Burroughs History Students Ponder Holocaust Remembrance Day, Hear From Concentration Camp Survivors

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John Burroughs High School. (Photo By Ross A. Benson)

Five survivors of the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps spoke live with John Burroughs High School History students on Friday, April 21, as part of a Holocaust Remembrance Day program. The annual Days of Remembrance, which are recognized world wide, are observed in the United States from April 16 through April 24. Holocaust Remembrance Day in the U.S. for 2023 was April 18.

Harry Davids, Henry Slucki, Eva Perlman, Phil Raucher and Joseph Alexander spoke with students in History teacher Adam Hochberg’s classes via Zoom. They shared the stories of their experiences as children during the Holocaust and how they avoided capture or were liberated from concentration camps while most of their family members did not.

Hochberg’s students were greatly impacted by the stories they heard during the Holocaust Remembrance Day program.

Harry Davids was born in 1942, about a block from Anne Frank, in Nazi-occupied Holland. His parents were German Jews who had left Germany for The Netherlands for better economic opportunities. Soon after his birth, his parents, who understood how dangerous the situation was, made the difficult decision to give Harry to members of the Dutch Resistance. The Dutch Resistance arranged from him to be hidden with a Protestant family in the small Dutch town of Engwierum. His parents were murdered in concentration camps.

Henry Slucki was born in Paris, France, on July 12, 1934. He and his parents escaped to Southern France in June, 1940, shortly after the Germans occupied Northern France. In 1942, they avoided deportation by the Vichy government, refusing to answer the door and then escaped to Spain by crossing the Pyrenees on foot with the help of Spanish refugees in exile in France. In 1943, Henry arrived in New York City, without his parents, through a special program—modeled on the kindertransport—headed by Eleanor Roosevelt and co-sponsored by the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). They were re-united in NYC in 1946.

Eva Perlman (née Gutmann) was born in Berlin, Germany in May 1932, eight months before Hitler became Chancellor. In the fall of 1933, Eva and her parents escaped to Paris and survived WWII by moving several times until they ended up in a small village in the mountainous Vercors, south west of Grenoble. They had a few close calls, but survived miraculously, also thanks to several non-Jewish French people who helped them through.

Phil Raucher, 95, was born in 1927 in Czeladz, Poland. Aware of impending danger, Phil’s parents sent him and his brother to relatives in Wolbrom, Poland. When the war started in September 1939, the Jews of Wolbrom were attacked in the streets. Phil soon found a job working as an apprentice in a furniture factory that had been taken over by Germans. In 1942, he was sent to a prison, and then to the city of Sosnowiec. In Sosnowiec, the Nazi authorities selected Jews to be deported to concentration camps. He was sent to Markstadt and Funfteichen concentration camps from the age of 14, surviving until age 18, when liberated. His father was murdered in Funfteichen and his mother in Auschwitz.

Joseph Alexander, 100, was born in 1922 in Kowal, Poland. He and his family enjoyed a comfortable life until Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939. At the beginning of the war, Joe’s family fled and joined other relatives in the town of Blonie. In late 1940, Blonie’s Jews were transported to the Warsaw Ghetto. Joe’s father bribed some guards to let Joseph and two of his siblings escape back to Kowal. This was the last time he saw the rest of his family. From Kowal, Joe was sent to 12 different concentration camps including Dachau and Auschwitz-Birkenau. After the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, he was sent from Auschwitz back to the Warsaw Ghetto to clean up the destruction’s aftermath. When Joe arrived at Auschwitz, his left forearm was tattooed with the number 142584. As the Polish Home Army advanced towards Warsaw, Joe was sent to camps in Germany, and then on a death march. He was liberated by American troops in 1945. He immigrated to the United States in 1949 where he married and had two children.

“We at Burroughs are extremely fortunate to have had living testimonies and witnesses to the Holocaust,” commented Hochberg. “These stories and remembrances serve as connections and similarities of the past and present. We must pay attention to these historical patterns and connections, to therefore break the cycle and change the future.”

“Our students have now been tasked with continuing the mission presented to them by the courageous speakers who shared the horrors they have experienced in life,” he continued. “That mission is to carry on the speakers’ legacy, and to share their stories and warnings about extremism and intolerance.”

“Protection of human rights is an everyday discussion. We cannot pick and choose when it is best to talk about them,” Hochberg also said. “Any day that we do not talk about and foster tolerance and respect, is another day that someone’s rights are being violated. That is not acceptable! We are all responsible and accountable in this mission!”

Students who watched the Zoom programs wrote letters to the various speakers.

“I would like to personally thank you for your presentation of your family’s history and experience through the Holocaust,” wrote Milania Sina to Davids. “Genocide is such a terrible event that I can not comprehend the horrors your family must have witnessed. You and your family have lived a harsh reality that we must teach and share to the next generations.”

“I have learned much more through your presentation of the history of the Holocaust. It took me by surprise the levels of preparation it took to hide and travel through the 1940’s just to survive. Your parents are very strong individuals for the sacrifices they have made,” she added. “It is terrible to think that there are still people in the world who myself, and many others in the world, are grateful for your voice and your cause to Holocaust remembrance. With this activism, I believe there may come a day when another genocide can be stopped fast in its uprising.”

“Honestly, I was stunned at the events and places that correlated with what I’m currently learning in class and how terrible it actually was,” tenth-grader Caden Ziolkowski wrote to Raucher. “I’m glad that you were able to tell such a devastating story to us despite whatever bad memories it brought to you.”

“It took a lot of courage to tell such a story and I’m thankful for the opportunity to listen to your experiences,” he also said. “I still can’t fully understand how you felt or how you survived everything thrown at you back then but, with time I think it’ll come to me.”

The Holocaust Remembrance Day program of speakers was coordinated by Burbanker David Meyerhof.

“My parents and grandparents escaped from Germany and survived the Holocaust. For the last 10 years I have been coordinating Holocaust Survivor Speaker Programs for the Los Angeles, Glendale and Burbank School Districts,” explained Meyerhof, who also serves as moderator for the programs.

“According to a national survey released by the Claims Conference, 49% of millennials surveyed could not name one of the 40,000 ghettos or camps where Jews were slaughtered. And 22% of those did not know about the Holocaust at all.”

“When students hear the living history stories of our Holocaust Survivor Speakers, they will learn what can result from prejudice, racism and bigotry,” he added.

“The rise of anti-Semitism, racism and hate in this country is alarming. Last year there were almost 10,000 hate crimes in America with over 800 in LA County alone. The parallels between the United States now and Germany in 1933 must serve as warning signs to all of us,” Meyerhof continued. “If you see hate, hear hate, anti-Semitism, racism, or any form of bigotry, do not walk by and pretend that it doesn’t exist. It is your responsiblity to say something, do something about it. Remember: Hate does not go away by itself.”

“As President Biden said on January 27, 2022 (International Holocaust Remembrance Day): ‘Today, and every day, we have a moral obligation to honor the victims, learn from the survivors, pay tribute to the rescuers, and carry forth the lessons of last century’s most heinous crime,'” Meyerhof also said.

Pre-recorded videos of the five speakers, and more Holocaust survivors, are available for anyone to watch on YouTube.

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