Telling father’s survival story
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL ” For more than half a century, Richard Yashek stayed quiet.
Yashek, a Holocaust survivor, kept his family in the dark about the unspeakably painful years of his life.
“I knew, but I was not allowed to bring up the subject,” said Kim Yashek, Richard’s daughter. “I wasn’t allowed to go to Germany or drive German cars.”
In 1993, Richard made the bold move of returning to his hometown of Luebeck, Germany ” a place he’d been ripped away from 52 years before.
Two years later, Richard started to write a memoir of his life, and then in 2000, he made his third visit to Luebeck, this time with his daughter.
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“My father never spoke German in (our) house growing up,” Kim said. “In the trip in 2000, he would turn to me and speak German. All of a sudden his mind was free.”
The Yasheks went back again in 2004, and the town of Luebeck commemorated Richard’s brother and parents with plaques on the anniversary of Kristallnacht ” the day on which the windows of synagogues and Jewish-owned shops throughout Germany were smashed.
After that visit, Richard wrote a speech detailing his return trips to his hometown, although he recently passed away before being able to deliver the speech. Holocaust Rememberance Day is Sunday but his daughter, Kim, who lives in Vail, will deliver that speech this Friday at 7 p.m. at the Vail Interfaith Chapel as part of B’nai Vail’s Holocaust Remembrance Program.
To prepare for the speech, Kim dug into her father’s concentration camp years ” a story she never heard in its entirety from her father.
“He did a tape for the Shoa Foundation for Visual History and Education. I felt like I really needed to see it, and I think for me going back to Germany and seeing him really happy and reconnecting with a town that was taken away from him made me think I need to learn more of his story,” she said.
Ten years after her father recorded the nearly five-hour tape, Kim finally watched what had taken Richard so long to come to terms with.
What first brought Richard back to Luebeck wasn’t just a desire to see the house he’d grown up in ” it was also a business conference.
“He waited until the very last minute to register for that conference,” said Kim, whose father ran a pest extermination business in Pennsylvania.
While he was in Luebeck, Richard took some time to walk the city and try to piece his childhood back together. When he returned from the conference, Richard joined a Holocaust survivors group.
“In my personal opinion, him joining the group and going to the meetings, along with the (opening of the) Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. … started him down the path and he realized he had to tell his story,” Kim said.
Not only did Richard share his Holocaust memories with Pennsylvania schools, but ended up telling it to the school in his hometown. In 1996, a group of teachers in Luebeck and a neighboring town contacted Richard and invited him and his wife, Rosalye, back to share his experiences.
“The reception they got was really amazing,” Kim said. “He reconnected with childhood friends from when he was 12.”
Kim said her father didn’t have any hostilities towards the people of Luebeck.
“Everything sort of melted away,” Kim said. “Everyone was giving apologies and really wanting to make him feel that this was his hometown.”
During that visit, Richard spoke to students at the school, where his translated memoir became part of the school’s curriculum. In 2000, Richard was invited back to give the commencement speech at the high school.
One question Kim may never find an answer to is just how her father made it through four concentration camps. For the first three-and-a-half years, Richard was with his father, until one day camp guards took his father into a barn and that was the last time Richard saw him.
“I’m still absolutely amazed he survived between 12 and 16, and part of it on his own,” Kim said. “It’s the power of human spirit. My father had a great smile, and who knows, that if at that age it came through.”
Now that Kim has pieced together her father’s tale, she is speaking out like the children of many Holocaust survivors.
“I feel like the burden is on our shoulder now to keep the story alive,” Kim said. “Thank god my father wanted to talk.”
Soon, anyone will be able to see and hear Richard’s story, as his family donated all of his materials to the Holocaust Library and Resource Center at Albright College in Pennsylvania.
“Our ultimate goal is to have everything scanned, so they will be accessible through the Internet,” Kim said.
Friday’s speech is open to the public and will be preceded by a candle-lighting ceremony.
Staff Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 748-2935 or email@example.com.