Junior High and High School students learned about the ugliness of bigotry when guest speaker and Holocaust survivor, Daniel Goldsmith powerfully shared his testimony of his experiences and the magnitude of suffering his family endured because of the extreme brutality during the Holocaust.
All the students were respectful and supportive of this emotionally challenging lesson.
This generation will be the last one to hear these stories live.
“….to those who died, we remember; to those who survived, we hear you; to future generations, let us never forget.” - Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel, Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor [1928-2016]
All great tragedies happen twice. The first time, the world as we know it is swept up in a terrible catastrophe. The second, someone comes forward to tell us what has happened.
Genocide took place during World War II in Germany when Jewish people and other perceived enemies of the Nazi state were exterminated, often in gas chambers. Subcamps served as slave-labor camps. Masses of those starving inmate Holocaust survivors who were used as slave labor were not liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp, the largest and arguably the most notorious of all the Nazi death camps, until May 4, 1945 by US Third Army troops.
Those entering the Auschwitz main gate were greeted with an infamous and ironic inscription: “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free.”
According to some estimates, between 1.1 million to 1.5 million people, the vast majority of them Jews, died at Auschwitz during its years of operation. An undetermined number perished from overwork, disease, insufficient nutrition or the daily struggle for survival in those extremely brutal living conditions.
Adolf Hitler [1889-1945], the chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, had implemented a policy that came to be known as the “Final Solution”, a way to systematically murder every Jew on the continent.
Holocaust survivor Daniel Goldsmith was born in Antwerp, Belgium on December 11, 1931 to modern Orthodox Polish parents. He began school when he was six and he received both his secular and religious education in a Yeshiva. In his younger years he and his family lived in a primarily Jewish area.
Daniel’s father, Chaim Goldschmidt, one of nine children, a self employed plumber, was transported to a labor camp in northern France in August 1942. “The Nazis wanted young and strong men and picked our father to go to a labor camp when he was 39.”
They all traveled together to the Antwerp train station to see him off. “I'll see you soon. I'm strong and know I'll survive.” His father also said to him, “You are now the man of the house and you will have to take care of your mother and sister until I come back.” He, his mother, Ruchel Goldschmidt, and his baby sister, Lillian, never heard from him again. He was gassed in Auschwitz's Birkenau.
Very shortly after his father left, the Germans raided and robbed their row home neighborhood and ransacked all the Jewish-owned homes on Korte Kiebit Straat. “If you were a Jew, you had to register where you lived and wear a yellow Jewish star. Several of the non-Jews showed the Germans where the Jews lived.”
They climbed up the steps and out of the skylight and their mother hid them under a blanket on the cornice on the roof. “We could hear all the yelling and screaming that was going on from all the people that were being dragged out of their houses.”
Jews were gradually stripped of their rights and their humanity.
They hid with some Christian people that his mother knew but “we couldn’t stay there for very long”.
They were totally dependent on their helpers—for food and water, for news from the outside world, and especially for willingness to continue to keep their secret.
Daniel’s mother made the decision to place his sister with a private Christian family. “And myself, she wound up placing me in an orphanage in Weelde run by a Father Cornelissen, who had several orphanages.” Daniel was given false baptismal papers and “he changed my name. My name when I was in the orphanage was Willie Peters and I was raised Catholic. I was an altar boy.”
Germans came one day and took “Willie” and several others and put them on a cattle car train.
“We had no time to think. We jumped out.”
Their injuries were not too severe, some bloodied cuts and ankle sprains.
Goodness, like evil, often begins in small steps. Heroes evolve; they aren’t born.
Fortunately many clergy accepted the challenge. Mere willingness can become intense involvement.
They located a Catholic priest to help them and he placed Daniel with a family, Monsieur and Madame Beautahier. “And what they did is they hid me in the attic and they kept me there until we got liberated in September 1944.”
Daniel had many close encounters with death, yet he lived to continue to tell the tale of his mother, who lived to be 88, and his younger sister Lillian, who lives in Warminster.
Daniel Goldsmith asked for just one thing after his very personal, compelling story of survival.
