Karl Rom was about 13 years old when Nazi soldiers took over his hometown of Kovno, Poland, now part of Lithuania, and forced him and his family into a ghetto. He remained under Nazi control until freed at age 19.
Rom, now 85, will share his experience of a German concentration camp at 7 p.m. next Sunday at the Community Arts Center. The event is being arranged by Steven Moff, a Pennsylvania College of Technology professor. Moff met Rom while conducting interviews in Germany five years ago for a novel that he is writing about the German concentration camp, Dachau.
Rom, who was filmed by Steven Spielberg for the Shoah project, recalls that his experience with the Holocaust began when Kovno was "bombarded" by German troops. They then lit candles at the train station so airplanes knew where to drop bombs.
While in the ghetto, Rom's oldest sister, who had blonde hair and blue eyes, was an interpreter for a Schutzstaffel (SS) officer because she spoke the languages of the region.
"During the day time, she would leave the ghetto through the gates," Moff said.
Since Rom was not 17, he was not required to work in the ghetto but helped his father with various tasks, such as potato farming .
Rom, his mother, father and younger sister remained in the ghetto for four years. After leaving the ghetto, they were moved to Germany and split up by gender. Rom and his father were taken to a subcamp of Dachau where their belongings were taken away.
"I've interviewed a few men who had lived in these - several, actually - and they'll tell you, it's the lack of food and lack of water even. They were just thirsty all the time. They didn't have anything," Moff said.
The prisoners of Rom's labor camp built a cement airplane bunker. Going into a hole and continuously digging was his main task, Rom recalled.
"He told me about at least one guy who he knew who had just arrived - he was there for just a few days or few weeks - and he fell in and they just kept pouring cement on top of him," Moff said.
When allied forces liberated Rom's labor camp, he and his father were on a death march. They remained on the death march for two days until they were transported to Allach, another German labor camp; a few days later, they were liberated.
The days before being liberated at Allach, times were hard.
"He said, 'We didn't know what to do. We started walking down the road and just kept walking because we didn't know where to go.' And they came across a dead horse. He said within minutes the horse was gone," Moff said.
Rom said he wants the audience to learn that everyone needs to think for themselves. He believes his first-hand message will inspire the audience to stand up and not look away from things they can change.
Having Rom speak is not an opportunity that is always available in the area as the audience will have history speaking to them, Moff said.
Moff has interviewed 80 former prisoners of labor camps and said Rom is an example of how good people come out of bad things.
"He's a wonderful man. It's really funny, I call him the optimist," Moff said.