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Holocaust Survivor to Share His Story of Escape

By Loyola University on Tue, 01/12/2021 - 16:40

Loyola University New Orleans and Center for Jewish-Multicultural Affairs host Spanish-language presentation by Pieter Kohnstam 

(New Orleans – January 12, 2021) In commemoration of International Holocaust Day of Remembrance, Loyola University New Orleans College of Arts and Sciences and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans: Goldring Family Foundation Center for Jewish-Multicultural Affairs invite the community to join us this month for a Spanish-language presentation by Holocaust survivor and Anne Frank Center Board member Pieter Kohnstam.

The virtual event takes place at 5:30 p.m. on January 27, 2021. Mr. Kohnstam will share his compelling story of fleeing Amsterdam for Buenos Aires; the talk, over Zoom, will be in Spanish, with simultaneous translation into English. To register for the event, visit https://www.loyno.edu/pieter-kohnstam-talk.

Pieter Kohnstam was born in Amsterdam and lived with his family in the same apartment building as Anne Frank.  In fact, the two families were friendly, and Anne would often entertain the small boy while their parents played bridge.  While the Franks famously went into hiding after the first round-up of Jews by the Nazis, the Kohnstams chose to embark on a dangerous journey that eventually led to Argentina.  Pieter Kohnstam was six years old.

His story is memorialized in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Behind Every Name a Story project, which captures oral renditions of the experiences of Holocaust survivors, and in his 2006 book, A Chance to Live: a Family’s Journey to Freedom. It begins with saying farewell to the Frank family as they go into hiding, enduring an apartment raid by the Gestapo two days later, and making an ingenious escape with the help of Christian friends. It was July 14, 1942. 

A year-long odyssey through Belgium, France and Spain during the throes of the war ultimately led to the family reaching safety and freedom in Argentina. After high school in Buenos Aires, Pieter embarked on a career in international banking that brought him to Switzerland and then the United States, where he became an expert in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.  He and his wife Susan, a social worker, have been married for over forty years, and have two children and three grandchildren.  They live in Venice, Florida. 

Pieter Kohnstam is frequently invited to schools and various organizations to speak about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, his book, and matters relating to Jewish and interfaith topics. He often warns of the insidious damage that can come through willful ignorance – and reminds students of the courage involved in shining a light.

“I hope that I will do in my little, tiny, weeny, humble part, something to pay back and to express the importance of what people can do and did to others for no reason than to have a different religion or a different color of the skin or a different belief,” he said in a 2016 interview.

His talk this month will be presented in conjunction with the Loyola Honors seminar, “In Quarantine with Anne Frank,” taught by Professor Naomi Yavneh Klos of the Department of Languages and Cultures, who received a Fulbright in 2019 to teach in the Netherlands, while studying social justice and inclusive excellence and working with the Anne Frank House.  The undergraduate seminar considers lessons from the Holocaust for addressing contemporary concerns of intolerance, hatred, and systemic racism.  

Pieter Kohnstam’s presentation is offered to the community over Zoom on International Holocaust Day of Remembrance, which commemorates the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the concentration and extermination camp where Nazis murdered 1.1 million people (primarily Jewish, but also those targeted as disabled, homosexual, or politically suspect). 

The talk, which will be presented in Spanish with simultaneous translation, is designed to share this story of survival with the Latinx community and create a larger conversation regarding the lessons from the Holocaust for today.

For more information, or assistance, contact Dr. Naomi Yavneh-Klos at yavneh@loyno.edu.