Giving New Voice to Unspeakable Pain
It was cold and snowing as Paul Cavaliere waited at a Little Neck bus stop in Queens last December. He had just heard Ethel Katz relate how she survived the Holocaust.
"The bus was taking a while to come. I remember thinking to myself, 'It's cold.' Then I thought about her," he recalls. "She was on the run, had to live in a forest, wearing only pajamas even in the winter months and I'm here in a leather jacket, wool hat and warm underwear. I thought I could stick it out for a few moments."
Cavaliere, 35, a June graduate of Queensborough Community College, was among students who volunteered to interview Holocaust survivors for a permanent exhibit at the new Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives. Images of Katz, 87, of Little Neck, and Cavaliere, a Flushing resident, appear on touch screens and their voices are heard: Katz recounting the murder of five members of her family by the gestapo, and Cavaliere relating his reactions to her story.
Katz was 17 and living in Buczacz, Poland, when before long her family was decimated during Hitler's reign of terror against Jews. Her mother died prior to the war, but her twin brother was gunned down on Aug. 25, 1941, the first victim in the family.
For more than two years, she, her father, her older sister and two younger brothers ran from place to place trying to evade capture. They hid in a chicken coop, an abandoned cottage, in shacks and in grain fields. Then the gestapo found them in a farmhouse they'd once owned. All but Katz were murdered. She received a blow to the head, but eluded the killers by pretending she was dead.
She was rescued by three Polish boys and managed to get to her family's city home. For four months she hid in a false wall, subsisting on 10 slices of bread someone had given her. German soldiers took over the dwelling but one day, her throat parched from thirst, she ventured from her hiding place when they went out, and found a pail of water. Soon afterwards, the Russians liberated the town. In 1947, Katz left for the U.S. to live with an aunt.
Our Tomorrows Never Came, a book about her travails, is in the archives at the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg center, where she's also a volunteer.
"It's imperative to educate the future generations of the result of hate to prevent another deluge of evil engulfing and eradicating innocent humanity," Katz says.
Cavaliere, now studying at Queens College to be a teacher, says his interest in history spurred him to interview her: "I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn."
And he is passing on what he learned: "I told my friends and my two daughters. The story has to live on. That atrocity cannot be repeated."