“I have three children, three grandchildren, and one-great grandchild. We show Hitler did not succeed!”
With that announcement, after the end of a harrowing presentation about his life living in a German concentration camp, David Mermelstein, a Holocaust survivor, garnered a standing ovation and applause from the filled seats at the Tennessee Williams Theatre.
On the Florida Keys Community College Campus this particular morning students, business owners, even Mayor Craig Cates and his wife Cheryl listened to Mermelstein, Herbert Carliner, and Joe Sachs all share their experiences from the years Hitler and his regime tried to suppress the Jewish race.
“Colored people, and gypsies, anyone who is not of “pure race”,” Mermelstein’s wife, Irene outlined, “he wanted blond and blue-eyed boys and girls and boys.”
Many of the Jews died not only from malnutrition, and cremation, but also from losing hope, said, Herbert Karliner.
“My stomach ailment continued for 20 years. I could not eat anything fat, or heavy. At the time we were liberated,” according to Karliner, “95% of the prisoners were skeletal. But, I had fantasies of what the future would hold, thoughts of surviving, and hoping it would get better.”
Their stories included details about having their heads shaved, being separated from their parents, brothers, and sisters… never to see them again, of the gas chambers, and cremation. Finally, they told of liberation by the Americans.
FKCC President Dr. Larry Tyree called the presentation rich and stimulating, and the recount of their experiences are not anything any of us will soon forget.
Here’s how other members of the audience reacted.
David Mermelstein reaches out to an audience member after telling his compelling story of encampment, liberation, and making a new life in America.
Pictured from right to left are Holocaust Survivors David Mermelstein next to his wife Irene Mermelstein, Marcia Sach with her husband Joe Sachs, Herbert Karliner, and Debbie Zimmerman, District Chief of Staff for U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Leah Lightfoot, Jewish
Owner of Mad Dawg’z BBQ, Sugarloaf Key
Both of Leah’s parents were born in Israel, and both managed to escape imprisonment at the German work camps.
“My mother was a little girl,” Lightfoot explains. They had a little money and bribed the Germans. I’m amazed with the turnout. This story needs to come out.”
Christina Miller, Cherokee, German, & Irish
FKCC Pre-Nursing Student, Key West
Having some German in her heritage, Christina says to the Key West Weekly, any connection to the concentration camps is something she denounces from her family’s past; that is IF, they had anything to do with the suppression of the race.
I admire their (the speakers’) strength. If it were me, I would probably be in tears. I think when we invite then back we need more time. I would like to hear more from women on what their experiences were like.”
Sofia Mayo, Adopted “I believe I’m German and Irish.”
FKCC Undeclared Major, Key West
Sofia says she took away from the speakers there were some Germans who tried to spare the lives of the Jews.
“It’s hard for me to think everyone was so bad, but clearly they were.”
Dell Lunsford, English
Historic Tours of America Payroll Manager, Key West
“After everything they went through, that they’ll stand up there and talk to us… brings me to tears to listen to them I’m proud to be am American. For them to see our troops come in and liberate them, it does make you proud.