Holocaust survivor and Korean War veteran, Bill Orlin, visited Texas A&M Thursday to speak to students at the Rudder Theater.
Student board president of Texas A&M Hillel, Hannah Prutchi, said that they’ve been receiving holocaust speakers ever since she was a freshman and that this was Orlin’s second visit this year. Prutchi said that such speakers helped establish a connection to the living past.
“One big part of it is, you know, the Jewish population at A&M is very very small,” Prutchi said. “People know about the Holocaust, but they don’t all meet someone who personally went through it and has lived through all those horrors.”
Orlin was born in the year 1932 in Poland and had to flee his hometown at the age of seven once German troops invaded it. Living on the run, Orlin would pick up languages wherever he went and would help his parents in the sustaining his family whenever he could. Throughout his journey, Orlin was able to experience the best, and the worst people had to offer, eventually making it to the United States, where he would serve during the Korean War.
Orlin began his talk by remarking that enthusiasm is what brings success, which set the tone for the rest of the lecture. He focused not on the fact that he was a victim of the Holocaust, but of that he survived the ordeal.
“The key to success is enthusiasm,” Orlin said. “Nothing ever great was achieved without enthusiasm. And the key to success is enthusiasm.”
Orlin said that he is the only male Holocaust survivor speaker in the Houston area who still speaks. He said that as the years go by, there are fewer speakers.
“Most survivors have either passed away, or they’re too ill to speak,” Orlin said. “[They’re] in their late eighties, like 89, 90, 95, 96, so they don’t speak. Of a population [close to] 13 hundred in Houston, only four of us really speak anymore. Just four.”
According to Orlin, after the war began, the Germans invaded Poland from the west and the Russians from the east. Orlin said that the Germans reached his hometown, where the Jews had lived there since the 1740s, and claimed someone had killed one of the soldiers.
“They made up a story about one of their German soldiers being killed by, who else, a Jewish person,” Orlin said. “And they said unless this Jewish person, or Jewish persons, come along and admit to the guilt of killing a German soldier, they would burn down the Jewish neighborhood.”
Orlin said that the German soldiers burned his home and that he was forced to march out of the town along with others. During the march, a German soldier told them to turn around, and when they did, he aimed a machine gun at them. They were spared and eventually let go.
Orlin also recalled his grandfather, who was a very religious man. A pair of German soldiers had cut his beard, and his grandfather protested against them.
“He said, ‘How could you do this to me? I’m a man of God. I’m a religious person. I’m part of the chosen people. How could you do this to me?’,” Orlin said. “So he got slapped, and he was told in German, ‘God is with us.’”
In addition to this, Orlin said his family was exiled into Russian Poland and eventually taken to Uzbekistan by the Russians, then Kazakhstan, Ukraine and back to Poland after the war. There he would face anti-semitism, and his family decided to leave, reaching Czechoslovakia, then Austria with a goal set for the United States.
Orlin said they were eventually able to reach Montreal, Canada on a boat to avoid the United States waiting list. His family managed to head south and arrive in the city of Houston in 1951, where his paternal grandfather lived.
A few months later, Orlin said he was drafted to serve in the army. At this point in the talk, Orlin proudly displayed his uniform and put on a veteran’s hat. He said that before being drafted, his mother offered to move away.
“My mother said to me, ‘You want to go back to Canada? They don’t draft in Canada.'” Orlin said. “I said ‘No, if I’m going to live here, I will serve here.’”
In closing, Orlin said that he and his three brothers all served in the armed forces and that when he came back, he was able to start his family and now has great-grandkids.
Bobby Regert, Class of 2021, was part of the audience that night and said that he found value in the talk and that more people should experience such discussions.
“I thought it was a super important talk,” Regert said. “ I wish everyone in the corp would have come and seen it. It kinda exemplifies the American dream really, starting from some pretty rough beginnings, being resilient and coming on through, and then serving in the military. We gotta get more stuff out, about people like this coming to talk.”
After the talk, Orlin said that he enjoyed A&M and its Aggies. He said that he enjoyed the participation and is familiar with the hospitality that Aggies bring. He gave parting advice and made sure to praise to the Corps of Cadets.
“As a person, always be positive, be good to each other, be good to people. Someday you might need them,” Orlin said. “This is my second time here, and I always look forward to the Aggies coming to Houston, march in the parade. I used to love going there [with] all the music and the marching because being in the military. I used to march a lot myself. So even though I was not part of the Corps, I was proud of the Corps!”