Remembering the hidden

One woman's story of the Holocaust

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“I never thought of myself as a survivor,” said Michelle Wilner Levy, a woman whose family was forced into hiding during the Holocaust. On the evening of Thursday Apr. 12, Levy graciously lent Muhlenberg students two hours of her time by speaking at a special event students held at Hillel. The gathering held in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah in Hebrew, began with a blessing said in honor and reverence of those whose lives were lost. Mrs. Levy briefly introduced herself, declaring, “I was a hidden child,” and left the rest of her history to be explained in a documentary, “Letters to Frieda,” created about her family’s tragic and extraordinary past.

Levy, born in Paris only three weeks after Kristallnacht, was brought into the world during a highly dangerous time for her upper-class Jewish family. Soon after her family’s successful escape from Germany to France, her father was taken to a stadium in Paris and incarcerated. He agreed to join the French army and was immediately deployed to Africa, leaving Levy and her mother to fight to board a train departing Paris that was headed for a small town in northwest France. When her father returned and found work in southern France, Michelle and her mother had to make another dangerous journey over the border of German-occupied territory with fake papers in hand.

Soon after, the entirety of France was controlled by the Nazis, forcing the family to flee to a small town in the country. During this time, Mrs. Levy recalls living in fear, describing playing the “quiet game” with her mother in order to avoid discovery. When asked if how this affected her childhood, she said, “You never knew what was around the corner … so you did your best to live whatever life you could.” The film concluded with her family’s tragic discoveries of what had happened to their extended relatives, most of whom could not escape the Nazis. Mrs. Levy is currently attempting to recover all of the written records and personal letters that document her family’s history and lives. After the film, Mrs. Levy generously answered numerous questions from the students in attendance. In response to a question about growing up with the knowledge of what she had survived, she described her experience growing up in America post-World War II.

In elementary school, a boy had called her a racial slur assigned to Jewish people, causing her to ask her parents what it meant. It was not until then that she discovered her Jewish heritage. She implored attendees to stop racism and bullying, stating, “I want to encourage others to stand up when they see something wrong, to take action.”

Jaelyn Blonder ’21 was deeply moved by the event. With tears in her eyes, she described the impact Levy’s story had on her, stating, “It’s just amazing to me. I’ve seen and talked to a couple of survivors in my life. Seeing someone who has withstood so many atrocities in front of you shows how many people the Holocaust affected, not just the millions who perished.”

The event concluded with beautiful poetry readings to honor the deceased and the survivors, as well as a request from the joyful Levy for a group photo to commemorate the evening.

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