Holocaust survivors become important teachers at museum
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:20AM
SKOKIE — Cipora Katz of Skokie has the rapt attention of the 10 or so students who sit around a table in the basement of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
She is articulate and engaging, warm and welcoming to her teenage guests as she shares her experiences in Semiyiatich, Poland, as a little girl. She lost much of her family during the Holocaust, emerging from World War II as an orphan after being hidden at age 4 for two years.
Student Leadership Day on Nov. 13 transformed the Skokie museum into a school and the 18 survivors into teachers. Each table or adjoining room in the museum’s basement became a classroom.
When Katz tells of how the museum has become “a home away from home,” a place to remember those who perished in the Holocaust, the room is quiet.
But Katz’s discussion is more about strength and her mission in life to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
After arriving in the United States, she became a director of nurses in a geriatric center, a career that would allow her to honor the elderly - an opportunity she did not have with her own parents.
The students got that her talk was about hope.
“I think one of the reasons why you still have faith in God is because He wanted you to tell us your story,” said Yaksuktama Laemmer, 16, of Plainfield High School.
Survivors created the museum for days just like this. Visiting with students, survivor Walter Reed of Wilmette, born in Wuertzburg, Germany, passed around photos of himself from a local soccer team before the war.
As soon as the Nazis came to power, life changed. His teammates began calling him names and tried to beat him up. Many later became German soldiers.
Following Kristallnacht, Reed spent three days in a Dachau concentration camp before he was sent on a Kindertransport to Belgium, then Southern France.
Ralph Rehbock was 4 when he escaped after Kristallnacht and went to the Netherlands with his mother. In explaining to his students how the Nazis rose to power, he emphasizes that people did nothing when Adolph Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” was published.
“Nobody spoke up about the bullying that was going on then, nobody spoke out about the book,” he said.
Karen Sparkowski, special education teacher of New Hope Academy in Niles, said the challenge after the visit would be for the students to find ways to share their experience with others.
Laine Weiss of Libertyville, a New Hope student, visited the museum for the first time Nov. 13.
“I cannot describe in words my feelings for the survivors and the people I have met here,” she said. “I want to share this when I get back.”
That’s what the survivors seek: Awareness.
“There are many books that you can read about the Holocaust,” Katz says. “But there is nothing as powerful as talking to a survivor or visiting the Holocaust Museum. A day like this proves it.”