A priceless artifact and the story of one man's survival against incredible odds have made a significant impact on students' understanding of the Holocaust in a humanities course at Pennsylvania College of Technology.
The yellow armband worn by the late Nandor Blau, a Jewish man forced into slave labor by the German army during World War II, has been loaned by the Blau family to William J. Astore, professor of history at Penn College, for the Fall 2013 semester. The Blau family resides in California and is friends with Astore.
Astore says the armband, along with Blau family photos and stories, have brought to life the horrors of the Holocaust for students enrolled in Humanities 315, The Holocaust.
An armband worn by a Jewish man forced into slave labor by the German army during World War II has helped bring to life the horrors of the Holocaust for students enrolled in a humanities course at Penn College.
"I mentioned I teach a course on the Holocaust, and the Blau family asked if I wanted to tell the story of their Uncle Nandor, who survived the Holocaust as a slave laborer. They also asked if I'd like to use the armband and photos in class," Astore said. "I jumped at the chance to show a real armband worn by a Jewish laborer who survived the Nazi slave and death camp system. The reality of that armband and Nandor's tragic story made a deep impression on many of my students. The great tragedy is that his wife and children were murdered at Auschwitz."
Blau's yellow armband indicated his status as a Jew. He marked it inside with his years of captivity: 1943-45. Photographs shared by his family show him and his wife, Rosa, with their two sons, as well as Nandor Blau with other men of his forced-labor unit.
His unit consisted of nearly 3,000 men, of which fewer than 300 survived the war.
Early in 1945, Nandor Blau escaped his labor unit and walked from Ukraine to Hungary in a stolen German uniform. He survived the war and lived until the age of 76.
The Blau story, photos and armband deeply touched student Hannah E. Marquis, a senior in culinary arts and systems from Olney, Md.
"Hearing Nandor's story reminded me how important it is for families of survivors to pass down their loved ones' stories," Marquis said. "I did not at all expect to see the armband in person, much less be able to take a picture of it and actually touch it and also to see the photographs. I am very fortunate to live just outside of (Washington) D.C. and have been able to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum a few times, but I had never been able to get so close to such personal artifacts.
"I think being able to see such important artifacts, not only on the screen during the presentation of Nandor's story, but also to see them in person, really added a new level of understanding what Holocaust victims and survivors endured. I chose to take Professor Astore's Holocaust class because I am Jewish, so not only is the Holocaust a big part of my religion and culture, but it is a very personal subject for me. Having family friends who are Holocaust survivors, I'd heard their stories many times when I was younger, and I was always taught that each story may have similarities, but they are also different and equally as important to learn from and spread."
About Nandor Blau, Astore added: "He was a remarkable man. Nandor symbolized the strong and resilient spirit of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Penn College extends its sincere thanks and appreciation to the Blau family for sharing this uniquely powerful and special artifact with our students."
Penn College's Humanities 315 course analyzes the Holocaust from the perspective of its victims, persecutors and bystanders. Documentaries, taped interviews and personal accounts are part of the curriculum.
Astore first taught a Holocaust course in 2002 at the U.S. Air Force Academy after completing a seminar on teaching the subject at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Astore began teaching Holocaust course work at Penn College in 2006 after joining the faculty in 2005. He holds a doctorate in modern history from the University of Oxford.