A letter from Holocaust Survivor Robert L. Herschkowitz
On Saturday, May 21, I was invited to give a talk to the Get Global 2016 Conference. One of the participants had heard me at Franklin HS and invited me to give the same presentation.
It was a fascinating experience. About 330 student were reunited at the U of W Ethnic Cultural Center building. I had never seen such an ethnically diverse assembly and I was one of the few adults.
I was welcomed by a lot of smiling and enthusiastic organizers and a lot of handshakes and thanks from numerous students. Breakfast was served, coffee, Danish and lots of candy bars, all donated by Starbuck.
After breakfast we went to the auditorium, where about eight students opened their hearts to the audience about the problems they had encountered. I learned about Trichotillomania, Teens Mental Health and other problems that I was not really aware of. The main presenters emphasized that it took a lot of courage from these teenagers to explain in public their sometimes well kept secrets. Every one of the speakers were sent off by a standing ovation and a lot of clicking’s, as some students had the clickers made famous by D-Day Airborne troops!
Then to the class rooms for 20+ workshops. I wished I could have gone to listen about Modern Slavery, Black Girl Magic, When 9/11 became 24/7, etc..
I gave my presentation named “Holocaust, Genocides and other Horrible Stories” to about thirty students. I emphasized my message that the bad guys are always bullies and so educated since very young. One of the young ladies, the one on my right on the last picture, even cried. Which I had never witnessed before at any of my talks. The other young lady in the picture, Vanessa stayed with me after my talk to ask me what she should study in college! I found her very intelligent and we sat during lunch where I pushed for STEM. And even tried to convince her that math is fun. I guess that she needed some advise and asked a total stranger.
The lunch was a very long line, offering Asian food donated by a local restaurant, with special lines for all the different diets such as vegan, gluten free, peanut free and so on. Which made for a tremendous number of delicious dishes.
There was also entertainment. I liked the song “Love” from Keyshia Cole sung by a young lady named Iman S. with a beautiful voice. This left me with quite a deep impression.
I thank Christopher Lam for having invited me and to congratulate him and his buddies for the well organized meeting.
(Hope to be invited next year!)
Our country is in good hands. I went home with a broad smile on my face.
Robert L. Herschkowitz is Member of the Board and Past President for the Holocaust Center For Humanity
. The Holocaust Center for Humanity teaches tolerance and citizenship through lessons of the Holocaust. Established in 1989, the Center supports teachers in the public and private schools of Washington State and in the Pacific Northwest, making it possible to introduce Holocaust studies into their curricula.
Robert (Bob) was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1938. Germany invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940. The same day, his parents escaped to France and over the next year made their way south to Marseilles in Vichy-controlled France. As they traveled, German planes bombed the refugees clogging the roads. Bob and his parents took refuge in the ditch along the roads.
Between October of 1940 and June of 1941, the Vichy government passed anti-Semitic legislation, the “Law of the Situation of the Jews.” At the end of 1942, the Vichy militias, with the help of the Gestapo, arrested Bob’s family and sent them to Rivesaltes, the largest French concentration camp. There, the family was separated.
Bob and his pregnant mother were sent to a “résidence forcée” (forced domicile), a kind of house arrest in a small village. As a result, Bob’s brother was born in a German military hospital. Later, his father escaped from Rivesaltes, and was reunited with his family with help from the French resistance. The family crossed the Alps by foot in September of 1943 and found refuge in Switzerland until the end of the Bob and his immediate family were fortunate. Deportation of foreign Jews to Nazi death camps began in March of 1942, and many Jews at Rivesaltes, including Bob’s uncle, were deported to the French transit camp of Drancy, and then on to Auschwitz. The Nazis murdered more than 77,000 Jews from France in these camps.
After the war, Bob received his BS in Engineering in Belgium and served in the Belgian Navy as an officer. Later, he was detached to the navy of Zaire in Africa. He was recruited overseas by Boeing and came to Seattle in 1967. He received a MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington and a MA in Naval History and International Relations from the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Bob has written numerous magazine articles and papers on naval armament, military history, and naval operations. He served in the US Naval Reserve for 24 years and retired as a Commander.
Bob’s Aunt, Rosa Schnabel, stayed in Belgium but survived thanks to a Belgian named Pauline Joris-Brouwers, who allowed Rosa to hide in her house. Pauline’s husband was killed by a V1 bomb during the war, so she and her four children were adopted into Bob’s family after the war. In 1997, Bob successfully petitioned for her to be declared “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem.