Holocaust survivor brings story of endurance to Batavia Middle School
BATAVIA, N.Y. — On March 12, Batavia Middle School's eighth-graders will listen to a powerful and emotional story of what it was like for Henry Silberstern to experience the Holocaust at the age of 14 and later be married by the rabbi who liberated him at the end of the war.
Boonie Abrams, Director at the Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information in Rochester, said these lectures are so important for today's eighth-graders because they will likely be the last generation to hear the living survivors speak.
"The survivors who speak will tell kids: You are the next generation; you will be in charge of creating a world where perhaps genocide will disappear," said Abrams.
Silberstern is the only person out of his 54 relatives to survive the Holocaust. Out of the 15,000 boys who came through Terezin, only 150 survived the Holocaust, Silberstern being one of them.
Abrams said most of the survivors lost their parents and some or all of their siblings. She said eighth-graders are old enough to understand this, and young enough to imagine the pain of the loss.
"Sometimes, kids leave these presentations with renewed love and affection for the siblings they fight with and the parents they get mad at," said Abrams.
The emotional impact varies with each student. Abrams said Silberstern speaks in a "matter of fact" way. He explains that this was life as he knew it.
There is a positive influence on students who hear a survivor's story, and studies prove it.
"Studies of students who heard survivor testimony have shown that a higher number of these students go into helping fields or programs designed to bring relief to areas of the world where there is a lot of suffering," said Abrams.
It is important for students to share these stories with others.
"In thirty years, when there is no one left who remembers the Holocaust, and Holocaust deniers say, "It never happened," today's eighth-graders, now middle-aged adults will say, "Yes there was, I met someone who lived through it, and I am a witness to their experience," said Abrams.
She said even those students who dread the lecture for fear it will upset them or even bore them are usually riveted by hearing a survivor speak.
"And the impact lasts a lifetime," said Abrams.
Images courtesy of the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo.