Educates the Community
By Kristi Cordell and Jenny Ott
James Buchanan High School
Robert Kennedy once said, "Each time a person stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against prejudice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope." Martina Fegan and Sheree Jansen, English teachers at James Buchanan High School, Pennsylvania, had this thought in mind when they coordinated a Holocaust Symposium for their students and the community on November 7, 1996. Three outstanding speakers included Reverend William Harter, an expert on antisemitism; Ralph W. Fink, a liberator of Dachau; and Clara Isaacman, survivor known as "The Living Anne Frank."
Rev. Harter, C. Isaacman,
and R. Fink
Reverend Harter opened the Symposium. "Words can make a difference," he said as he explained that one of the roots of anti-Semitism was the belief that the Jews killed Christ. Many Christians today still believe that. "The Holocaust has roots that go all the way back to the first century. Christians need to look at their attitudes and how they were formed." Harter told the audience that the whole story can never be told, even by those who lived it. "It started as an upbeat day. The Germans were on the run and the war would end soon. We didn't know what to expect."
This is how Ralph W. Fink, a liberator of Dachau, described the day he had a chance to see, first-hand, the horrible conditions in the Nazi concentration camp. Mr. Fink's presentation was brief, but very emotional. As a member of the 45th regiment and an infantry machine gunner, his unit was sent to liberate Dachau. They had heard stories, but nothing prepared them for what was in store. The goal was to capture the camp and secure the perimeter. No souvenirs were to be taken. The first things they noticed were the many boxcars full of people who had been deprived of food and water. All 2,000 were dead. The troops' reactions were mixed. Some cursed, some cried. All were in state of shock. Many bodies were piled up in front of the barracks. Mr. Fink's group was to secure the unexplored back position of the camp. He was in such a state of shock that what happened next was vague. In the back of the camp they found people too weak to go to the main gate. All had deep, sunken eyes and weighed about 65 pounds. Many crawled out. One man tried to walk but fell every few steps. It was an overpowering experience.
Mr. Fink concluded his speech with a letter to liberators written by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner and author of the memoir, Night. In the letter, Elie gave thanks to all who had liberated the concentration camps.
Clara Issacman's childhood was like any normal child's until Hitler invaded Belgium in 1942. After that, Clara was forced to wear the Star of David. German soldiers even pushed and picked on her when she would walk to school. She was so embarrassed that whenever she walked, she would use her school books to cover up her star. It was not that she was ashamed of being Jewish; it was because she was afraid. One day German soldiers came into her home and wanted to see her parents' passports. The Germans were not taking Rumanian Jews, so her family was spared that night. With the help of her sister's Christian music teacher, she and her family went into hiding for two and a half years, hiding in eighteen different locations.
On the day of liberation, Clara walked outside to take her first breath of fresh air in more than two years. She fainted. Today, Clara lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is a mother and a teacher. While Clara still has scars from her experiences of the Holocaust, she lives her life day-by-day knowing she survived it.
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