Survivors and liberators of Nazi concentration camps are fading away, but the world's memories must not.
And so, as a result of a survivor-liberator connection, the University of Nebraska at Omaha is establishing the Blumkin Professorship of Holocaust and Genocide Studies — 66 years after the outside world discovered the camps.
Sam Fried of Omaha, a survivor of Auschwitz, and Louis Blumkin of the Nebraska Furniture Mart family, who helped liberate Dachau and other camps as a U.S. soldier, have combined with their wives and UNO to help create the new professorship.
"The liberators saved our lives," Fried said. "Louie Blumkin was one of those men of valor. The Blumkins have been constant supporters of our efforts to educate — to ensure that we will never forget."
Ron Blumkin, 63, Furniture Mart president, said his father, now 92, for decades carried in his wallet a photo taken as a camp was liberated.
"He hardly ever talked about it until he was older," Ron said. "I don't believe he carried any pictures of the family. But he had one showing someone with his fingers through a fence, looking like a tiny skeleton."
The photo wasn't of Sam Fried, but that's how he looked at the end of World War II — a skeletal 80 pounds.
In January 1944, as a healthy teenager, Fried was loaded onto a railroad cattle car and transported to Auschwitz. On the train's arrival, the infamous "angel of death," Dr. Josef Mengele, motioned for people to go left to the gas chambers or right to the work area.
At least 40 of Fried's relatives, including his mother and father, were among the 6 million Jews killed in camps. Because Sam knew electronics and was useful to his captors, he survived, though barely.
A few years after the war, Sam and his first wife, Magda, also an Auschwitz survivor, came to Omaha, where Sam operated Master Electronics Co. She died in 1985.
For Fried, the UNO professorship fulfills a longtime goal. He helped organize a 1979 Omaha dinner at which survivors honored liberators — and said he hoped that an academic post would be set up at a university in the name of Louis Blumkin.
As president of the Society of Survivors of the Holocaust, Fried has spoken to thousands of students and many in other groups. Years ago he set up the Heartland Holocaust Educational Fund, which helps provide college classes on genocide, hatred and bigotry at Nebraska schools.
Through donations, Fried said, the fund has grown to about $700,000. That is being transferred to UNO, along with a donation from Louis and Frances Blumkin. (The amount was not announced, but a professorship at UNO typically requires $250,000.)
UNO will administer the renamed Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Educational Fund, which will continue to provide for courses at UNO and at four other Nebraska schools — the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Creighton University and Wayne State College.
UNO says it will recruit "a leading expert in Holocaust and genocide studies."
Adds David Boocker, dean of the UNO College of Arts and Sciences: "The Blumkin-Fried relationship is a remarkable story that demonstrates how a positive understanding of human experience can survive the worst human tragedy."
By coincidence, the Institute for Holocaust Education this weekend will open an exhibit at the Strategic Air & Space Museum in Ashland, between Omaha and Lincoln.
The exhibit by artist Matthew Placzek is titled "Searching for Humanity: Veterans, Victims and Survivors of World War II." The institute says it is not recommended for children younger than the sixth grade.
UNO and the University of Nebraska Foundation, meanwhile, will honor Sam and Frances Fried at a Nov. 29 luncheon at UNO's Thompson Alumni Center for their "lifelong commitment to Holocaust and genocide education."
Sam Fried's prison-camp ID is tattooed on his arm — A-5053. Long after the last survivors and liberators are gone, he hopes, the memory of the Holocaust will remain indelible.
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