Tuesday afternoon, Holocaust survivor Henry Stern presented two gifts to the Opelika City school system: a collection of materials about the Holocaust and Stern’s personal experiences to OCS officials and the chance to meet and ask questions of a Holocaust survivor to OMS students.
Stern, the last Holocaust survivor in East Alabama, took time during his visit with OMS eighth graders to give facts not only about the Holocaust and the Nazi regime’s slaughter of six million Jews, but about his own life and experiences.
Stern warned students that there may come a day when there would be those who would try to deny that the Holocaust happened.
“You are alive to hear my story,” Stern told the students. “Tell (your children) you knew the last survivor … The story will still be told, again and again. This is what I hope for, that it will be remembered.”
Before his lecture, Stern presented OCS superintendent Mark Neighbors, OHS principal Farrell Seymore and OMS principal Keith York with a DVD of several interviews Stern has given over the years about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Stern also donated laminated copies of several photos and art pieces taken as a part of the “Darkness Into Life” art exhibit featured last year at the Lewis Cooper Memorial Library. Stern was one of several Alabama Holocaust survivors interviewed for the project.
Included on the DVD interviews were two North Carolina news reports chronicling Stern’s difficult journey in locating any surviving members of his family.
While it took him more than 60 years, Stern finally received a hit on a posting made on a Holocaust survivor web site. Fred Hertz of Durham, North Carolina, responded to Stern’s posting about his grandmother Ida.
Stern sent Hertz a scan of a family photo from Germany, and Hertz identified a few members in the photo, including Hertz himself.
Stern said he hopes students will recall his story and make a personal connection with an event they primarily learn about as a historical event.
“We cannot let the Holocaust become just another subject for books or nameless monuments for people,” Stern said. “We have to make a personal connection with the Holocaust. It is not enough to know that Jews were killed. We must try to find out who they were, these people of ours.”