Holocaust survivor Judith Altmann spoke during an Upper School assembly to share her story with students, faculty, and staff. In 1944, Mrs. Altmann was transported to Auschwitz concentration camp and selected for work along with her niece. She was then sent to Essen and Gelsenkirchen labor camps and survived the death march that ended in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Mrs. Altmann was liberated by the British Army in 1945 and then lived in Sweden for three years before emigrating to the United States in 1948.
Before telling her story, Mrs. Altmann showed a montage of scenes from the Holocaust, noting that while the images are not easy to see, it is imperative for them to be seen and for the Holocaust to be remembered, both to honor those that perished and to learn from history. She stressed the power of knowledge and education. She said, "Learn all that you can because nobody can take that away from you." When her arm was injured and she couldn't continue working in a factory, her knowledge of languages earned her a job translating orders, saving her life. She also urged students to use their education to think critically, to ask questions, and to stand up against prejudice and hate.
"This was a powerful and moving personal account from someone who survived the terrible atrocities of the Holocaust. Mrs. Altmann also emphasized the importance of always remembering these past atrocities so they would never be repeated again." - Headmaster Scott Nelson
In a powerful closing, Mrs. Altmann reminded students of the importance of their active engagement in human rights issues and cautioned against dismissing struggles that feel distant. She recalled all the people who put their lives on the line to protect and save Jewish people during the Holocaust and said, "Do good things. Help somebody, and you're helping yourself. Save one person, and you save the world."
During the Q&A session, one student asked, "How can we make sure something like this never happens again." Mrs. Altmann answered that her mission is to share her story with young people so that they become upstanders who are inspired to do the right thing and to encourage others to do so as well. She said with hope and wisdom, "You are the ones who will make a better world."
Mrs. Altmann has extensive experience speaking in schools, and she is a member of the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Speakers Bureau and Vice President of the Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut. She will return to RCDS to give a second presentation to seventh and eighth graders on Tuesday, February 18, at 10:00 a.m. in the PAC. RCDS parents and guardians are welcome to attend.