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Knapp students view film on area Holocaust survivor

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, November 9, 2017

CURRITUCK — Students at J.P. Early College High School were challenged Wednesday by members of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater to stand up against discrimination, bullying and racism in order to prevent horrors such as the Holocaust from happening again.

The presentation included a screening of “What We Carry,” a film that tells the story of Holocaust survivor David Katz, who lived his last decades in Chesapeake, Va.

As noted in the presentation, today is the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night of terror in 1938 when paramilitary forces and civilians beat and killed Jews across Germany and vandalized Jewish businesses and synagogues while German authorities stood by and did not intervene. In addition, 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to labor and concentration camps.

Wednesday’s presentation was the first time the Virginia Beach, Va.-based Holocaust Commission had shown one of its films outside of Virginia. The commission has produced a series of seven films about Holocaust survivors who settled in the Virgina Beach area.

Carol Jason of the United Jewish Federation and Holocaust Commission told students that the purpose of the presentation was to teach them about the consequences of hatred, discrimination and unchecked propaganda. Joining Jason in the presentation were Rachael Feigenbaum and Michelle Waterman.

Jason said she hoped the program would inspire students to become engaged in their community so that no one is ever again targeted by the kind of discrimination that was directed against Jews, homosexuals and other minorities before and during the Holocaust.

“If people don’t stand up and speak out and do something then nothing will happen,” Jason said.

Students Piper Antons and Leila Beaman were among those who took the message to heart.

“I really think we should speak up and not be a bystander,” Antons said after the program. She said that after hearing the presentation she was more resolute than ever that she would not stand by if she observed someone being bullied.

Beaman agreed.

“Nothing will change if you don’t do something,” she said. 

According to Jason, the Nazis’ Final Solution sought to eradicate Jews, first from Germany and then from all of Europe. In fact, two of every three Jews in Europe at that time were killed, she said.

Jason recalled that Katz, who died in January 2012, said he had started to share his story as a witness to the atrocities and as a way of honoring the memory of his parents and grandparents, who died in Nazi concentration camps.

“I speak because they can no longer speak,” Jason said, quoting Katz.

Katz was initially reluctant to talk about his experiences during the Holocaust but later decided that he should tell his story, according to Jason. She noted that some survivors never told their story, even to their own children. Many others, however, chose to tell their stories about what they had seen and lived through, she said.

Katz was 3 years old when Hitler came to power in 1933. Both his parents were professional musicians and he grew up around classical music. In the film he recalls with sadness that all that came to an abrupt end when his grandparents were first taken to a concentration camp and then shortly afterward, his father was sent to a labor camp and he and his mother were sent to a concentration camp.

Katz was able to leave the camp and go to an orphanage in France, but he escaped the orphanage by jumping out of a window when he heard that Nazis were coming for the children who lived there. For six months Katz wandered in the woods, seeking to cross the border into Switzerland. He was eventually rescued by members of the French Resistance near Lyon, France.

While living at a Catholic Parish that was protecting Jewish refugees he had the chance to hear classical music again because the priest was a music lover. Katz also recalled in the film that the priest told him his Jewish heritage was something no one could ever take from him.

After the war ended Katz came to live with an aunt and uncle in the United States and later served in Korea. He worked in his family’s business and then worked for the federal government, eventually retiring to Chesapeake. For the last 20 years of his life he told his story as often as he could in schools and other settings, Jason said.

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