Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

September 1, 2002

Whitworth Awards Presidential Commendation to Holocaust Survivor for Lifetime of Service, Speaking to Community

Holocaust survivor and longtime Spokane resident Eva Lassman spent her college years in Nazi labor and death camps struggling to survive rather than studying and socializing. Now, 60 years later, Lassman will come to Whitworth College to receive a presidential commendation recognizing a lifetime of service and speaking about her experience.

Whitworth President Bill Robinson will present the award to Lassman during the college's Fall Convocation at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 4, in Cowles Auditorium on campus. The public is welcome.

"No person in this community has done more than Eva Lassman to raise awareness about the horrors of the Holocaust and the responsibility of all people to resist intolerance and hatred," said Robinson. "What a privilege it is for Whitworth College to honor Eva for her tireless and selfless commitment to educating the community and calling on all of us to bring out the best in one another."

Lassman is a charter board member of the Institute for Action Against Hate at Gonzaga University and chairs the planning committee for Spokane Temple Beth Shalom's annual Yom HaShoa Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony. Perhaps Lassman's greatest contribution to the community, however, has been telling and re-telling the story of her experiences as a victim and survivor of the Holocaust to thousands of elementary, junior high, high school and college students throughout the region.

"Eva has dedicated most of her adult life to the obligation that comes with her survival -- giving testimony to the atrocities she endured," said Whitworth Psychology Professor James Waller, who regularly invites Lassman to speak to students in his Introduction to Holocaust and Genocide Studies class. "Her story, combined with her emphasis on the need for tolerance in all communities, has left an indelible impact on each of these students."

Lassman was born to a family of Orthodox Jews in Lodz, Poland, in 1919. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, Lassman fled to Warsaw to live with her extended family. Her remaining family members in Lodz were incarcerated in the first ghetto established by the Nazis in Poland. In Warsaw, Lassman -- along with hundreds of thousands of other Jews -- was later incarcerated in what became the largest of all Jewish ghettoes.

While confined in the Warsaw ghetto, Lassman lived on minimal food and water and was denied basic healthcare while participating in a rigorous work detail. Following the failed Warsaw ghetto uprising, she was deported to Majdanek -- one of six death camps in eastern Poland. The deportation required a one-week trip in a crowded cattle car during which several people died. While 90% of those deported to Majdanek were murdered within the first 24 hours, Lassman was one of the fortunate young and relatively healthy women selected for work in a nearby munitions factory. It was that assignment that spared her life until the Allied liberation of the camps in spring of 1945.

Nearly all of Lassman's immediate and extended family members were killed in the Holocaust. Though in poor health, Lassman survived and recovered from her five and a half years in Nazi ghettoes and camps. She then spent four more years in a displaced persons camp in Germany before being sponsored by the Spokane Jewish community for resettlement in Spokane.

Of the 200,000 survivors of the Holocaust that were liberated in 1945, it is estimated that less than 10 percent are alive today. Of those, very few have lived through the range of atrocities -- from ghettoization to work camps to a death camp -- that Lassman endured. Even fewer have committed their lives to the painful retelling of those stories, according to Waller, who was the keynote speaker for Temple Beth Shalom's 2001 Yom HaShoa Ceremony and is author of a new book, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford University Press).

"In short," says Waller, "the exceptionality of Eva Lassman's experience in the Holocaust is only paralleled by the exceptionality of her commitment to use that experience in making the world a better place. Her life and work has encouraged our students to lead lives that embody personal conviction and courageously combat evil."

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The college enrolls 2,100 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


James Waller, professor of psychology, (509) 777-4424 or jwaller@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

Related Links

Whitworth Press Release Index