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Archive for November, 2015

the last generation

My 93 year old friend Alvin Peachman came into school on Friday. He was once a teacher at this same high school, and I was once his history student. Now he is in my first book, and it was one white haired old man interviewing another, before a polite and rapt audience of tenth and twelfth graders in my classroom. My friend Liza from the New York State United Teachers, who did a nice story on us for Veterans Day, also came up.

 

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Alvin even brought in a fragment of the kamikaze plane that tried to do him in when it crashed into his ship, killing scores of his shipmates. As a radioman he would have been a target on the bridge of the ship, supporting the invasion of Okinawa, but he was not near that part of the ship when the suicide pilot struck that day.

Before the interview session began, I asked for a show of hands of the number of kids who knew of a World War II veteran, like Alvin, who was still alive. Two kids volunteered. Nearly thirty years ago, it was two hands in the air for every kid. And that is how this whole project got started.

Alvin was from a generation that knew firsthand of the Civil War veterans, and his father and his uncles were all veterans of the Western Front in World War I. He had a good day with the kids, and made them laugh on several occasions. But it got me to thinking. This is the last generation of kids to ever hear firsthand the stories of the most cataclysmic events in the history of the world, World War II and the Holocaust.

The students came up to Alvin after the lesson, some seeking his autograph, others just wanting to shake his hand and hang out a while longer with him. I think it made his day. I know it made theirs and it is not something they will soon forget- that they actually met a genuine World War II survivor and now have that tangible link to the past.

I hope it is not the last time, but they are certainly the last generation.

the last generation 4

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Last night we were all jolted out of our comfortable lives with the news of the attacks in Paris by what appears to be, once again, the handiwork of radical Islamists. I felt distress as the waves of Twitter updates came cascading in from Europe. Distress at the live updates, the storming of the Bataclan Theatre, the rising body counts, the survivor descriptions of what was unfolding, the young people being murdered on a Friday night out.  I felt distress at sitting on the couch in a warm comfortable home reading the updates. But what can one do?

So I sat there, maybe like you, feeling helpless. Maybe feeling guilty as well, for at times lately it seems as if I am rushing through my life with no time or appreciation for the little things, which, in truth, are the only things that matter.

Saturday morning now. After getting more updates on the latest crimes against humanity in Europe, I think back to an email I got this week from a producer of an about to be released film that features some of my work as a Holocaust/World War II educator, and as a “connector” between Holocaust survivors and their American soldier-liberators. He says ‘thank you’ for my help, my input and my interview, and that the documentary is ready for viewing with a private code, before its world premiere on Nov. 19th.

But I’ve been in documentaries before, and I’m busy, so I had put it off. Until just now, when I watched it for the first time.

And the light bulb just went off, like the kid in the class who finally gets the ‘big picture’. Like the 90 year old liberator to whom I  had introduced  people he saved 62 years ago, and to whom I taught about the Holocaust-for the first time in his life– who proclaimed excitedly “Yes! Yes! Now I know what I fought for!” And although on some level I have always ‘gotten it’, I see more clearly that this is what I am teaching for, and speaking for, and writing about-that this is what I am here to do-“to prevent one of history’s darkest chapters from repeating.”

***

We were at the last reunion of the 30th Infantry Veterans of World War II in Nashville, where I met Evelyn Marcus, the daughter of survivors and whose mom was liberated on the Train near Magdeburg in 1945. Raised in the Netherlands, she emigrated to the USA about a dozen years ago, due in large part to a rising wave of antisemitism sweeping that country, and Europe. And now she confronts it, after meeting her mother’s actual American liberators, and returns to the Netherlands for a deeper understanding of what is happening. And she is determined to make a difference.

And so am I. It’s what we do to honor the lives stolen, and to remember that we are all part of humanity and each one of us has a responsibility, and a role to play. I hope you have an opportunity to see the film. Maybe it’s time to ‘get it’ that ‘never again is now’.

*

FRANK, EVELYN

My name is Evelyn Markus. I am a Jew. I was born and raised in the Netherlands where my family history goes back more than 400 years. I grew up in the 60s and 70s in the world’s most liberal city –Amsterdam, where I enjoyed life with my long-time partner, Rosa. But 15 years ago, things started to change.

 We noticed and personally experienced rising anti-Semitism sweeping across Europe. As second-generation Holocaust survivors, we sensed a familiar evil on the horizon. In 2004, we decided to leave Europe for the United States, the nation that liberated my family from the horrors of the Holocaust.

 70 years later, I now understand the need to fight for freedom and the importance of acting on principles. America has molded my mission -–to tell the world, through my story —that Never Again Is Now.

FRANK

Watch the trailer.

NAIS

http://www.neveragainisnowfilm.com/#open

 

The film premieres on TheBlaze TV  on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 8PM. It will be released later to larger outlets, like Amazon. You can also arrange a private screening at the contact page.

 

Read about the cast

Some quotes:

“If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left, when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed, will be held up as an example.” 

