One Family’s Genocide Survival Story

Watch STF’s special event with Rita Lurie and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie.
(Click to watch, 58:06)

April 10, 2020: To contribute to April’s Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month, Human Rights Watch Student Task Force hosted its first-ever virtual discussion with special guests Rita Lurie, a Holocaust survivor, and Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, human rights advocate. The mother-daughter duo spoke with STFers and supporters and helped them better understand the horrors of genocide and the trauma that can last a lifetime.

Rita described what it was like for her family to spend two years hiding in a tiny attic in Poland during the Holocaust (she was a young girl) and she read a passage from their memoir she wrote with Leslie, Bending Toward the Sun. They both answered questions from the virtual audience ranging from: “What are your family’s values after surviving such tragic times?” to “How do you cope with the intergenerational trauma as a result of Rita’s experience in the Holocaust?” Rita and Leslie also suggested how to advocate for human rights and how to stand up against rising anti-Semitism.

Speaking on feelings of identity and not belonging, Leslie said that it’s important to be patient: “If you feel like you are part of an adverse group, try to have one person at a time really understand you. Anything you struggle with today is going to make you a better person and a better leader.”

Additionally Leslie emphasized the importance of being an upstander who acts with courage and advocates for what they believe in. “Upstanders save thousands and thousands of lives.”

Participants were moved by their presentation and encourage everyone to watch the recording of Rita and Leslie with STF (58:06).

Lee and Isaac Gamss with Ruchel (Rita) Gamss (baby) and Sarah Gamss. Poland, 1937.
This is the only photo Rita has of her family.

Rita (center) in 1972 with her husband Frank Lurie, Gwyn, Leslie and David. Asked what she values most, Rita responded, “I value my family and life because one never knows when it just isn’t here anymore. I really value people…and I’m very happy to be alive.”

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