“When you see an injustice, speak up. Don't allow it to happen. Life is too short.”
The student audience was invited to participate in an essay competition to explain the importance of what they had learned in the program and to apply lessons from the Holocaust presentation to social and political issues today.
For the first time ever, there were TWO winners from the same school, Villa Joseph Marie in Bucks County. Olivia L. Glunz '20 and graduate Jenna M. Pintimalli '19 were honored as the essay contest winners for the Holocaust Remembrance Program presented by Daniel Goldsmith last Fall.
Army veteran, E-5 Sgt. Allan Silverberg, Committee Chairman of the Holocaust Remembrance Program, and the Fegelson-Young-Feinberg Levittown Post 697 of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States hosted a beautiful dinner celebration for the winners and their parents.
The JWV of the USA is the oldest veterans’ organization in the USA, organized in 1896.
VJM students, Olivia and Jenna received citations from both the Senate of Pennsylvania and the House of Representatives by U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and PA State Representative Frank Farry. They were gifted with an American flag that had flown over the Capitol and they have also been invited to tour the White House and the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
Last spring, Olivia was a junior student in Mrs. Flynn-Hensel’s AP US History class.
“I was enthralled by Mr. Goldsmith’s speech. It was horrifying to hear what he said. He survived and is positive. There was not a sound in the background; everyone was enthralled by his words. It was also inspiring to hear about the people of different faiths who risked themselves and didn’t even know him, but yet helped him. It’s a human obligation to help.”
VJM Social Studies teacher, Becky Flynn-Hensel shared, “In all of my years at Villa, I don't think we have had a more impacting speaker than Mr. Goldsmith. Our students hung on to every word of his story. He was able to transport them to a different time and place, describing in such detail that it was easy for them to visualize all of the twists and turns of his experience — the horrific and unbelievable moments, the darkness of hate, and the triumph of love from friends and strangers alike. We are so lucky to have had him share his story. We now have the responsibility of carrying the torch—sharing his story with others so as to combat the hate and prejudice that led to the Holocaust.”
Last spring, Jenna was a senior student in Ms. May’s Reel History class. She is now a University of South Carolina frosh contemplating Law School for Constitutional Law, so she was unable to attend but her teacher represented her.
“Mr. Goldsmith’s Holocaust presentation had a significant impact. There is power in being kind and speaking up for injustice. He survived through the assistance of those who were brave enough to put their lives on the line.”
VJM Reel History teacher Maggie May, Social Studies Department Chair, stated, “One of my proudest moments as a teacher was connecting with the Holocaust Remembrance Education Program to bring Mr. Goldsmith to Villa. Mr. Goldsmith's visit was unforgettable and I am beyond grateful that the students were given this special opportunity: to hear a Holocaust survivor’s story. Before long, this generation of survivors and witnesses will be gone. It is up to us to make sure that their stories are not lost with them. Mr. Goldsmith’s story sent a clear message: ‘Don’t hate. Speak up for others. One person can make a difference.’ I am confident that I can speak on behalf of the entire Villa community when I say that his story inspired us to believe that we each can make the world a better place by spreading kindness, having empathy, and standing up for what is right. We look forward to having Mr. Goldsmith back again to share his story with the freshman class this spring.”
There was an additional essay winner honored, from the Cinnaminson Middle School.
Currently a Cinnaminson HS ninth grader, Aidan John Quinn-Wright compassionately stated the importance of “always looking out for others and not judging people because of skin color or religion”.
“I was very moved. Mr. Goldsmith’s experiences really touched all of the students. The Holocaust was an important event in history. It happened and it should never happen again.”
Aidan is a Varsity soccer player whose classes have included Accelerated English and Honors Social Studies. He likes statistics. “Maybe I’ll be a Sports Analyst.”
The students deepened their examination of human behavior.
Change begins with each individual.
Thousands participated actively in the Nazi plan of annihilation, while many more knew what was happening and did nothing. Action and inaction of the perpetrators and bystanders represents some of the worst of which human beings are capable. The courage of resisters and rescuers represents the best.
Action is the only remedy to indifference.
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