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Students get a look at Holocaust memories

POSTED: October 23, 2011 11:01 p.m.
Photos by TOM REED/The Times

Joey Millwood, left, and Michael Altman put the Holocaust Trunk on a table for display at South Hall Middle School.

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Telling students to be kind to one another is one thing, but the lesson is possibly more effective when they see what happens when hatred rules.

Last week, South Hall Middle School students had the opportunity to hear a firsthand account of the Holocaust from Gen. Russel Weiskircher, a Cleveland resident who was a liberator of the Dachau Concentration Camp.

The general's visit was part of a special presentation by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.

The organization was there to present the school with a Holocaust Learning Trunk.

"The first thing we found was a room with IBM punch cards for more than 11 million people. There was a card for every prisoner," Weiskircher said.

"Then we came to a building that had stacks of clothing. The prisoners had been told they were going to get a shower and they were stripped before entering. Instead of a shower, they were gassed and then their bodies were wheeled into a crematorium to be burned.

"There were four ovens and stacks of bodies everywhere. They were mostly skin and bones."

Weiskircher's remembrances didn't stop there.

"In the center of camp, waiting for liberation or death, were 32,000 prisoners," Weiskircher told the students.

"They lived on black bread and potato soup and darn little of either. The soup they were fed looked like they dragged a potato through 10 gallons of water. It was just dirty water. And the black bread was half saw dust. This is what they ate."

Although the American soldiers were there to help the prisoners, at first, they regarded the new set of troops just as frightfully as the Nazis.

"They were afraid of anything. They didn't know what to expect from the Americans," Weiskircher said.

"At first they wouldn't come out, then a few came and then a few more. Soon they crowded the gate. They were shaking the fence. They wanted out. We couldn't let them out because there was just about every disease known to man in that camp.

"The death rate from disease was between 300 and 500 a day. It took almost 12 months to empty that camp, one by one interview each of the people and try to rehabilitate them."

The material inside the decorated trunks help the students learn the importance of embracing differences and also teach them about World War II and the Holocaust.

"I didn't know they were kept in box cars for 60 days (before being taken to the prisons)," said sixth-grader Nisha Khan.

"That was harsh."

The magnitude of the Holocaust wasn't lost on other students either. Some were even inspired to make a change in their own lives.

"I learned that it was a very cruel time," said Jesus Yebra, a sixth-grader.

"It was full of hatred. Hearing how they were treated makes me want to be nicer to people that are different."

Jesus' revelation was exactly the point that Weiskircher, who is also the vice-chairman of the commission, was trying to drive home for the students.

"The Holocaust, which cost millions of people their lives, happened because good people didn't get involved," Weiskircher said.

"Your challenge now is to soak up all you can. Learn history and make darn sure it doesn't repeat itself and there's never anymore ethnic cleansing like the Holocaust.

"The Holocaust came about through hatred. If you want to prevent that from happening here, treat everyone like a human being. Respect all manners of race, creed and religion."

 

 

 



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