From internment to independence: Holocaust survivor, ‘silent for sixty years,’ speaks

Survivor%3A+Ben+Fainer%2C+who+worked+in+a+Nazi+labor+camp+during+his+childhood%2C+was+invited+to+speak+at+SLU+by+the+university%E2%80%99s+Jewish+Student+Association.+His+mother+and+his+siblings+were+sent+to+Auschwitz+when+he+was+nine.+Ryan+Quinn+%2F+Photo+Editor
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From internment to independence: Holocaust survivor, ‘silent for sixty years,’ speaks

Survivor: Ben Fainer, who worked in a Nazi labor camp during his childhood, was invited to speak at SLU by the university’s Jewish Student Association. His mother and his siblings were sent to Auschwitz when he was nine. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Survivor: Ben Fainer, who worked in a Nazi labor camp during his childhood, was invited to speak at SLU by the university’s Jewish Student Association. His mother and his siblings were sent to Auschwitz when he was nine. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Survivor: Ben Fainer, who worked in a Nazi labor camp during his childhood, was invited to speak at SLU by the university’s Jewish Student Association. His mother and his siblings were sent to Auschwitz when he was nine. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Survivor: Ben Fainer, who worked in a Nazi labor camp during his childhood, was invited to speak at SLU by the university’s Jewish Student Association. His mother and his siblings were sent to Auschwitz when he was nine. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

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On Monday, April 20, the Jewish Student Association invited SLU students and faculty to the Center for Global Citizenship to hear from Ben Fainer, a Holocaust survivor.

Born in Poland, Fainer was only nine years old when the Nazis uprooted him and his family.   Fainer and his father were taken to a labor camp, while his mother and siblings were taken to Auschwitz, never to be heard from again. For six years, in six different labor concentration camps, each day he planned the life he would live if he survived.  Mr. Fainer put it simply, “I was young, so I made it.” He and his father were the only survivors out of their 250 family members throughout Poland. Liberated by the 23rd division of the US Army, he was only 16 years old and had a lot of life to live.  The Nazis may have embittered his adolescence, but his life post-Holocaust broke out of its former darkness.

After being liberated, Fainer went to live with family in Dublin, where he met his wife, Susan. They moved to Canada, and eventually to St. Louis in 1957. He became a citizen of the United States in 1962, and aimed to live the life he dreamt of while in the concentration camp . Today, at 84 years old, he has seven children and lives a comfortable life, retired from his career as a women’s clothing designer.

Fainer began making appearances only about six years ago. “I never wanted to do this, I was very quiet,” the survivor said. But after 60 years, and the death of his beloved wife who always encouraged him to speak about his experiences, he decided to begin sharing his memories. “It’s a joy to be here…it does my heart good,” Fainer said to the audience. For the majority of the evening he emphasized the importance of facing the past in order to prevent its reoccurrence. “I hope you beautiful young people don’t let that happen again,” Fainer said. He talked about acknowledging the ugly realities of the past, but insisted that upholding hope must be an objective of future generations, as well.

Apart from speaking engagements, Fainer also created a documentary with interviews from survivors and liberators, which includes footage from American soldiers, too. He published a book entitled “Silent for Sixty Years.”  Mr. Fainer believes that telling the world what happened is the duty of both those who survived it, and those who witnessed the reality of the camps upon liberation.

Determination and strength define Fainer to this day —“The only guy or lady that is going to take me is the almighty God.” Simple compassion and standing up for justice are virtues Fainer hopes will be part of the current, and future, generations. “I hope to God that one day people can believe what they want to believe,” he said.  Mr. Fainer learned acceptance of all religions while in the concentration camps. He noted that faiths should be welcomed for the comfort they provide to people.

The current generation will be the last to experience first-hand accounts of the Holocaust. For this reason, taking time to hear survivors, like Fainer, is important. After the survivors are gone, the job of not letting the world forget the terrors of the Holocaust will rest in new hands,. Fainer has high hopes for the future and says, “Every day is a new day and I love it.”