Holocaust survivor shares her story with students

DOWNEY - To 85-year old Idele Stapholz, child survivor of 'Kristallnacht' or the 'Night of Broken Glass', the horrific event 72 years ago when anti-Jewish rioting swept through Germany (and even Austria), destroying synagogues, Jewish homes, businesses and schools and killing some 100 Jews, is an event she'd rather forget. But she can't.She was only 12 that fearful Nov. 9 night when, left by her Polish Jewish émigré father to stay with family friends in Germany while he had to return to Poland to retrieve documents that would allow him to return for her, she learned about what was happening around her and was herself witness to how the Nazi bullies and attackers ransacked the towns, breaking windows and doors, leaving the streets covered in shattered glass. In time the world would hear of the horrors of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and Majdanek, and the loss of the lives of 6 million Jews. Later, tales of compassionate and courageous men like Oscar Schindler would emerge from the indescribable conflagrations fueled by Nazi racism, as well as the sad stories of doomed individuals like Anne Frank that would become part of the fabric of millions of lives. There would be truly compelling stories such as that of Viktor Frankl whose father, mother, brother, and his wife either died in concentration camps or were dispatched to gas ovens, who himself survived hellish stays at four camps "by thinking of his beloved wife" (who he didn't know had died) and who was to say afterwards, "Life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones…[I came to understand that] love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. .I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his love." The quotes are from his book, "The Search for Meaning." Stapholz is one of Kristallnacht's few remaining survivors, and because of this she's been in great demand as a speaker throughout Los Angeles. Recounting her story to West Middle School eighth graders last Friday, once more under the school library's sponsorship, Stapholz told the students of how even before Kristallnacht she had had to endure her classmates taunting and calling her a "dirty Jew" and how in the terrible aftermath of that terrible night she found her album and was able to collect most of her photos among the rubble that covered their playground. "These became my precious possessions, besides the clothes on my back," she reportedly said at a recent gathering in Orange County where she was guest of honor. "They represented my only identity of [the] experience." She would turn out to be one of the lucky ones, as she was able to escape Germany and land in Brussels, Belgium where, under the protection of a "caring and loving Catholic family," she would survive the war. (Her father, though, perished in the Holocaust). She said she doesn't tire of telling her story because "It's a story that should never happen again. Whenever I see or hear of instances of bullying, for example, I hear the Gestapo's black boots stomping into my home. Bullying is never okay. I wish we all remain vigilant and not merely watch silently as neighbors become victims of hatred and genocide. I hope your world will become a better place than the one I was born into."

********** Published: June 2, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 7