Holocaust survivor talks about time in Auschwitz, anti-bullying

Tabernacle students were given a first-hand perspective on what occurred in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust by a survivor who was 4 years old during the genocide.

On Nov. 19, survivor Michael Bornstein and his daughter, journalist Debbie Bornstein Holinstat, stopped by Olson Middle School to talk to fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders on what life was like during the Holocaust for Bornstein and his family.

Bornstein informed the students he and his family lived in Zarki, Poland, which was occupied by Nazis, until the soldiers took over the Jewish town and shipped people off to Auschwitz for a fate of either death or lifelong labor.

The Bornstein family arrived with mom, Sophie; dad, Israel; older brother, Samuel; and Michael. Only Sophie and Michael survived the events, as Israel and Samuel were killed in the gas chambers.

Bornstein, now 79, worked with his daughter to compile his family’s experience in Auschwitz in a book, “Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz.” The two visit schools across the country to not only talk about the Holocaust, but to promote anti-bullying and teach kids how to dismantle hate.

We wouldn’t have had so many memories and we’re grateful that my grandmother was willing to talk when she was here,” Bornstein Holinstat said. “Then we also were able to talk to a lot of survivors who were also able to fill in the details of what was happening in the children’s bunk, the infirmary and the women’s bunk.

It feels great because we’ve been to many schools and kids listen intently, they ask questions, so this is a real reward for us,” Bornstein said.

OMS is designated as a “No Place for Hate” school by the Anti-Defamation League, which challenges schools and organization to discourage racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry.

The program has caught Bornstein Holinstat’s attention as she remarked how the students know about empathy and kindness, especially during the brief question-and-answer session held after the presentation, where kids inquired more on what Bornstein’s life was like when he came to the U.S. and was the new kid at a New York City elementary school.

Bornstein and his daughter travel far and wide to remind people that the Holocaust was a real event, driven to do so especially because of those who attest it did not happen and artifacts from the time period are fake.

As Debbie mentioned earlier, there are some groups who will say that the Holocaust was fake and we wanted to show that it isn’t,” Bornstein added. “We’re alive and there aren’t that many survivors left from the concentration camps and we wanted to get that message across.

Seventh-graders Jack Larson and Bailey Allen felt the impact of the duo’s presentation and believe it will teach students they need to treat others with respect to prevent the spread of hate.

Allen said as there’s been hate growing across the globe, reaching out to others to stop bullying can help dismantle the hate.

The two students said hearing about the Holocaust directly from a survivor is a valuable way to learn, as books, documentaries and other materials can only do so much. The life lessons they took from the presentation were in line with Larson and Allen’s personal views. The pair said they consider themselves to be Upstanders in their school, stepping in to stop bullying and letting others know they have someone reliable to talk to.

You don’t realize what’s going on inside for many people and some people try to hide their feelings,” Larson said, “and it’s important that, no matter what, you treat people kindly and talk to them.”