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Holocaust survivor shares story

On December 5, 2017

BY META MISENER

VN SPECIAL WRITER

The difference between knowledge and wisdom, knowledge is what you know, and wisdom is what you do with that knowledge.

 Paula Marks Bolton, 91, is a survivor of the Holocaust, living in the Detroit area. She speaks twice a week and the Holocaust Memorial Center on Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills, about 20 minutes northwest of campus.

She was born in 1926 in Ozarkow, Poland, where she lived with her mother, father and three older brothers. Her father made textiles and her mother loved to bake. Bolton and her brothers went to the same public school. One of her brothers, who was very good in school, made sure Bolton understood her work and helped her with school work all the time.

Two of her brothers got married, the oldest had children and lived nearby. 

 Their neighborhood had a large Jewish population. She only remembers a few anti-Semitic outbreaks, but could never imagine what would happen next.

 “I was 13 years old in 1939,” Bolton said, “when the Nazis invaded Poland.” 

 She says two of her brothers were taken first. One brother, the second oldest, was able to run away before the Nazis came. Bolton heard from the streets “Alle Juden aus, all Jews out.” When the Nazis came back for her and her parents. Bolton, her family and hundreds of other Jewish people were marched down the street to a school.  It was dark, no chairs or tables in the classrooms, where they sat on the floor waiting for the next direction. 

 One of the guards was a neighbor. Bolton’s mom pleaded with him to save her daughter, but the guard hit her and said “I do not know you.”

He did know her, their children played together, did homework together and had dinner at each other’s house. That night Bolton was pulled out of the classroom, alone, and tossed across the hall in a room filled with other children, screaming and crying.

 “We were orphans already,” said Bolton.

  For the past twenty-seven years, Bolton has been sharing her story of these traumatic events to teach love and understanding.  Bolton uses her horrible experience to make herself stronger, to help others learn to understand about our differences and care for each other. “

 Her life changed so fast. She was just like everyone else, went to school, loved her family and respected her neighbors. Bolton was a child during this hard time, torn away from her family and marched into multiple ghettos, which were like holding spaces for Jews. Jewish families would take these children in and treat them as their own.

 After the ghettos, she was moved to four different concentration camps. She tells the ordeals of being kept prisoner for five years. She was humiliated, her dignity was lost and health was destroyed. They would constantly count the girls, forcing them to get naked and stand outside in front of the guards. They were feed one piece of bread and a small bowl of soup daily.

 Within these nightmares she shares an experience of compassion from one German Foreman, that meant a lot to her. He told her “to survive no matter what.” He gave her food and rags to keep warm. She did not know why he helped her, he could have been killed for doing so. Her only regret she has was not asking his name.

 “Seeing all the beautiful faces in the audience gives me the energy to continue to share with you all,” Bolton said.

Bolton and her husband came to the United States at age 24 and they became a U.S. citizen a few years later and had two daughters. She is now a grandmother of one granddaughter and a great grandmother or two boys. She is proud to say her granddaughter is in the Army and was sent overseas a few years ago.  She went to school, studied fashion and design, she worked at a fancy boutique on Livernois, Nat Green. She also volunteered often with the Jewish Women International (JWI), and for 17 years was the president of JWI. The JWI helped many people with education, raise money for poor and battered women and children. And now she shares her story with anyone who will listen.

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