Students Meet Survivors and Pledge to Tell Their Story
A group of Atlantic City High School students, who are studying the Holocaust and other genocides, stepped outside of their textbooks one day last week to have lunch with local Holocaust survivors from Atlantic and Cape May counties.
It was an opportunity for the diminishing survivor population to offer a personal account not so much about how they survived, but also about the events leading up to the Holocaust and life inside the camps.
“I learned a lot today. I learned about how people lived in the camps and how they were treated,” said Andrew Mazzo, an ACHS student from Brigantine. “You learn a lot when you go outside of class. It gives us a firsthand experience.”
The informal luncheon, held at Jewish Family Service (JFS) in Margate, was made possible through a grant awarded to JFS and The Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Foundation and administered through the N.J. Commission on Holocaust Education.
The grant came from the Murray and Linda Laulicht Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing students and survivors together through a series of events that take place in various locations throughout the state. The Laulichts, of West Orange, are children of survivors.
Gail Rosenthal, director of the Holocaust Resource Center of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, called the luncheon, “Way beyond my expectation.”
She said that she had noticed when the luncheon was just getting underway, and the students came in, that it seemed like a typical stranger meets stranger situation. Initially, both groups appeared hesitant.
“But halfway into the session, there was so much intense talking, we needed a microphone to make an announcement,” she said. “And you could see that the students were touched by meeting the survivors. And the survivors were thrilled, because it was a new person interested and wanting to hear their story. And they knew that that life story will go beyond the room.”
With the students was their teacher, Abby Bender, who has taught the Holocaust class at ACHS for several years. She said the class is an elective, presently has two sections of 20 to 25 students and meets five days a week. Her vision for the program is to engage the students and have them understand the Holocaust and other genocides on a very personal level.
“How could this start? One person,” she says, “six million times.”
She hopes the genocide studies will motivate the students to become life-long advocates. “I want to see them – more like the ‘60s – beome involved activists.”
Winkler said that it was the objective of the commission on Holocaust education to promote Holocaust education throughout the state. This is done through programs designed to heighten awareness that are then implemented throughout the state on a regular basis.
He told the students that they had heard stories this day that they were obligated to tell to others. Stories that they should still be telling in the year 2045, which the students acknowledged would be the 100th anniversary of the liberation of those people with whom they had been speaking. Survivors who would no longer be here to tell their stories.
“The students need to know the past in order to speak for the survivors,” Winkler said
Among the survivors present were Ernest Paul, Betty Grebenschikoff, Joseph Rosenberg, Sarah Katz, Rose and Isadore Steinberg, Rose Zelkovitz, Philip Goldfarb, Beita Borowick and Cyla Kowenski.
Mazzo, who was at a table with Sarah Katz, said he decided to take the Holocaust and genocide class, because he “Wanted to learn more of not just what happened as much as why and how it happened. The class has taught me about the different things that led to the Holocaust and other genocides.” Two survivors, he recalled, spoke at one of his classes when he attended middle school in Brigantine.”
Most of the survivors at the luncheon regularly attend monthly luncheons JFS holds for them in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, and which are also supported in part by the local survivors. The luncheons include speakers and special programs.
This particular luncheon went beyond the deli sandwiches and potato salad. The survivors had the opportunity to tell their personal stories to the students. Cyla Kowenski summed it up at the end with poignant perspective: “I survived to tell what happened.”
And the students promised not to forget what they had heard.