Becahi speaker promotes peace, understanding, tolerance
Approximately 900 students filled the auditorium at Bethlehem Catholic High School recently to listen to Judy Meisel, human rights activist and Holocaust survivor, answer questions. The assembly included all of Bethlehem Catholic HS students as well as junior high and Honors World Cultures students from Notre Dame HS.
Meisel, a native of Lithuania, along with her mother, brother and sister were incarcerated at the Stutthof Concentration Camp during World War II. She and her siblings survived and reunited. She has dedicated herself to promoting peace, understanding and tolerance.
Meisel became actively involved after seeing television coverage of a racial incident in Philadelphia.
"I started talking about what happened to me during the civil rights era," she tells the students. "If an African American home is not safe, my Jewish home is not safe."
Robert Schiller, who offers a Holocaust course at Becahi, coordinated the assembly.
"Judy Meisel brings a great message of the dangers of bigotry, hate and intolerance to her audience," Schiller said. "She puts a real face to the many stories students have read about the Holocaust.
"When the students meet this remarkable woman, they better understand the history of people who suffered and continue to suffer under oppression," he added.
Meisel was 15 years old and weighted 47 pounds when a Danish family adopted her after the war.
"Transitioning back to normal life was not hard," she said, speaking of the family that helped her. "They gave me back the most important thing: What it is to be human. My self esteem and trust in others."
Some of Meisel's answers were straightforward. She explained to the students that her faith didn't falter but became stronger during her experience. And when asked how important was it to have her sister with her in camp, she answered, "I don't think I could have survived without my sister."
Other answers provoked thought. Meisel told students she was on the way to the gas chamber with her mother when her mother told her to run. She escaped but her mother died in the chamber. When asked if the Nazi's showed compassion, she said that they didn't talk so she doesn't know for sure. However, she will never know what the soldier walking her and her mother to the chamber did or did not do to prevent her from running or what the sentry guarding the camp saw as she escaped. All she knows is that she was able to escape.
When asked if she will ever forgive the Nazis for what they did she readily replied, "No."
She followed with a story of a conversation she had with a friend who wondered why people ask that of Holocaust survivors.
"They should be asking the millions of people, including children and those that offered help to the Jews, lost their lives," she responded.
Students asked how to prevent such events from happening in the future. She stressed communicating and learning more about all types of people.
"Communication, communication, communication," she says. "Not with machines but with each other."
The auditorium erupted in applause when Meisel told them of a Jewish saying "If you've saved one person, you've saved the world."