Holocaust survivor to speak at Heidelberg Tuesday

A concentration camp survivor is to be the keynote speaker during the Heidelberg University’s eighth annual Lichtman-Behm Genocide Lecture series Tuesday and Wednesday exploring the theme of Holocaust.

Walter Ziffer of North Carolina, a professor, theologian, scholar and author, is to share his experiences in his presentation, “The Phenomenon of Evil: A Holocaust Survivor’s Story.”

“I think this year’s program is particularly timely, given some recent events,” Courtney DeMay, associate professor of history and co-chair of the Licthman-Behm Genocide Lecture Series Planning Committee at Heidelberg, said. “In Virginia, the protesters chanted ‘Jews will not replace us’ – reminding us that antisemitism not only still exists in the world, but in some circles has become more apparent.

“For that reason, understanding the experiences of individuals who survived the Holocaust are especially important, as they help us understand how dangerous these ideas and mentalities can be.”

As a historian, DeMayo said she hopes students and the community can take away a greater understanding of the Holocaust itself.

“It is very easy to minimize the human experience through statistics,” she said. “Listening to a person who lived through the Holocaust provides invaluable insight into the event itself, as well as the resiliency and strength of the human spirit.”

Ziffer was born in Czechoslovakia in 1927. He recounts his childhood, the Polish and German invasions of his home, his deportation and three years of experiences in Nazi concentration camps in his memoir, “Confronting the Silence: A Holocaust Survivor’s Search for God.”

Ziffer recalls being evicted from his home in 1930, along with his parents and sister. The family was transported to a dulag — a transit camp for prisoners. He soon became separated from his family and taken to a work camp. He witnessed many horrors of the Holocaust while being imprisoned in seven other camps.

After three years in the camps, Ziffer was liberated by Soviet troops. He traveled to Paris and eventually resettled in Tennessee. He earned an engineering degree from Vanderbilt University and later became a minister and scholar.

Ziffer’s journey took him to Bangor, Maine, where he re-embraced Judaism and taught courses at the University of Maine. He later joined Congregation Beth Israel in Asheville and began his tenure at UNC Asheville and Mars Hill College.

Ziffer also has earned two master’s degrees from the Graduate School of Theology of Oberlin College and a doctorate in theology from the University of Strasbourg, France.

The Lichtman-Behm series allows Heidelberg to continue its mission of educating students and the community as a whole in a different forum, according to DeMayo.

“I think the Lichtman-Behm program especially helps anyone in the audience gain a deeper understanding of the diversity of human experiences – both man’s capacity for harming others and man’s capacity to overcome hardship – a more nuanced view of the world we live in and a better understanding of each individual’s ability to impact the world around them.”

Ziffer’s keynote address is to take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Wickham Great Hall, located in Campus Center. He also is to give a presentation to more than 700 local middle school and high school students.