Monday, March 11, 2013

Holocaust Survivors Share Their Story with Nebraska Students



7th graders listen to a Holocaust survivor via distance learning
“Only those who actually lived the Shoah (Holocaust) can bring history to life and give lie to the deniers.  As the number of survivors fast dwindles here and around the world, the need to preserve every untold story becomes more urgent” (Institute for Holocaust Education).  The last week marked the “Week of Understanding”, a week where Holocaust survivors share the stories about their experiences during the reign of Hitler.  The 7th graders at Chadron Middle School were privileged to join in on a Distance Learning experience out of Wahoo.  The 7th graders, starting at the end of February, have been actively engaging in a unit on the Holocaust.  This unit is taught in the last months of school and coincides with several different memorials; along with the “Week of Understanding”, the students will also be participating in the “Days of Remembrance”.  The “Days of Remembrance” involves a special ceremony from the Capital Building in Washington, D.C. and is a live broadcast over the internet.  In this unit, the students gain knowledge and insight as to what the Holocaust truly was, why they learn it, and ways for them to prevent something like this from happening in the future.  They look at all different types of media from books to plays to movies and now to live presentations. 
                  Wednesday, March 6, was a special day in the “Week of Understanding”.  Thanks to a forwarded e-mail from Janet Pickering, we were able to connect with the Wahoo Public Schools and join them via Distance Learning for two presenations from Holocaust Survivors.  One thing that really made this such an incredible presentation is, that this generation will be the last generation to ever hear the stories of the Holocaust directly from the mouths of the Survivors.   My hope was that through this presentation the students would gain understanding of what it was really like emotionally to be in this situation.  I feel that I can deliver all of the information to the students, but without the emotion of how the people felt at this time and how they coped with being under these horrendous circumstances. 
                  The first presenter was Inge Auerbacher, who survived the concentration camp known as Terezin (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia.  Terezin was actually a small town in Czechoslovakia that had been transformed into a ghetto to house Jewish families and then into a concentration camp.  It was considered an “autonomous ghetto” meaning that it was run by Jews for Jews; however, this was only masking the true authority.  Igne was sent to Terezin at the age of seven and spent three years  there.  Out of the 15,000 children in Terezin only about one percent survived.  At this time Terezin was considered a transit camp and held “inmates” before deporting them to Auschwitz.  Auschwitz was considered, “The Kingdom of Death” and Terezin (Theresienstadt) “ The Kingdom of Deceit”.  It was a “Model Camp” and when the Red Cross came to inspect it on June 23, 1944, it was presented like a country resort.  This was part of the propaganda spread by Josef Goebbels.  Inge recalled this moment in her presentation, stating that they made money and had areas set up, such as a playground, that didn’t really exist.  Due to the fact that it was only meant to house 8,000 and had 60,000 inmates within its walls; several were transported or hidden to make it more presentable.  Liberation came from the Soviet Army on Mary 8, 1945.  Inge and her parents survived; they were three of thirteen survivors.  Inge and her parents immigrated to America in May of 1946.  She has written three books: “I am a Star-Child of the Holocaust”, “Beyond the Yellow Star to America”, and “Finding Dr. Schatz-The Discovery of Streptomycin and A Life It Saved”.
                  The second presenter was unexpected, as the one who was on schedule to come had a delay at the Chicago airport.  Kitty Williams came in her place.  Kitty is from Council Bluffs, IA, but grew up in Sarand an Eastern Hungarian town.  This small town only had two Jewish families inhabiting it, Kitty’s family and the Leitners, of whom Kitty had no contact with until they were forced into living together.  Out of Kitty’s family, three sisters and two brothers survived.  Her fathered perished at Auschwitz; her mother and another sister died of typhus, when she was seven, and never experienced the Holocaust.  On March 19, 1944, the German Army occupied Hungary.  Kitty was 20 years old.  She was hidden a couple times with neighboring Christian families, but did not escape the final round up of Jews in the area.  Her family home became a temporary ghetto until they were moved to a ghetto in another town and then a factory in Nagyvarad,  where 2,000 prisoners camped together.  In August, her family was put onto cattle cars with the other 2,000 prisoners and taken to Auschwitz.  Kitty talked about two major events during this time that when she recalls them become living nightmares.  One of them was sseing Josef Mengele, “In the distance I saw this beautiful, tall German officer all in white with several dogs and soldiers around.  He was sitting and looking at us, pointing—right, left.”  At this point, she lost her father by one simple waving of a hand.  She talked about how everything was so methodical:  lines and names and counts.  Later on, Kitty was taken to work forced labor at a factory where she was to chisel powder out of dud (undetonated) bombs, shells, and grenades.  They worked without any sort of protection and several of them died from poisoning.  March of 1945, the commandant of the camp came to announce that the Americans were on their way and the war was over; he stated that they were free to go and good luck.  Kitty fell in love with an American flyer, while working on a former German air base, and was ready for a fresh start in America.   Kitty’s husband asked her to keep her Jewish heritage a secret and this along with other things caused a rift in their marriage, which eventually led to divorce.  Today Kitty has been happily married for 23 years to her husband Bill.  She has made several visits back to her homeland and to Auschwitz, taking her children, grandchildren, and other members of the family.
                  The overall message from the two ladies was to not be a bystander, but someone who stands up for others.  Be your brother’s keeper!  This is so relevant in the world that the 7th graders are growing up in today, and addresses the bully issue that has become prevelant in schools across America.  

Submitted by Miss Dobry, 7th Grade English Teacher

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