Holocaust survivor speaks to students about camps

Mendel Rosenberg says he hopes talking about the past will help the future.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:14 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Holocaust survivor Mendel Rosenberg speaks at the Speak Your Mind forum at Hickman High School on Monday.

Although it ended more than 60 years ago, it seems words still can’t convey the magnitude of the Holocaust tragedy. So how do teachers relate the Holocaust to high school students?

On Monday night, Hickman High School brought in a survivor, Mendel Rosenberg, to put a face on history for the school’s quarterly Speak Your Mind forum.

“It is very difficult for us, as a survivor, to be able to get across what we went through, because it was so unhuman,” said Rosenberg, who at 78 still remembers the horrors vividly.

When he was 16, Rosenberg and his older brother were sent from the ghettos of Lithuania to the German concentration camp Dauchau. His brother did not survive a beating by Nazis. Rosenberg’s father was shot before his family was separated from Lithuania. His mother was a face of the past for years after they were forced to split up.

George Frissell, a social studies teacher at Hickman who helped organize the forum, said Monday night’s topic is pertinent because of modern-day genocides.

“We need to be aware of both the past, represented by Rosenberg, and the present, represented by the actions in Africa and other parts of the world,” Frissell said.

He told about 700 students, parents and teachers who were in attendance that he wanted to engage students in dialogue of the Holocaust because some people today believe it never happened.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Frissell said. “But not everyone is entitled to their own facts.”

After the forum, Pamela Jones, a world history and anthropology teacher at Hickman, said she hoped students understood the importance of being educated about the world.

“Hitler was able to promote what he did out of fear, and fear is something we face since 9/11,” Jones said.

Lacey Palfreeman, a junior at Hickman, attended the forum because her great-grandparents were in concentration camps. Palfreeman’s grandparents died before she had the chance to meet them, so she wanted to get a better understanding of what the Holocaust was like from Rosenberg.

“I really think it helped me understand what they went through,” Palfreeman said.

The audience listened intently through Rosenberg’s presentation, complete with photos of gauntly thin men with haunting eyes staring into the camera. Rosenberg became ill during his time at Dauchau but said he did not dare go to the hospital because of experiments being conducted on humans.

“Killing was going on at that period of time and no one said anything about it,” Rosenberg said. That’s something that should be remembered today, he added, explaining the importance of knowledge and information in society.

“We didn’t know much about politics and what was happening, but when the war broke out, we were part of what was happening,” Rosenberg said.

He went on to say that people seem to have learned very little from history, as evident from genocides taking place in today’s world.

Hopefully, he and others at the forum agreed, a better understanding of the past will lead to action for the future.

“You can’t eliminate genocide just by talking,” Rosenberg said.

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