Last month, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) commemorated the United Nations International Day to remember victims of the Holocaust. The UN urges member states to develop programming, which instills the memory of the Holocaust in the minds of young people and urges them to do their part to ensure we learn from such atrocities.
Embracing this theme of education and advocacy, JCRC invited five diverse schools from the Boston area to the event symbolically held at the German International School of Boston. The first part of the program introduced audience members to Ronit Nudelman Perl, Deputy Consul of Israel to New England and Friedrich Lohr, Consul General of Germany to Boston. Lisa Einstein, a grandchild of survivors, led a beautiful candle lighting ceremony where representatives from the international community along with survivors and their families lit candles. Perhaps the most poignant moment was when representatives from each school lit a candle together showing their determination to make a difference and stand up for others.
Before Auschwitz survivor, Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, took the stage, Elyse Rast, Holocaust Educator for JCRC, taught the audience that even though Auschwitz was not the first camp to open nor last to close, the UN chose this day for the annual commemoration because Auschwitz’s liberation marked the end of “the worst of the worst.”
Izzy Arbeiter was sent to the Starachowice-Wierzbnik Ghetto in 1941 with his entire family. In October 1942 when the ghetto was liquidated, he and two of his brothers were chosen for slave labor, but his mother, father, and 7 year old brother were all immediately sent to the gas chambers at Treblinka. Before they were taken away, Izzy’s father urged his sons to carry on the Jewish tradition if they survived. Izzy told of his torturous experiences at Auschwitz, including coming face to face with Dr. Mengele. The tragic nature of Izzy’s story cannot be expressed in words. There were few dry eyes in the room by the end of the story, and the students were obviously affected by his message. Izzy ended his speech with a challenge to the students. “You are the future, and you are the only ones who can prevent this from happening again.” Before leaving the stage, he took questions from students. One young woman asked if he still had his tattoo, at which point Izzy rolled up his sleeve and showed his permanently scarred arm to everyone.
After closing remarks, the students stayed for an educational program on bullying prevention led by Jennifer E. Smith, Associate Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League in Boston. She urged students that it’s not easy to make changes and change can be slow, but it’s time to “stop putting up with put downs.”
When I heard about this program I asked myself, “What does bullying have to do with the Holocaust?” After the program, I realized that bullies target certain victims, not based on who they are, but on appearance, sexual orientation, and religion. There are also those who stand by and watch while others are victimized, and don’t do anything to stop it. In many ways, the Holocaust embodies the characteristics of school bullying. Just as many kids stand by while others are victimized, groups of people and even countries stood by and watched as over 11 million people were killed by the Nazis. Having an anti-bullying program tied to an event about the Holocaust teaches students that the choices they make and the actions they carry out every day make a huge difference.
This UN event not only gave students the opportunity to hear a Holocaust survivor, but allowed them to directly apply what they heard to their own lives. Marlee, a 7th grade student, from the German International School said, “I found the event on Thursday very touching and memorable. It was an honor for me to listen to the moving story of Israel Arbeiter.”
by Larisa Klebe, JCRC Holocaust intern