To me the Holocaust was just another history
lesson, until actual Holocaust survivors spoke at our school about their
mind-numbing past. When these men and women spoke about their experiences,
it brought true meaning and understanding about what really happened.
Seeing the tattooed numbers on their arms and hearing their stories are
moments I will never forget. One of the survivors allowed us to see the
tattooed numbers on his arm. He explained that this was the first time
that he ever did this. Previously it was just too emotional to share this
with other people because it brought back too many painful memories.
After hearing the Holocaust survivors, I
went home and told my mother about the school program. She then relayed
some stories that she had heard from my grandmother in Poland. My
grandmother, Maria Mackiewicz, was born in 1923 in Narewka, a small town
near the Russian border. Mostly Jewish people settled the town. There they
had their stores, businesses, houses, and synagogues. While my grandmother
was growing up, she became very close to her Jewish friends and respected
them. However, when World War II began, Hitler wanted to get rid of all
the Jews because he thought the Jewish race was inferior. My grandmother,
who was an Orthodox Christian, could not understand what was happening to
her Jewish friends as well as to her own family and Polish people. Under
the Nazis occupation of Poland, my grandmother's seventeen-year-old
brother was taken away by the German soldiers and was never heard from
again. After her brother's abduction, she went
into hiding and witnessed some of the most horrific things she had ever
At another time, when she was hiding in the woods with her Jewish friends, she witnessed another terrible event. A German soldier took a family to a clearing in the woods where the father was forced to dig his own grave. The father was shot in front of his family and thrown into the grave and the family was forced to bury him.
The sadness of my grandmother's stories deepened for me when our high school history class went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. As I was looking at the pictures of the frightened children at the museum, it brought back the memories of my emigration from Poland to the United States. I was seven years old and leaving my grandparents and other relatives behind. I was about to live in a strange land. I can remember the airplane because I was afraid it would fall out of the sky into the Atlantic Ocean. Suddenly, I could sympathize with the frightened children being loaded into railroad boxcars, and not knowing where they were going or what was going to happen to them. When my family and I arrived at Chicago, I did not know anyone and could not speak or understand the language. My family's lives changed drastically in our new home where I became more comfortable as I learned to speak English. But now, after listening to the Holocaust survivors' and learning what my own grandmother endured, my comfort is uneasy. I realize that we must never take our lives for granted—we must speak up for ourselves and for others. The quote by Martin Niemoller addresses this need to be aware of others and possibly to move beyond our own protected environment in our efforts to help others who need us.
Who was Martin Niemoller and why should
you care? In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn't speak
up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't
speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came
for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because J was Protestant. Then
they came for me- and by that time no one was left to speak up (Niemoller
As students we must become involved in all areas of intolerance. It starts with intervening when you see bullying in school; these bullies could grow up to be Neo-Nazis if not challenged. You must speak up if you see religious intolerance, racial injustice, or any other form of discrimination. Students should welcome the opportunity to interact with students of different backgrounds and beliefs to learn more about others as well as themselves.
Religious tolerance, prevention of discrimination, and nonviolence must be stressed in the schools as much as the "Don't Drink and Drive Program" and "Just Say No To Drugs." When students become involved, they will learn how to work together to prevent something like the Holocaust from ever happening again.
We should look to the inscription on the Dachau Memorial as our warning for the future—a warning to open the hearts of people everywhere. The words go as such:
A warning to the living,, of today and of all time to come. A warning that evil is always in man, and that he must fight against it at all times. Considering that the epoch which underwent such massacres is not far from us, neither in time nor space. Help us to testify of the past. Help us to protect the future ( Memorial and Museum of Dachau).
Bartlett, John, 1820-1905. Familiar Quotations. 16th ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Bantan
In Memoriam. Memorial and Museum of
Dachau. 1960. Ottenheimer, Fritz. Escape and Return. Nebraska: Morris,
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