In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance day on January 27, Gigi Manukyan, United Nations Club-President, and Dr. H. Eric Schockman, Director of the Center for Leadership, hosted Holocaust survivor Joseph Alexander, who spoke about his experience surviving twelve concentration camps as a young man.
Alexander told his extraordinary story of courage to a standing-room-only audience of students, faculty, staff and media, speaking with his shirt cuff rolled up to reveal the numbers 14284 tattooed on his arm while imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The 96-year-old stood for an hour relaying in frank terms the series of dreadful events that moved him through the Warsaw Ghetto, concentration camps, and even liberated Poland, which remained a dangerous place for Jews.
Born in 1922 in Kowal, Poland, Alexander and his family enjoyed a comfortable and stable life in Blonie until Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. In late 1940, the German military transported Blonie’s Jews to the Warsaw Ghetto. Alexander’s father bribed some guards to let Joseph and two of his siblings escape back to Kowal. This was the last time he saw the rest of his family. From Kowal, the Nazis sent Alexander to 12 different concentration camps including Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, he was sent from Auschwitz back to the Warsaw Ghetto to clean up the destruction’s aftermath. As the Polish Home Army advanced towards Warsaw, the Nazis sent Mr. Alexander to camps in Germany, and then on a death march.
While captive, Alexander experienced forced labor under threat of death and starvation conditions, building a damn, sewers, an airport, and laying railroad tracks and cobblestone streets. He experienced blood poisoning, skin maladies, and huddled for days behind brick piles in the destroyed Warsaw Ghetto, suffering from typhus. American troops liberated him in 1945. He immigrated to the United States in 1949 where he married and had two children. Alexander continued his work as a tailor in Los Angeles and is a leading voice on Holocaust remembrance. The offices of Assemblywoman Laura Friedman and Senator Anthony Portantino honored him at the College of Liberal Arts event with certificates of commendation.