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Concentration Camp Survivor Visits Bowling Green to Warn about Impacts of Prejudice and Hate

Kevin Willis

Bowling Green is being visited this week by a musician, author, and speaker who talks to audiences about the impacts of hate and prejudice on society.

Sam Marder knows that lesson all too well. When he was ten, he and his family were marched out of their town in Romania by the Nazis and eventually sent to a concentration camp in Ukraine.

Mr. Marder survived the ordeal, but his father didn't. After being freed from the camp after three and a half years, Marder grew up to become a professional violinist who continues to play to this day as a member of the Radio City Music Hall Orchestra in New York City.

In speaking with WKU Public Radio Thursday, Marder talked about the rise of hatred towards Jews he experienced in Romania during the lead up to World War II. He says his father believed the rumors about German barbarism towards Jews couldn't have been possible since the Germans were such a cultured people.

"One morning we got a knock on the door, and a soldier came in and told us to grab everything we could and go downstairs," Marder said. "When we came out we saw hundreds of people already lined up with sacks of whatever they could grab.”

“Before we went down, a German friend of my father came up to our apartment, locked the door behind him, and told my father that he was going to get us out there and take care of the family as long as necessary. The war was not going to last forever, he said.”

“My father refused. Then I found out the reason my father refused. One, he didn't want to put the man in danger. And the second reason was, he did not want to be an exception. He said, ‘If other people go, then I don't want to be an exception.’”

Marder and the other Jews from the area were packed into trains and taken towards Ukraine. Many died along the way. They were then marched by foot through terrible weather and muddy roads for miles on end. Those who fell behind were shot.

When they finally reached the camp location, they were packed into homes with 50 people in a room during the freezing winter with no food.

After spending more than three years in the camp with his mother and sister, the three were taken by the Red Cross to a nearby town to be relocated someplace safe. But a battle broke out between the Russian Red Army and the German S.S. troops in that town.

Sam Marder eventually emigrated to the U.S. after the war, continuing his passion of playing the violin. He has performed recitals with orchestras around the world. He says about ten years ago he started having nightmares and couldn't sleep. It was at that time that Marder decided he wanted to speak to young people about the impact prejudice and hatred can have on the world.

"I tell them that they can improve their lives by making sure that they are kind to each other, don't judge people as groups. They should only judge them as individuals, no matter what language they speak, no matter how they dress, or what background they come from."

Sam Marder is the author of a new book titled Devils Among Angels: A Journey From Paradise And Hell To Life.

Sam Marder has several speaking engagements in Bowling Green that are free and open to the public.

He is giving a talk Thursday night at the Barnes and Noble on Campbell Lane at 7 p.m.

Saturday he'll speak at the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center Recital Hall on the campus of WKU beginning at 7:30 p.m. During his time in Bowling Green, Marder has also spoken to students at Greenwood High School, Drakes Creek Middle School, and at WKU.

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio. He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.