A Solemn Reminder

by Jonathan Wright

Holocaust survivor Manfred Katz speaks about his experience.

Following the rededication ceremony on April 23, 2017, the Yom HaShoah–Holocaust Remembrance Day Program will feature guest speaker and Holocaust survivor, Manfred Katz. Born in a small village in central Germany, Katz and his family were deported to Latvia in 1941. He was just 13 years old.

“We were ‘relocated’—that’s the term that was used,” he notes. “We got on a train and three-and-a-half days later, we arrived in Riga, Latvia. We were placed in the ghetto—barbed wire, guards, the whole bit. Conditions were extremely difficult: six people in the room, no running water, no toilet, no facilities. Nothing.”

In the summer of 1943, Katz was again “relocated,” this time to a concentration camp. It was the last time he ever saw his parents. “The ghetto was terrible; the concentration camp was worse,” he explains. Besides being removed from his parents, he was forced to wear a prison uniform and do all kinds of hard labor. “We no longer had a name, only a number.”

As the Russians advanced on the eastern front, the Nazis were pushed back to the west. “Therefore, we were ‘in the way,’ so to speak, and they decided to ‘relocate’ me again, across the Baltic Sea to another concentration camp... And again, things got worse.

“By early 1945, the camp has to be evacuated again,” he recalls. “This time, it was not by ship or truck—it was by walking, commonly referred to as a death march. This lasted approximately two months… at which time the Russian army overtook us.”

After the war, Katz made his way home, hoping to find loved ones who had survived. “As it turned out, that was not the case.” In 1946, he came to the United States, and eventually earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Missouri. Now retired, he lives with his wife of 67 years in Jacksonville, Florida.

It was many years before Katz was able to speak freely about his experience. “When I first came to the States, things were very fresh and painful. Furthermore, when people did ask, I would answer—maybe naively, in too much detail—and I had a strange feeling they didn’t believe me. I understand now why they didn’t. It was just incomprehensible for people to have done what the Nazis did.”

Katz kept quiet until the 1990s, when he started to write down some of his experiences. “Our sons, by that time, were adults, and I thought they deserved to know a little bit about their parents,” he says. “That sort of opened me up, and I’ve been talking ever since.”

The importance of the Holocaust Memorial, he adds, is obvious. “We have to remind people what happened, why it happened, and why it should not have happened.” a&s

The Peoria Holocaust Memorial Dedication takes place at 2pm on April 23, 2017 at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. Learn more about the project in "Each One A Life..." by Monica Vest Wheeler. For more information, visit peoriaholocaustmemorial.org.