Magda Brown is a Holocaust survivor and wants everyone to know it.
Friday, Brown came to NIU to speak of her experiences as a 17-year-old at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. Brown, who is now a member of the Speakers’ Bureau of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, is on a mission to tell her story to as many people as she can.
Andrew Sherrill, doctoral student in the clinical psychology program and organizer of the event, said one of the reasons he admires Brown is her willingness to speak of her experiences.
“She was a 17-year-old girl with no family, who experienced the worst there is on the spectrum of violence and brutality ... and she survived,” Sherrill said. “There are all these reasons not to talk about her experiences, to keep them private, yet she has chosen to tell her story.”
Brown was not afraid to make her audience laugh. From the start, she called herself a spoiled brat, saying she never knew what it was to share until she was forced to share her home with 40 other people.
Brown spoke of her experiences at Auschwitz dealing with hunger, the loss of her family and the fear that liberation would never come. At one point, Brown and a group of other girls almost went through with an escape attempt.
“Well, when you’re 17, you’re either brave, or smart, or stupid — or all three together,” Brown said.
Their escape attempt never happened because the next day the camp was liberated by the Allies.
Brown said she wanted to leave her audience with three important ideas.
“First, protect your freedom because slavery is horrible. Second, think before you hate. I am not telling you to hate or not to hate, that’s up to you. But at least think about it, because all great conflicts stem from hate,” Brown said. “And thirdly, stand up to the deniers — the people who say the camps never existed.”
Sherrill said hearing from a Holocaust survivor can be a rare thing these days.
“Magda is part of a generation that’s aging; survivors now were teenagers when it happened,” Sherrill said. “The last people who were conscious of the events of the Holocaust are slowly passing away, so it’s important that we continue to hear from them while we still can.”