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The Orion

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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

101-year-old Holocaust survivor visits Chico

Learning the meaning of life from a man who nearly lost his many times
Holocaust Survivor Joseph Alexander meets local Rabbi Lisa Rappaport. Photo taken April 14 by Molly Myers.

Holocaust survivors are becoming rare as many of them are reaching the end of their lives. Soon the holocaust will lose all of its living sources. 

People from all over Chico filled the Pleasant Valley High School auditorium on Sunday to hear from Joseph Alexander, a 101-year-old Jewish-Polish Holocaust survivor. 

Joseph spent six years of his life surviving 12 camps and encountered the “Doctor of Death,” Joseph Mengle. He also described a memory from the holocaust where he found a dead horse in the snow and cooked the “best meal of his life.”

Being a proud Jew who never stopped believing in G-d, he never held a grudge against anyone, and his positive attitude shocked the audience. 

The English department at Pleasant Valley High School assigns novel Night” by Nobel Peace Prize winner Eli Wiesel. Amy Besnard, an English Teacher, described the teaching of the holocaust as a “tremendously important historical event that unfortunately affects so many people.”

Flying Alexander from LA, they secured a grant. She described the 14 to 15-year-old students as feeling “moved” and “invested and excited” about Alexander’s visit.  

Joseph Alexander’s holocaust tattoo. Photo taken April 14. by Molly Myers.

Many holocaust survivors go their whole lives without talking about their experiences. However, as more holocaust survivors die out, they face a dilemma to tell their stories despite the pain before it is too late. 

Alexander shocked the audience was his insistence that grudges make people sick. He never felt a grudge about the actions of those who participated in the holocaust because he never had a conversation with them.

“I lost my family. I lost one parents and five siblings. I’m the only survivor. I don’t forget I think about them every day,” Alexander said. “But there’s nothing I can do to bring them back. So I said I don’t carry any grudges because it doesn’t help. So I just move on.”

Taking his Judaism seriously, he performs rituals to remember the family he lost on the most important day of the year in Judaism, Yom Kippur. In addition, when moving to America, he changed his name from Ideell to Joseph after the brother he lost. 

Alexander also stressed the importance of a positive attitude, appreciating the kindness of people, and having faith in G-d, which helped him live where others did not. 

“The biggest reason that we were able to survive is I got a little help from people who gave me some extra food … I’ve been asked by high school students a lot of times … why … Birkenau people who run to the electric fences are being beaten to death. Because they gave up. They ask me a lot of times did you ever think of giving up? I said, No, I never thought of giving up. I never lost faith. I never stopped believing in G-d. And I said to myself, I may have a bad day today, but I hope tomorrow will be a better day but never give up.”

A sold out crowd watches Joseph Alexander’s presentation. Photo taken by Molly Myers on April 14. (Molly Myers)

Despite his many close encounters with death and the six million Jews that died in the mass graves, death camps and ghettos of the Third Reich, he never regretted any of his actions or felt guilty.

His family paid the guards for him, his sister, and his brother to leave the Warsaw ghetto and escape the inhumane conditions they faced. Later that ghetto was “liquidated” when the Nazis put down the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Because his parents decided for him, he saw it as nothing to feel guilt over and something to be thankful for. 

Alexander continued his gratitude habit and positive attitude after moving to America, making new friends, working as a tailor, getting married, and having a son and daughter. He even worked with Steven Spielberg on his research for the movie “Schindler’s List.” Joseph claims the secret to his longevity is to “stay busy.” 

For many people, he will be the first Holocaust survivor they meet, while for others, it could be the last, but he impressed the audience for a lifetime. When asked if he believes in Luck, he always responds, “No, I believe in G-d.”

For those curious about Alexander’s story, view a video of his talk on YouTube. 

Ari Sorokin can be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributors
Ari Sorokin
Ari Sorokin, Reporter
Dogs are Ari Sorokin's first true love and caring for them is his pride and joy. He loves keeping an active and creative lifestyle through his passion of drawing, writing and yoga. Sorokin is also a bit crazy about Indian culture.
Molly Myers
Molly Myers, Managing Editor/Features Editor
Molly Myers is a transfer student from Palmdale, California. She is a journalism major also minoring in religious studies. Molly is Managing Editor at The Orion and previously worked as Editor-in-Chief. Her work is also published in Watershed Review. Getting to meet new people and hear their stories is her favorite part of being a journalist. Outside of The Orion she instructs yoga at the WREC and volunteers with the Torres Community Shelter.

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    Humberto // Apr 20, 2024 at 7:08 pm

    God is good! Thank you Ari! Excellent writing like always!