LATROBE, PENNSYLVANIA — Robert Mendler of Latrobe, a Holocaust survivor who has spent his life educating people about the horrors of the concentration camps, will give a talk on the topic at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 25 at Saint Vincent College and Seminary. The free lecture will be held in the Westmoreland Room on the second floor of Placid Hall and the public is invited to attend.
Born in the town of Nowy-Targ, Poland, Mr. Mendler was 13 when he was taken to the first of ten concentration camps and imprisoned for six years. After surviving camps including Auschwitz, Birkenau, Buna and Flossenburg, he managed to escape from Paking barely avoiding execution by guards who were busy destroying the camp in the face of the advancing United States infantry. Aided by a compassionate German farmer and his wife, Mr. Mendler was rescued from a barn by U.S. soldiers of the 83rd Division. At the time he was seriously ill with typhus and weighed only 75 pounds.
Mr. Mendler eventually lost 72 members of his family who were executed, gassed or who died in various concentration camps from hard labor, starvation or disease during the Holocaust.His move to the United States came about when he discovered the name of an uncle in a Manhattan phone book which was distributed by the U.S. Army to displaced persons. Settling in Latrobe where his uncle had come to start a shoe store, Mr. Mendler later assumed ownership of the business — Mendler’s Shoes on Main Street in Latrobe — which he sold before retiring.
During the past twenty years, Mr. Mendler has generously given of his time to talk about his experiences during the Holocaust to college and school groups, as well as to a wide variety of community groups. Though it is painful to share his memories, he admits, “people must remember.” Self-educated, he knows eight languages and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Saint Vincent College in 2000.
He has been awarded certificates by such groups as the Speakers Bureau of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, the Sons of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Lions Club. In 1993 he became a Fellow of the Saint Vincent College Center for Northern Appalachian Studies for his participation in the preparation and publication of the Center’s book, Listen to Our Words: The Oral Histories of the Jewish Community of Westmoreland County. In 1997 he added his taped memories to those being assembled by Steven Spielberg’s “Survivors of the Shoah” Visual History Foundation. These videotaped oral histories of the wartime experiences of Holocaust survivors can be seen in the Holocaust Museums in Washington and New York City, as well as at the Wisenthal Center in Los Angeles. In 1999, he was awarded the New Life Award (State of Israel bonds), and the Elie Wiesel Commemorative Medal, presented to survivors for their presentation in Holocaust remembrance.
He has served as president of the Beth Israel Congregation in Latrobe, where he and his wife, Joan, reside. They are the parents of two sons, Michael of Herndon, Virginia, and Mark, of Derry, and the grandparents of David, Max, Mickey and Mitchell.