Holocaust witness visits students
GYSPUM – On Holocaust Rememberance Day Friday, Vail resident Werner Kaplan spoke to an Eagle Valley High School classroom full of social studies students. And in that classroom students listened …. and learned. As Kaplan spoke about the Holocaust and the importance of tolerance, silence settled as students took in each word.Holocaust is the Greek word that means “dying by fire.” Out of the millions killed, 1.5 million were children. In that, said Kaplan, many great minds of Germany were killed. Kaplan remembers that after World War I, things changed. In 1937, Kaplan was just 11 and in sixth grade when new laws were put into effect. Jewish students were made to sit in the back of the room and could not participate in class discussions. Anyone caught talking to Jewish students would fail or be persecuted. In that same year, a cousin of Kaplan’s sponsored his immediate family – Kaplan, his brother, mother and father – to come to the United States.The family was forced to leave everything they owned to the German governement.
None of them could speak English when they found themselves into a new environment in the United States. Kaplan was put into the first grade, but moved up to the sixth grade within six months of arriving to America. Kaplan’s father would only allow the English language to be spoken at home and Kaplan learned quickly. It proved to be a wise decision, as no one was allowed to leave Germany the next year. People escaped the country on ships but sometimes were not allowed into American ports and sent back to Europe. Some of the passengers committed suicide. “My parents didn’t talk about it – they wanted to forget,” said Kaplan, who visited Germany in 1973, but doesn’t want to go back again. Kaplan’s final messages to the Eagle Valley students were direct and simple. “Don’t take your freedom for granted. There is no other place in the world like the U.S.,” Kaplan said, adding the focus of Holocaust Remembrance Day is to remember what you have and be tolerant of others.
Cultural gapsTeacher Ashley Weaver said she was thankful for Kaplan’s visit. “I’m grateful that the kids could hear first hand about the atrocities of the Nazi regime,” Weaver said. “The Holocaust is a topic that is so important for them to be aware of.” Weaver also emphasizd that students have o underestand that there are still people all over the world who are being persecuted for their beliefs or ethnicity – in Iraq, the Balkans, and Sudan, among other regions. “Mr. Kaplan’s message of tolerance can also apply to our community as kids have com together from different cultures and accepted those differences instead of shunning those who are different from them,” said Weaver. “I believe there are major cultural gaps in our community that can’t be ignored.”Students also expressed appreciation for Kaplan’s message. Naelly Torres said she learned much more about the Holocaust from Kaplan’s story.
“It was a different perspective to learn from someone who lived through that time period than to just learn from our text,” she said. Dulce Gomez said Kaplan was very fortunate.”It’s amazing how lucky (Kaplan) was to get out and escape all the bad things in Germany,” said Gomez. Leslie Rodriguez said she admired Kaplan for his willingness to share something so private. “It was interesting how he can talk about something so personal,” Rodriguez said.Vail Colorado