Holocaust survivor Margit Meissner will share her heroic story of survival tonight on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas.
The event, “An Evening with Holocaust Survivor Margit Meissner,” will begin at 7 p.m. in Reynolds Performance Hall. The lecture is open to the public.
“An Evening with Holocaust Survivor Margit Meissner” is sponsored by the UCA Department of Philosophy and Religion, Department of History, College of Liberal Arts, Humanities and World Cultures Institute, PhiRe (UCA Philosophy and Religion Club), University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Whenever a Holocaust survivor volunteers to speak of the 20th century’s worst act of genocide, the time for communities to come together to hear and heal becomes possible, if only for a few moments,” said Phillip Spivey, lecturer with the UCA Department of Philosophy and Religion. “In a time when Americans are bitterly divided over political and religious issues, a Holocaust survivor’s prophetic voice can be a beacon of peace and reconciliation. The survivors’ testimony becomes a bridge of understanding between political and religious divisions.”
Born Feb. 26, 1922, in Austria, Meissner was a baby when her family moved from to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her father was a banker from a religious Jewish family in Bohemia and her mother came from a Viennese family of Jewish origin.
In 1938, attacks on Jews in central Europe escalated and Meissner’s parents decided she should leave. She left secondary school in Prague and went to Paris, where she studied dressmaking. Once France was engaged in the war in September 1939, it became clear that Jews in France could be in danger.
Before Paris fell to the Germans in June 1940, refugees fled to the unoccupied south of France. Meissner bought a bicycle and rode for hours until she came to a school building where some refugees were staying.
After a brief rest, she headed out in search of her mother, who had been sent to a detention camp on the Spanish border. Only hours after she left the school building, the Germans blew the school to pieces. Meissner eventually found her mother, and the two fled, via Spain and Portugal, to the United States, where they settled in 1941.
“As we approach a new decade, the time for meaningful interaction between the younger generation and Holocaust survivors is drawing to a close,” said Spivey. “The need for a younger generation to hear and bear witness to these sacred stories of tragedy and triumph is more important than ever. My hope is that young people who attend Margit Meissner’s testimony will be inspired to speak out against the causes of genocide past and present — hate, prejudice and violence.”
Spivey hopes students will take away from Meissner’s eyewitness testimony the wisdom to know that the human spirit can triumph over the worst of human tragedies.
“For students who are in despair or have survived a personal tragedy, I hope they will be inspired to overcome their fear and loss by empathizing with Meissner’s message,” he said.