Holocaust Remembrance

Eva Safier Wiener was 10 months old when she and her parents boarded the M.S. St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner docked in Hamburg and bound for Cuba.  It was May 1939 and the Safiers were among more than 900 Jewish passengers desperate to get out of Nazi Germany.

Wiener told her harrowing story to Edison Intermediate School students on Jan. 28, via a live stream into the classrooms arranged by Edison teachers Jacqueline Messinger and Sarah Lazarus in coordination with the Holocaust Council of Greater MetroWest New Jersey.

Denied permission to dock in Cuba, the United States and Canada, the ship’s captain vowed not to return his Jewish passengers to Germany, instead finding four countries - Holland, Belgium, France, and England - who were willing to divide up the passenger manifest and welcome the asylum seekers. Despite having relatives in the Netherlands, Wiener said her father chose to put his family on the list for England “to get as far away from Adolf Hitler as possible.”  Many of the passengers who went to the other three countries, said Wiener, were eventually sent to concentration camps as the Nazis continued to invade their neighbors during World War II.

“I am a survivor because I was part of significant history. Simply because I was Jewish, I was forced to leave a country behind because prejudice, bigotry, hate, and anti-Semitism created an atmosphere that turned the world upside down,” said Wiener.  “I want to be the spokesperson for those who were not able to tell their stories and who will not be able to tell their stories much longer.  We must be watchful and vigilant and careful not to judge others based on our differences.”

Wiener says she spent much of her young life in bomb shelters in London to escape German air raids.  “But that’s nothing compared to what my life might have been if we had been sent to Belgium, France, or the Netherlands,” she said.  Following the war, the Safier family made it to America in 1946, eventually settling in New Jersey.

“We are the last survivors and you are the last generation to hear us in person,” Wiener told the students. “Your homework assignment is to pass on my story [and that of other Holocaust survivors] to your families so that the next generation will know what happened” and will join together to prevent genocide.

Wiener’s presentation came as students and staff across the district recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

At Roosevelt Intermediate School, 7th graders in Kimberly Bennett’s social studies classes examined the Holocaust through photographs and other primary sources, while 8th graders in the social studies classes of Kira Brady and Elizabeth LeStrange provided thoughtful answers to probing questions. Brady and teacher Dominick Ceccio also led discussions about Renia Spiegel, a Jewish schoolgirl who -- like another famed diarist, Anne Frank -- kept a diary account of life in Nazi-occupied Poland before she was executed by Nazi soldiers in July 1942.

During morning announcements on Jan. 26, Westfield High School students Remy Waldman and Eric Harnisher, co-presidents of the Jewish Cultural and Development Club, and Sophia Braun, a member of the No Place for Hate Committee, called on the school community to "listen and learn from survivors' personal stories and take the time to understand the history of the Holocaust."  They reiterated that it is "our responsibility to condemn acts of discrimination and bias when we see it, even on a small level, so that we will never have to experience the horrors of genocide that terrorized our grandparents’ generation.”

The three student leaders called for a moment of silence for all who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

“We are so grateful to Mrs. Wiener for sharing her compelling story with our students. Her presentation, and that of other Holocaust survivors and their families, provide real life context to our Holocaust curriculum and remind us that we must always speak out against hate,” says Superintendent Dr. Raymond González.

González also praised the high school student leaders for “their powerful and impactful statement” and applauded the lessons and discussions that took place around International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The lessons provided a thoughtful examination of this horrific period in history,” González said.  “These classroom experiences are just some of the many ways our students learn about the Holocaust and genocide throughout the school year.”

 

Source: Westfield Public Schools