Holocaust survivor talks to CHHS students

Students visit Holocaust murals

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Holocaust survivor talks to CHHS students

Some of the murals that were on display at ECTC.

Some of the murals that were on display at ECTC.

Central Kentucky Community Foundation

Some of the murals that were on display at ECTC.

Central Kentucky Community Foundation

Central Kentucky Community Foundation

Some of the murals that were on display at ECTC.

Alissa Briscoe, Staff

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“The world is too dangerous to live in, not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen”- Albert Einstein.

Seventy-four years ago one of the world’s most horrific genocides came to an end. To this day we still talk and learn about the tragedy in hopes of stopping something like that from happening again. Students at Central are exposed to Holocaust education in courses such as World Civ, U.S. History, English, and Holocaust Studies)  

All freshmen in a World Civ class took a field trip to the Morrison Gallery at ECTC to view the Holocaust murals which were on display from March 25 – April 5.

The juniors stayed at Central and went to the library to hear Holocaust survivor Fred Gross talk about his journey through the Holocaust on March 26.

Through Central Kentucky Community Foundation’s Marvin and Joyce Benjamin Fund, students and community members had the opportunity to view the murals at no cost to them or their school. The Benjamin Fund exists to foster kindness, understanding, and inclusiveness amongst the diverse people that call their community home. As Mr. Benjamin was Jewish, the organization has an emphasis on anti-Semitism that makes this exhibit and community event relevant.

“I think it’s good for students to see the different perspectives and different parts and how people choose to represent them,” freshman World Civ teacher Katherine Graybeal said.

Students get to see the different ways other students have interpreted the events and share their ideas, hopefully sparking something inside of them so that they can get another understanding and of the Holocaust.

“It [the exhibit] showed the horrible effects of the Holocaust, and it was just very dark and sullen, but they were very educating for the people who were not as aware of what had gone on in the Holocaust,” freshman Graham West said.

It’s a tricky topic to teach because it can be hard to imagine the horrific circumstances in which six million Jewish people died. Teachers have to try to make the idea appeal to kids that have never experienced something like this or lived through the time. Kids born in 2000 and before may be one of the last generations even to get the chance of meeting or hearing someone speak who lived during the Holocaust and Hitler’s reign in Germany.

“I think they’re really deep,” freshman Lillian Smallwood said, “and I think it’s really good that they are here for kids to realize what they went through, not just hearing stories but actually kind of seeing what some of the Jewish and other people had to deal with during the Holocaust under Hitler’s rule.”

The Holocaust, in and of itself, was just part of the war and not the main event although it was a significant part of the war.

“Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life””

— Deuteronomy 4:9

As the freshmen walked through the murals, students let their faces show the emotions they had felt while looking at each. The ideas that over 10 million people died in such horrific ways suddenly started to click in their minds.  These people were taken from their homes, taken to different countries, put in concentration camps, then killed.

The juniors at CHHS heard from a guest speaker. His name is Fred Gross, and he was a Holocaust survivor.

This opportunity for students began when the Central Kentucky Community Foundation made contact with principal Tim Isaacs and asked if he would like Gross to come and talk to students and share his retellings of the situation he lived through.

Gross is a Holocaust survivor who escaped with his family when he was four years old.

At his age when the Holocaust was happening, he wasn’t sure what was going on or why they were running. He asked his brother as he got older to tell him what happened.

The first thing he did was read to the students some of the estimates historians had for how many kids died during the first few years of the Holocaust.

As he continued to speak, Gross then started talking about his life before the town they lived in got stormed by the Nazis. He showed pictures of his childhood with his brothers and their parents.

“Here’s a picture of my two brothers [as he referred to the image on screen].”

There was a picture he showed to students of his parents at the beach. He told a little story about his dad not wearing a swimsuit because he went to the casino near the beach, showing that there were happy moments before everything in their lives became chaos.

“We had a good life before the war. My dad made good money, gambled it all away, but he made good money to afford us to spend the whole summer at the beach along the English Channel coast,” Gross said.

On their run, Gross stated that they started in Belgium. That is where the family lived until the Nazi invasion on May 10, 1940.

“The German bounds came through Antwerp. My mom woke up in the morning hearing explosions in the neighborhood where we lived. She told me, at one point she looked out of the window and almost got hit by a shred of a bomb.”

His family, along with another, packed some things up and left making their way to Paris. They hid there until June 14.

“My father knew somebody from Antwerp who pulled some of their money for a used car,” Gross said. “There was one family of five and another family of five who clambered into a little sedan and went to a French Catholic town.”

From there they go to southern France. It was supposed to be a safe space for Jews that the Nazis hadn’t invaded and weren’t going to. The mayor had to give soldiers the whereabouts of any known Jews living in that part.

“We stay in Paris for about a week at my aunt’s home. So we took a train from Paris to Bordeaux, and we stayed in Bordeaux for about three weeks in a hotel. And when tens of thousands of refugees streaming down to the same area, it was the only place we could feel safe.”

Gross and his family get caught and brought to the Gurs concentration camp in France. They were lucky enough to escape. From there the family ran to a hotel in southeastern France when the hotel got raided on Aug 8, 1942.

“It was a concentration camp in the southern part of France, under the control of the French. There were thousands of Jews that were imprisoned in that camp. The men and women were separated. I was on the same side with my mother, and my dad was on the other with my two brothers.”

Eventually, the family ended back up in Antwerp, Belgium. He had to run for about four years before they were able to go home and try to go back to living a normal life. While on the run his father died and he went into a foster home. He got separated and reunited with his family.

“Why am I tell you all of these intimate details? Because I know and am sure that there are those in this room which face adversities in themselves and you have to be strong to overcome those adversities. You have to realize that there is growth, that if you look at me and see what I went through you can do the same.”

One student who was impacted by Gross’s story is senior Ben Gardner.

“He was a very charismatic, sweet older gentleman with a warming heart and heart-wrenching stories about his family, the war, and how his family survived,” Gardner said. “His testimony was enlightening and intriguing. I’m glad he gave us the opportunity to hear his story.”

Fred Gross has written a book more about his journey called, One Step Ahead of Hitler: A Jewish Child’s Journey through France.

“If you can’t trust anybody then trust yourself to do what you need to do.”- Fred Gross