On Tuesday, Feb. 2, Students from Teresa Davis’s Theology classes and Gretchen Thomas’ English classes heard from Steven Coppel, a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Although he didn’t experience the Holocaust first hand, he continues to educate young minds so it is not left behind us.
With the loss of World War 1 in 1939, Germany’s economy and society declined rapidly. Germany’s Chancellor, Adolf Hitler blamed the country’s Jewish population for Germany’s lowly state. One by one, the inhabitants began to turn against the Jews in fear of being treated like them. Following the example their leaders were displaying, citizens neglected and mistreated Jews in their communities. In just a few months, Jews were segregated from non-Jews by being forced into ghettos, a part of a city where people live, commonly because of social, legal, or economic pressure. Then the Gestapo – the German police – began to transport them to concentration camps, where they would be killed either by being worked to death, burned, gassed, or tortured.
According to The Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, these mass killings began to pick up in 1941. Ghettos were abandoned, and concentration camps were filled with the remaining Jews. They were killed one by one until 1945 when allied forces such as the U.S. Armies and the Soviet Union liberated the camps. Those who managed to escape or survive until then were free to go and make their own lives for themselves. Life went on; families were started. Their posterity grew up to learn of the Holocaust through their parent’s eyes, and have lived on to continue telling their story.
The speaker series for students this year was organized by Theology teacher Teresa Davis. She has invited survivors and their children to McNick every year since 2014. “We have gotten away from understanding that the Holocaust did happen, and 6 million Jews died… 6 million Jews died because of an ideology that ran rampant that no one had the courage to stop. We need to bear witness to what has happened, as our Catholic faith encourages us to be upstanders,” Davis said.
This year, Steven Coppel, a second generation Holocaust witness, was one of the speakers who came to McNick to speaker to Davis’s and Thomas’s classes about his father’s experience in the Holocaust. Coppel gave a new view to students about the reverberations of trauma in his home and environment. “He saw the effects and said ‘I’m going to go through the day of sadness or whatever kind of reverberations of my heart remembering my dad, and tell the story over and over again, because if my dad didn’t deserve it,’ no one deserves it,” Davis said.
Freshman Madeline Rink said, “I think that it was a very inspirational speech to make sure you’re an upstander and not a bystander, and to not just watch prejudice happen.”
Freshman Gemma Roetenberger said, “I think the speech was very beautiful. A part that really resounded in me was when Mr. Coppel said that you can still be a Nazi even if you’re not torturing people… As long as you are standing by and not taking action, then you’re not helping in any way.”
Roetenberger thinks McNicholas students should be required to listen to speeches like these. “It’s not taught in middle school; it should at the very least be taught in high school,” Rotenburger said. As a society, we are obligated to recall the events that happened in the 1940s, and to listen to memories of that time so we do not forget what occurred. “Education, if it doesn’t lead to change in society, it’s not worth anything. It’s worthless if it doesn’t bring change,” Davis said.