Sophomores at Buffalo Grove High School were offered an eyewitness account of one of humanity's darkest times when Holocaust survivor Steen Metz spoke to students in English classes Tuesday, Sept. 24.
A volunteer at the Holocaust Museum, author of the memoir "A Danish Boy in Theresienstadt," and guest speaker in area high schools and libraries, Metz shared the story of his childhood in Denmark during the Nazi occupation and his family's imprisonment in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
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During the interactive presentation, students learned that Metz's family members, identified as Jewish because of his father's ancestry, were given 20 minutes to gather belongings before they were herded into cattle box cars with others to be transported to Theresienstadt, a camp that was located in what is now the Czech Republic.
The concentration camp was utilized in a propaganda "model camp" campaign to deceptively reassure the International Red Cross and Danish officials, through elaborate staging and videos, that prisoners were not mistreated there.
Metz's father died of starvation at Theresienstadt. The speaker recalled the heartbreaking story of how it was the children's responsibility to dump ashes of incinerated bodies into the river. In carrying out the grisly assembly-line assignment, his friend turned the boxes of ashes around so that Metz could not see his father's name on the box.
On April 14, 1945, surviving prisoners at Theresienstadt were rescued and evacuated via Red Cross buses through Germany and Denmark, and then Sweden, where they remained until the official end of the war.
Metz was able to show modern-day relevance of his life experience to the young people in the audience, encouraging them to treat one another as they would wish to be treated. He also stressed the critical importance that this lesson is taught throughout the generations, so that history will not continue to repeat itself.
"We need to have respect, no bullying, and the opposite of how Hitler treated us," Metz said. "I ask that you spread this message to your parents, sisters and brothers."
More information on Metz's story of survival can be found in an April article in The Washington Times: www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/apr/29/holocaust-museums-20th-anniversary-draws-survivors/.
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