Days of Remembrance; lessons learned from the Holocaust

  • Published
  • By Beverly Joyner
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Imagine constantly living in fear and wondering when you will be detained or killed. Being afraid to be seen on the streets, faced with losing your family members, job, home, business or place of worship all because of your ethnicity, or religious and political beliefs or physical and mental capabilities.


This is what life was like for Holocaust survivor, Kitty Saks, who was born in Vienna, Austria, and lived through those atrocities, and ultimately lost 27 family members.


The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systemic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Six million Jews were murdered and millions of other groups suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi Germany. 


At the age of five, Saks was living with her parents and grandparents in Vienna when a German Army officer decided to take their apartment for his personal use. Her grandfather was the first to be sent to the Lodz Ghetto, and later, both grandparents were sent to the death camps.


“We fled to Belgium which was not yet occupied by the Germans,” said Saks. “We had hopes of coming to the United States because my father’s first cousins lived in Norfolk, Virginia, and you needed a sponsor who would vouch for you for five years.”


When Saks’ father successfully crossed the border to Belgium, the plan was for Saks and her mother to join him soon. While making numerous attempts to cross, Saks and her mother were caught by the border patrol.


After their successful crossing on the seventh attempt, Saks’ family tried to make arrangements to travel from Brussels to the United States.


“We were put on this list by a committee that was set up to get as many Jews who had the necessary papers to migrate to the United States, which we did have,” said Saks. “The German Army overtook Brussels on May 10, 1940 and we got stuck because our departure date was May 15, 1940.”


Saks was then placed into Belgium schools at age six and had to learn French.


Since it was too dangerous for her parents to be seen, Saks ran all of the errands and was forced to wear the Yellow Star, which, to this day, she has in her possession. 


Saks recalled one day when she encountered her former teacher who warned her about the Gestapo and walking the streets while wearing the Yellow Star.


“Kitty, what are you doing walking the streets wearing a star? You know the Germans are going to stop you,” said her former teacher. Saks replied “I got no choice.”


Shortly after the encounter, her teacher placed, then nine-year-old, Saks, into a Catholic convent under an assumed name, Rosette Nizolle.


From 1942 until the Allied liberation in 1944, she spent time in either Catholic convents or Catholic orphanages.


“The Catholics had a big influence on me, they saved my life and the lives of many of my girlfriends,” said Saks. “They took me in, baptized me, gave me a different name, raised me Catholic and I became a hidden child of the Holocaust.”


Saks credits prayer, faith and the closeness of her family as her coping mechanisms for what she experienced.


“I think the Holocaust should never be forgotten and it should be taught in schools, but not just a few lines,” said Saks. “It is easier to hate people than to love people. When you don’t understand people, then it creates hatred, so I survived hatred.”


In 1980, Congress passed Public Law 96-388, which established the United States Holocaust Memorial Council to provide appropriate ways for the nation to annually commemorate Days of Remembrance while encouraging and sponsoring appropriate observances throughout the U.S.


In 2017, the commemoration will take place April 23 to 30 and the theme is “Learning from the Holocaust: The Strength of the Human Spirit.”


For more information about Holocaust Days of Remembrance, visit or


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