Holocaust Survivor Visits Monroe with a Message about Human Dignity and Inclusion

“Remember, people are essentially all the same, except for some differences that aren’t (important) as far as our humanity is concerned.”  -- Dr. Annie Leiser-Kleinhaus

Monroe’s Honors Program was very proud to recently host Holocaust-survivor Dr. Annie Leiser-Kleinhaus for a virtual visit with the College community.

She spoke as a guest speaker for an honors course called “Human Rights Movements in History.” Students, faculty, and staff from across the College were invited to attend the program and hear her powerful first-hand account of this dark time in world history.

Professor Kathryn MacDonald, coordinator for the Honors Program at Monroe, made the opening remarks before turning the presentation over to our special guest.

Dr. Kleinhaus began with a very powerful message, telling the audience:  “I am not here as a victim. In spite of everything that happened to me, I have had a very successful life… I can’t think of anything that would have been better had I not gone through that awful time.”

he continued:  “To the younger generation, let me just say that you should never give up. Whatever happens, you must get up and move on. If you do that, then you can reach the goals that you’ve set for yourself.” 

Born in Antwerp in 1936 to two Polish immigrants, Dr. Kleinhaus was a child during World War II. When the German occupation of Belgium began in May 1940, she was a mere four years old.

Her family was not wealthy, but she recalls her earliest memories as a child were very happy ones indeed. Regretfully, that would change of course, as she was forced to flee the place she called home with her parents and other family members.

During her hour-long presentation, Dr. Kleinhaus spoke about how, shortly after being smuggled into France, she was separated from her family and sent to an orphanage as a precautionary measure. She would eventually be returned to her mother and hunker down with her in France, posing as Catholics until the war ended and they could return to Antwerp. Her father had been sent earlier to a concentration camp, but he was liberated and rejoined the family in Belgium.

Said Professor Kathryn MacDonald, “Annie's testimony to her experience during the Holocaust was extremely impactful and moving. It reminds us to maintain perspective in our own lives and to be grateful for all that life offers us. Her message to embrace every human is still of the highest importance today.” 

Dr. Kleinhaus spent the rest of her childhood in Belgium, later studying in Geneva, Switzerland. She married and, with her husband, immigrated to the U.S., where she earned her doctorate in pharmacology and enjoyed a rewarding career while raising three children. Now retired, she spends her time sharing her personal story and enjoying her grandchildren.

Dr. Kleinhaus is not the first Holocaust survivor to share her story with the College community. In prior years, the Honors Program has hosted visits from Jose Coltef and Esther Geizhals as well.

Said Professor MacDonald about the importance of inviting eyewitnesses to history to speak to students: “Monroe's Honors Program strives to move student learning beyond textbooks and the traditional classroom, and first-hand accounts such as these are invaluable to understanding history. Our partnership with the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center in Westchester has allowed us to interact and learn from Holocaust survivors many times. Whether through guest speakers or field trips, the Honors Program is all about enhancing the educational experience.”