Child of Holocaust survivor searches for transgenerational healing

Sept. 28, 2015

April Wefler
[email protected]

At the age of 19, Martin Beck Matuštík was forced to flee his home to keep himself safe.

Matuštík, a philosophy and religious studies professor at Arizona State University, spoke about his experiences on Sept. 24 during a talk entitled “Repair Across Generations: 70 Years After Auschwitz.”

The event was co-sponsored by the UCCS Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life and the Greenberg Center for Learning and Tolerance. It consisted of Matuštík’s talk, questions from panelists and a Q-and-A from the audience.

The panel consisted of Lorraine Arangno, senior instructor in the Department of Philosophy, and Arshad Yousufi, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs.

Matuštík was raised in an atheistic home by communist parents in the former Czechoslovakia (Slovakia now) during the Cold War and became an orphan at age 14 after his parents divorced and his mother died of cancer.

He was part of the underground movement in Prague and was caught several times. When given the opportunity to flee, he took it.

“I escaped to the United States and had to rebuild my life not knowing anybody,” Matuštík said.

He said that, for 18 months, he was in the same refugee camp that the Syrian refugees are in now.

“It’s very strange to relive that history,” Matuštík said.

At 40, he discovered that his mother had hid a life-changing secret: his maternal family was Jewish during the Holocaust.

Matuštík discovered his Jewish ancestry after receiving two letters from distant relatives he never knew he had. He said he embarked upon a journey to discover more about his family, a journey which took him down a long path.

“It’s not something that you see every day. There are many Holocaust survivors; there are many people that have family having survived the Holocaust, but he himself did not know that was part of his story,” said Erik Hanson, philosophy professor.

Hanson thought Matuštík could tell his story in a way that spoke to contemporary concerns, particularly in matters of identity, forgiveness and transgenerational healing.

“There are many people that have to deal with transgenerational healing and dealing with the tragedies of the 20th century and even further back,” Hanson said.

“There’s always that personal dimension with the story…witnessing you coming to terms with the past. It’s not something you can do alone,” Matuštík said.

During the talk, he spoke on the three kinds of memory, and of the connection of memory with forgiveness.

“It’s a Pandora(‘s) box, forgiveness,” Matuštík said. “None of us actually remember or forget; we fictionalize the reality.”

Yousufi, whose father escaped India during Muslim persecution and fled to Pakistan, read a passage from his father’s memoir.

“It takes more courage to talk than to fight,” he said.

“Sometimes we don’t want to remember what we stand on…it weighs us down,” Matuštík said.

Hanson said the event provided an opportunity for the audience to learn from people outside of their perspectives.

“I think that American society is becoming much more – there are more straightjackets between ourselves. We tend to only want to connect with people that are like us,” he said.

Hanson said people need to listen, and that people will often listen to stories.

“Listening to each other is something that we have a hard time doing today. It seems to be much easier to shut out people and voices that we don’t want to listen to. We can unfriend them on Facebook,” he said.

“People are just not willing to talk to each other and understand each other,” Yousufi said.

Students interested in learning more of Matuštík’s story can read his memoir, “Out of Silence,” or visit the book’s website at