“Sadly, tonight’s history lesson has great resonance in today’s world.”
Joanna Mendelson, senior investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, introduced last night’s speaker with this painful truth. Zenon Neumark, now 95 years old, survived the Holocaust as a teenager by escaping from two labor camps and living as a fugitive under a false identity in Warsaw and Vienna. The Crossroads Equity & Justice Institute invited Neumark to speak at the School on Dec. 18 as part of its Younes and Soraya Nazarian Equity & Justice Distinguished Lecture Series.
Neumark shared his harrowing experiences to a packed house, recalling the brutality of the labor camps, the dangers of escape and the challenge of secretly working for two opposing resistance groups. Throughout his riveting talk, the current threat of white supremacist ideologies and anti-Semitism—both in the U.S. and abroad—loomed large.
"History repeats itself, but in such cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done,” Derric J. Johnson, founding director of the Equity & Justice Institute, stated during his opening remarks.
Younes and Soraya Nazarian's support of the Equity & Justice Institute is part of their legacy promoting education as the most important catalyst for societal change. Their grandson, Crossroads sophomore Adam Baradaran, asked Neumark during the Q&A: “What life lessons from your experience should I share with my peers, and one day, my children?”
Neumark’s response offered an inspiring antidote to the troubling parallels between history and the present day.
“Number one: Read the warning signs,” Neumark said, explaining how the leaders of the day failed to acknowledge the escalating threat to European Jews until it was too late. “And number two: If you see evil, stand up and speak up against it, no matter whom it’s against.”
The weekend prior to Neumark’s talk, the Equity & Justice Institute organized five guided tours
of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in order to provide the community with additional historical context.