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One family's ordeal at Auschwitz leads their descendant to talk about experiences at the notorious death camp
by: Submitted photo, Peter Wigmore

A local family is speaking out about events that happened more than 60 years ago.

Peter Wigmore, of Gladstone, will be speaking at the Tigard Library, Nov. 17 describing his family's ordeal at the hands of Nazis while interred at Auschwitz - the infamous Nazi concentration camp where more than 1 million people lost their lives during World War II.

'It's so difficult to focus on the horrors that happened there without focusing on a specific person,' said Wigmore, 59, a retired teacher from the Lake Oswego School District. 'So I will focus on my mother and her family and what happened to them while they were at Auschwitz.'

This is the third year that the Tigard Library has hosted events around the Holocaust.

'My personal philosophy on this is that there are some things that deserve to be remembered, such as (Neil Armstrong landing on the moon) and some things that need to be remembered, such as the murder of 6 million people,' said Erik Carter, a Tigard Library reference librarian who heads the annual talks.

This year's talk is in observance of the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, a coordinated attack by the German government which ended in the deaths of 99 Jews, and the arrest and subsequent placement of 25,000 to 30,000 in concentration camps.

Wigmore's mother, Rosa, was sent to the concentration camp in Poland in 1944 with her family when she was 20 years old. During her time in the camp she was one of many Jewish prisoners subject to experimentation by Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor known for his frequent use of inmates for human experimentation.

'I have high hopes for this talk,' Carter said. 'It's certainly going to be shocking.'

Wigmore's mother was sent to the gas chambers on three separate occurrences, Wigmore said, but was pulled from the line each time by workers at the camp.

She and her elder sister were the only two people from her family to survive.

The effects of her time at Auschwitz left Wigmore's mother with chronic health problems - which Wigmore attributes to Mengele's experimentation.

Now, at the age of 86, Wigmore's mother lives in the Portland area. Other Holocaust survivors have spoken at various events throughout the years, but - Wigmore said - the experience was so horrible that his mother cannot bear to speak to people about them, so Wigmore does it for her.

'She's aware that I do these talks,' he said. 'But she can't bring herself to do them because it's just too emotional for her.'

While the events of six decades ago may be written in history books, Wigmore believes that the events are still relevant today,

'The Holocaust happened because of extreme racism and prejudice and outright bigotry,' he said. 'It happened because no one took a stand to say no, this is not going to happen.'

More than 11 million people were killed during the Holocaust, 6 million of which were Jews.

'It's a horrible history of the human race,' he said. 'It's a difficult subject to talk about, but I'm convinced that if we don't talk about it, don't learn these lessons, we're dooming ourselves to it happening again. Germany was defeated, but not Nazism. Bigotry and racism still exist even in our backyards so we need to be vigilant and the way to be vigilant is to understand why it happened to make sure it doesn't happen again.'

Wigmore's Holocaust lecture will take place Nov. 17 in the community room, of the Tigard Library, 13500 S.W. Hall Blvd., at 7 p.m.

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