A Night of Remembrance and Understanding

From a time of hate and death, came a message of hope from “child of the Holocaust” Fred Gross when he shared his family’s story at A Night of Remembrance and Understanding.

In the program, Fred shared family photos from his infancy to present day while taking the audience on his family’s journey as refugees on the run from Nazi soldiers in France.

To escape the German invasion, the family left Belgium when Fred was 3 and go to France. There, the family would live as refugees, moving from village to village on foot because they had no vehicle. Each move, many made at the behest of sympathizers, kept them from capture by Nazi soldiers. Eventually, the Gross family would travel the perimeter of France before escaping to Switzerland. 

“Everything I’m telling you was luck,” Fred said. “It was luck every step of the way.”

At one point, the family was being held at Gurs camp in the south of France, where nearly 4,000 Jews eventually would be deported to Nazi death camps in Poland. While there, Fred’s 16-year-old brother went to the infirmary where he discovered an unmanned gate and escaped the camp. After spending three days traveling to different towns to speak with French authorities, Fred’s brother convinced one to release his family. 

The release from Gurs was just one remarkable story of the many Fred shared where ordinary people became extraordinary because of their acts of kindness, which helped his family survive.

“I have to thank those people, the farmer who hid us in the barn, the village mayor who told us what to do, some others who hid us out,” he said. “They were all Christians or Catholics or maybe even nonbelievers, but they had the moral conscience to help. … I am so thankful to those people. Without their help, I wouldn’t be here.”

Fred’s message echoed the purpose of the Marvin and Joyce Benjamin Fund, through which the program was made possible. The fund provides money for opportunities to fight hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism. As we work to carry out the Benjamin’s wishes, the fund strives to foster kindness, understanding, and inclusiveness among the diverse people who call our community home.

“To be loved, to be kind, we need more of that, you know,” he said. “There’s too much hatred going on. I tell young people, ‘You’re the ones we depend upon to make this a better life for all of us.’ I hope that happens.”

Fred’s message of love and inclusion was brought to the community directly tied to the Benjamins hope for their community. Because of their vision, more than 450 community members heard Fred’s story at The State Theater in Elizabethtown. 

Through the fund, the lessons of inclusion, kindness and understanding were also shared with more than 2,000 Hardin and LaRue county high schoolers. The fund paid for the students to experience, at no charge to them or their school, Never Again: Murals of the Holocaust, which was on exhibit for six weeks at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College. The exhibit also was open to the public. 

The murals, all drawn by gifted middle and high school students who attended Western Kentucky University’s VAMPY Camp, were the collection of more than 20 years of student artwork.

The exhibit was made possible through a partnership with WKU’s Center for Gifted Studies, The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.