Imagine the “typical” day of today’s 16-year-old: going to school, studying, making plans with friends, using the phone, maybe learning to drive. Now consider the day of a 16-year-old during the Holocaust. This is what Fernande Keufgens Davis asked 800 high school students to do at the annual Youth Symposium on the Holocaust, hosted this month by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
Davis was one of eight children in a close-knit Belgian family living in the small town of Montzen when the Germans invaded Belgium. She was eventually drafted to work in a German munitions factory. Determined not to aid the enemy, she jumped from the train and went underground to join the Belgian Resistance at age 16 to help rescue people who were fleeing the Nazis.
Students in grades nine through 12 from 20 Greater Philadelphia schools, along with 40 of their teachers, attended three Youth Symposium sessions in March — one at West Chester University and two at Gratz College (a fourth session, scheduled for Saint Joseph’s University, was cancelled due to snow and is being rescheduled). Each program included an introductory film on the Holocaust, a small group dialogue with Holocaust Survivors and Davis’ keynote presentation, as well as professional development for teachers.
“While survivors are still with us, it is so important for the students to hear from eyewitnesses about one of the greatest tragedies of the human race,” said Beth Razin, the Jewish Federation’s senior manager of community engagement.
Ernie Gross was born in 1929 in Turt, Romania. He had five brothers and two sisters. In April 1944, the Hungarian occupiers deported him and his family to the Sevlus ghetto, then to Auschwitz. After surviving on small pieces of bread and stolen potatoes for several months at Auschwitz, Gross and thousands of other inmates were forced by the Nazis on a death march. He was eventually liberated by the American Army. Within that one-year internment, Gross lost five members of his immediate family and an unknown number of extended family members.
Marius Gherovici was born in Bucharest, Romania, and lived in the Republic of Moldova. The area eventually fell to the Germans and Gherovici was put in detention. He eventually was able to escape and hide in Moldova. With the front advancing, he went to Bucharest and remained in hiding until August 1944, when the Soviet troops liberated Bucharest.
Both Gross and Gherovici shared their unforgettable stories with students during this year’s symposium sessions.
“By learning about the Holocaust directly from survivors, the students see the terrible harm that silence and indifference can do,” said Razin. “Our Youth Symposium is empowering local students to be upstanders, not bystanders.”
As part of its work to create a more just society, the Jewish Community Relations Council provides a variety of opportunities for community members to learn about the horrors of the Shoah. Last year, the Jewish Federation engaged nearly 3,000 people of all ages in Holocaust education programming. For more information contact Beth Razin at [email protected] or 215-832-0536.
Community Members Are Invited to Pay Tribute to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs on April 23
Please join the Greater Philadelphia community in remembering the men, women and children who perished in the Holocaust and honoring the strength of Holocaust Survivors. On Sunday, April 23, 2017, at 1 p.m., the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will hold its annual Memorial Ceremony for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs at 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
This year’s theme, Anti-Semitism — Confronting the Longest Hatred, will be explored by guest speaker Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Other program highlights will include: Nashira, the Jewish Chorale of Philadelphia, The ChaiLights A Cappella, March of the Generations, a memorial candle lighting and the honoring of survivors. In case of rain, the memorial ceremony will be held at Rodeph Shalom, located at 615 N. Broad St. in Philadelphia.
Prior to the ceremony will be the Dorothy Freedman Memorial Conversation with a Survivor program for students in seventh through 12th grades. Students will have the opportunity to meet with a Holocaust survivor in a smaller group setting, then to hear from the morning’s keynote speaker, Dr. Alfred Munzer. Munzer, who was born in 1941 in the Netherlands, survived the Holocaust because he was rescued by a Muslim Indonesian family living in the Netherlands.
For more information, visit jewishphilly.org/holocaust or contact Beth Razin at [email protected] or 215-832-0536.