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More about Holocaust Remembrance talk-back panelist Dr. Robert Hilliard


In observance of Holocaust Remembrance Month, Lab Theater schedules a play and community talk-back each April that focuses on themes related to the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and discrimination based on religion and ethnicity. This year, The Lab will welcome concentration camp liberator Dr. Robert Hilliard, Bat Yam Temple of the Islands on Sanibel spiritual leader Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, childhood Holocaust survivor Cesare Frustaci and former Hitler Youth member Dr. Wolfgang Vogel for a special Holocaust Remembrance discussion following the April 19th performance of Visiting Mr. Green.

Dr. Robert Hilliard is a retired university professor and author. A private in the United States Army when World War II came to an end, Hilliard witnessed the extreme mistreatment of the Holocaust survivors from Dachau and Buchenwald who had congregated at a hospital in a monastery at St. Ottilien in search of food, clothing and medical care. They were emaciated, gravely ill, and still wore concentration camp stripes, and like the U.S. government over the preceding decade, the Army turned its back on them, leaving them to fend for themselves without any means or support.

“I remember their faces, particularly the little children. They had no place to go. I cry when I think of those kids, begging, begging, pleading to be allowed to go to some country where they could find a new life, find a life again,” Hilliard recounts.

In addition to smuggling them food from their own mess hall and the surrounding community, browbeating the local Burgermeisters (“the same one who’d been in power under Hitler”) into lending some aide, and giving them the shirts off their backs, Hilliard and fellow private Edward Herman wrote a letter addressed to the American public accusing them and the government of genocide by neglect. They not only personally mailed thousands of these letters to people all over the United States, they implored the recipients to send donations and forward copies of the letters to everyone they knew.

A copy of their letter found its way to President Harry S. Truman, who ordered an investigation that led to a reversal of the U.S. policy of neglect. A story in the September 30, 1945 edition of The New York Times sums up what happened – “President Orders Eisenhower to End New Abuse of Jews … Likens Our Treatment to that of the Nazis.” The Holocaust survivors got the help they needed, and Hilliard and Herman were credited with saving hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

Hilliard recounts his story in his memoir, Surviving the Americans: the Continued Struggle of the Jews After Liberation.

“I see those same faces today. The people and the children from the Middle East begging, pleading, please let us come into a country where we can start a new life. So, yes, [the Holocaust] has a very important meaning for me today.”

In Hilliard’s estimation, history is repeating itself in the auspices of the millions of Syrian refugees who are desperately trying to flee systematic genocide at the hands of Russian-backed president Bashar al-Assad.

Starring local favorite Michael Hennessey and Brandon Somers, Visiting Mr. Green starts at 8:00 p.m. The Holocaust Remembrance discussion immediately follows the performance. For more on the panelists, other Holocaust articles and the production, please follow the links provided below.

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