An 81-year-old survivor of the Holocaust spoke to Middle Schoolers in a Zoom conversation presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., on January 30.
Joël Nommick, one of 50 Holocaust survivors who volunteers at the museum, recounted his family history beginning in the years after World War I — tracing life milestones up through the advent of Nazi rule in Germany in 1933, to the Nazi invasion of France in 1940 and beyond.
“I’m very proud to be in front of you today,” Nommick said. “I hope it will be helpful for your life in society.”
Speaking slowly in a deep, clear voice, Nommick told students how his parents had roots in the Russian Empire and married in Paris in the late 1920s. By 1931, Jean and Agnes Nommick had two sons and were living in the French village of Thoissey, where Jean was a successful businessman.
In 1940, the Nazis invaded France and family life was turned upside down. The Vichy dictatorship began to enact anti-Jewish laws that impacted the family business and required Jewish families to register at the town hall or the police station.
“The intent was to isolate the Jews as a group,” Nommick said. “Then, they started to put Jews in camps.”
In 1941, Joël’s father was arrested by French authorities. He was imprisoned at camps throughout France, but managed to escape in the spring of 1942 by simulating Epilepsy. He was reunited with his family briefly but was again arrested. This time, he was deported. He arrived at the Auschwitz concentration camp in late September 1942.
“It took them four days to arrive in those wagons,” Nommick said.
“I was born three months later.”
After that, baby Joël and his family lived in constant worry for their safety. Neighbors and friends helped them survive.
“Some people went through a great deal of courage just to do that,” Nommick said. “This war traumatized everybody.”
Nommick’s father was liberated on April 15, 1945, at Bergen-Belsen. A letter home, posted that day, promised hope that the family would soon be reunited. But that never happened.
“We received the letter,” Nommick said. “I’m still waiting. He disappeared.”
Nommick told the boys it is his duty to keep telling the world what happened in this era of history.
“There is a tendency in the whole world to go back to bad dreams,” he said. “The few of us – we are only 50 left – we will fight to make sure that people know what happens when you lose your liberty and you give everything to a tyrant.”