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posted: 4/4/2013 5:30 AM

Holocaust survivor inspires at Huntley High

Holocaust survivor inspires at Huntley High

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  • Lisl Bogart, originally from Prague, talks to Huntley High School students Wednesday about her time spent in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. Bogart still has her badge she was forced to wear identifying her as a Jew, and also some of the fake money that was made to fool the Red Cross when they visited her concentration camp.

       Lisl Bogart, originally from Prague, talks to Huntley High School students Wednesday about her time spent in Theresienstadt, a Nazi concentration camp. Bogart still has her badge she was forced to wear identifying her as a Jew, and also some of the fake money that was made to fool the Red Cross when they visited her concentration camp.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 

Lisl Bogart was living in Prague -- the capital of what is now the Czech Republic -- as a happy, healthy 13-year-old at the start of 1939. She lived with her parents and her older brother, went to a good school and had plenty of opportunities for fun.

"There was nothing missing in my life," Bogart said to a crowd of Huntley High School freshmen during a presentation Wednesday.

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When Prague was invaded by the German army March 15, 1939, Bogart's life changed dramatically.

Overnight, she and her brother became outcasts at school, her father lost ownership of his business and she learned what it felt like to be a victim of anti-Semitism -- her first experience being discriminated against for her religion.

Bogart, and the loving extended family she said included 43 people, were guilty of being Jewish in the middle of Hitler's campaign to rid the world of people like them.

"When the war was over, I was the only one to survive to return," Bogart said. "Everybody else was brutally murdered."

Bogart is a family friend of Huntley High School social worker Katie Szarzynski. She came to the United States after surviving three years in Theresienstadt, a concentration camp that functioned as a ghetto with forced labor. The 87-year-old woman now lives in Lincolnshire with her husband and continues to speak to students and teachers about her experiences.

World history and geography students at the school are just beginning a unit on genocide and will learn about the Holocaust as well as other genocides including those in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Armenia, Darfur and Cambodia.

Anne Sharkey, a world history teacher, said hearing Bogart's story is an experience future generations will not get.

"We're losing the personal perspectives as survivors are passing away," Sharkey said. "We have to give that to the students while we can."

Bogart spoke to the freshmen during two presentations Monday, both of which were attended by a handful of community members as well. She detailed her life in the concentration camp, the solidarity among captives that kept them going and the twists of fate -- "or luck or God's will" -- that spared her life but killed the rest of her family.

Theresienstadt served as the staging ground for a hoax to fool Red Cross members into thinking Jewish prisoners were actually comfortable and well cared for -- an act Bogart was forced to take part in. She believes her parents and brothers died with a famous group of Czech captives who were killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz singing the Czech and Jewish anthems. Bogart was supposed to be in that group, too.

It's her story but also history, Bogart told students. She repeated the idea that the world just ignored Hitler as his armies murdered 6 million Jewish people and 5 million others, including Jehovah's Witnesses, gypsies and people with disabilities.

"Everybody knew about the killings and the concentration camps, but the world stood by," Bogart said. "The world was silent. Nobody, no country, came to our help."

And that is why she repeats her story now. Bogart asks students not to bully their peers, not to discriminate against anyone or act on prejudice because, "words can hurt." She asked students to go home and share what they learned during the speech instead of keeping it to themselves. And she left the group with a note of hope for the future.

"If we can start from scratch to teach the parents to teach their children the right thing, we might one day succeed," Bogart said. "Our hope is the future."

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