Teens hear of Holocaust from survivors


It was standing room-only in Christopher Chiang's world history class at Mountain View High School as Lenci Farkas recalled her horrific ordeal. The teens listened in silence as the nonegenarian woman told of how she was taken from her home in 1944, shipped first to a Jewish ghetto and then by train "in cars for cattle" off to the infamous Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.

Some snacked on potato chips or sandwiches as she described trading with fellow concentration camp prisoners -- a few scraps of linen from the camp's blanket factory for a small lump of stale bread. It seemed uncomfortably hot at times, even as she recalled huddling together for warmth with other children in an abandoned rural house after escaping from one of the many "death marches" the Nazis forced her people to participate in.

Farkas, a San Mateo resident, has been telling her story of death, fear and survival to children and teens for more than 30 years. Her intent is to raise awareness among students and show them what small prejudices can turn into if they are not checked.

Just as it is hard to imagine that anything so depraved as genocide could happen in America today, so too was it unfathomable when she was growing up in former Czech Republic. "I feel it is very important to know what can happen if you let it happen," she said after her hour-long talk and half-hour-long question-and-answer session in Room 101 at MVHS. She was joined by Burlingame resident Livia Grunfeld, who did not have to bear the horror of a concentration camp, but who did live in a Jewish ghetto controlled by the Nazis.

Her message was not lost on Leah Higgins, a ninth-grader who listened to Farkas' talk. "There are inhumane things going on here," Higgins said, referring to the United States and the issues of racism and other forms of prejudice with which our country continues to struggle today. The freshman said hearing stories of Nazi Germany helped her see the slippery slope of racial intolerance and jingoism.

Anastasia Garachtchenko agreed with Higgins, and added that seeing the face of someone so deeply impacted by racial intolerance really helped drive the lessons of the Holocaust home. "We learn about this in school, but when you actually have someone there, it makes it feel a lot more personal," she said.

Higgins said of Farkas, "She looks just like my grandma."

One of the most moving anecdotes told by Farkas was a story in which she became acutely aware of the humanity of her mortal enemy. She described being struck by the beauty of a female SS officer -- an observation she chose to vocalize at a moment when she faced severe punishment from the woman. Telling the Nazi guard this may have saved Farkas' life, she said.

Later in her talk Farkas wondered if only more people could see the beauty in their so-called "enemies" the world might be a better place.

"Why are we still not understanding, that we are all God's children?" she asked rhetorically.


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Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jun 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Jacob Bronowski's "The Acent of Man: Knowledge or Certainty" should be required viewing/reading in Science classes.

Web Link

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Posted by Mr Lee
a resident of Willowgate
on Jun 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm

Hopefully the teacher can follow up with a survivor of Chairman Mao purge of counterrevolutionaries in the 50s and 60s which took the lives of millions.

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Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 6, 2012 at 8:57 am

It would be further edifying if the students now heard from a survivor of the Gaza death camp, in order that they might gain insight into the appalling ironies that abound in human history. The true horror of the Holocaust is that it was in no way unique. This country was founded on a much more successful genocide. I hope that the students are learning about that, as well. The only way to prevent future genocides is to recognize the universal human tendency to demonize the "other."

A study of the Nuremberg trials would be an excellent lesson, given that the USA is now in violation of every one of the Nuremberg protocols.

Like this comment
Posted by Rene
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Jun 6, 2012 at 9:18 am

The Bosnia and Rwanda genocides should also be given attention.

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Posted by steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 7, 2012 at 1:39 pm

@Old Ben: Gaza death camp? Ludicrous doesn't begin to describe such an absurd assertion.

You are diminishing the horror of the Nazi death camps where human hair was gathered from
victims to make bomb fuses and to be woven into fabric, where infants and the invalid were thrown alive into fire pits, where twins were subjected to horrific "medical" experimentation.

Have you ever been anywhere near Gaza, or are you spouting such vicious and ignorant accusations from the comfort and security of your armchair?

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Posted by Jane
a resident of North Whisman
on Jun 7, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Let us not forget the 20 + million Christians executed during the Russian Revolution.
How many died in Armenia, Croatia, Africa holocausts. If we want to educate future generations about mankind's in- humanity, you have to give them the Whole Picture of what people have done to each other, time and time again.

Like this comment
Posted by Your neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I am so glad we are so passionate about making sure everyone remembers and learns from these human atrocities.

Why must there be a competition among you? I was interested in the story of the women who endured the Holocaust and I would be interested in the stories of these other human tragedies.

Please take a break everyone and recognize that we all need to take responsibility so none of these experiences happen. One is certainly not more important than another, but why must you all minimize the student's experience by suggesting that the class did not hear the whole picture unless the school or teacher presents your particular point of view?

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of another community
on Jun 7, 2012 at 9:54 pm

definition of "nonegenarian," please.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 7, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Sarah, I believe you're looking for "nonagenarian", describing "someone in their nineties."

"Your neighbor" speaks wisely.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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