A story of survival through perseverance, faith, and luck was told to Western Wayne Middle School students by Holocaust survivor Peter Stern.
This presentation was made possible through the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center. Western Wayne Middle School sought out this experience for their students as part of their PBIS program. The PBIS initiative involves successfully creating a proactive positive school environment in which students are demonstrating their Wildcat PRIDE daily.
PBIS is an ongoing effort of the Western Wayne School District to guide students in behaving and interacting with others in such a way as to promote an effective learning community. One fitting way the students learned about building a strong community year was through Stern’s virtual presentation on the morning of June 4th.
All Western Wayne Middle School students and their teachers were able to experience Stern’s presentation via Google Meet.
Stern spoke for 45 minutes about his experiences in various concentration camps for about four years. He then held a question and answer session with the students and asked them all a concluding question. Stern’s full biography can be found through the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center at https://hamec.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Peter_Stern_Survivor_Biography_Handout_Map.pdf
Through his story, Stern, who was born in Nuremberg, Germany in March 1936, explained that he was fortunate enough to stay with his mother, father, and brother for most of his time in captivity until his father’s death after which he remained with his mother and brother.
Stern explained how during their time in captivity his father saved the life of a German officer, and that that event led to them being sent to a much more secure camp.
“Survival is a lot of luck,” Stern noted.
Stern and his family were liberated on April 15, 1945.
“I consider that date my second birthday,” Stern told his very captive audience via the internet.
Eventually in 1947, Stern and his family immigrated to the United States, but he was split up from his mother and brother due to financial constraints. He moved to Georgia with relatives, while his brother moved to New York with other relatives, and his mother went to work as a live-in maid to earn money for her family.
Stern told the students how he struggled greatly with learning English once coming to America. However, Stern eventually chose to become a middle school teacher, and he dedicated his life to educating students for 30 years. He explained that his brother also went on to be an educator at the college level as a professor.
Through the presentations that Stern makes to many student groups across the country he continues to educate the youth of America about the importance of respecting and appreciating others no matter their race, religious preference, appearance, etc.
Stern asked the students at the end of the presentation, “Why is it that people like myself, survivors, come and talk to you? What do we want from you?”
The students were eager to share their responses with Stern and offered many ideas about how it is to keep history alive, inspire others to never give up, make students more open to share their stories, inspire students to not repeat the mistakes made by others in history, etc.
After patiently and actively listening to all of the ideas shared by Western Wayne students and staff, Stern said, “ This is truly one of the better responses I have gotten.”
Stern explained how he wants students to be people who affect change in the world.
“I want you to be active, not passive,” Stern said.
Stern quoted a number of famous people who have spoken on the subject of what happens in history when individuals stand by and do nothing. One being Mark Twain who said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
After this truly exceptional experience of listening to Stern’s first-hand account of survival, the Western Wayne Middle School community is much better prepared to affect the type of change that Stern challenged them all to do in their daily lives.
Eighth grader Allyson Irvine reflected on how moved she was by Stern’s presentation.
“The presentation made me realize that the people living through the Holocaust were strong. This was a very difficult time and these people had to be very positive even in the worst times. It must have been very difficult at a young age not knowing what was happening and being separated from your parents,” Ally noted.” “ This presentation showed how truly brave the people who survived the Holocaust were. Not only because they went through it, but because they went through it and witnessed all of that and still managed to function a normal life AND continue to tell their story. The presentation was very moving and definitely taught many students about the Holocaust and even the ability we have as humans to touch others in ways that are unimaginable.”