Photo by Jamie Wiggan
Armed forces veterans Jim Gillie (l) and Bill Redden (r) listened intently to a talk about the Holocaust and the precarious values of tolerance and justice given at their senior living residence in Kennedy.
By Jamie Wiggan
More than 70 years after his release from Auschwitz, Holocaust survivor Norman Roth recognized the distinctive wrist tattoo signaling another Nazi target while waiting in line at a restaurant in Florida. The number was just one beyond his own.
It turned out Roth and the tattooed man were also waiting in line together when they met once before in 1943 on the way into the German death camp. The fact that they walked out alive a year and a half later is most likely down to a hushed instruction Roth’s father gave before they went in: “Say you’re 18.”
While many were killed as soon as they arrived, healthy young men were often kept alive for use as labor. By lying about his age, Ross was selected as a personal assistant to a Nazi officer, the youth behind him overheard and did the same.
According to Roth’s daughter, Sue Tresatti, the later encounter between the two survivors changed her father’s perspective after years of holding his tortured memories under close guard. It also energized Tresatti to speak out on his behalf.
“Since then my father has become a little more open about telling his story,” she said during a presentation to residents of The Willows in Kennedy hosted by the Greater McKees Rocks Area Rotary chapter. “My biggest thing right now is just trying to honor my father by telling his story.”
Roth ultimately made it to the United States, working his way up the food industry ladder and finally coming to own a Giant Eagle franchise in the Crafton-Ingram shopping center.
But before realizing the American dream, he endured 18 months of Hitler’s nightmare, watching friends, family and thousands of strangers put to death all around him while he attended to the officer’s personal requests.
More than a million people were killed in Auschwitz before it was abandoned in 1945, with just a small fraction surviving.
This is the part Tresatti, who took over the store from her father when he retired to Florida, wants to ensure never gets erased.
Tresatti is concerned by rising cases of antisemitism and other hate crimes seen today but believes they can be held in check by teaching history and encouraging people to expose themselves to different perspectives.
“It’s a lot harder to hate somebody that you know,” she said, urging the audience to introduce themselves to people of other races, religions or backgrounds.
“You might find you have more in common than you think.”
The message rang true with several audience members who lived through World War II.
The same year Roth and his family were rounded up by Nazis and shunted through central Europe en route to Auschwitz, Bill Reddin made the long train journey from Puxanatawney to Fort Leonard Wood in the Missouri Ozarks after being drafted by the U.S. Army.
He later spent time in the Pacific theater, and despite landing in “some heavy situations,” he said didn’t fully appreciate the war’s gravity at the time.
“We were just kids,” said Reddin, 94, now a resident of the Willows.
After returning home, Reddin learned about the Holocaust from friends stationed in Europe who had seen firsthand the camps left behind as the Nazi forces crumbled.
“If we’re not careful, it could happen again,” he said.
Jim Gillie, another resident of the Willows, served in the Air National Guard for a career spanning the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the latter years of the Cold War.
During his nearly 30 years of service, a site visit to the former concentration camp at Dachau in Germany has stuck out in his memory.
“It was sobering,” he said.