2017-03-17 / Front Page

Holocaust survivor speaks to Loranger students

By LIZ GOTTHELF
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Charles Rotmil told eighth graders at Loranger Memorial School on Wednesday of a recurring dream he has where he is in New York and does not have any way of identifying himself.

Rotmil blames this dream on World War II, the effects of which still haunt him more than 70 years later. Rotmil is Jewish and lived in Austria as a child where he and other Jewish people were persecuted before and during the war. 

Rotmil spoke to the students as part of STAR week, an annual event with activities promoting the theme of Safe, Tolerant, Aware and Respectfulness.

Rotmil was born in France in 1932 and moved with his family as a young boy to Vienna, Austria.

He recalled watching Hitler in a car driving through Austria, and the crowds who came to watch him, their hands raised in utter devotion.

“He was like an idol,” said Rotmil.

He showed students an illustration of a teacher showing students how to identify a Jewish nose and the indoctrination of Hitler’s wrath.

Rotmil, who was blonde and blue-eyed, said he could pass as not being Jewish.

“I got to the point I couldn’t trust anyone. I couldn’t tell anyone I was Jewish,” he said. “To be Jewish was a death sentence, I knew that.”

Rotmil spoke of signs telling people not to buy items from Jewish store owners, synagogues being burned and Jews being hung in public view.

It was 1938 when the Gestapo broke into Charles Rotmil’s Vienna, Austria, apartment, beat up his father and took him to prison. 

Rotmil also recalled his sister dying in a train crash when the family escaped to Belgium, and his mother dying soon after.

Rotmil and his brother were reunited with their father. They moved back to Austria, and his father was turned in by a neighbor, arrested, and later died at a concentration camp.

Rotmil also told of those who helped him and his brother and gave them safe places to live before they emigrated to the United States. 

Rotmil shared some happy moments of his childhood. His father was an art dealer, his mother a very warm person. He remembers eating potato latkes and being pulled on a sled by his mother. However, those happy memories often get overshadowed by memories of what to many seems unconceivable.

Social studies teacher Michael Burke said Rotmil’s speech ties in with what students are studying in the classroom. He said the opportunity to hear a first hand account of a survivor gave the students insight on what life was like for Jewish people in German-occupied countries during World War II.

Burke said the students were asked to write a reflection piece on Rotmil’s speech and were scheduled to hear a presentation from the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine on Monday.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribune.com.

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