By Rosie Gertzman
This spring, students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Holocaust Education and Reflection Club (HEAR Club) loaded up a bus and headed to Wesley Enhanced Living (WEL) in Media, a senior living facility previously known as Martins Run. The eighth- through 11th-grade students embarked on a day of sharing, learning and growing with the WEL residents. It was a day filled with laughter, tears and thought-provoking questions.
When the students arrived, they were given a brief tour of the facilities and were brought to a large conference room for a presentation by the HEAR Club 11th-graders. Residents filled the room and listened to four students share about their trimester in Israel and their visit to Poland. The residents lit up as they witnessed the students’ joy in speaking about Israel. Although many of the residents in this primarily Jewish home had never visited Israel, the 30-minute presentation allowed young and old to come together and celebrate a common love for the Jewish homeland.Following the presentation, students escorted the residents to their various activities throughout the building. Holocaust survivor Frieda Hoffman shared her story. Born in Poland, Hoffman faced anti-Semitism starting from a very young age. It was beyond impressive that she was able to recall the excruciating details from her past, even though she is now well into her 90s. The HEAR Club members were honored and impressed that she used the last wisp of each breath to share her story with them. Hoffman described being able to relay her story to younger Jewish generations as her revenge.
Next, Ilse Greif, from Germany, told her story. Greif noticed the changes in the attitude toward Jews at a very young age. It was appalling to hear how her best friends began ignoring her as soon as they realized she was a Jew. This relatable situation demonstrated to the teens the severity of the issues in Europe, and how students, like themselves, faced these horrors.Finally, Ruth Haas, of France, came to speak to the group. With pages full of notes, Haas said that this was her first time telling her own Holocaust story. She had been a beautiful actress in France, taken in by numerous different families, and constantly hiding as a Jew. Haas spent time separated from her own family, hiding in a theater and putting on shows. She was forced to immerse herself in French culture in order to survive. At first, Haas was nervous about sharing her story with the group, but as she spoke, she became more relaxed — and was clearly, a natural. Her story of perseverance and pain brought everyone to tears, wrapping up a beautiful and emotional day.
The most rewarding part of the day for the HEAR Club’s young teens was hearing Haas whisper to program coordinator Amy Blum that she was so happy to have presented her story so that it can now be shared and heard. It is part of the HEAR Club’s mission to continue the legacy of survivors, ensuring that the next generation has the stories and facts to share with others to help prevent the Shoah from ever happening again.
Rosie Gertzman is one of the student presidents of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Holocaust Education and Reflection Club.