Holocaust Survivor Speaks to Westridge’ 7th Graders

Holocaust survivor and author Erika Jacoby shared her story of survival with the 7th Grade class on Thursday, November 13. Deported to Auschwitz along with her mother after Germany occupied Hungary on March 19th, 1944, Ms. Jacoby endured and outlasted the atrocities and deprivations of the Nazi persecutors for four years before being liberated back to her native Hungary.

Though her experiences happened more than 65 years ago, Ms. Jacoby described vivid details that reminded the girls she was just their age when her freedom was seized. She recounted sharing a pot of soup with others in her barrack after not having eaten for three days. “To us, it didn’t look like something we could eat. There were no utensils so we passed this big pot … My best friend Julie was with us and she said I’m not going to eat. I said ‘please eat, otherwise you won’t live.’ And she said ‘I don’t want to live.’ She was already smart enough at 16 … She could not accept her fate. I don’t know how long she lasted, maybe three or four days.”

During a question and answer session that followed her remarks, Ms. Jacoby displayed her candid humility while offering sound advice for the girls, who are studying the importance of becoming upstanders, rather than bystanders for social justice and human rights. “Standing up against evil requires a lot of strength. I don’t know if I could stand up and go out in the street and say, ‘don’t do that; it’s wrong,’” she said. “But I hope that you do. I hope you will feel strong enough. I hope you will stand up if you see people who are discriminated against and persecuted.”

Ms. Jacoby, who eventually became a clinical social worker, also offered a moving testimony about her unshakeable faith and how she encouraged others not to give up hope. “In life you want to find answers to questions you don’t have answers for. I decided maybe I was rewarded with life because I was good, so I helped the old people in the camps. When I was 15, I learned how to diaper old people and feed them.”

Accompanied by her husband Emile, Ms. Jacoby has visited the 7th Grade class for the past five years. “The experience is one for us all to be grateful for, because we do not know how much longer it will be possible to hear survivors speak ,“ said Middle School History teacher Gigi Bizar.

Ms. Jacoby has written a book entitled I Held the Sun in My Hands, and her story has also been included in a film called “Swimming in Auschwitz. ”

Westridge School, 324 Madeline Drive, Pasadena, (626) 799-1053 ext. 200 or visit www.westridge.org.



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