Eighth graders received an unforgettable assembly on January 14. Holocaust survivor Lady Zahava Kohn shared her family’s story about the harshness they endured during World War II to the Eighth grade. In the spring as a part of their social studies unit, eighth graders learn about World War II, and this assembly gave them a great starting point and first hand perspective to learn and understand what was going on throughout Europe during that time.
Lady Kohn was born in Palestine, Israel, but immigrated to Amsterdam two years later. She had a brother named Jehudi, but they did not build a relationship until after the war as her parents made the decision to try and protect him by putting him in hiding.
Soon after her brother was sent away, SS (The National Socialist German Workers’ Party) soldiers raided their apartment and subsequently, the Kohn family were sent to Westerbork, a transit camp for a total of nine months. They were then sent to Bergen Belsen, a concentration camp where over 50,000 Jews died, including Anne Frank, whose diary got recovered and became famous after the war.
During the hour and a half that Lady Kohn and her daughter, Hepzhibah Rudofsky, spent with the grade 8 students, she not only caught the attention of students, but touched many teachers as well. “Her story is truly remarkable,” grade 8 social studies teacher Ms. Penny Giehl said. “To know that she also brings her presentation to German students demonstrates such a depth of forgiveness and humanity…she could blame the Germans, feeling only resentment and bitterness, but she doesn’t. Amazing.”
Eighth grade student Faith Skariah found the experience eye-opening. “It was really inspiring to see someone who had survived during such hard times,” Skariah said.
Lady Kohn’s family story was only recently revisited after she found an archive whilst cleaning her mother’s apartment in Israel. It contained several artifacts that Lady Kohn’s late mother, Rosy Kanarek kept during their time at Bergen Belsen and throughout the war. These remarkable artifacts, such as documents, letters, certificates and postcards were protected at great lengths by Lady Kohn’s mother.
After finding the various artifacts from her past, Lady Kohn wanted to share her and her family’s experience during World War II. Subsequently, this lead to her going to tour schools in Germany and the UK to raise awareness on the harsh reality several millions of Jews, including herself, faced during the war. Additionally, she also wrote a book, Fragments of a lost Childhood.
The eighth grade social studies curriculum covers the Holocaust later in the spring for their unit on World War II. Lady Kohn’s talk will interlink with the curriculum. “We will talk about and study the Holocaust and take some time to understand where it started and how it began in a little bit more detail,” said Mr. Ryan Steege, one of the eighth grade social studies teachers. “I think we’ll use her talk as a bit of a touchstone for what happened to look back and see. It gives a nice personal connection to what’s going on back then.”
In regards to what he hoped students would take away from the talk, Mr Steege said, “I hope that they take away how she recognizes there was anger, but a story of resilience and hope as well. I want my students to understand the reality of life for the Jewish faith during that time and what they really went through.”