A living lesson

Holocaust survivor tells his tale to students

Holocaust survivor Endre Sarkany talks about his experiences during World War II to eighth-grade students at Long River Middle School in Prospect on Feb. 20. Sarkany was invited to speak by eighth grade history teacher Steve Ruhl who is teaching his students about the holocaust. –LUKE MARSHALL

Holocaust survivor Endre Sarkany talks about his experiences during World War II to eighth-grade students at Long River Middle School in Prospect on Feb. 20. Sarkany was invited to speak by eighth grade history teacher Steve Ruhl who is teaching his students about the holocaust. –LUKE MARSHALL

PROSPECT — Long River Middle School students received a lesson on the Holocaust last week from a man who lived through it.

Endre Sarkany, 77, of New Haven, spoke to eighth-grade students about his experiences as a Jew living in Budapest, Hungary during World War II Feb. 20.

Sarkany, who works as the manager of Donor Service and Campaign for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, is a member of The Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut. As a member of the organization, he travels to local schools to talk to students about his experiences living under Nazi rule.

Sarkany was raised in a Jewish ghetto in Budapest during a time when anti-Semitism was growing across Europe.  

Because of Hungary’s political alignment with Germany’s Third Reich, Sarkany said, the Nazis did not immediately invade his country. However, by the time he was 7 years old he was warned to stay away from the soldiers and would run inside any time they were in the streets.  

Eventually, all the Jewish people around Budapest were forced to move into the ghetto where his family lived. Between May and September of 1944, Sarkany said, over 300,000 Hungarian Jews were rounded up and deported, including his father who was taken away to a concentration camp.

Sarkany said he would hide along with other children in the basement of his building to escape being noticed. While they had food, he said, it was not much.

At one point, Sarkany recalled, his family was rounded up by Nazis and faced being taken to a concentration camp. However, he said, they were lucky as his grandmother spoke a dialect of German that made the soldiers question why she was there and sent her whole family home.

Sarkany was reunited with his father, who survived the concentration camp, in the summer of 1945 after the end of the war.

“It was the happiest moment of my life,” Sarkany said.

Hungary then began transiting into peace time and Sarkany went back to school.

However, the Russian Communist influence was very strong in Hungary, Sarkany said. Sarkany graduated high school in 1955 and, although he had received good grades, he was not able to get into college because his father owned a business.

In 1956, Sarkany left his home with only his overcoat and headed to America to make a new life for himself.

Sarkany ultimately received his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree and moved to New Haven in 2001 to be closer to his family.

Sarkany said the purpose of The Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut is to teach the youth who may or may not learn about the Holocaust from books.

Sarkany told the students it’s important for them to respect one another and to appreciate what they have. 

“You are good kids. You are lucky to come to school. You have parents who want the best for you,” Sarkany said.

History teacher Steve Ruhl said the students are currently learning about the Holocaust, and have seen videos and read about it. However, Ruhl felt, it would be helpful for his students to meet someone who had actually been through it.

Eighth-grader Jordan Theroux said she was amazed by what Sarkany went through and found his strength an inspiration.

“I was pretty shocked. I was touched by the way he got through it all and still thinks positively about the world,” Theroux said.

Ruhl told the students something very important occurred during the class.

“You can no longer say that you have no personal connection to the Holocaust,” Ruhl said.

Before departing Sarkany left the students with words of advice he had learned over his years.

“Always tell people you love them because you never know when you will see them for the last time,” Sarkany said.

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