As Alfred Tibor slowly made his way to the front of the classroom, he cracked jokes with the students and was answered with giggles. Then he started to tell his story, and the giggles were silenced.
Tibor is a Holocaust survivor, and he came to Ohio State Thursday to share his story with students taking History 331: The Holocaust.
The room was silent, with only the occasional squeak of a chair, as Tibor, 90, told the class about growing up as a Jewish boy under Nazi rule.
“I am not going to talk about death because everyone has heard these stories about the Holocaust,” Tibor said to the students. “I am going to talk about my life.”
Tibor was born Alfred Goldstein in a small town in Hungary. He and his brother Andrew later changed their last name to Tibor in honor of their brother Tibor Goldstein, who was killed in the Holocaust.
Throughout the 45-minute speech, Tibor shared stories both of life under Nazi rule and of his hopes and dreams as a young boy.
At 5 years old, Tibor began molding little sculptures from dough that his mother was using to bake rolls. It was at that moment that he decided on his career path.
“I discovered I would make little figures,” Tibor said. “I wanted to be, I dreamed about, I am going to be a sculptor.”
As the only Jewish boy in his grade school, Tibor said he was hated by the other students, so he focused on his sculptures.
“I realized, ‘I have to learn if I want to be something. I have to learn myself,'” Tibor said.
Tibor said his focus on his sculptures was his way of defying those who tried to hold him back. He also began to learn gymnastics.
Tibor told the class of how he went into a gymnasium that prohibited Jews. No one at the gym knew he was Jewish.
He began to take lessons under a coach who was particularly fond of him.
“That was the coach that loved me,” Tibor said affectionately. “I was the little guy and he was the huge man and I was sitting on his shoulder all the time.”
When the other gymnasts eventually discovered that Tibor was Jewish and began to beat him up, the same coach stepped in to defend him.
“That was the first man that defended me,” Tibor said. “One person was defending me, and I was dreaming how nice it would be if everyone was like this, how wonderful if no hatred existed.”
His coach eventually sent him to try out as a gymnast for the 1936 Hungarian Olympic team. Tibor made the team, but he was not allowed to compete when the delegation discovered he was Jewish.
After moving to Columbus years later, he became a torchbearer for the Olympic torch run.
“That was the late award for me, an award that was more beautiful because I got it here where I had freedom,” he said.
After being banned from the Hungarian Olympic team, Tibor continued his artwork until he was drafted into a forced labor battalion on October 1, 1940.
“I am not going to tell you the horror stories, but we were 275 people in our labor battalion,” Tibor said to the students. “Two of us are alive. Two survived.”
He was later captured by the Russian army when the war ended, and he told the class his outlook changed when he was under Russian control.
“I was dreaming, ‘I am going to go back to Hungary with a machine gun in my hand,'” Tibor said. “Hatred kept me alive.”
Tibor shared these emotions with the class because he said he wanted the class to walk away understanding the power of hatred.
He told the students, still intently listening, that when he returned to Hungary in 1947, he learned that of his family, only he and his brother Andrew had survived the Holocaust.
After moving back to Hungary, he had a change of heart, he said.
“I was the only person who had a reason to hate, and I said ‘That is no way,'” Tibor said. “That was the time I found out hatred doesn’t work. You have to embrace every human being.”
It was this message that he wanted the class to take away from his stories. He said he shares his stories with people so he can share this message.
“A mother is always a mother, and the dear son, even if he became a killer, is always a dear son,” Tibor said.
After the war, Tibor moved to Columbus, and in 1973 he became a sculptor. The first piece he made was a Holocaust memorial that now stands on Broad Street in Columbus.
He now has 13 pieces around the city.
“That little figure I made when I was five became a 13-foot piece here in Columbus,” Tibor said.
Before leaving, Tibor left the class with one final thought to emphasize the importance of respect and compassion.
“There is no way you can change the world with hatred,” he said. “You can change the world with love and humanity.”