As part of its 10th annual event to share stories of Holocaust survivors, Johnson County Library invited Overland Park resident Judy Jacobs to talk about her experiences as a child in Hungary and in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II.
In a Zoom webinar on July 8, Jacobs gave a firsthand account of her childhood experience in the concentration camp.
Born in 1937 in Budapest, Hungary, Jacobs recalls a happy childhood with her family. Her father was a radiologist, her mother an artist. She and her family felt the weight of anti-Semitism and the war from a young age, as Jews were systematically stripped of their rights.
In March 1944, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Hungary, and from July to December of that year, Jacobs and her parents were incarcerated in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. She lost her extended family in the death camps as well.
“Staying alive for one more day became a primary objective,” Jacobs said. “Every morning as we awakened, we realized we had triumphed by surviving one more day.”
In December 1944, the three were taken to Switzerland. Two years later, they immigrated to the United States, where Jacobs married and had children. She has lived in the Kansas City area for many years.
Jacobs raised many examples of how brutality against humanity continue today, and noted that geography is no barrier. She spoke of examples around the world, like Boko Haram in Africa forbidding Western education and promoting jihad and extreme brutality, and also genocide against the Muslim Rohingya, a minority people in Myanmar. She gave local examples as well.
“Within the last week or so, we’ve read about a Shawnee Mission School District principal accused of harassment and inappropriate behavior,” Jacobs said.
Dozens of listeners tuned in to hear her story, and many of them asked questions and thanked her for sharing. As to what individuals can do in the face of future catastrophes, Jacobs said she has no answers but does have some suggestions.
“First of all, begin at the grassroots; you and I and everybody else, we make up society, and we should all resolve to try to make this a better world,” she said. “Begin with education; understanding the past and understanding what motivates people, people, who may be different from us. Practice kindness toward one another; practice the Golden Rule. “Whatsoever thou wouldest that men should not do unto thee, do not do that unto them. Speak out in the face of injustice. Do not be a bystander. Bystanders are not innocent. And vote. Voting is the best way to effect change.”
Jacobs has shared her testimony several times, including with the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education; she also gave her testimony in a speech in 2016 to her alma mater, University of Missouri-Kansas City, when she received the university’s Defying the Odds Alumni Achievement Award.
The Johnson County Library event is available to view below.