organization, co-sponsored “Teaching and Learning the Holocaust.” The event, which had a turnout of about 70 students, featured two key speakers, Tuck and Marvin Goldstein, a retired professor and former director of the Holocaust/Genocide Resource Center at Rider. Tuck spoke about his experience in the Holocaust, and Goldstein focused on how education majors can incorporate the Holocaust and other genocides into their future classrooms, according to Marci Rubin, a junior elementary education and English major who is the president of SEA and vice president of Hillel.
“The Holocaust is such a huge, powerful piece of history,” Rubin said. “I think it was so important to have David Tuck come speak because this is an opportunity that our generation has, and we really need to take full advantage of it while it exists. There’s nothing like hearing a firsthand account of a story, and this is such a gripping story that deserves to be told over and over again.”
Tuck recounted his five-and-half-year time in the Holocaust, an experience that began when he was just a young boy and that would lead him to Auschwitz before he was liberated. He had to first lie about his age and say he was 15 years old in order to work in the ghetto he was sent to.
“The younger generation had to be older and the older generation had to be younger,” Tuck said. “I wouldn’t be around talking to you today if they knew my real age.”
An order came in saying that he and other Jewish people in the ghetto were to be moved to work in a camp. Although Tuck’s father was with him, they did not reveal that they were related for fear that this would be used against them.
“They put us in a camp in a stadium,” Tuck said. “They cleaned up the toilets and put up bunk beds that had straw on them and nothing else. Suddenly, I got a number. Mine was 176 and from that moment on I was known as 176. The most important thing to me was to survive.”
Tuck woke up every day at 4:30 a.m., received only one slice of bread, coffee and watered-down soup to eat and worked in various factories. By the time he was liberated, Tuck said he weighed only 78 pounds. There were times when he was ill, but if anyone in the camps ever appeared to be sick, he or she would not be allowed to survive.
“The Nazis were making a selection — if they saw someone lying in bed, they would kill you,” Tuck said. “You had to be able to work for them, or you had no right to live.”
Tuck spoke about the concept of bullying, and how Hitler was essentially a bully who was able to get others to believe his ideas and bring pain and suffering to millions of innocent people.
“How can one person, Hitler, this bully, twist the mind of so many educated people?” Tuck said. “How can one person brainwash so many people? They would say, ‘I feel sorry for you, but I have to kill you.’ They didn’t have to, but they did it. They were killers for no reason.”
There were times when Tuck said he did not think he would survive. He even came close to being killed once when he got caught hiding bread in a drawer, but he was able to talk his way out of being punished for his actions.
On a train to a death camp, Tuck said that people were dying of diseases and there were no food or toilets available. In order to live, he made a rope from a piece of his T-shirt that he attached to a small red cup he was given. He would hang the cup out the window of the train and collect snow from the ground. Eating this snow is what allowed him to endure his time on this train.
Once Tuck was freed from the camp, he was able to move to Milan and then to France. It was while in France that he met a girl who was also a survivor of a concentration camp. The two got married and moved to America together where Tuck learned English, got a job and had a family. He even reconnected with his father, who had survived and was also living in America.
“I will never forget or forgive what they did to me and my people, but I don’t live with hate,” Tuck said. “When you live with hate, you destroy yourself.”
Rubin felt these sentiments from Tuck were extremely important for her and the other students present to hear.
“I think the fact that someone can go through such an utterly atrocious life experience, come out of it and honestly say he doesn’t feel any hatred is something truly spectacular,” she said.
After Tuck’s speech, Goldstein gave his presentation in which he discussed certain articles and books and encouraged the future teachers in the room not to be afraid of tackling the subject of the Holocaust.
“Marci, who coordinated this program, did an outstanding job of connecting the lessons of the past to education of the future,” said Jan Friedman-Krupnick, assistant vice president of Student Affairs and adviser for Hillel. “David Tuck’s story of survival was inspiring. His message of hope and the need to take action to prevent discrimination and the suffering of others resonated with the audience of future educators and members of Hillel.”
Rubin felt the event went over well with students and is one that she will never forget.
“I’m so glad that everyone appreciated this event as much as I did,” she said. “I feel like everyone was able to come together for common purposes and appreciate the sheer magnitude of this event.”
Tuck’s closing remarks summed up the overall theme of his speech and the event itself. “The most beautiful thing a human being gets is their life, as long as you have the idea of hope,” he said.