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September 20, 2019

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Local Holocaust survivors eagerly accept honorary degrees from Touro University

Touro University Honors Holocaust Survivors

Wade Vandervort

Holocaust survivor Marton Ackerman shows off his honorary doctorate of humane letters degree from Touro University Nevada during the school’s spring commencement ceremony at Westgate Las Vegas, Monday, May 13, 2019. Twenty-one Holocaust survivors were awarded honorary degrees by the university.

Touro University honors Holocaust survivors

Ninety-two-year-old Holocaust survivor Daniel Szafran smiles as he receives a doctorate of humane letters degree from Touro University Nevada during a spring commencement ceremony at Westgate Monday, May 13, 2019. Twenty-one Holocaust survivors were honored Monday with the honorary degrees. Launch slideshow »

Esther Finder’s parents always emphasized the importance of a good education. The day she graduated from Northwestern, her father took her cap and put it on his head.

“I realized he never had a chance for an education,” she said.

Finder’s parents, each a Holocaust survivor, were 16 when World War II started, and 22 when it ended.

“That’s prime time for an education,” she said.

Touro University Nevada recognized 21 Holocaust survivors by presenting them with honorary doctoral degrees during the medical school’s commencement Monday at Westgate Las Vegas. Touro was founded on Judaic values of teaching service and learning, according to the university’s website.

Touro officials earlier this year started working with Finder, who is president of the Holocaust Survivors Group of Southern Nevada, to locate those Holocaust survivors honored Monday.

“I couldn’t do anything like this for my parents because they’re both gone, but I can do this for these guys,” she said.

The honorary degrees weren't the only milestone Finder has had a hand in arranging for Holocaust survivors.

“A couple years ago, I gave them an opportunity to have a bar mitzvah, or a bat mitzvah,” she said. “Then later we had a prom, which was great fun. Some of them came up with their walkers to the dance floor, parked their walkers and got out there and danced.”

Henry Kronberg, one of the honorees, called his degree a “symbol of freedom.”

“I and many other Jews were deprived of any education,” he said while speaking at the commencement. “Even today in some countries, women are still deprived of a higher education.”

Kronberg said his education had to stop at grade school and that he “was jealous of people with a degree because I did not have the opportunity. I’m not jealous anymore. I feel better now.”

In his opening remarks Monday, Dr. Alan Kadish, president of the Touro College and University System, talked about the dangers of radicalization and anti-Semitism in the age of social media. He urged members of Touro’s graduating class to hold themselves to a higher standard.

“Many people will look upon you as role models,” he said. “All of us must strive for good and wake each day knowing there is more good to do.”

Holocaust survivor Ben Lesser said he was 10 years old when Nazis invaded his home in Krakow, Poland. He spent time in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He was finally liberated when he was 16.

“These American GIs, they looked like angels or gods to us,” he said. “Many of the detainees were crawling on their hands and feet just to kiss their boots.”

During the ceremony, survivors proceeded one by one — some in walkers, some in wheelchairs — to receive their honorary degrees. Finder said that while survivors had never had the chance to earn a college degree, “they certainly graduated from the school of hard knocks.”