‘Don’t be a bystander. Silence is not gold.’ Holocaust Survivor Werner Reich’s Talk at UM

25 Jan 2018

The 90-year-old Werner Reich has many identities. He is the father of two, the grandfather of four children, a retired engineer, and a holocaust survivor. On 23 January, he came to the University of Macau (UM) to give a lecture at the invitation of Faculty of Arts and Humanities (FAH). He took the audience through that horrible period of history, from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in 1943, to the Death March in 1945. He talked about the countless people frozen to death, the defeat of the Nazi, his return to his hometown after the war was over, and his poignant sense of loss as he realised, to quote his own words, ‘no land in this world will ever feel like a home to me.’

“Look to the stars, not the mud. Life is beautiful.”—Werner Reich

At the age of 17, Reich, who only weighed 29 kilograms at the time, was forced to take off his clothes and run in front of Josef Mengele, notoriously known as the ‘Angel of Death’, along with the other boys, all of them naked, in order to show that he was healthy. He slept on a crowded bunk bed with five other males, with the gas chambers and incinerators not far away spewing up thick black smoke into the air day and night.  But looking back on the unspeakable horror he experienced as a young man, he appeared calm and somewhat detached, choosing to focus on the goodness instead of the cruelty of human nature. Every act of kindness he received during those years is engraved in his memory forever. He used a quote from Martin Luther King to end his talk, ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.’

The talk attracts a full-house audience

Marku Li, a second-year postgraduate from the FAH, felt deeply moved by the talk. ‘Werner Reich is already 90 years old, but he talked for two hours non-stop,’ said Li. ‘He is very strong mentally, with a very positive attitude. Throughout the talk, he kept repeating: Do not be a bystander. The one line that left the deepest impression on me is “Please please please take care of each other and don’t be a bystander”.’

The audience gives Werner Reich a standing ovation

Sabrina Zhao, a fourth-year student from the Faculty of Science and Technology who had already met a holocaust survivor before this talk, was even more affected. ‘They both have experienced unspeakable horror, and yet towards the end of their lives they are still so gentle, so mentally strong, so logical in their thinking, and so humourous,’ he said. ‘They still have faith in human nature and they are immensely grateful to life despite their experiences. They have seen the cruelest side of human nature, and yet they love the world more and are gentler towards other people. What happened was horrible. Recounting the experience was painful. The last holocaust survivor I met inspired both admiration and pity in me; I really wanted to hug him. But today hearing a similar story from Reich filled me with an indescribable sense tenderness, to the time and space in which we live, to life itself, to birds’ chirping and the fragrance of flowers, to the sun, the moon, and the stars. ’

Source: My UM

Media Coverage

Organizer of the talk Professor Glenn Timmermans’ interview with TDM: click here