By Mary Frasier, Staff Writer
The 4th Annual Undergraduate Tree of Life Conference, formerly know as Limmud, took place on Sunday, April 7th in Joseph Theatre. The event was separated into two parts.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies Stephen Stern introduced the first section of the event, detailing the beginning of Judaic studies at Gettysburg College and how the event began four years ago. He explained how Gettysburg College is the only undergraduate institution in the country that holds a conference of this caliber. The event has been called Limmud in past years, but he and the students who organized the event decided to change it to the Tree of Life Conference in honor of the eleven men and women who were murdered at the Tree of Life Massacre on October 27, 2018.
A student from a different college spoke first, delivering a personal monologue she had written a year after her grandmother’s passing. She spoke of her family, laughing and joking during the funeral and then again, a year later, at an event that is supposed to be somber. Her relatives told her that laughter is the way Jews face pain. While reflecting on this, she thought of the persecution the Jewish people had endured for centuries and how laughter is the only way they could survive the pain and suffering. After her moving narrative, student speakers from Gettysburg College stood one by one and read the last letters sent victims of the Holocaust.
After a brief luncheon for the attendees, the second half of the Conference began. David Tuck, a Holocaust survivor from Poland, courageously told his story to the audience. By December of 1939, he and his family had to wear a yellow armband, and then a Star of David. Tuck was soon deported by Germans to Lodz ghetto. Due to his ability to speak German, he found work with the Germans handing out food ration cards to the Jews within the ghetto. About a year later, Tuck was once again deported, this time to a labor camp in Poland known as Posen. He described barracks in which he lived as beds of straw, if they were lucky, with only one blanket per person.
“There was no pillows. The plate, the one that I ate food from it, this was my pillow,” recalled Tuck.
He knew that he was growing thinner and weaker and had to sustain himself in order to survive. When Germans threw their left-over food away, Tuck would go back later, take it out of the trash can, and eat it. He also taught himself to ration the slice of bread that Germans gave to them each morning.
“When I got the slice of bread the first time, I was hungry. I ate it! Then I had nothing to eat the whole day. Later on, what I did, I used to take a slice a bread and put it behind my shirt. Anytime I felt hungry, I took a bite. So, this would last longer,” remembered Tuck.
Two years later, when Posen was liquidated, Tuck was sent to work on the Autobahn construction. This did not last long, and he was soon deported to Auschwitz where he worked to build anti-aircraft guns. In 1945, he was deported once more to Mauthausen in Austria and then to Güsen II after that. On May 5, 1945, he was liberated from that camp by America. At that time, he weighed just seventy-eight pounds. He decided to migrate to the United States after surviving the Holocaust, in hope to find a better, happier life.
Tuck took a few questions from the students who were present and then concluded his speech saying that he will continue to spread his story so that more people will know and fight for a better world.