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February 20, 2009 - 10:32am

Holocaust survivor brings story of endurance to Batavia Middle School

posted by Tasia Boland in Batavia Middle School, schools, holocaust.

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.

Brian Schollard
Brian Schollard's picture
Last seen: 3 months 1 week ago
Joined: Oct 19 2008 - 9:46am
I recently visited the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC. I have always had a big interest in WWII because of my father being a Veteran of the War. I know much of the history of the era, but was still very moved by the exhibits and artifacts. As I descended the 4 floors of the museum the only sounds you hear are the loops of movie footage displayed on monitors, the shuffling of feet, and the occasional gasp let out by someone. If any one spoke to another person it was only 1 or 2 very hushed words. After walking through and spending a few moments on the hall of remembrance, I left the memorial and went back out into the bright sunshine of DC. I was very moved and disturbed.I find it hard to put to words what its like to visit. If you find your self in our nations capital make the time to go.
Lori Ann Santini
Lori Ann Santini's picture
Last seen: 7 years 1 month ago
Joined: Jan 3 2009 - 11:44am
Thank you Tasia for remembering the autrocities of the war. My father is from Romania. He survived WW2 as a child traveling from country to country in Europe with his family. Eventually his family was given visa passes to Venezuela. Years later they were granted visas to the United States. I have tears in my eyes as I remember what my fathers' family went through. When the war started my fathers' first memory is of my grandparents getting the family prepared to leave their homeland. My grandfather dug a hole in the back yard. He then lined it and covered it with barbed wire. All of the family valuables were thrown in the hole. They had hoped that they would return soon and dig the items up. My father watching this play out walked over to the hole and threw his teddy bear in. There was no way to retrieve it. It was left behind. They have never returned to that area of the world. My uncle was born in a field as a battle raged nearby. My father speaks very little of the horrors of that period of his life. When he does speak you find yourself suddenly transformed to where he speaks of. You are huddled in the corner listening to the bombs crashing around you. You pray that you will survive the latest attack. You realize you were lucky that day when you find out the bamb shelter you normally go to has been leveled. Then you listen to your belly rumble. It hasn't had food in it for days. The favorite food my dad, aunts and uncles had was a crust of bread with lard spread on it and a sprinkle of sugar. Dad said that that was like eating birthday cake to him. I won't even begin to tell you the putrid stories of the rotten meat and kolhrabi soup. To this day my father can't eat a root vegetable. I could go on for hours telling the stories I have heard. My father has become strong enough to tell the stories to school children. He feels it is his responsibility to educate the next generation about genocide. Unfortunately it is still going on in places like Darfur. Some day it might end but I won't see it in my life time. By writing this article, you have taken up the torch. You have taken on a history that should never ever be forgotten. Thank you.
Gabor Deutsch
Gabor Deutsch's picture
Last seen: 3 years 1 day ago
Joined: May 24 2008 - 4:16pm
I agree. It can be forgiven but Never forget it. Unfortunately history will repeat itself and Darfur will be part of history while it continues right now. No human being on this earth should ever have to be subjected to extermination ! If we ever ignore it then we might forget how un-human we all could be. I know descendants of the Jewish extermination. I think the diary of Ann Frank should be read in school. I experienced the exhibit in Washington D.C. If you have any ounce of heart in you then you come out sick and in tears. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind".
Tasia Boland
Tasia Boland's picture
Last seen: 5 years 8 months ago
Joined: Feb 4 2009 - 9:19am
It is so moving to hear your stories. It is so hard sometimes to listen to the pain of others, but it is so important, and I hope everyone can remember that. My brother-in-law lives in DC, and next time I visit, I will make sure to visit the Holocaust Memorial. I agree that the Diary of Anne Frank should be read in all schools.

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