Anne Frank

“Never in our training were we taught to be a humanitarian.  We were taught to be soldiers.”

Frank Towers

“It really is an incredible thing and I think about it all the time. I think it’s really important to keep the memory and the history alive.”

Matt Rozell

“My message was to make up for what Hitler destroyed. That was my function in life.”

Rosa Zeegers

“Life in the Netherlands if you are Jewish and you’re not ashamed oyour Jewishness is a predicament”

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

“The Jews were killed for the simple fact that they were Jews, and that made a very deep impression on me.”

Rabbi Raphael Evers

“These are the final struggles of a lost fight. Jewish life in Holland is almost non-existent.  In that regard, Hitler won.”

Leon de Winter

“At the end of the day for my children, if they want to live a Jewish life, I would honestly not advise them to stay in Europe.”

David Beesemer

“If you feel what happens, the horror of it, and you feel the pain of individuals it’s so much more important than if you just know facts.”

Jessica Durlacher

“I think if you have an opportunity to speak for those who are voiceless, who might be victims, I think it’s a responsibility.”

Qanta Ahmed

 

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In a video interview with LookTV, Matthew Rozell describes his new book in preparation for his upcoming lecture at the Hyde Museum, Sunday, November 15, 2015.

The Things Our Fathers Saw - Front CoverAt the height of World War II, LOOK Magazine profiled Glens Falls and surrounding communities for a series of articles portraying them as “Hometown, USA”, the wholesome, patriotic model of life on the home front. Decades later, history teacher Matthew Rozell and his students tracked downed over thirty survivors who fought the war in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the surrender at Tokyo Bay.  In the his new book, The Things Our Fathers Saw, first-person accounts of combat, brotherhood, captivity and redemption are presented for the first time.  Mr. Rozell will discuss his book and the aftermath of the war that left no American community unscathed- the stories that the magazine could not tell, from the perspective of a vanishing generation speaking to America today.

Book signing will follow the lecture.

LINK TO EVENT: http://www.hydecollection.org/events_and_programs/Coming_Home_Reflections_on_the_70th_Anniversary_of_the_End_of_WWII_545.htm

http://www.looktvonline.com/matt-rozell-the-things-our-fathers-saw/

 

 

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I have just returned from an invitation to participate in Toronto’s Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre’s Holocaust Education Week, spending some time with maybe a thousand high school kids at the Cardinal Newman Catholic High School. I had  a morning and an afternoon session.

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Holocaust survivor Ariela Rojek and her young admirers at Blessed Cardinal Newman Catholic High School.

I had an hour in the morning and I ended early so that they could come up and meet Ariela, my  “adoptive mother”. You see, a few years back, I connected her and several Toronto area survivors with their actual American liberators. Yesterday, at a family gathering at her daughter’s house, she brought out the scrapbook and showed me the pictures of her parents and family who did not survive the Holocaust, and even the original letter that her father wrote on the eve of his transfer from prison to Auschwitz-where he would be murdered, along with her grandfather and uncle. Ariela’s mother, only 36, both of her grandmothers, her other grandfather and two aunts were murdered at Belzec.

 

With Mark Celinscak, York University professor and author of the new book, "Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Nazi Concentration Camp", and survivor Leslie Meisels before our afternoon talk.

With Mark Celinscak, Trent University professor and author of the new book, “Distance from the Belsen Heap: Allied Forces and the Liberation of a Nazi Concentration Camp”, and survivor Leslie Meisels before our afternoon talk.

Toronto talk descriptionIn the afternoon, I was with my good friend Leslie Meisels, an experienced speaker who told the kids about his Holocaust journey, and the miracles in his life that led he and I to be on the same stage together. Leslie was from Hungary, and liberated on the same day as Ariela, on the same train, and by the same soldiers. I did my bit and turned it over to him, and relayed questions from the students to him.

Now when you are teaching it is true that many times you have no idea of whether or not you are getting through to the kids. Some may have a bored expression as you hammer the message home, eyes not meeting yours, or looking like this is the last place they want to be. But in the end, you know, it behooves us as educators to give them space, and maybe time, to process. (And I did include a brief “debriefing guide” for teachers to use if they wanted to, after the presentation.)

But it was the outpouring of love for the survivors who were with me today, that really made my trip, and my efforts worth it.

Holocaust survivor Leslie Meisels with Blessed Cardinal Newman Catholic High School students  where they learned about reuniting Holocaust survivors with their American liberators. Photo by Joan Shapero.

Holocaust survivor Leslie Meisels with Blessed Cardinal Newman Catholic High School students where they learned about reuniting Holocaust survivors with their American liberators.

Leslie and Ariela are family, and a new group of students became witnesses to the greatest crime in history, and one that the world allowed to unfold. In the end my message was to simply amplify the lessons these survivors, and liberators, have inspired through their example- that we are all part of the family of mankind and that in living out our lives, we have the responsibility to make a difference- and that one person can make a change that will ripple onward for generations to come.

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