Hear Ambassador Richard Schifter’s personal Holocaust story

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Richard Schifter has a story to tell. He survived the Holocaust. But his story goes beyond his personal survival.

As former deputy U.S. representative to the U.N. Security Council with rank of ambassador and a former advisor to the secretary of state, he has fought for the survival of many around the world.

He will tell his story in Frederick on Sunday during the Yom HaShoah Memorial Program at Beth Sholom Community Center, 1011 N. Market St. The program begins at 11 a.m. The public is invited to hear his haunting tale and his dedication to make sure a holocaust never happens again.

In 1987, talking with Foreign Minister Shevardnadze about Jews wishing to leave Russia, he fretted that even though many Jews had left, ‘‘those remaining were positive they would never get out.” He explained the same thing happened during the Holocaust in Germany, and that ‘‘I was not going to see that happen again.”

Almost a half-century before, while living in Austria as expatriated Polish Jews, his family was told to leave quickly. ‘‘The irony of this occurrence was not lost on us,” he wrote in 1992.

‘‘For more than seven months, all our thoughts had been singularly devoted to the objective of emigration.” But they lacked entry permits.

Born in Austria, 15-year-old Schifter received a visa to emigrate to the United States to live with his grandmother’s brother. His Polish parents did not. They accompanied him to the train station, his father speaking in English to prepare him for his journey, his mother crying.

‘‘Finally, the calls announcing the train’s imminent departure were heard, and the train started to move,” Schifter remembered. ‘‘I was standing at the window now, exchanging last-minute words with my parents. As the train rolled on, I waved back at them. They waved with handkerchiefs as the platform gradually receded. Then the train came to a bend, and they were out of my sight. I was never to see them again.”

His parents died in the Holocaust.

Eleven million innocent people perished during the Holocaust, 6 million of whom were Jews, killed while much of the rest of the world was indifferent to their plight. Ambassador Schifter is dedicated to preventing today’s indifference to human suffering.

Ambassador Schifter received his law degree from Yale and sought a career in issues-oriented law. He served on the Maryland State Board of Education, its president for four years, and chaired the Values Education Commission. He was also assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs and special advisor to the secretary of state.

Yom HaShoah is an annual event worldwide. Begun in 1956, Holocaust survivors tell their experiences, many now speaking out after overcoming the fear of being persecuted again.

They speak because they know most survivors are aged, and as they die, the story of the Holocaust and its horror could be forgotten. So they speak in soft voices about hard experiences, fewer in number each year telling their stories.

They do so not out of any desire to gain sympathy for themselves, but out of a dedication to ensure that future generations will repeat the stories and remember the indifference to the horrible persecution and slaughter that existed even at the highest levels in governments around the world, including Washington, D.C.

Ambassador Richard Schifter has felt the pain of leaving behind parents who faced certain death. It formed his determination that such inhumanity to man shall never happen again.

Yom HaShoah gives us the opportunity to join with those who suffered, like humanitarian Richard Schifter, to renew a pledge: ‘‘Never Again.”


In last week’s column, I should have written that Maryland’s legislative body met in 1861 in a newly constructed building owned by the German Evangelical Reformed Church at Market and Church streets, now known as Kemp Hall.

Paul Gordon is a local historian, and was mayor of Frederick city from January 1990 to January 1994. His column appears weekly. You can reach him at prg202@adelphia.net. To send a letter to the editor in response to this column, e-mail frederick@gazette.net.