Times Past

Dan Krieger: Through horror and pain comes hope

In Folcroft, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” Mr. and Mrs. Horace Baker, parents of a 2-year-old daughter, were blocked from entering their home by an angry mob of white people.

Judy Meisel was living in Philadelphia and saw these events reported on NBC-TV’s “The Huntley-Brinkley Report.” The Bakers were moving into an all-white neighborhood in Folcroft.

The year was 1963. A mob of white people had turned out in an attempt to intimidate the Baker family into leaving the neighborhood.

Judy drove to Folcroft to welcome the family into the neighborhood by bringing them some homemade cookies.

She explains her actions in the film “Tak for Alt,” saying: “I felt that if their homes were not safe, my home (was) not safe, and when their rights were trampled on, my Jewish rights were trampled on at the same time.”

Judy was a survivor of the Stutthof concentration camp where at least 85,000 of the 127,000 prisoners died of typhus, cholera, maltreatment and the gas chamber. She stood outside the gas chamber while her mother was executed.

Rudolf Spanner, one of the camp’s administrators, used the fat of murdered prisoners to manufacture soap that he labeled Reines Judische Fett (Pure Jewish Fat).

Judy and her sister, Rachel, escaped from the camp and eventually got to Denmark. She was 18-years-old and weighed only 48 pounds.

Judy had seen the worst of humanity. But she came to Cal Poly on Wednesday to give a message of hope.

Her courageous actions in defying a hostile crowd by welcoming the Bakers, her participation in the civil rights movement in Philadelphia, where she had encounters with Francis “Frank” Lazarro Rizzo, the racist chief of police and mayor, and her joining the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the March on Washington were all linked to a specific event.

When Judy and Rachel arrived in Copenhagen, they were amazed to find that many Danes had defied the occupying Nazis by saving most of the Jewish population.

That had not been the case in her native Lithuania and other parts of Eastern Europe, where much of the civilian population enthusiastically joined the SS and its Einsatzgruppen in the murders of more than 1 million people.

Judy says “I feel that I owe my life to the Danes. Not only my life to live, but they also gave me back my self-esteem as a human being. I saw that not all human beings were as beasts like the Nazis were or their collaborators ... .”

In her early 80s, Judy continues to travel throughout the U.S., speaking on high school and college campuses. Her message is simple: One person can make a difference.

You and your family can make a difference today by participating in a uniquely San Luis Obispo event, the annual Martin Luther King Scholarship Barbecue held at the Elk’s Club, 222 Elks Lane in San Luis Obispo from noon to 3 p.m.

On Super Bowl Sunday, you can help keep the vision alive by participating in this delicious and rewarding event.

For only $10 you’ll get a wonderful Southern chicken barbecue dinner and help keep Dr. King’s dream alive by supporting graduating seniors from San Luis Obispo’s high schools to go on to college.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.