Joshua Williams is the first Weber School graduate to attend Texas A&M, but he had no idea how a single trip would influence his college search.
During his junior year of high school, Williams decided to forgo Weber’s trip to Poland and Israel and instead participate in the March of the Living.
“My older brother participated the year prior and said it was an incredible experience, simply because you travel with Holocaust survivors,” Williams said in a phone interview from Texas. “I realize how important is to hear Holocaust stories and walk through concentration camps, but having someone who survived it there with you makes all the difference.”
On the trip, Williams met Holocaust survivor Thomas Gabor and his wife, Danielle, also a survivor. Gabor was sent to the Budapest ghetto after attempting to flee the Gestapo numerous times and was later separated from his mother when the Nazis took her away. His father continued to work to survive, and the family reunited after Gabor’s mom escaped the Nazis and returned to the ghetto. She shouted Gabor’s name multiple times until she finally found him.
After the war, Gabor’s father joined Hungary’s Communist Party, but once he realized that the party was anti-Semitic, he decided to move his family to America.
Gabor attended a university in Hungary but had to abandon his studies when the family resettled in New York. He met a Hungarian professor who administered math and science tests, and Gabor’s test results were distributed to universities across the country, including Texas A&M, which offered him a scholarship based on his test scores.
With the additional help of loans from Hillel, Gabor graduated with a degree in chemical engineering.
Gabor’s story and admiration for the school heavily influenced Williams. “The words Gabor spoke about Texas A&M still ring true for me. The campus has some of the friendliest people.”
Williams, now a college sophomore, spoke with the director of Texas A&M’s Hillel chapter, Rabbi Matt Rosenberg, about inviting Gabor to speak at the College Station campus.
“It was historic for the university,” Rabbi Rosenberg said. “Josh had this connection to Gabor, and we wanted it to create a public event not only for Hillel, but the wider community. … We wanted to give attendees a better understanding of the Holocaust, as many don’t have the experience of hearing from a survivor directly.”
Gabor returned to Texas A&M for the first time in more than 50 years. He toured the campus and relayed his story of survival to an audience of more than 1,000. Williams and Rabbi Rosenberg said they had to turn people because of the fire hazard, but the attendees refused to budge. They stood outside Rudder Theater and listened through speakers.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is incredible, and we have no hecklers,’ ” Williams said. Before his debut at Texas A&M, Gabor had spoken to crowds of no more than 30 people.
“It was incredible to see how many people come out,” Williams said. Texas A&M has about 400 Jewish students, so most of the crowd was not Jewish.
Gabor and his wife also attended a private event for Jewish students at Hillel.
“It’s great to hear a Holocaust survivor relay his story and reminds us to never forget,” Williams said.
Williams remains in touch with Gabor and is hopeful he will appear at Texas A&M again. He said many students who heard Gabor have gone on to listen to more Holocaust speakers. “It’s as if they have become a witness to a witness,” Williams said. “There is a lot of negativity going on in the world today, especially as it relates to anti-Semitism on college campuses across the country, simply because the media believes they are newsworthy, but there is also some positivity as well. I hope everyone who attended will never forget.”
“We are very proud of Josh’s commitment to share Gabor’s experience with the Texas A&M community and with the greater College Station, Texas, community,” Williams’ parents said. “We are also delighted with Hillel’s involvement. The local College Station PBS station is going to air Gabor’s talk, which means Gabor will inspire even more people with his story.”