Holocaust survivor shares story at SLC

Champlain-St. Lawrence College had the privilege of welcoming Leslie Vertes, a remarkable man with a painful past and an extraordinary passion for life on October 16. At 83 years of age, Vertes is one of the few remaining survivors of The Holocaust, the event responsible for the murder of six million European Jews during the Second World War.

In an hour-long talk to students, he shared his experiences as a victim of the unutterable horrors that took place less than a century ago.

As our ears listened, our minds struggled to make some sense of the inhuman treatment that these innocent men, women and children suffered and died from. There are no words to describe such cold-blooded crimes, but Vertes, though pained by his memories, tried to help us understand. With our mouths wide open, we listened and tried to imagine what Vertes went through.




Leslie Vertes surrounded by the students and teacher

who heard his story at champlain-St. Lawrence.

Vertes survived a firing squad of the Hungarian Nazi Party, The Arrow Cross, by playing dead when a Jewish girl, just shot and bleeding, fell on him. He survived in hiding for months by using false papers stating he was Catholic, but was caught and nearly tortured, escaping only due to luck.

He was put into a Russian Gulag and nearly starved and worked to death, but again luck intervened, and he was brought back from near-death by a compassionate intern. This is why Vertes says he was born not once, but four times.

Vertes mentioned several times in his talk that genocide is the direct consequence of exclusion, discrimination and hatred. Vertes tells us that no culture or civilization is immune to racism and discrimination and people must build a better foundation to their society by speaking up against injustice.

This is why Vertes feels obligated to tell his story, even though it is very painful for him to recount it, and he doesn’t sleep for days before and after giving a talk like this. Vertes believes, and I agree with him, that it is by informing future generations and by fighting with our minds against prejudice that we will prevail in ending hatred and genocide.

The Jewish Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, the Genocide of the former Yugoslavia – these are crimes against humanity that we must speak out against.

As Vertes says, “No human is more human than another.” Thank you, Leslie Vertes, for coming to talk to us, for remembering your painful past to help us make the future better.