With tales and tears, keeping a memory alive

April 05, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

One man told how German soldiers forced him to dump hundreds of corpses into the crematoriums at Auschwitz. Another told how he'd played soccer in the Warsaw ghetto, oblivious of the horrors that were to come.

And then there were tears. Tears for families lost. Tears for children tortured. Tears for survivors traumatized by the continued ignorance of others.

Elderly Jews who survived the Holocaust shared their experiences with about 500 Baltimore County high school students yesterday in an attempt to make sure no one can say, "I didn't know."

Survivors and students met at the Peggy and Yale Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills as part of a program sponsored by Comcast Cable Communication, the Baltimore Jewish Council and the county school system.

Although Baltimore County high school students learn about the Nazis' attempted extermination of European Jews in their sophomore world history classes, many of them have never met a Holocaust survivor, said Nancy Boyd, secondary school social studies coordinator.

Boyd was shocked, she said, when she read that a recent poll found that 38 percent of American high school students couldn't identify the Holocaust.

About 40 Holocaust survivors shared their stories with the young people as they met together in small discussion groups.

Lola Lewin, a 76-year-old from Pikesville, recalled the day in 1942 when German soldiers snatched her from her father's house in Sosnowiec, Poland, and forced her to work in a fabric factory.

"I was 17. I was just like you," Lewin told about 15 students from high schools across the county. "I had just finished high school. I had never worked before."

Lewin and 150 other young women were taken by train to what is now the Czech Republic, where they labored in a factory six days a week, 12 hours a day, subsisting on bread and broth, Lewin said.

Still, she said, she was blessed. Although Lewin suffered from malnutrition and frostbite, she was never beaten. And she wasn't one of the nearly 6 million Jews, including Lewin's mother, father, brother and sister, who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

When American and Russian troops liberated Jews in Central Europe, Lewin was reunited with another brother. They were the only survivors in their family. "All the rest, including uncles, aunts, grandparents -- they were burned in Auschwitz," Lewin said.

Students who heard Lewin's story said they couldn't believe she'd survived such emotional and physical trauma.

"I would have rather died," 16-year-old Kaleisha Scheper, a sophomore at Overlea High School, said during the discussion.

"Did you lose your faith in God?" asked Tawonda Maxwell, 15, also an Overlea sophomore.

"We had to believe in God," Lewin said. "If we didn't believe in God, we would become like the Germans. I still go every Saturday to the synagogue."

When asked what lessons might be learned from the Holocaust, Vanessa Vale, 17, a junior at Carver Center for Arts and Technology, said that people should "stay educated, stay open-minded."

Lewin added a lesson of her own.

"Enjoy life," she told students. "I have never enjoyed life. I have always lived with the memories, and now it is the end."

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