Horrors of the Holocaust Witnesses: Twenty survivors of the Nazi era described their memories to 500 young people and cameras from Steven Spielberg's foundation.

February 24, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

They were a group of 20, speaking for the millions who could no longer do it for themselves. Their audience was 500 high school students -- and perhaps posterity.

In an event videotaped for possible inclusion in a documentary, the 20 people -- survivors of the Holocaust -- gave personal accounts to the Baltimore County students of growing up in the shadows of Nazi Germany before and during World War II and enduring its horrors.

"We did things no children should have to do. We grew up very quickly," said Rubin Sztajer, 69, who was raised in Klobuck, Poland.

The program at the Peggy & Yale Gordon Center for Performing Arts in Owings Mills was organized by Comcast Cable in cooperation with the Baltimore Jewish Council, Turner Original Productions and the county school system.

Participants watched "Survivors of the Holocaust," a film of interviews produced by Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Then the students divided into clusters, each with a survivor, for discussions that were videotaped for possible use by the nonprofit foundation established by Mr. Spielberg -- director of the Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List" -- to record the memories.

Mr. Sztajer tearfully and quietly told about stealing food for his family before being sent to a concentration camp in Germany at age 16.

re-member being on the train going there, and I was so hungry and there was a man near me who was dying and had bread," said Mr. Sztajer, who lives in Pikesville. "I could not take that bread from him while he was alive, but then he died and I took the bread."

Lily Weisz of Reisterstown vividly remembers being 17 and slaving away in work camps before being sent to Auschwitz -- three days before the death camp was liberated. Of almost 100 members of her family, four survived.

"A big question for me all of my life was why me, and now I've found the answer," said Mrs. Weisz, who is from Transylvania, in what is now Romania. "It is to tell you young folks that yes, it was true, it did happen."

Michelle Trombetta, a 17-year-old junior at Parkville High School, said she could not imagine living through such experiences.

"I could not have made it like they did," Michelle said. "They have such strong characters."

The students -- a mix of races and religions -- questioned the survivors about how they dealt with their memories and what could be done to ensure that another Holocaust never occurs.

Sean Lafanishen, 16, made sure he shook Mr. Sztajer's hand before he left and thanked him for his story. "You don't know how much longer they are going to be here," the junior from Patapsco High School said.

"Eventually there won't be any Holocaust survivors left."

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