On Monday, October 20, 2008, two hundred people attended the dedication of the Eva Brown Peace and Tolerance Educational Center at El Camino College in Torrance, California.

Donations may be sent to the following address:

Eva Brown Peace and Tolerance
Education Center
El Camino College
16007 Crenshaw Blvd.
Torrance, California  90506



Eva Brown speaking at El Camino College June 2006


In June 2006, I was asked to be the commencement speaker at El Camino College in Torrance, California.

I was also awarded a Proclamation.

The following is a transcript of my speech that was co-written by my daughter, Nancy Brown:

 

"When I was asked to be a Keynote Speaker at your graduation, I was immediately overcome by amazement and dread.  Amazement, that I, a foreigner with a 6th grade education was chosen to inspire you.  And dread that I would not be able to.

I have spent a lot of time worrying over what I could possibly say to you that would mark this momentous occasion.  What would you take away from this?  Our differences are so great - you are at least sixty years my junior and have a least fourteen years of education.  You have mastered the electronic world of computers, digital cameras and cell phones.  I can hunt and peck on a typewriter, take photos with my Kodak and would never give up my rotary phone.  But the biggest difference is our education: you are graduating from El Camino College and I graduated from Auschwitz.  If your enemies are your teachers, I  have learned so much from the Nazis.

To understand my message, you must know my story. Seventy-nine years ago, I was the middle child born to a rabbi and his wife in a very small town in Hungary.  My childhood was spend with my six brothers and sisters.  life was simple and carefree - we played, went to school and celebrated the holidays.  But in the midst of this normalcy, German boots were marching across Europe.  In 1944, Hungary was invaded and my life was turned upside down as my father was taken away to a labor camp. My mother, younger siblings and I were sent to the ghetto.  Struggling with hunger and exhaustion, I did not think things could get worse until the cattle cars came and took us to Auschwitz - a place of unimaginable horrors and atrocitites - and ferocious beauty and tenacity of the human spirit.  It is a bizarre coincidence that this occured on June 9, exactly sixty-two years ago on a Friday night.

As I watched my mother and brother and sister led to the gas chamber, I could not understand the depravity and madness of human beings reflected in Hitler's "final solution." Everyone's past was erased.  No distinction was made between doctors, lawyers, teachers, shoemakers, and honor students: each identity was reduced to a blue tattoo number branded on our forearms.

I found solace in the compassion of the Nazi guard that brought me food and a blanket to shield me from the bitter cold.  I learned that to make myself valuable was to live.  At 15 years of age, I had expected to be dating, going to school and planning a dazzling future.  Instead I concentrated on discovering talents that would keep me alive: giving manicures, haircuts, and massages to my captors.  I became an experimental scientist of my own body and mind.  I carefully balanced my food intake and energy output so I was able to finish all my work.  Death was certain for those that fell asleep or behind in their assignments.

Even under these most dehumanizing conditions, we had choices.  Some committed suicide by throwing themselves on the electric barbed wires; others overcame starvation and sickness by sheer force of will in their determination to live.  We prayed and comforted each other and vowed to make sure that one day the world would know what happened to us.

I learned psychology - especially the art of denial and distance.  I dreamt of my future - looking beyond the smoke from the gas chambers.  I planned my life.  I would find my family, get married, buy a house, and have children.  I selected my wardrobe and menus - visions of shiny silk dresses, warm woolen coats, stuffed goose and rich pastries filled my head as I removed gold teeth from dead prisoners.  I named my smiling healthy children as I clipped the German officers' mustaches and I danced with my dashing husband as I filed their nails.  I designed my living room and chose wall paper for my bedroom as I worked outside in my bare feet as icy rain and snow soaked through me.

After Liberation, I reunited with my father and learned that sixty  members of my family had perished during the war.  At seventeen, I was struggling to regain footing in a world that had been pulled from under my feet.  I left for America with nothing but a desire to rebuild.  I had lost my family, my country, an entire lifestyle.  But I married, raised two children and learned to speak a new language.  I worked, paid taxes, and gave to charity.  My fellow survivors and family never talked about our experiences.  It was like a bad dream we forgot after waking up in America.

In the media, the Holocaust was sensationalized or sentimentalized - it did not ring true.  I remembered the fear in the young Nazi guard's eyes as he reluctantly carried out his orders.  In 1994 I saw "Schindler's List" and was transported back to that terrible time and place.  As I watched the survivors pay tribute to the man who saved them, I vowed to break my silence.  After waiting fifty years, I was finally ready to tell my story. While I could not speak for the dead, I would honor their memory by sharing my experiences.  And so I became a teller of stories.

I volunteered to give testimony for the Shoah Foundation and the Museum of Tolerance.  Speaking as a Jew who comes from far away, I share my family's story with a diverse audience; Catholics, Muslims, agnostics, young and old.  I speak of loss and redemption, of the evil that people are capable of and the good with which they can heal.  The Nazis taught me the power of forgiveness.  This enables me to spread my message of tolerance and respect for everyone.  People from all walks of life relate to my experiences.  I have found that faith and age are not the common denominators.  It is by being part of the human family with the realms of emotions that touch us all - grief, terror, joy - that people embrace my determination to ensure that the world will never forget what happened over sixty years ago.

My story is also about the randomness of how we're placed in life and how we respond.  The greatest lesson that I have learned is captured in a quote by Albert Einstein, "There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."  The fact that I am celebrating here today with you confirms that I am living the latter.

Sixty years ago, the world ignored the genocide of the Jews.  Today, in America, 25 State Curriculum regulations require the Holocaust to be taught and 24 others implicity encourage it.  My life has come full circle.  I enjoyed so many opportunitites here and always felt that I was riding on a train without a ticket.  There was a larger debt to be repaid.  for a family that journeyed to this country for freedom, I am finally paying the fare.

And so my message to you is to never give up.  follow your dreams and always have hope.  Be involved in your life through your family, friends, and public service - play a role in making your community and your country safe, that every citizen may enjoy their freedom just as I have."

 

El Camino College has established the Eva Brown Foundation Fund to provide educational and historical information about the Holocaust to El Camino College students and the community.  The monies raised will be used to develop curriculum, workshops, and other programs that will continue my teachings on the the Holocaust and the importance of tolerance in our society.

If you would like to contribute, please send your tax-deductible donation made payable to the EL CAMINO COLLEGE FOUNDATION. Please indicate by letter or on your check that you wish the donation to go to the Eva Brown Foundation Fund.  Send to:

Eva Brown Peace, Tolerance, and Educational Center
El Camino College
16007 Crenshaw Blvd.
Torrance, California  90506

 

In 2012 The Eva Brown Memorial Scholarship was established  to insure that her message of tolerance and her legacy will not be forgotten.

On Thursday, February 13, 2014, the Grand Opening of the Social Justice Center was celebrated. Using the proceeds from The Eva Brown Foundation, the students purchased books for the newly minted Eva Brown Memorial Library. Eva's family proudly attended and her granddaughter, Kimberly Brown, M.D. gave a commemorative speech. The Library will stand as a tribute to this incredible Woman of Valor.

 

For more information, please contact:
El Camino College

 

 

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Eva Brown