The Nazis executed Zelig Preis' brother in front of his eyes. "If you were not fit to work, they killed you," Preis said as a small group of Joel Barlow students clung to every word he spoke.
Tuesday was the annual War and Remembrance Day at Barlow's media center, an event that has captivated students and residents for nearly 40 years. "[The town] really looks forward to it," said Barlow teacher Jennifer Desmarais, who helped organize the event. "We used to have 40 or 50 guests. Now we're down to about 10."
The stories of survival echoed in the packed media room, and everyone listening seemed aware of the fading brilliance of the event. For Barlow senior Taylor Clemenza, the experience touched home. One of the speakers suffered at the same concentration camp as her grandfather. "This experience has been really great," Clemenza said. "I've learned a lot."
Senior Andrew Spears was equally moved by the speakers, which included Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans . "You read about it when you take a class, but to meet them in person is amazing. We're probably the last generation that's going to hear these stories" from the people who lived it.
One of those stories involved Manny Lobel, who escaped from a German concentration camp and fled through Russia and into Shanghai, which was under Japanese occupation. "You can't make this stuff up," Desmarais said.
The program began in 1972 when teachers Randy Potter and Linda Quinby wanted to give students an opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors, said Jerry Bielizna, a retired Barlow teacher.
Barlow history teacher and debate coach Randy Smith also helped organize the event. "Until you actually look into the eyes of someone who experienced it," Smith said, "There's something in that look that gives a depth to the experience that is not merely academic, but is something that is real and has far greater impact than anything we can replicate in the classroom."
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