Holocaust survivors visit Ridgewood middle school


From left to right; Vera Chapman, Barbara Wind; Michael Zeiger; Students watch survivors discuss the Holocaust in the George Washington Middle School gym. Moments before, a candle was lit to remember victims of the Holocaust.

by Chloe Siohan, Staff Writer

Holocaust survivors Vera Chapman and Michael Zeiger spoke to students at George Washington Middle School on June 12, discussing their experience during the war.

The pair not only discussed their personal struggles at the time, but the importance of confronting hatred again today to prevent another Holocaust from happening. In addition, a candle was lit by moderator Barbara Wind, the Council Director of the Holocaust Council of the Greater MetroWest, to remember the lives lost.

“Ignorance about the Holocaust prevails among people, among highly educated people, in this country, and around the world,” Chapman said. “I’m here to educate young people, so they understand what’s happening.”

Today, combatting anti-Semitism and remembering the Holocaust are growing more and more important, as Jewish centers are being threatened daily. According to CNN, 100 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers (as of March 13, 2016).

The key to preventing more anti-Semitism from spreading, and from having another genocide happening either against Jewish people, or other groups, is by sharing the stories of hardship during the times of genocide.

During the assembly, Chapman reflected on a moment when someone asked her how she could have suffered during the Holocaust, because she was a baby at the time.

“I never knew my grandparents, I never knew my uncle, I never knew my cousins,” Chapman said in response. “My father’s whole family was exterminated.”

She also reflected on the time that someone asked her friend, a survivor of Auschwitz, why she didn’t bring her dogs on the train with her to the concentration camp.

“It showed the woman was quite ignorant as to what happened, how people were transported to the camps,” Chapman said to the students.

Michael Zeiger, also reflected on the experiences of the Holocaust. At the time, Zeiger had a neighbor who many considered odd, but ended up being his family’s savior during the Holocaust. His neighbor hid them in a bunker under his barn. There’s a book about the neighbor, Anton, called “The Secret of the Village Fool.” And according to Zeiger, up until those times, he was called ‘The Village Ghoul.’

“He was different than the rest of the people in town,” Zeiger said. “He was barely surviving.”

His mother though, felt bad for him, and gave him food and clothing, and treated him respectfully.

Zeiger said, “He remembered that,” and attributed him to saving his family’s lives.

Later in the assembly, kids were invited to ask questions. When someone asked the survivors what could be done to prevent another Holocaust from happening, Zeiger reminded the audience of the genocides that are happening today, and that we are generation that will prevent another Holocaust-like event from happening.

“Look what’s happening now in the Middle East,” Zeiger said. “They’re slaughtering Christians in the Middle East. It’s still happening.”

Zeiger also added, “What we have to do is combat hatred.”

Wind wrapped up the event saying, “We can feel sorry, we can feel sympathy, but for a survivor it’s a different feeling,” and preaching the same things Zeiger did.

At the end, Principal Katie Kashmanian stepped up and addressed the students, and some of the mean behavior children have been exhibiting towards others at the school.

“[I hope] that the stories you’ve heard today help you understand why we can’t let that kind of behavior, that kind of disrespect, that kind of hatred take root,” Kashmanian said. “You need to stand up, speak up, respect each other, and do the right thing.”