Holocaust survivors share stories with Bayside students

Holocaust survivors share stories with Bayside students
Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

A Cardozo High School English teacher in Bayside took a page out of the history book when she corralled nearly 800 students into an auditorium to hear the story of Holocaust survivors.

As part of the school’s Holocaust Remembrance Day assembly, survivors met and spoke with students with hopes of providing them with an account of history unlike anything they could get from their textbooks.

“I feel we have to hold events like this,” said English teacher Risa Eshaghian, who organizes the annual celebration at the school. “If it’s not done, where are these kids going to learn [survivors’] stories? It’s 3-D living history. It’s priceless.”

For nearly the first half of Tuesday’s school day, students filed in and out of the Cardozo auditorium to hear stories from survivors Anita Weisbord, Hanne Liebmann and Ethel Katz. The school also paid tribute to their guests, and to the celebration, through a musical and theatrical performance.

Liebmann was born in Germany in 1924 and was a teenager by the time she and her loved ones were placed in a French concentration camp. In front of a crowd of hundreds, she recounted her horrific and tragic tale with specific dates and details as vivid as if they had happened weeks ago.

“We were evermore pushed together,” Liebmann said. “Our lives became evermore restricted. It’s not something you just forget.”

In her story, Liebmann spent years watching all of her rights and privileges disappear until she escaped to Switzerland as a teenager. She spent years in hiding, but was fearless in sharing the details of her journey.

Eshaghian said she worked with nearby resource centers at institutions like Queensborough Community College to bring survivors into the school to speak, all with the goal of keeping their stories alive through the students.

All the speakers, including Liebmann, have frequented the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center at QCC just down the road from Cardozo to share their stories with anyone willing to listen.

Weisbord was just a child when she saved through a major child rescue effort known as Kindertransport in Nazi Germany between 1938 and 1940. Katz also shared her story of growing up watching her whole family taken away amid the chaos. She was her family’s sole survivor of the mass murders.

The goal of the center is to pass those tales down so that students can serve as living insurance policies on behalf of Holocaust survivors, QCC said.

“When I find a survivor with a story like this one, I hold onto them,” Eshaghian said. “We hope to keep this kind of event going here.”

And keeping those stories alive, she said, is as relevant today as at the height of the Holocaust. The English teacher cited one of the most recent acts of hate toward the Jewish faith when 11 mezuzahs were set on fire in a residential Brooklyn building earlier this week.

“It is still happening, so it’s important we keep this going,” she said.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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