By Jenny Edengard
On Wednesday, April 15, at 1 p.m. in The End Zone in Hillwood Commons, guest speaker Karl Schapiro, a survivor of the Holocaust, will share his story with LIU Post students. Schapiro, who is originally from Poland, survived 18 months from 1943-1944 during World War II, by living in a dugout space underneath a farmer’s barn. His family and 16 other Jews shared the space that was only 30-feet-wide and the height of a kitchen table, fighting starvation, diseases, having no sunlight and a single pipe for fresh air.
At the age of 14 in 1948, Schapiro, his parents, and baby sister immigrated to New York. Schapiro didn’t speak English when he arrived to the U.S. He was determined to succeed and his motto has always been “learn and you will know.” He was self-taught by listening to music, reading comics, and working in a candy store. He pushed himself and through hard work and determination, he learned to read and write in English. He attended Brooklyn Tech High School and graduated in the top 10 percent of his class.
After high school, he went on to the Cooper Union for his bachelor’s and to Columbia University for his master’s in civil engineering. He worked for various organizations throughout his career, including AT&T, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Hospital of St. Raphael, and SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
Schapiro worked at Queens College as Director of Campus Facilities until 1996, when he retired. Now, 81-years-old, he speaks at various locations and to anyone who wants to hear his story. However, it was one incident while working at Queens College that made him start speaking openly about his experience. In 1995, a man wanted to advertise a discussion in the school’s newspaper about whether the Holocaust ever existed. Schapiro had never talked about his experience before and said that because of that man wanting to place an ad, he decided to speak up. After Schapiro and other faculty members were interviewed, the Holocaust-denier was never allowed to speak at Queens College again.
Twenty years ago, in 1995, Schapiro described the incident with the Holocaust-denier, saying, “It took one man to wake me up, and one interview for me to come out of the closet.”
Yoni Katz, the LIU Post campus Rabbi and the adviser for the Jewish community Hillel, arranged for Schapiro to come and speak at Post. The Amnesty International club and the Hillel club are sponsoring Schapiro’s lecture. The Hillel club hosts other educational events, holiday celebrations, Shabbat services, community service programs, and social activism programs on campus.
“I am hopeful that the lecture helps Jewish people connect with their faith and connect with their Jewish history, and that they are brought back to their heritage,” Rabbi Katz said. “Karl has an amazingly inspiring story, of how he overcame the challenges of childhood trauma, and became so successful.”
The human rights club, Amnesty International, is also sponsoring the lecture. Rachel Haas, a junior Design major who is a board member of Amnesty International, described their club. “Our goal is to spread awareness of various human rights issues, and to advocate for those lawfully incarcerated for expressing their opinion on government issues in different countries around the world.”
“I am thrilled to get the opportunity to hear such a moving story and to see such an inspirational survivor,” Haas added. “I have heard so much about him and how inspirational his speeches are; to be able to have him come to Post is a privilege.”
The lecture is being held on Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance day. Yom Hashoa is a day of remembrance of victims and to honor survivors. Schapiro’s speeches are motivational speeches to empower listeners that anyone can live the life they want. He conveys the importance of remembrance from a firsthand eyewitness.