WALLINGFORD >> The University of New Haven Sunday awarded 158 undergraduate and 275 graduate degrees at its winter commencement exercises, where a Holocaust survivor and author told them that adults need to be role models and “stand up to do the right thing.”
“You are prepared to be future leaders in the fields of your choice and you are the role models our country needs,” survivor Judith Alter Kallman told them.
The commencement was held at the Toyota Oakdale Theatre and included conferring of honorary degrees to the keynote speaker Kallman, Yale New Haven Hospital human resources official Kevin A. Myatt and to alum Michael Quiello, vice president of corporate safety for United, the world’s third-largest airline.
Kallman, author of “A Candle in the Heart,” which chronicles her childhood growing up in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II, lost her parents to the Nazis at age 5, and is a well-know speaker on the subject.
Kallman told graduates and their loved ones that while her story is “one of sadness and mourning,” it is also a “celebration of life,” because “good people stood up, fought evil and risked their lives to save my life and the lives of others.’’
She said her story is one of faith, will to live with a determination that carried her through the Holocaust and the memory of “a loving home.”
Kallman told the audience she was the youngest of six children, only 4, when their dining room window in Czechoslovakia was shattered on a Friday night just after her mother had lit the Sabbath candles and her father had blessed them. The family, living in fear, fled to the countryside and after some twists and turns, hid in a series of empty apartments. Then one day Slovakian fascists, known as “Hlinka Guard,” found them and took their parents and two oldest siblings away. The children were separated by the Jewish Rescue Committee and taken to strangers’ homes before she and a brother, 10, sneaked to the train station looking for the family.
She spotted her parents in the crowd and screamed, at which point: “A guard pointed his rifle to my head and told me to shut up or he would shoot me then and there.”
When her father saw her and her brother, he shouted for them to leave and “choose life,” she said.
The train left, headed for Auschwitz. Kallman never saw her parents again. They later learned her father had been offered the chance to get off the train alone but refused because he didn’t want to leave his wife and children.
There were many challenges of survival to come and after the war she was sent to an orphanage run by nuns, who Kallman said, “showered me with love and care and nourished me back to life.”
Eventually, she would be reunited with her siblings in Israel.
“Even though I had ups and downs – and moments of self-doubt – I was determined to move forward and to become somebody,” she said. “I wanted to make my life count.”
Kallman married and came to the United States. Today she has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
She asked the graduates to help her in a mission to help stop bullying, because, she said, that’s where problems often start. Kallman also asked them to give back to their communities, to help teach children good citizenship through being role models because those children will “be in charge one day.”
She said too many Americans today take privileges and freedom for granted, forgetting how many lives were lost to get to that point. “We need to stop hate because we know where it leads,” Kallman said, later quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Post from New Haven Register