Two Holocaust survivors will visit Nebraska this week with a sense of urgency.
Both children during the Nazi occupation, Inge Auerbacher and Agnes Schwartz are among the few survivors left to recount the slaughter of 6 million Jews.
When they tell their stories Wednesday in Wahoo and beyond, they are doing more than offering a history lesson.
They ask the children with whom they speak to become storytellers, to relay their messages of suffering and hope to future generations.
Auerbacher, 78, of New York City and Schwartz, 79, of Chicago will talk about their World War II experiences in separate appearances at the Wahoo Performance Learning Center. Auerbacher will speak in Wahoo during a 90-minute morning session, and Schwartz will talk at an afternoon session.
“I am putting my heart and soul into this, because I don't want the Holocaust to be repeated,” Schwartz said by phone. “I hope the children learn not to hate because of color or race, and that they also learn not to let anyone deny that the Holocaust ever happened, because they will have met somebody who was there.”
Dave Privett, media director for the Wahoo Public Schools, said students from 24 schools will attend one of the two sessions. Thirteen additional schools from as far away as Chadron, Neb., will watch via videoconference.
The women are in the area as part of A Week of Understanding, an annual initiative produced by the Institute for Holocaust Education and the Omaha Public Schools.
The institute's Hillary Fletcher said an estimated 5,500 students will hear presentations from survivors this week. That contrasts with just about 1,800 students when the program began in 2011.
Auerbacher, a native of Stuttgart, Germany, and her parents spent three years in a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Of 140,000 people sent to the camp called Terezin, only about 1 percent survived.
“My story is from a child's point of view and what happens to a little girl in a concentration camp,” Auerbacher said. “As long as my health permits, I will speak, because I owe it to those who did not survive.”
She entered the camp at age 7 and is believed to be the only child concentration camp survivor from the German state of Württemberg. At least 13 members of her immediate family were killed in the Holocaust, as well as many more distant relatives.
Auerbacher and her parents — and a beloved doll little Inge named Marlene — were liberated from the camp by the Soviet Army on May 8, 1945.
The family immigrated to the United States in 1946, and Auerbacher went on to become a chemist and award-winning author. One of her books, “I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust,” is about the concentration camp.
“I want to tell the students in Nebraska that despite everything that life brings you ... you can overcome it by working hard to make something of yourself,” she said. “Look at me. I lost eight years of school because of the Holocaust, and I became a chemist and an author.”
Auerbacher also will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Omaha's Countryside Community Church, 87th and Pacific Streets.
She is scheduled to go on a weeklong speaking tour in Italy after leaving Nebraska. While she is here, she said, she hopes she can visit a farm with cattle, because her grandfather was a livestock dealer.
The story of Agnes Schwartz is of a child who was hidden from the Nazis by pretending to be Roman Catholic.
She was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Budapest. When the Nazis invaded Hungary in 1944, her family was forced to wear the yellow star and relocate to a dirty ghetto apartment.
Their housekeeper, a non-Jew, kept the 10-year-old girl safe by claiming her as a niece and enrolling her in a Catholic school. Schwartz, in a phone interview, said she became a “hidden child” living in the open but in constant fear, not knowing when her family would be reunited.
Her father was saved by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and hidden in one of his safe houses, but her mother died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Her grandmother, grandfather and aunt drowned in the Danube River while trying to escape the Nazis.
Schwartz, who came to the United States with her father in 1946, began speaking to groups about the Holocaust more than 30 years ago when a grandson asked her to talk at his school. She estimates that she has told her story hundreds of times.
“Sometimes it's still very emotional for me, and sometimes I can get through it pretty well,” she said. “These are very strong memories, but they are so important for the students to hear.”
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