PORTLAND – Edith Pagelson’s most frightening memory is of German soldiers leading her and her mother to a bathhouse at the Auschwitz concentration camp, presumably to take a shower.

The prisoners, she recalled, were herded into a large room with sliding steel doors. Then nothing happened.

“We found out later on that it (the bathhouse) was a gas chamber and it was malfunctioning,” said Pagelson, a Holocaust survivor. “I had a little miracle happen to me. There were quite a few miracles in my life.”

Pagelson, who lives in Falmouth, was imprisoned on Nov. 10, 1938, after Nazis burned down her synagogue in the historic town of Worms, along with her family’s home and business.

She was among seven panelists who shared their past life experiences during a forum Thursday night at the Portland Public Library.

“Making Memories Matter: How Do We Use Past Evils to Create Meaningful Change?” was sponsored by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine.

The panel included a survivor of the Darfur genocide, a refugee of the bloody civil war in Somalia, a member of the gay and lesbian community, the state director of the NAACP, and a well known Maine lawyer, whose father was the state’s first Superior Court and Supreme Court justice of Franco-American descent.

Each panelist spoke about the importance of passing along the memories of their heritage and their struggles to the next generation of Mainers.

The forum was moderated by former gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler of Cape Elizabeth.

Mohammed Dini grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia. He fled his homeland at the age of 14 because of the intense fighting caused by civil war.

He was fleeing the country on a boat in the Indian Ocean when it capsized. While most of the 140 refugees on board drowned, he escaped by swimming to shore. His uncle and two of his nine children also survived. Dini lives in Portland now.

El-Fadel Arbab was just 12 years old when the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed (means “devils on horseback”) attacked his village of Zalingei, Darfur. He suffered multiple burns after his home was set on fire. He remembers the troops’ brutality, cutting off the heads of baby boys and raping girls and their mothers.

His family scattered after the attack and he was forced to live on his own for almost four years. Arbab reunited with his family, which now lives in Portland.

But, he said, “The genocide continues.”

While remembrances are important, for some it is hard to forgive what others did to them. Pagelson, the Holocaust survivor, said she has promised herself to never return to Auschwitz.

“I could never do that because it looks like a park now. When I was there it was anything but a park,” she said.

The other panelists included: Sarah Holmes, coordinator of the Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity at the University of Southern Maine; Rachel Talbot Ross, state director of the NAACP; and Severin Beliveau, an attorney, whose father was an advocate of the Franco cause in Maine.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]


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