On September, 14 2018, Evelyn Altenberg from the Holocaust Memorial Center honored both the teacher and student body with a story that explained how her parents escaped death during World War II. She was the first of Lawrence Woodmere Academy’s Global Speakers.
Mrs. Altenberg spoke to the audience of Upper School students and faculty. The students sat in awe as they heard the beautiful love story of Lilo and Hans that kept them both alive during the hard and dangerous times of the Holocaust.
Although they were separated (Lilo travelling through concentration camps and Hans in sanctuary in the Dominican Republic), their engagement motivated them so they could one day be married.
Mrs. Altenberg then answered questions the students asked. When asked if her mother experienced a form of PTSD she replied yes. Lilo would have nightmares of being in the camps (including Auschwitz). This, however, did not stop her parents from teaching Mrs. Altenberg how to go on living. She was taught to live every moment to her fullest, with an optimistic view on all.
Mrs. Altenberg told the student body that her parents were never afraid to practice Judaism in America, feeling completely at home. Mrs. Altenberg preached the message “don’t start to hate”, knowing the severe effects hatred can bring.
The students learned how important it is to keep stories like that of Hans and Lilo alive. Mrs. Altenberg made it clear that the students of today must be upstanders, be positive, and retell the stories. Each day fewer survivors are here to tell their stories firsthand, but we can carry their legacies on. She believes that no one should be given the opportunity to say that the Holocaust never happened, because it did.
Mrs. Altenberg showed the student body that it was not Hitler’s doing alone. She emphasized that silence from countries and people who knew that the Holocaust was occuring are just as much to blame. She said that to prevent something like this from ever happening again we must speak up when we know something is wrong. Anti Semitism is also on the rise in many countries still today.
Evelyn Altenberg helped the Upper School understand the concept of tolerance. Over the summer, students were asked to read The Diary of Anne Frank. The story-telling illuminated to the Upper School the consequences of intolerance.
After Mrs. Altenberg finished, the Upper School debriefed in circles to discuss what they now understand. They sat together, a room of all different races, ethnicities and religions, and wrote letters to Evelyn Altenberg thanking her and commending her for her bravery.