Arlette Baker was just four years old when her parents were taken to Auschwitz in 1942. The Holocaust survivor spoke Tuesday in the ballroom of the SRU Robert M. Smith Student Center about her life in France during World War II and how she still struggles with her parents’ untimely death. She said that two policemen came to the door, and arrested her parents because they refused to register as Jews and wouldn’t wear the Star of David on their clothing. Her father saved her by bribing the policemen to allow Baker to escape with their maid to her grandparents’ home.
“The experience deprived me of my childhood,” Baker said. “It was filled with only tragedy, fear and sadness.”
She used the lecture to highlight the roles of “righteous gentiles,” which were non-Jews that sacrificed their lives to help Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Her Catholic grandmother who took her in was what she referred to as a righteous gentile, as well as all of the people and churches that sheltered the Jews. She also gave this title to a baker who gave her grandfather fresh baguettes, despite the fact he was Jewish and was supposed to only eat the bread that was left at the end of the day.
She also recognized a school principal who called an assembly to explain why her Jewish cousin had to wear the Star of David on her lapel, and warned all of the children not to mock her for wearing it, an act that could’ve gotten him arrested.
After her parents were taken, they were put in La Camp de Drancy, which was a detainment camp that housed 5,000 people. In the last postcard her parents sent from Drancy, they said they hardly had enough to eat, and asked for things like dried meat and potatoes, and told Baker to be a good girl for when they came back.
“I was not tortured by Nazi prison guards, nor was my forearm tattooed, but my life has been shattered,” Baker said.
Her parents were taken to Aushwitz and killed in a gas chamber in 1943. It was seven months before she found out her parents were dead.
“Make no mistake of it, Auschwitz was not a concentration camp,” Baker said. “It was a death camp.”
She said that her mother and father would be considered “yuppies” because they were wealthy and did things like play tennis. People called her mother “a ray of sunlight,” Baker said.
Baker asked for a moment of silence during the presentation as she lit seven candles, six for the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust, and one for the homosexuals, gypsies, the handicapped and those who opposed the Nazis who were killed.
Senior political science and history major, Tyler Prevade, 21, said that he was surprised that over 200 people showed up, and he was very moved by what Baker had to say.
“She was really good at conveying emotion through her speech,” Prevade said. “It was a good reminder that it’s up to our generation to prevent horrible things like this from getting repeated.”
Of her own parents, Baker said that without her parents’ bodies, there was no closure, and she hoped for a long time that they were still alive.
After the French government admitted responsibility for the death of 70,000 Jews in 1995, the government holds an event every year where people read off the names of all 70,000 victims. Every so often, when Baker’s parents’ names come up, she travels to France to read them off, and will be doing so again next week.
She said that she is reminded of her parents every time she hears music, eats a good meal, smells pipe tobacco like her father smoked, or sees a beautiful smile, because her mother had a beautiful smile.
Baker said that when someone goes through something terrible, they can either be negative for the entirety of their life, which harms themselves and others, or they can embrace positivity.
“You must be resilient,” Baker said. “Despite the pain, I’ve always tried to do good things, live well, and do my best.”