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Robert Behr has been sharing the story of what happened to him during the Holocaust for more than six decades. When you ask him if he’s ever tired of retelling his past, the answer is a flat-out "no."
From the very beginning, he was committed to sharing his story for those who are interested. He travels around the country on behalf of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to speak about the holocaust, and has volunteered his German language skills there every Friday for the past 13 years.
Behr worked for the U.S. Air Force after immigrating, but it wasn't until he took on a night job at the University of Dayton that he began to open up about his then-recent experience under the Nazi dictatorship.
“They had a speakers bureau,” he says, “And since i'm a fairly decent speaker, I volunteered.”
They assigned him different groups to speak about the holocaust and World War 2. And while he was a history teacher, he began to use his personal story to convey what truly happened.
When Behr was 12 years old, he and his parents were evicted from their apartment after receiving a letter. In a video interview on the USHMM’s website, Behr recalls that “these guys had the nerve to write that these Aryan renters cannot 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.
Every time he tells the story, he tailors it for the specific audience to make sure they get something out of it. “You need to be very careful that whatever you say is meaningful. They need to go home and say, 'Boy, I really learned something.'”
Diane Saltzman, Director of the USHMM Survivor Affairs program, works with a group of 90 survivor volunteers. She says eyewitness testimony “cements something about [a] visit to museum that nothing else can. I think it leaves an indelible impression. We are the last people who will be able to have one on one encounters with holocaust survivors.”
The way Behr sees it, it’s practical. He’s passing the story on to future generations. “We won't be around forever. Most of us are in the 80s and 90s…so, unless we can install dedication in younger people who can carry on the message, it will be lost. It is important that we send our message to people who will be around much longer.”
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is currently hosting a series of public events where twice a week a Survivor is interviewed live about their experience during the War.
Music: "Prologue - Babushka" by Paul Cantelon from Everything Is Illuminated Original Movie Soundtrack