More than 100 10th graders from Ánimo Jackie Robinson Charter High School (AJR) gathered May 9 to listen to Holocaust survivor Rita Lurie’s story of how she survived in Poland.
Lurie’s daughter, Leslie Gilbert-Lurie also attended and spoke on behalf of her mother at the event hosted by the nonprofit Facing History and Ourselves, which provides Holocaust, race, genocide and human rights education programs to more than 1,000 schools.
The organization partnered with AJR to organize the assembly, which took place two weeks into the grade’s six-week Holocaust educational program.
Gilbert-Lurie told students that her mother was a toddler during the Holocaust and her family left their home in Poland and hid in their neighbor’s attic. Fifteen family members lived in the attic from 1942 – 1944, where Lurie’s mother and younger brother died from malnutrition.
“When my mother was four years old, she remembers one day looking out of her kitchen window and saw Nazi tanks roll by,” Gilbert-Lurie said. “She said at that moment everything inside of her froze. She said she knew even at four years old nothing in her life would ever be the same after that.”
Lurie later shared an excerpt from a book she co-wrote with her daughter called “Bending Toward the Sun,” about her experiences and the depression and trauma she passed on to her daughter and granddaughter.
During the story telling, the children answered questions about how propaganda fueled the Holocaust and Liz Vogel, executive director of Facing History and Ourselves in Los Angeles told the Journal how teaching the students about the role propaganda and the behavior of bystanders and upstanders during the Nazi regime was important in teaching them how to ensure something like the Holocaust doesn’t happen again.
“We bring a survivor or a living witness to history into classrooms of schools that are doing a more in depth study [of the Holocaust] so that students can be better prepared and have a better understanding,” Vogel said. “It leaves a better experience with the students and the speaker.”
Students had the opportunity to ask Lurie and Gilbert-Lurie questions, which covered everything from how Lurie’s relationship to God changed after the Holocaust; how she was able to raise her family as an immigrant; how long it took to learn English when she arrived in New York (one month); and what advice she had for families who were immigrants or children of immigrants.
When one student asked how she was doing today, Lurie smiled and said: “I feel great being here and looking at all of your faces. I can tell that there is a promising future, just remember that. You have a lot to live for and even if it doesn’t look perfect now, you can take control of your life.”
AJR principal Kristin Botello wiping away tears said, “Everybody has a story and stories are magic. You have to listen to people’s stories and you have to be brave enough to tell it. You’re a hero and you have to embrace that story.”