Students sit in a roundtable setting as Holocaust survivor Judy Rodan speaks during Student Awareness Day. The program was hosted by the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center. (Photo by Howie Sonnenschein)
The Holocaust Documentation and Education Center (HDEC) hosted Student Awareness Day (SAD), one of its signature programs, on March 15 at the Broward County Convention Center. Almost 1000 Broward County High School students came together with Holocaust survivors to learn the dangers of hatred and bullying during the all-day event.
Students sat in a roundtable setting with survivors who shared their personal experiences of the hate they experienced and their survival, while the Second Generation shared their parents’ stories.
“These Student Awareness Days feature a unique opportunity for our multicultural, ethnically diverse student population to come face to face with a Holocaust survivor for the first time,” said Rositta E. Kenigsberg, President of the Holocaust Documentation & Education Center. “Throughout the day students are seated at round tables with a Holocaust survivor and are tremendously impacted by this educational life changing experience. As a result, students begin to understand one very important lesson from the Holocaust survivors, and that is to respect one another regardless of their differences and that every life is worthy.”
Abraham Ross, a facilitator, and Second Generation, educated the students at his table about concentration camps. “Auschwitz was the only camp where they tattooed people,” he said. “Instead of saying your name they said this is your number.” He talked about the deaths of his two aunts and later played a video of his mother, Sara, recounting her story of survival.
Featured speakers were Bernd Wollschlaeger MD, FAAFP, FASAM, and retired Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
Wollschlaeger’s talk was about his struggle growing up in Germany in the shadow of his father, a highly decorated World War II tank commander and Nazi officer. His journey led him later to convert to Judaism and serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
“Words of hatred have consequences if not challenged,” said Wollschlaeger. “You need to have the guts to say you will not tolerate hate.” He also said, “These words of hatred fall on fertile ground which is the mind of others and sprout into deeds, if these deeds are left unchallenged then they will be repeated and habits will form.”
“America is the beacon of light,” said Finkelstein. “Anti-Semitism has exploded like we have not seen it since World War ll. Everybody has been turned against each other and cannot see the common humanity.”
The event had other memorable moments, including a candle lighting ceremony followed by a student open microphone where students shared what the day meant to them.
To have courage is not the absence of fear, but the courage to act in spite of it,” said Byron Byfield, a student at Blanche Ely High School.
“This is definitely an experience to meet the survivors,” said Leilani Richards, a Nova High School student. “Kindness is very important.”
SAD was sponsored by JM Family Enterprises, Inc., Jewish Federation of Broward County, Talenfeld Zobel Family Charitable Fund, Broward County Sheriff’s Office LETF, Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Foundation and Judith P. Weiss. The HDEC hosts Student Awareness Day in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
For more information about Student Awareness Days go to https://hdec.org/student-awareness-days/