The first period of seventh-grade and eighth-grade students filed into the Emerald Cove Middle School media center and took their seat one recent morning. There were about 100 students ready to hear stories of courage and survival during the Holocaust.
“Of the 100 of you, eight would have been a child survivor of the Holocaust,” speaker Zelda Fuchman said.
The students looked around at the group gathered for the school’s ninth annual Holocaust Survivor series and took a deep breath.
“But you’re not here to learn about Zelda,” Fuchsman said. “You’re here to learn about you. I don’t want to shock you or to give you a history lesson. Instead, I want you to learn that you have the power now to live your life kindly.”
Fuchsman, 81, a child survivor of the Holocaust stood, in front of a screen that projected photos of her at age three when her family fled the Nazis in Poland, traveled through Russia and Siberia, and survived against bitter cold, constant threats, backbreaking labor for her parents, malaria and starvation.
“People died like flies. We had no bathroom, no running water, no food, we had lice, bedbugs and fleas, and lives on shelves in a bunker.” Fuchsman recalled. “The only constant was hunger.”
Fuchsman was part of a daylong event organized annually by Barry Asch, social sciences teacher and sponsor of the event.
“It’s becoming harder and harder to plan this event because the survivors are getting older and are sick and passing away,” Asch said.
No sooner did Asch shake his head and sigh at the thought did Norman Frajman, a survivor who has been with the program every year, walked into the media center.
“He shouldn’t be here. He’s very ill. He should be home in bed,” Asch said. “But he wanted to be here for this.”
The School District of Palm Beach County focuses on teaching the history of the Holocaust in a manner that leads to an investigation of human behavior; an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping; and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person.
“It was interesting. It taught me to start trying to treat everyone better,” said Ralph Battaski, an eighth-grader.
While telling stories of pain, death and despair was very powerful on everyone in the audience, Fuchsman was also able to connect with the students. “Today, you have bullying. You have cyber-bullying,” she said. “But you also have the ability to help those who are hurting, and to stop it. If a person feels hated or isolated, you have the power to build a relationship.”
Fuchsman drew giggles when she referred to the students’ use of social media as “walling, with friends,” but her message didn’t falter. “How do you know if the person on the other end really did ‘LOL?’ You have the chance to connect with people — not just with your thumbs — with people. Go out and be a friend, no matter who they are.”
ABOVE: Zelda Fuchman speaks to Emerald Cove students.