Dr. Roger Loria speaks about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor last week at Chesterfield Baptist Church.
Reflecting on the Holocaust some 80 years later, Dr. Roger Loria knows he was “one of the lucky ones.” But for a couple of extremely close calls, he could’ve been among the many Jewish children killed in German concentration camps.
Loria was just 3 when he and his mother fled their home in Antwerp, Belgium – avoiding capture only after being alerted by a family friend of approaching Nazi soldiers.
They settled in France and were living with several other refugees when the Gestapo again came to their front door. Loria’s mother jumped out a back window, grabbed her young son who was playing out in the yard, and they escaped into the woods.
Traversing central Europe on foot, they somehow managed to survive and make their way to a Swiss refugee camp by 1944. Many family members were not as fortunate; roughly 70 relatives on his father’s side died at the hands of the Nazis.
For the next 50 years, even as he became an internationally recognized expert in virology and immunology and helped train thousands of physicians, Loria could not bring himself to talk publicly about the Holocaust. It was just too painful.
Amid a new, alarming wave of anti-Semitism globally, however, he feels a sense of duty to educate people about that horrific period and not let it fade into oblivion.
“I’m a survivor. I’m one of the lucky ones who made it out. I have a responsibility to speak and that’s what I’m doing,” said Loria, who recounted his experiences during an address last week at Chesterfield Baptist Church.
In recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Virginia Holocaust Museum sponsored Loria’s presentation to participants in Chesterfield Parks and Recreation’s 50+ Active Lifestyles program.
Now 83 and a professor emeritus in the VCU School of Medicine, Loria recalled seeing photos of so many Jewish babies whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis almost before they had begun.
“They don’t know what religion they are. They have no idea who they are, what they are. They want a blanket and a bottle. That’s all,” he said.
He also lamented the “pure hatred and ignorance” being directed at Jewish people today, saying he never would’ve believed it could return to levels seen during and immediately after World War II.
“I’ve said the Jewish people are the canary in the coal mine. That’s why it’s so important to talk about the Holocaust – it’s an example of what can happen to other minorities. It’s the same for Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge … all of these atrocities are from the same model. We need to keep talking about them so humanity learns something from it,” Loria said.
“It’s so important that we keep history alive,” he added, “because if you don’t know your history, you’re going to repeat it and make the same mistakes again.”