A Personal Remembrance

Julia Fishman

Image of Fred Biermann

The College’s 30th annual Holocaust Remembrance event will feature a Holocaust survivor Fred Biermann, the grandfather of student Matthew Leeds ’21.

April 19, 2021—As a little boy in Austria in 1938, Fred Biermann recalled going to school one day and being escorted into the classroom closet by his teacher. She locked the door, left him there all day, and escorted him out when the school day was complete. Thinking he must have misbehaved in some way, Biermann did not tell his mother and father. When the same thing happened the next day, he did share the disturbing news with his parents, and that’s when they knew their home was no longer a safe place.

Image of Matthew Leads with Biermann Biermann, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor, will share his story with the Marist community at the 30th annual Holocaust Remembrance event on Monday, April 26, at 7:00 pm. He will be interviewed by his grandson, Matthew Leeds ’21 (pictured left with Biermann). Organized by the Holocaust Remembrance Committee, the event will be fully online and will feature a welcome by Associate Professor of English and Jewish Studies Coordinator Joshua Kotzin, remarks by President Dennis J. Murray, and music. The centerpiece of the event will be the pre-recorded interview.

Biermann’s life story offers a particularly interesting perspective about the Nazi regime from a child’s point of view--something Leeds explored in the interview.

Born in Vienna in 1930, Biermann and his family were part of a robust Jewish community in that city, which numbered up to 200,000. On March 12, 1938, the day that Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany, Biermann saw Hitler as crowds filled the streets and tanks paraded through the city. Leeds notes that his grandfather said it was exciting. “A child’s point of view,” said Leeds. “He did not know what was coming.” The subsequent Nazi occupation led to the persecution of the Jewish population of Vienna and throughout Austria. The Biermann family escaped to France later that year.

Leeds has been part of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee since 2019. “I have enjoyed the dialogue between the different departments represented on the committee and the enthusiasm for the annual event, especially as Marist’s Jewish population has grown.”

“The committee works very well together,” said Kotzin, who serves as chair. “The members are a great cross-section of campus. Student committee members are actively involved in the event planning process, too, which is terrific.”

Last year, the committee planned to bring Biermann in as a guest speaker, but the pandemic forced a cancellation. This year, as the group was deciding about how to hold the event safely, committee members suggested the interview format. “The committee felt this format would really allow my grandfather’s voice to come through clearly,” said Leeds.

The interview was recently recorded and it was an eye-opening experience. “My grandfather has not really spoken much about his childhood or having to flee Europe. He started to tell some stories just within the last five years after my grandmother died,” Leeds explained. “The interview even gave our family a real sense of the depth of his experiences. It was very powerful.”

While many will miss having an in-person event, Leeds and Kotzin are excited that a virtual format will allow for a larger audience. Leeds summed it up, “My grandfather’s story is an important one and I want it to be shared as widely as possible.”

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Register here.

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