WALLA WALLA -- Students and community members packed an auditorium Wednesday night to hear a story of unbearable pain and survival.Lara Goodrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lilly Black, a Holocaust survivor and grandmother of Whitman student Ryan Smith, delivered the Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) lecture at Whitman College.
Black was born in Romania in 1930 to devoutly Jewish parents. In 1944, the Germans occupied the area where her family lived, which was about a quarter Jewish. At that time, 14-year-old Black had little knowledge of World War II or the Nazi's persecution and extermination of European Jews.
Black's family briefly moved into the Jewish ghetto until they were transported on a cattle train to Auschwitz concentration camp, where she and her sister Ella were separated from their parents. She never saw them again.
Black and her sister were then sent to Birkenau with many other women, where they were forced to stand in lines on empty stomachs all day long. Girls were periodically selected from the lines, taken away, and never returned.
Before the age of 15, she had already endured too much to bear.
"Every night I cried," Black said. "Never (did) a German soldier see me, but I cried because I was afraid."
Black spent time in five German camps, where she was subjected to inhumane conditions. She had a tooth pulled without medical treatment, and on Christmas Eve of 1944, all of the women in her barracks were whipped 20 times each for not confessing to "spitting on the floor." Always hungry and thirsty, she would dream about food at night.
Through the pain and confusion, Black knew she wanted to live.
"After a while, all you think about is survival," she said. "Anything else is not important anymore."
In April 1945, the Allied troops liberated the German concentration camps throughout Europe. Black recalls the relief that she felt in knowing that her days as a prisoner in fear for her life were over.
"I kept thinking about how wonderful it is to know that you're not going to be killed," she said. "This business of being killed when you're 14-and-a-half, it just was horrifying to me, and I'm sure every other girl thought the same way."
In 1946, Black moved to California to live with a cousin. She had long dreamed of coming to the U.S., where she thought "the streets (were) paved with gold, and there was so much food." Black and her sister parted ways, as Ella moved to Israel with her new husband.
In 1949, Black married, and went on to have three children and four grandchildren.
Throughout her life, she has tried to make sense of the loss of her loved ones and the atrocities she and so many others endured.
"I didn't spend too much time hating ... the Germans," she said. "I have lived through such horrible, miserable people ... They have done things that are beyond terrible ... but) I realize there are still good people in this world."