Surviving through genocide

 Just like any other child, she had dreams. Just like any other child she had limits and road blocks.

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By Shardai Perry / Features Editor

By Shardai Perry / Features Editor

Just like any other child, she had dreams. Just like any other child she had limits and road blocks.

But unlike most, she did more than just succeed past those limits.

Clara Knopfler traveled the world in order to tell how she overcame those road blocks, in hopes of inspiring others.

On May 12, Knopfler joined students, staff and guests in the Digital Library Auditorium in hopes of inspiring them.

“Knowledge is power, they can take away everything but they can’t take away what’s in my head,” Holocaust survivor Knopfler said.

Imagine going through the torture of knowing 37 members of your extended family, including your father and brother, were dead.

People around you every day dying, and all you have left is your mother, who is becoming more and more of a target as days pass.

At the age of 18, the peak of your life, imagine going through this instead of studying English and algebra at some college.

Try to comprehend going through this and surviving with your sanity. Where would you be right now? Would you still be able to love, to forgive, to move on?

“It was hard, for many years I could not speak about what happened, and people did not want to know, they were in denial,” Knopfler said. “But when I did first speak I never stopped after that.”

Knopfler did not have to imagine this life, she lived it. Barely starting her sophomore year in high school her life changed at the snap of a finger.

“Me and my family were moved to the ghetto, a brick factory with about 8,000 people and we all stayed in 12 by 12 cubicles with families sometimes the size of sixteen,” she said.

That wasn’t even the worst of it according to Knopfler.

“Eight thousand people and there were no bathrooms, the men had to dig trenches, the only food we had was what little we were allowed to take from our homes and we drank water from the river,” she said.

This was only the beginning for Knopfler.

From the ghetto, her and her families were sent to Auschwitz, where she and her mother were separated from her brother and father who were later killed.

“I was very lucky my mother was with me the whole time. She was very tall and strong looking,” Knopfler said. “I don’t think me or my mother would have survived if we weren’t with each other.”

Knopfler reminisced on the nightmare of the soldiers. She didn’t understand how they could be so cruel.

“They feed off of tearing people down. That’s why the first thing they did when they took you was separate you from your family,” Knopfler said.

“I remember standing in line and see my mother walk toward me, so fragile, carrying something behind her back, she came to me and said Clara today you are 18. It was my 18 birthday she said. My mother handed me a three layered bread cake, with butter. She didn’t eat for three days; she saved her food to make me a cake.”

Knopfler survived off of her mother’s faith. The fact that her mother never stopped going, even when she physically was unable to, pushed Knopfler to continue fighting.

“They had boys as young as sixteen watching us as we dug in the trenches in Prussia. If we dug too slow they would beat us until we moved faster,” she said.

Knopfler was worried about her mother previously that morning.

“My mother was so tired and so cold she could barely move, she wanted to stay behind that day but I wouldn’t let her,” she said.

The next moment would be one of the greatest in Knopfler life.

“I looked over and saw the young boy beating her back, my mother was screaming in pain. I went over and yelled at him to stop,” she said.

At that moment all that Knopfler cared about was saving her mother.

“I told him she was my mother, don’t you have a mother,” she said. “He said his mother was German, I knew at that moment he didn’t care.”

But then to her surprise the German soldier stopped beating her mother, and just walked away.

He came back the next day and brought her a carrot for vitamins and half of a cigarette to numb the hunger, and after that day they never saw him again.

After the incident with the solider Knopfler quoted Anne Frank.

“Somehow somewhere every person reasonable has a heart.”

The other workers were scared they would all be punished for her act.

“I didn’t care what happened to me, as long as he stopped,” she said.

Little did Knopfler know this wouldn’t be the last time she took a stand.

Knopfler used her mother’s faith to inspire her life then and now.

“There is a possibility to co-exist, if we just learn to respect the differences amongst us,” Knopfler said. “All we need is human understanding.”

Knopfler dedicated her life to ensuring that her story will never be forgotten, that the Holocaust would never be forgotten.

“Being indifferent is almost as bad as a crime, we were ignorant, we didn’t know. I don’t want anyone to ever not be informed, it’s not an excuse,” Knopfler said.

Knopfler is now an educator and an activist.

She taught high school in the United States for 32 years and she speaks seven languages.

“I couldn’t imagine myself being anything other than a teacher,” Knopfler said. “It’s still hard, but the fact that I reach people makes it easier and I get to do something for humanity.”

When asked if Knopfler could go back and say one thing to those who abducted her and her family, she said she would tell them “they were all wrong and that you can’t take away someone’s freedom to live.”

Clara wrote a biography in dedication to her mother “I Am Still Here: My Mother’s Voice.”

“I wanted to leave something behind in writing, so people wouldn’t forget,” she said.

“The one thing my mother taught me and I will always teach, hope never dies,” Knopfler said.

 

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