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Listening to Survivors, Learning to Face Life’s Struggles
EDITOR’S NOTE: Students at Kensington International Business School participated in a multisession program with Holocaust survivors who are clients of the Jewish Family and Children’s Service. The program teams JFCS with Champions of Caring, an organization aimed at educating and empowering young people to take active roles in improving their communities. This essay was written by one of the student participants.
What is compassion? The dictionary definition is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate.” In other words, compassion is when you are aware of something that has happened to a person (or people) that makes you feel bad and you want to help.
Learning about what the Nazis did to the Jewish people around Europe, I’ve learned more about what compassion feels like. It’s a feeling that I have always experienced, but this year, it’s become a stronger, more intense feeling.
It’s one thing to read about tragedies in class, but to see these things — even some of the actual footage — and to meet survivors in person makes the Holocaust more real.
We were visited by four survivors who live in this area now but came from very different places: Bella Kerzhnerman from Ukraine, Gunther Hauer from Germany and Shanghai, Paula Spigler from Poland and Katalin Willner from Hungary. To know just a fraction of what they went through, along with the rest of the innocent Jewish people, is very difficult to imagine. I cannot understand why or how a person or a group of people could do such terrible things to other human beings.
Meeting the survivors was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one I never thought I would have. These people lost so much at very young ages, but after the war they started over, with brand new lives.
I don’t know how you move on from something like that but so many of them did. They just moved on.
When I think about my own struggles, which are not as big as theirs, it gives me more hope that I can get through everything. Knowing their stories, I realize how much I have. I have my family, my friends, my house and my freedom. They have helped me to appreciate my life, to care more about what and who I have in my life. Instead of worrying about the latest iPhone or the newest styles in clothing, I’m working hard toward my future and being the person I am supposed to be.
Everyone has a story. All of the survivors’ stories involve great losses and struggles because of the Holocaust. I want my story to be more then bad things that have happened in my life. I want to do great things that help people in some way.
Being a part of the Champions of Caring program — thanks to my World History teacher Mr. Art Newman — I have met Holocaust survivors and I have been given the chance to make a difference. I’ve learned that even though I was born and raised in a neighborhood with a bad reputation — and go to a high school that has an even worse reputation — I am important, I am an individual, and I can use my voice, my opinions and my experiences — both good and bad ones — to make a difference.
I have realized that I was supposed to always stand out because I am different in all the best ways. I will not follow the other people who will go nowhere and do nothing with their lives.
Jessica Salguero-Snow, 15, is a 9th-grader at Kensington International Business High School.