A recent study from Schoen Consulting found that after 1,350 interviews, 11 percent of American adults and more than one-fifth of millennials have not heard of the Holocaust or aren’t sure if they’re familiar with it.
But Columbia resident and Holocaust survivor Edith Cord is doing her part to make sure no one forgets the Nazi-fueled atrocities.
As part of the Friends of Pikesville Library’s Speaker Series, Cord, who authored the memoir “Becoming Edith: The Education of a Hidden Child,” recounted on April 11 her story and survival of living a double life during World War II in Europe.
Cord, 89, began her talk by delving into the history of anti-Semitism before the modern era. She placed the rise of Nazism into the context of a shifting European continent.
“The ideas of Nazi Germany were not invented by Hitler, they were there for the taking,” Cord said. “The Romantic Period led to rabid anti- Semitism and rabid nationalism. It was the period of the Napoleonic Wars and the Germans were defending themselves against the advancement of Napoleon. In 1815, after the fall of Napoleon, there was no Germany. There were 36 separate political entities. Gemany wasn’t unified until 1871. Most textbooks and writers will say it was all due to the loss of World War I, those were the triggers that allowed it to come to the surface. They were not the root causes.”
Cord was raised against the backdrop of Nazism and said she was aware of its influences. When she was in first grade, her school chancellor was assassinated by the Nazis, an incident which she recalls as her first real exposure to the party’s power.
A young Cord moved with her family to Italy in 1937, which she called the happiest year of her childhood. However, Benito Mussolini formed the Axis powers with Hitler a year later, and Italy passed the same anti-Jewish laws that were present in Germany. Realizing they could not remain safe there, Cord and her family relocated to France in April 1939. Her father and brother were deported to Auschwitz in 1942 and neither of them returned. By 1943, Cord knew she would have to live in hiding under a false name and identity.
With her new name, Cord moved 13 times in one year, eventually settling in Switzerland in 1944, where she remained until the end of the war and was later reunited with her mother.
“You can never share a true thought,” Cord said of her time living under a false identity. “You’re always lying. You have to remember yesterday’s lies and the lies from the day before.”
More than half of a century removed from the artrocities that took members of her family from her, Cord finds it hard to fathom that there are those who deny the Holocaust ever happened.
“I don’t know how they can say that, because the Germans kept records,” she said. “The question I still ask myself is, ‘how did the Germans do it?’ If you go to Germany, they’re nice people.”
After telling her story, Cord explored the ways that the Nazis could have accomplished what they set out to do. She shared the Joseph Goebbels quote that “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The truth is the mortal enemy of the lie and thus, the truth is the greatest enemy of the state.”
“This is not just ancient history, it’s today,” Cord said.
Cord concluded her talk by giving 10 life lessons that have helped her after her firsthand experiences with the Holocaust. “What you think matters” was one of the top on her list. Another lesson was about freeing herself of the past.
“Hatred is a destructive emotion,” she said. “We have to have justice, but you can execute Eichmann 100 times and it won’t fix the suffering they caused. I don’t want them in my life.”
Ruth Goldstein, who is in her second year as the president of the Friends of the Pikesville Library group, consulted with the Baltimore Jewish Council to get a poignant speaker for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“I thought it would be a good idea to get a Holocaust survivor to speak if we can, because we’re not going to be able to in a couple years,” Goldstein said. “Edith is just such a brilliant woman. She can put us all to shame when it comes to her brain power and energy. It’s so important to capture these experiences.”