This PowerPoint picture shows Oscar Singer when he was imprisoned on the left and what he looks like today on the right

In the Ohio Room of the Hadley Union Building (HUB) the IUP and Indiana communities were given the rare opportunity to hear from a Holocaust survivor, which is becoming rarer every day. The room was filled with people of all ages with many people having to stand in the back and along the walls.

Oscar Singer did not speak much because he had already spoken at Indiana High School twice, but his daughter, Lee, was able to speak on his behalf. Lee explained that her father has done his best to separate his life as a slave to the Nazis and his life since then, but that the pain and memory never really goes away. Singer has decided to share his story so that memory of him, other victims and of the Holocaust lives on.

Singer was 14 when his village of just over 400 people in Southeastern Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. He has described his life as “pretty poor” but still happy in spite of it. He was able to get an education and had four brothers and a sister. Like so many others, the Nazis destroyed Singer’s old life and forced him to feed their war machine.

Singer first worked at Mielic Airplane Factory, also in Southeastern Poland, between 1941 and 1943. He was “brutalized all the time” and separated from his family. He knew that, by this point, his little brother Abraham was his last surviving brother, but he still believed that his parents and his sister were alive, and this belief is what kept him going.

Singer was moved to the Wielczka Salt Mine for six weeks in 1943. He has described this as the “worst experience in his life.” He was then moved to the Krakow-Plaszow Concentration Camp where he was branded with a prisoner number.

He survived the concentration camp and was moved to the Dresden Tank Factory which Lee believes saved his life because he was assigned to the kitchen. In the kitchen, Singer secretly ate some of the food and distributed it to the other prisoners.

As the war neared its end and as the Nazis understood they would lose, they ramped up their extermination of the Jewish people. Singer and his brother were sent on a death march to the Theresienstadt Ghetto in the freezing winter. Abraham died on the march, leaving Singer alone in the ghetto.

The Russians liberated Singer on May 9, 1945. Singer described this event as the beginning of his new life, even changing his birthday to May 9.

Though Singer was liberated, he still faced many challenges. He had no family, no home and no education. He also faced rejection from the countries that fought Nazi Germany. His former village was now occupied by antisemites who prevented him from returning. It was difficult to acquire an immigration visa and he was unable to attain passage to the newly created nation of Israel.

So, Singer stayed in Germany. He found work as a dishwasher in a restaurant, eventually being promoted to cook. The owners recognized his hard work and sent him to Italy to learn how to cook, allowing Singer to become an expert in making Italian food as his daughter would say.

Singer eventually acquired a visa to the United States and moved to Denver, Colorado where he lived for 61 years, opening an Italian restaurant. He recently moved to Pittsburgh with his daughter where he has lived for the past seven years.

Lee believes that there are many lessons to be learned by Singer’s story.

The first is how societies can become cruel enough to systematically murder millions of people. Lee described the process as incremental with each atrocity becoming normalized in Germany. This made it easier for people to slowly accept the buildup to the Holocaust.

Lee also believes his story shows that there is kindness everywhere which Singer believes as well. Singer was given the opportunity to work and make money at a German restaurant which eventually allowed him to move to the U.S. and start a new life.

“Every holocaust survivor I have seen chooses to see the best in people and to build people up,” Lee said. “We can do that too.”

Above all else, Lee stressed the importance of remembering the Holocaust, especially as it will soon be impossible to hear from a Holocaust survivor.

Lee also stressed that her father is a “survivor not a victim and that is a choice.”

She explained that her father defied the Nazis who wanted him dead because of his determination.

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