Broward County

Holocaust Survivors Share Their Stories With Broward County Students

The Holocaust survivors are making history personal for the kids, roughly a thousand of them from 18 Broward high schools

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An eyewitness to genocide sits at every table in the huge ballroom at the Broward County Convention Center, surrounded by high school students.

The Holocaust survivors are making history personal for the kids, roughly a thousand of them from 18 Broward high schools.

"You're all alone, you're 12 years old, 13 years old, you have lice crawling all over you," the survivor's voice trails off as she describes the terror of life in a Nazi concentration camp.

The students at her table listened carefully. The survivors have a way of making the abstract concept of mass murder a visceral thing the kids can comprehend.

"They can understand what evil can happen, what one person can do against another one," said Zelda Fuksman, a Holocaust survivor from Poland.

In a time when neo-Nazis rally in our own country, when hate crimes are on the rise nationally, this gathering organized by the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center seems especially relevant.

"Survivors are here today because telling their story, they don't want what happened to them to happen to the students and so they're here recounting their memories," explained Rositta Kenigsberg, president of Holocaust Documentation and Education Center.

The goal is to fight hatred, violence and bullying.

Julius Eisenstein is 100 years old. He survived Auschwitz and Dachau, seeing firsthand what unchecked hatred can unleash.

"If you don't want to like me, don't like me, but why do you have to hate me? The word hate should not exist, period," Eisenstein said.

The students seemed to absorb everything.

"This is a way for us to understand that if you go along with something, it can get out of hand and the holocaust is a perfect example of this," said Sidney Johnson, a junior at Everglades High School.

"It also has taught me that I can't take anything for granted," said Isaiah Gissendanner, a junior at McArthur High School. "I live a great life, people like that, they weren't as fortunate as me."

Of course, there are many lessons students can learn from an experience like this, including thinking globally but acting locally among your peers, every day.

"If I can instill in them the will and determination that they can do the right thing, because each person is born knowing what is the right thing, it's a matter of choice," Fuksman said, explaining her goal for the day.

The students also heard a passionate speech from a former neo-Nazi, a Broward County woman, who served time in prison.

"I moved around the country and became involved in some of the most violent far right groups," said Angela King, who is now the co-founder of a group called Life After Hate.

King told her cautionary tale of learning racism at home, then taking those beliefs into the hate movement, before finding redemption and a change of heart and mind while she was in prison.

The students chose to be here on this field trip, and some of them lined up at the end to share their takeaways from the podium.

One young woman summed up what many had learned.

"To treat everyone equal because nobody's better than anybody," she said.

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