MS. REBECCA SHEIR
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today we're bringing you stories of Washingtonians who've been contributing to their communities, often for many years and not necessarily with a whole lot of formal recognition or praise. We're calling today's show "Lifetime Achievement." And the achiever we'll meet next is 92-year-old, Robert Behr who's making is his mark by shining a light on one of the darkest moments of the 20th century, the Holocaust. Emily Berman brings us his story.
MS. EMILY BERMAN
Once a month, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum holds a meeting for a select group of volunteers, the survivors. They gather in one of the museums conference rooms, chatting over lunch, listening to announcements. Among them is Robert Behr, who shows up every single Friday to volunteer. He gets a ride from his home in Gaithersburg, all the way down to the National Mall and hops out at the museum.
MR. ROBERT BEHR
From the very beginning, I was committed to share my story for those who were interested and that hasn't changed at all.
Eighty years ago, when Behr was 12 years old, he and his parents were evicted from their apartment.
We received a letter, I think it was November of 1938. And these guys had the nerve to write that, the Aryan renters in this apartment building can no longer accept the fact that they have to live with a Jew under the same roof.
His family spent the next four years hiding in an elderly woman's home. In 1942, they were arrested and sent to Theresienstadt, a labor camp. Behr was assigned to transport bodies of fellow Jews for burial. He was working in the camp kitchen when it was liberated, three years later. It was when he immigrated to the United States, a few years later, that he first began talking about what he experienced.
I taught at the University of Dayton, Ohio. And they had a speakers bureau. And since I'm a fairly decent speaker, I volunteered and they assigned me to various groups, to speak about the Holocaust and World War II.
Decades later, he continues to tailor his story for every audience, to make sure they get something out of it.
You need to be very careful that whatever you say is meaningful. If it isn't meaningful, then you're wasting your time. They need to go home and saying, boy I really learned something. Most of the kids I'm talking to, the younger ones, they're always very polite, I must say that. And -- but that doesn't mean that they absorbed the enormity of the Holocaust where six million people got killed for no other reason, that they were the wrong religion and didn't choose their parents very well.
Diane Saltzman is the Director of the Survivor Affairs Program at the museum and works with a group of 90 survivor volunteers. She says, eyewitness testimony, like Behr's, is fundamental to the museum experience.
MS. DIANE SALTZMAN
It cements something about their visit to the museum that almost nothing else can. We know that right now, we are the last people who will be able to have personal one-on-one encounters with Holocaust survivors.
Robert Behr travels around the country on behalf of the museum to speak about the Holocaust. He's told his story hundreds of times.
We won't be around forever. Most of us are in the 80s and 90s and unless we can install dedication in the younger people who can carry our message, after we are gone, then we'll be lost.
So when a 16-year-old high schooler sent him an email just the other day...
She got my name and she wants to know if she can interview me.
The girls assignment was a quick turnaround but Behr said, okay.
I told her, I'd talk to her on the telephone and then I'll answer as many questions as I can.
It's one more chance, he says, to share what happened to him so that we never let it happen again. I'm Emily Berman.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is hosting interviews with Holocaust survivors through mid-August, every Wednesday and Thursday at 11:00 a.m. All interviews are open to the public. We have more information on our website metroconnection.org.
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