Those who survived the Holocaust have an obligation to speak for those who didn't, award-winning documentarian Herbert Hochhauser told Congregation Beth Yam on Sunday at its Hilton Head Island synagogue.
Hochhauser, who was born in Berlin to Jewish parents under Adolf Hitler's rule, considers himself lucky that he and his parents weren't among the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust.
His family was torn apart during World War II when his father was sent to a labor camp. As a boy, Hochhauser spent life as a refugee in Swiss and French orphanages, he told congregants during the Sunday service of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
He and his mother and father were reunited after the war and immigrated to the United States. At first, the sound of New York City police sirens sounded to him like the air raids in Europe, and he would run into the nearest basement anytime he heard them.
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"You had to jump or you don't survive," Hochhauser said. "You learn not to trust any other human being."
The family eventually settled in Cleveland and Hochhauser, after struggling to get an education thanks to his limited English, went on to Ohio University. Some of his fraternity brothers there now attend the Hilton Head synagogue and invited Hochhauser to speak during remembrance services, said Rabbi Brad Bloom.
One of Hochhauser's Emmy award-winning documentaries, "Robert Clary A-5714," was screened Saturday night as part of the remembrance. The film follows French actor Robert Clary, featured on the American television series "Hogan's Heroes," as he travels to Europe to recount his experience at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The retelling of the Holocaust's horror by survivors is a "painful but necessary" part of Yom HaShoah, Bloom said. Survivors and descendants of survivors met with teenage congregants of Beth Yam before the service to share their experience, and Bloom said that tradition is part of the healing.
"It is a cleansing of the soul," he said.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/LCBlotter.