NORTHERN MICHIGAN UNIVERSITY
DECEMBER 11-12, 2009
HONORARY DEGREE RECIPIENT
AND COMMENCEMENT SPEAKER
ERNA BLITZER GORMAN
A child survivor of the Holocaust, Erna Blitzer Gorman was born in Metz, France in 1934. Her father was a Jewish Immigrant who came to France from Poland and her mother was from an Orthodox Jewish home in the Ukraine. Germany invaded Poland in 1939 while Erna’s family was there attending an aunt’s wedding. With the disappearance of her Polish relatives at the hands of the Nazis, the family went to the Ukraine to live with Erna’s grandmother. The Nazis invaded the Ukraine, killing and deporting Jews to concentration camps and Erna’s family moved to a ghetto where they hid in fear and constant hunger in a dug-out cavity in a basement. They then fled the ghetto to the woods, where they met a Christian farmer who agreed to hide them. Unbeknownst to even the farmer’s family, Erna’s family of four lived in a hayloft for almost two years where they could not stand or speak aloud, with the farmer bringing them food and water during the night.
In February of 1944, the Russian Red Army arrived in the Ukraine and Erna’s family, unable to walk, were carried one-by-one by the farmer out of the barn so they could obtain help from the soldiers. The Russian soldiers were attacked by the Germans, and Erna’s mother perished from injuries sustained in this battle. After World War II ended Erna, her sister, and her father moved back to France. Having received no formal education, Erna was unable to read or write. She was the constant target of persecution and discrimination due to her Jewish roots.
In 1953 Erna and her father immigrated to Detroit to live with her aunt. She found work in a factory in Detroit and eventually met and married Herb Gorman. They have two sons, Mark, a physician who specialized in neurology at the University of Vermont and Robert, a corporate attorney in Chicago. The Gormans have three granddaughters.
Erna Blitzer Gorman did not speak of her traumatic experiences during the Holocaust to anyone for almost 40 years. When her memories were re-activated in the 1980s after seeing neo-Nazi skin heads on television shouting they would finish what Hitler had started, she decided to tell her husband and sons what she had experienced and to speak publicly about the Holocaust.
Since then Erna Gorman has made it her mission to teach others, especially children, about the dire results of a society that promotes intolerance and discrimination. During the past 20 years Erna has spoken to thousands of people about the importance of tolerance in society. Through Erna’s work, she carries the message that the actions of one person, like those of the Christian farmer who saved the lives of her Jewish family, can affect many.
Erna Blitzer Gorman will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Education at Northern Michigan University’s Commencement Exercises.