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Hillel Hosts Holocaust Survivor Jay Ipson

Photo Courtesy of Christy Blevins
Photo Courtesy of Christy Blevins

Christy Blevins


Holocaust survivor Jay Ipson visited Roanoke College’s campus on March 16 to share his story about how he, his mother, and father escaped the Nazi forces in Germany in the 1940s.

Starting at noon, Ipson held his first lecture of the day that was then repeated at 1:00 p.m. He was hosted by Roanoke’s Hillel student organization. Ipson presented his own story of the Holocaust to a small crowd of RC students and supplemented his discussion with a PowerPoint of photos.

Opening up the talk, Ipson preached “tolerance through education,” and spent a little while discussing some unfamiliar history about the Holocaust and asking the audience interactive questions. His projection of photos showed students real pictures from the horrors of the actions against the Jewish people in his hometown. Ipson soon transitioned to the account of how his father, who was a lawyer, had lied about his profession to escape the first execution of white-collared workers in his hometown.

Ipson recalled, “My father, until his dying day, didn’t know why he told them he was a car mechanic…they told him to get out of line and we all went home and survived.”

Skipping to 1943, Ipson painted another picture for the students, describing a time when Nazi soldiers rounded up 5,000 people from the Jewish Ghettos to take them to execution. Ipson and his mother were the only two survivors of that deportation due to Jewish policeman, who was friends with his father, grabbing him out of line and telling him to take his mother back home to wait for his father. At 8 years old, Ipson yanked his mother away from the others and cried for his father.

Ipson said, “My mother didn’t want to leave her family. I started crying. I wanted to go to my father.”

Much later, his father had orchestrated a ring escape of their ghetto, and in the middle of a November night, his father ushered him and his mother under a cut fence and into a farmer’s wagon full of straw for hiding. During this part of the presentation Ipson showed real photos of him and his mother in line at the deportation and photos of the section of fence they escaped under.

After their escape, Ipson and his family stayed with a Polish potato farmer and soon after, to save the farmer from danger, Ipson’s father built a hiding place under the farmer’s potato field. It was here that Ipson and his family, and others, stayed in hiding for six months. The total number of people in this hole was 13 (4 men, 4 boys, and 5 women). Projected on the screen behind Ipson was a photo of the hiding place today, with 13 mannequins piled on top of each other to demonstrate the spacing.

At the end of his lecture and story, Ipson recounted how they came to The United States in 1947 and began a new life.  Later on, Ipson became a co-founder for the Virginia Holocaust Museum.