Survivors make Holocaust real

Truth: The stories of those who lived through the period bring it to life for sixth-graders.

November 19, 2003|By Dana Klosner-Wehner | Dana Klosner-Wehner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Two Holocaust survivors told their stories of courage to an enraptured group of about 40 sixth-graders and their parents at Folly Quarter Middle School in Ellicott City last week.

The two women recounted their childhood memories - one of being hidden in convents and homes, and one of being sent to America to live with strangers - with a positive message of the goodness of those who helped them. They each sprinkled their tales with humor to help get their points across that, although there were horrors, it was not a completely dark period.

For the children, the talks were the culmination of a three-month research project in which three sixth-grade English classes studied aspects of World War II and the Holocaust. At the start of the project, they read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

It is required by the Howard County gifted-and-talented curriculum that children read Anne Frank's diary in sixth grade, said Erin Ault, a gifted-and-talented resource teacher. "But they don't get U.S. or world history until eighth grade. I felt they would get much more of a life lesson and take more away from the book if they knew the context in which it was written."

The children researched topics such as World War II vehicles and weaponry, Oskar Schindler - a man credited with saving the lives of more than 1,100 Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Holocaust - and compared Hitler to Saddam Hussein.

The survivors brought the events to life.

"By listening to the speakers, we actually know these things happened," said sixth-grader Dana Jacobson, whose project was about Schindler. "When you read things, they are not always true. But when you hear someone's experience, you know it's the truth."

"When you think of the Holocaust, you think of the bad times," said sixth-grader Courtney Miller, who researched concentration camps. "It's interesting to hear the stories of those that did survive and all they had to do. They talked about all the people that helped them, too."

Trudy Turkel, now a grandmother living in Ellicott City, told her story of escape from Hitler's reach in 1938.

"About 1,000 children were saved by an American Kindertransport," Turkel said. "I was 14 years old. My parents were willing to sign a release that I would travel all the way to America alone."

"I was selected to appear before an American council in ... Switzerland," she said. "The man asked me, `Why do you want to go to America?' I said, `I want to be free.' He had his feet on his desk with a hole in the sole of his shoe. That would never happen in Germany."

She then was transported with seven other children on the steamship Hamburg to New York, she said. Upon arrival, she was put in charge of a 10-year- old boy and they boarded a train to St. Louis.

"I only knew three English words," she said. "Yes, no and ice cream. We were hungry on the train. We ate ice cream all the way from New York to St. Louis."

Turkel's parents immigrated to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1941, she said. Her sister was sent to Israel, where she is living, and her brother was sent to England when he was 5. He was reunited with his parents in New York and eventually moved to St. Louis to live with Turkel.

"My family had a happy ending. We all survived," Turkel said. "There were some good Germans. There are still good Germans. It wasn't all black. There were some grays.

"They [the German people] suffered, too," she said. "The first time I went back to visit, all my classmates were widows without grandchildren. They realize they were wrong for following that madman."

A German soldier, Carl Frishbaur, was an integral figure in saving the life of Flora Singer, now a grandmother living in Potomac, and the lives of her mother and two sisters.

Before the war, a family friend named Carl used to come for dinner, said Singer. "I only knew him as Uncle Carl," she said.

In 1942 [in Belgium], my mother was trying to come home in time for the 8 o'clock curfew. "A German soldier was calling her name. She looked back, and it was Carl. He brought food to us. Carl came to the door one night and said, `Take the children and go. Don't ask questions, just go!'

"We never saw Carl again. But it was because of him we left in time."

Singer and her sisters were hidden in convents and homes until the liberation, she said. Her mother was given fake documents and a job in a factory, by another Belgian Christian friend, George Ranson, she said.

Her family, including her father, was reunited in the United States after the war, she said.

"I think it's important to tell the story to children," Singer said after her talk. "So when they grow they can remember."

Sixth-grader Evan Meehan, whose great-grandfather was one of the soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy, said the speakers "taught me a lot; they were very moving."

Turkel added another message.

"I want them to leave knowing it was not all bad," Turkel said after her talk. "I want to bring some happiness and peace."

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