Crystal Lake eighth-graders learn history firsthand from Holocaust survivor

Eighth-graders at Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake got a chance to learn about history firsthand from a Holocaust survivor.

Edith Schumer of Wilmette was among more than 1,000 children, mainly Jewish, who were rescued during World War II by a network of people, organizations and religious groups based in United States and Europe as part of the One Thousand Children project.

Schumer's daughter, Fern Schumer Chapman of Lake Bluff, wrote a historical novel, "Is It Night or Day?," based on Schumer's life. At age 12, she was sent away from her family and homeland in Germany to escape the Holocaust and live in Chicago.

Between 1934 and 1945, roughly 1,400 children between 14 months and 16 years old were rescued from Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied or threatened European countries. They were brought to United States as "unaccompanied minors" without their parents and placed with foster families or institutions, such as orphanages, across the country. They are known as child survivors of the Holocaust, according to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Hannah Beardsley eighth-graders are beginning to study World War II and the Holocaust this semester. Bringing a survivor to class to illustrate that period was a bonus, said library information specialist Jessica Smith, who learned about Chapman's book and invited the duo to speak at the school.

"It is important for students to hear first-person accounts of history," Smith said. "It was a cross-generational experience as well."

Schumer's story of being separated from her family at a young age and emigrating to a foreign land without knowing the language is a familiar experience for many suburban immigrant students. Her talk reflected common themes of intolerance and prejudice against people whether based on language, religion or country of origin, Smith said.

"Everyone can relate to the human desire to fit in and to belong," Smith said. "And the more we share our stories, the more we see our commonalities."

Today marks the commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Holocaust survivor Edith Schumer visit eighth-graders at Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake to share her experience. Schumer was among more than 1,000 children rescued from the Holocaust as part of the One Thousand Children project. Courtesy of Crystal Lake Elementary District 47
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