Holocaust survivor Martin Schiller of Fairfield is Bennett Center's Holocaust Remembrance speaker


Sixty-two years ago this month, Fairfield resident Martin Schiller was released from Buchenwald, the second of the two concentration camps that he had been sent to by the Nazis when he was a boy. Skarzysko, the slave labor camp where he was first imprisoned, was the place where he met a fellow prisoner who gave him words to live by.

Mr. Schiller said he never forgot the man's plea. "This man urged us, 'Whoever survives here must tell their story.' He didn't live. That is why I speak about my experience."

On Tuesday, April 24, Fairfield University's Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies of the College of Arts and Sciences will present a talk by Mr. Schiller at this year's Holocaust Remembrance Service. He will give a talk, entitled, "The Meaning of Freedom," at 5 p.m. in the Aloysius P. Kelley Center on the Fairfield campus. Admission is complimentary and seating is limited. Please call the Bennett Center at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2066, to register.

Schiller, now 73, said his own personal Holocaust story has relevance to the genocides going on throughout the world today. "I find it important to talk about the need to carry on the torch of remembrance so another Holocaust is prevented. I don't mean to refer to only Jews and the Jewish experience, but other cultures, too. I will also speak about what it means to be a survivor."

Schiller, a native of Poland, never went back to his homeland until 2004 when his son asked him to return there. Schiller was understandably resistant to going, but eventually changed his mind. The trip proved pivotal and cathartic. In the wake of the trip, with the encouragement of his wife, Elaine, he wrote a memoir for his own children and grandchildren. 

The memoir, published last year by Hamilton Books, is titled, Bread, Butter and Sugar: A Boy's Journey Through the Holocaust and Postwar Europe.  

The book, which Schiller calls "evidence of the Holocaust," is a riveting account of a tragic time in history. It now sits on the shelves of the Fairfield Public Library next to other books about the Holocaust in which writers bear witness to the tragedy.

Learning a trade was crucial to Schiller's survival. At Skarzyso, he learned to work the machines that made bullet shells. He noticed that the first types of people the Nazis had killed were those who were involved in the liberal arts and psychiatry, but the carpenters and electricians were spared.

His father only survived a short time after the family was captured in 1942. When he became ill, he was shot. Schiller and his brother were released in April, 1945. Their mother had been sent to another camp and they were told that no one survived her camp. They feared that she was dead. Soon, they discovered that she was alive. He and his brother then walked 150 miles to find her. They learned that she had survived a death march and played dead in a ditch.

Schiller moved to the United States after World War II and eventually settled in Connecticut where he earned a bachelor's degree from the University of New Haven. He worked for General Dynamics in Groton and eventually became an engineer in private practice in Norwalk. His specialty was consulting on air pollution control. He and his wife have lived in Fairfield since 1969 and will soon celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 10, 2007

Vol. 39, No. 200