Holocaust Survivor to Speak at Commencement

Erna Blitzer Gorman triumphed over her traumatic childhood as a Holocaust survivor and now shares her experiences and message of tolerance with worldwide audiences. The Bloomfield Hills resident will deliver the keynote address at Northern's mid-year commencement on Saturday, Dec. 12. She will also receive an honorary doctor of education degree. The ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m. in the NMU Superior Dome.


Gorman was born in Metz, France, in 1935. Her family of four was in Poland attending her aunt’s wedding when World War II started. Unable to return to France, they moved to what is now Ukraine to live with relatives. The German occupation followed and Gorman’s father was forced to help bury Jews in mass graves. As ghettos were established and their relatives disappeared, a farmer offered to hide the family in a small hay loft in his barn.

The farmer brought them food and water each day, but kept them a secret from his children. The family couldn't leave the barn and had to whisper. There were no windows in the loft—only a crack in the roof—and because they weren't able to wash themselves, they soon developed lice. All became lethargic from not being able to move around. They stayed in the barn for almost two years. Gorman's father told his two daughters many fairy tales to keep them from going insane.


As the Russian Red Army approached in 1944, the farmer carried the members of Gorman’s family—one by one—out of the barn because they couldn’t walk. They crawled toward the Russian soldiers, who helped them into an army truck. When the vehicle was shot at by a German airplane, Gorman’s mother was wounded and later died. Gorman, her father and older sister stayed at a Russian field hospital and returned to Metz after the war. Gorman was the target of discrimination by her French schoolmates, so her father placed her in a Jewish school. They immigrated to the United States in 1953.

Gorman did not speak of her experiences to anyone until the late-1980s. When she saw Neo-Nazi “skinheads” on a TV newscast saying they wanted to “finish Hitler’s work,” she decided to tell her husband and two children what had happened to her. She has since shared her experiences, framed in the positive context of equality and tolerance, at educational institutions in the United States and overseas. Gorman has participated in the Holocaust education programs at Phelps Middle School in Ishpeming, visited NMU classes and delivered the keynote address at the local Holocaust Memorial Service.   


Northern’s commencement will be broadcast live on WNMU-TV.


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Updated: November 19, 2009

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