Holocaust Survivor, Author, and Lecturer Honored by Greenwich ADL
A toddler in hiding during the Holocaust, Judith Kallman of Greenwich is an author and lecturer who travels across America to talk to students about being a 4-year-old child on the run with her brother, 10, in Slovakia and Hungary. Judith’s goal is to use her story to teach students to prevent genocide by explaining why it’s important to stop hate and respect everyone. Chosen by the Jewish Ledger as one of 2014’s top movers and shakers in the Connecticut community, Judith was honored last month by the Anti-Defamation League of Greenwich with the Daniel R. Ginsberg Humanitarian Award for outstanding leadership in the community.
The award is given annually to individuals who epitomize the ADL mission of recognizing that all Americans share a common heritage and dream of freedom, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. Kallman and her husband Irwin are active in many community organizations and Judith serves on the board of the Greenwich UJA-Federation and the Jewish Broadcasting Service.
In her memoir, Candle in the Heart, Kallman wrote about her childhood in Czechoslovakia, the deportation of her parents and two siblings to Auschwitz, where they were murdered, and her escape as a hidden child. When the war ended, she came under the protection of Rabbi Solomon Schoenfeld, who took her and a friend from a convent and put them on the last Kindertransport to England. Judith makes appearances in schools, synagogues, and libraries to give readings from her book and explain how the ideology of hate led the Nazis to carry out genocide. And she tells her audiences what has to be done now.
“We must stop the hate before it spreads; we can’t allow history to repeat itself,” says Kallman. When speaking to Jewish groups, Kallman tells them, “You must be a proud Jew. Stand up for who you are and what you believe in. We, as Jews, have to be strong and believe in ourselves. As a child, I became an orphan. We have to prevent this happening to future generations.”
She believes everyone is confronted with hate. “People can’t afford to be racist and antisemitic. When I speak in public schools, I tell students that whatever color or country we’re from, we’re all the same people. We have to understand and live with each other. We have to stand up and believe in peace around the world.”
Kallman has letters from students she has spoken to about how her message has affected them. “I have letters from Puerto Rican and Chinese students who said that since they heard me speak, their lives have changed. This is so beautiful, so precious. This satisfaction is the greatest gift. When I hear this response, I know I have reached them.”
Kallman believes the key to instilling compassion and tolerance in young people is teaching them values, and giving them a direction and purpose in life. “The young who are joining ISIS are lost kids. We have to capture their attention and give them strength before they have the idea to join. If you educate children from a young age about what can happen, they cannot do harm. It is the ignorant who are dangerous.”
What is happening today is frightening, Kallman says. “We have to treat terrorism like Ebola—fight it, isolate it, get rid of it. Governments must use their power and unite to stop terrorism.”
Kallman has three speaking engagements on her calendar and expects more requests to be coming soon. Last year, she had five invitations to speak on Holocaust Remembrance Day and accepted all of them. She stepped in as the keynote speaker in Teaneck, New Jersey, with one day’s notice, after the original speaker fell ill. That day, she also spoke at the Ramaz and Park East Day Schools in New York City; the Moriah school of Englewood, New Jersey, which several of her grandchildren attend and have graduated from; and Temple Shalom and Chabad in Greenwich. The next day, she spoke at high schools in Farmingdale and Washington Township, New Jersey. On April 17, she will be the keynote speaker at the State Capitol in Hartford for the State’s official Yom HaShoah commemoration.
Combatting hate motivates Judith Kallman to share her experiences and her message as much as she can—and then do more.