Fred Speaks to Students from Montgomery College

Fred was born in Germany in December 1932 to Jewish parents. Six months later, Fred’s parents decided to flee to Belgium to escape the Nazis. Fred’s parents believed Hitler would only be in power for a couple of years, so they could return to Germany after Hitler’s dictatorship ended. Also, traveling with a child would have put the family at risk. As a result Fred’s parents decided to leave Fred with his Aunt and Uncle in Germany. Fred considered his Aunt and Uncle his mother and father, as he grew up with them from ages 1 to 6. When the Munich Pact was signed in 1938, Fred’s family decided it was best for Fred to leave Germany. Fred’s father was a famous bridge player, and was able to work through connections to have a Christian friend bring Fred to the border of Germany and Belgium. Fred said “After some phone calls were made, I was left in Belgium with my biological father. I would have died if they hadn’t gotten me out of Germany.” Shortly after Fred escaped to Belgium, his Aunt and Uncle were deported and gassed at Sobibor, an extermination camp in Poland.

In 1942, the principal of Fred’s school was able to help Fred and his family into the underground to avoid being deported to a concentration camp. Every 3-4 months, Fred and his family moved to a new place in Southeast Belgium. In 1944, Fred, his parents and brother were finally able to leave the underground and resume life in Belgium.

On March 3, 1952, Fred came to the US alone and arrived in New Jersey. On November 24, 1953, Fred officially became a citizen of the United States. Fred said “I was a staple citizen before this point. This was the first time I had ever been a citizen of a country. Before that, I was faceless.” Fred joined in the US Army in March 1953 and served honorably for two years.

After his 2 years of service, Fred returned to the United States and attended the University of Maryland where he became Vice President of the International Club. Fred said “this was when I realized that college kids, people my age at the time, didn’t have much interest in citizenship and democracy. In a dictatorship like Hitler’s, you couldn’t debate. If you debated, you were put in jail or executed.” This is where Fred’s idea for presidential debates stemmed from. After this idea had been formed, Fred approached members of both political parties, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Theodore McKeldin. Unfortunately, Maryland officials decided that no political speeches could be on campus. Finally in 1958, Governor Stevenson endorsed Fred’s idea to have presidential debates on campus. Fred said “when I first came up with the idea, people told me it would never happen. Today, people call me the father of presidential debates. The presidential debates have resulted in more votes and make people feel more involved.” On September 26, 2960, Fred led the first presidential debate.

Fred wished he could speak about the Holocaust and his story of perseverance at Montgomery College. Wish of a Lifetime and Montgomery College made Fred’s dream a reality on April 6, 2017. Professor White and Professor Furgol hosted a private in-house event with 20 students from Montgomery College. In his speech, Fred enjoyed talked about promoting tolerance and respect for others, seeking opportunities and making the most of a situation, and the importance of pursuing your ideas. Although Fred’s presidential debate idea was initially denied by several people, he persevered and continued to pursue his idea. His speech not only showed the importance of never giving up, but also demonstrates how immigrants can make a difference in this country. Fred wanted to talk with students from Montgomery College because he believed the audience at this location wanted to listen and learn from him. Fred said “Some people don’t want to hear about the Holocaust. The audience at Montgomery College will.” Overall, Fred said the event was “very successful” and enjoyed spending time with the professors and students of Montgomery College.

Photo credit: Lisa Hourin

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April 6, 2017