As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, New Orleanians will have a chance to hear the first-hand account of Irving Roth, age 90, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.
In partnership with Chabad of Louisiana, Roth will share his story of survival and grit on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. at the Jefferson Performing Arts Center on Airline in Metairie.
He will also speak at a Christians United For Israel Night to Honor Israel, Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. at Pace Assembly Ministries, near Pensacola.
Born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, in 1929, Roth lived through the horrors of multiple concentration camps.
Roth and his brother were captured toward the end of the war, having been hiding in Hungary. They were sent to Auschwitz, then marched to Buchenwald when the Russians were closing in on Auschwitz. That was the last time he saw his brother.
Roth was 16 years old when he was liberated from Buchenwald on April 10, 1945, by two U.S. soldiers — U.S. Army Corporal Rick Carrier and an African-American soldier whose name he never knew, but who had entered his barracks bearing chocolate.
Carrier had been looking for a supply dump but instead stumbled on the camp.
Roth admits in interviews that he had never seen a black person before. “I tell people you may not know what the Messiah looks like, but I do. One is black and one is white.”
Among the venues where he has told that story is Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, where Rev. Martin Luther King preached in the 1950s.
After the war, Roth moved to New York in 1947 and served in the U.S. Army in Korea.
The first time he returned to Auschwitz in 1998, Roth realized the importance of keeping his memories from five decades earlier alive in the minds of Jewish youth. He is now devoted to educating young and old about the perils of anti-Semitism and prejudice, traveling the country to share his story. His book, “Bondi’s Brother,” tells that story.
After meeting Randy Neal, western regional coordinator for CUFI, a decade ago, Roth has spoken at hundreds of CUFI events. He is involved with CUFI because of the shared passion in advocating for Israel and fighting global anti-Semitism, and CUFI recently held a 90th birthday celebration for him in San Antonio.
A group of CUFI supporters in Panama City Beach, Fla., recently started Bikers for Zion, motorcyclists who ride in support of Israel. Moved by hearing Roth’s story, they asked Roth for permission to include his Auschwitz number, A-10491, with the phrase “Never Again,” on the group logo. During an April visit to Panama City, Roth was made a member of the group, and was given membership no. 1.
“By telling and retelling our stories of survival and determination, I believe we will be able to fully realize a better tomorrow,” Roth said.
Roth is the director of the Holocaust Resource Center – Temple Judea of Manhasset, New York, and spends his free time touring the United States, Canada and Europe to speak about his experiences. Roth is also an adjunct professor at the University of Maine and in addition to his autobiography has published the children’s book “Saved by Psalms: The Story of Irving Roth.”
He received the Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Citizen Award from the Anne Frank Center USA for promoting human rights and social justice, and for conceiving, developing and initiating the Adopt a Survivor program, which has been instituted in high schools and colleges nationally and internationally.
In November, he spoke at the Gordon Jewish Community Center in Nashville, in a program coordinated by Chabad of Nashville. After that program sold out, just a few days before Roth’s arrival a second talk was quickly scheduled at Congregation Micah, and it also sold out.
For the Metairie event, general admission is $18 and preferred seating is $32. VIP sponsors are $180, or $250 for a couple, and includes preferred seating, a reception with Roth and a signed copy of his book. Reservations can be made here.