Students at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School (PWHS) and Colonial Middle School heard Holocaust survivors tell stories that ranged from horror to hope in honor of the international Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 2.
PWHS: Daniel Goldsmith and his story
Daniel Goldsmith was ten years old when his father was sent to a labor camp and Nazi soldiers raided his Antwerp, Belgium neighborhood to arrest Jewish families in 1942. His mother brought he and his sister Lillian to the roof to hide and later sent them to the countryside. Mr. Goldsmith was moved around to different orphanages under the name "Willy Peters" but was later discovered and sent to prison. One day, he and several other boys were loaded onto a cattle car to go to one of the concentration camps. The boys pried away boards from the side of the car, escaped from the moving train, and spent the remainder of the war hiding in the homes of Catholic families in the Belgian town of Perwez.
Mr. Goldsmith spoke to a standing room only crowd at PWHS.
"I think it was very successful. The room was completely filled. It exceeded all my expectations," said PWHS junior Hope Barrist who coordinated the event. "We're the last generation that will ever hear personally from a Holocaust survivor, and it's our job to spread those stories and keep them alive so hate can stop being spread."
In addition to sharing his memories of the war, Mr Goldsmith stressed the importance of remembering what happened during the Holocaust in order for it not to happen again.
"We need to learn from our mistakes and we need to make sure another Holocaust like this doesn't happen," said PWHS sophomore Danielle Grobman. "We need to make sure that these mass killings and mass hatred don't continue."
"As far as I am concerned, my message is don't hate," said Mr. Goldsmith. I believe if there had been no hate there would have been no Holocaust. There's no reason why people can't treat other people with decency and be nice to each other. So that's my biggest thing. Don't hate. Period. The ramifications are great."
Mr. Goldsmith also stayed afterward to answer additional questions and speak one-on-one with students.
"Hearing this instead of watching a video online is a special moment," said PWHS sophomore Lynnell Ametame. "It was really interesting and much appreciated."
CMS: Ernest Gross and Don Greenbaum and their story
Ernest Gross, a Jewish 16-year-old from Romania, was half an hour away from death in the Dachau concentration camp in Germany on April 29, 1945, when Don Greenbaum, a Jewish 20-year-old corporal from Philadelphia, and hundreds of other American soldiers arrived to liberate the camp. Recently, the two shared stories together and answered questions with eighth grade students at Colonial Middle School.
"Very soon there will be no survivors," said CMS eighth grader and Student Council President Juliette Toneatto. "It's so important that we keep that memory alive, because it's important that we don't repeat what we did, and it's important that we honor all of the people who suffered during that time."
While Mr. Gross and Mr. Greenbaum talked about many of the horrors of World War II, they ultimately have one message they'd like to students to remember: don't hate.
"It's important for me to try to teach the students not to hate each other, because we all come from the same source," said Mr. Gross. "It doesn't matter how you look or where you come from, you should try to get along with each other. That's my message. So when they grow up, it'll be a better world."
Connections to the eighth grade curriculum
The assembly tied to the eighth grade English language arts and social studies curriculum at CMS.
"I think, this year especially, we've learned a lot about discrimination against different groups. This shows it to a further extent," said eighth grader Nick Sherlock.
"It fits so well with what we're doing this year with human rights. Right now, we're actually starting the play of The Diary of Anne Frank," added English language arts teacher Cindy Cox. "It completed our year examining human rights violations, but it ends on a beautiful note with the positivity of hope for the future."