Werner Reich: Social Justice and the Oral History Interview


Authored by Kyle Auchter

Werner Reich participates in an interview

Werner Reich provides an interview for the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County

By the time we reach college, it is taken for granted that we, as students, have been taught about the horrors and atrocities committed in the holocaust.  However, we cannot forget how important it is that we preserve the memory of the holocaust through those who experienced it, as without the recorded interviews of those who experienced it, future students will not have the ability to learn about this horrific event firsthand. One of the most important steps to take in preserving the collective memory of history is to record oral history interviews of those who have experienced the event, and Werner Reich has taken this important step, along with others, to ensure that humanity does not forget the values of tolerance and acceptance.

In providing an oral history interview to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, Mr. Reich has given an example of providing transparency and social justice through collective memory, despite the possible emotional pain of recounting a traumatic time in his life. He has also provided a multitude of other valuable accounts to the historic record, such as an interview with the New York Times (2017) where he details some extremely personal and striking accounts of the holocaust, including showing the author his tattooed prisoner number from the Auschwitz concentration camp. Mr. Reich also provides his personal accounts of the time to the Smithtown Patch (2010), noting that he, “speaks to approximately 100 schools and synagogues per year.” In another article in the Huffington Post (n.d.), Reich recounts the horror of being part of the 96 ‘Birkenau Boys’ out of 5,000 who were spared because they did not laugh at a joke by German officers.

These values displayed by Mr. Reich clearly align with those of St. John’s University, which promotes the Vincentian lens of transparency by providing an account that he experienced personally with the goal of adding to the human cultural record (Angel n.d., 5). In addition, Mr. Reich clearly demonstrates the values of fighting for social justice for those who do not have a voice, part of St. John’s mission as a Vincentian University and my values as a student within the university (St. John’s University n.d.). I am proud to be transcribing his oral history interview for the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, and I look forward to being a small part in his story of remembrance and hope for a group that was unfairly persecuted.


Angel, Christine. n.d. “Information Representation through the Vincentian Lens of Transparency: Providing the Under and Misrepresented with a Voice within Our Cultural Heritage Records.” In Evolution of Teaching Philosophy, 1-7. New York: St. John’s University. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VkY3xbRv1Ikuny5LApVmVWmSiZ81OTtUyJ6aSl_I3xo/edit.

Bachom, Sandi. n.d. “Holocaust Survivor Werner Reich on Magic, Laughter, and ‘The Great Nivelli’.” Huffington Post. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/sandi-bachom/werner-reich-and-the-magi_b_3037452.html.

Kilgannon, Corey. 2017. “An Auschwitz Magician’s Greatest
Trick: Holding the Horrors at Bay.” New York Times, May 5, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/05/nyregion/auschwitz-magician-nivelli-war-play.html.

Klosner-Wehner, Dana. 2010. “Holocaust Survivor Tells His Tale to Thwart Bullying.” Smithtown Patch, November 10, 2010. https://patch.com/new-york/smithtown/holocaust-survivor-tells-his-tale-to-thwart-bullying-2.

St. John’s University. n.d. “Our Mission.” Accessed March 13, 2018. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/our-mission.