Holocaust survivor shares experiences with middle school students

March 29, 2019
Fred Amram with students

Eighth graders at Stillwater Middle School had the rare opportunity to hear from a Holocaust survivor. 85-year-old Fred Amram talked about his experiences growing up in Nazi Germany. He spent his early years in Hannover, Germany where he lived through the Holocaust from its inception in 1933.

Amram told students that the atrocities of millions being murdered in concentration camps didn’t happen overnight. He stressed how anti-Semitism built slowly across Germany because non-Jews just watched and didn’t do anything to stop it.

Amram was 2 years old when the Nazi Party passed the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, which deprived Jews of their citizenship and prohibited them from marrying or having relations with Germans.

He told of witnessing the national wave of violent anti-Jewish attacks known as Kristallnacht and the Gestapo raiding his home; he watched British bombers from his balcony, when Jews were banned from air raid shelters; he saw his father forced into slave labor; his grandmother, aunt and uncle, and 3-year-old cousin were killed in the ghettos and concentration camps.

During his presentation, Amram repeatedly stopped to challenge the students, asking “What would you do if this was happening in Stillwater today?” He urged them to be upstanders, not bystanders when they witness wrongdoing.

Amram was invited to share his experiences at SMS by eighth graders Berit Serle and Kennedy Tope who were working on an English project. They were initially going to personally interview Amram but wanted to bring his story to a larger audience to impact more people.

“I am a firm believer that empathy is found in personal experiences and not movies or videos or even in museums,” said Serle. “Hearing him talk hit a nerve more than any museum ever could.”

Serle and Tope took it upon themselves to organize the event. They say they have always been civic-minded.

“We’ve been friends since the fourth grade,” said Tope. “I always hoped that we’d like, um …”

“... that we’d change the world,” finished Serle.

“We’ve changed the perspective of a few people,” Serle added. “We’re still getting to the world thing but we’ll get there eventually.”