Friends’ Central grade 10 students received a visit from Holocaust survivor Michael Herskovitz on February 16. The event was made possible by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, who host Holocaust Education Programs. Due to restrictions this year, Mr. Herskovitz addressed the students virtually from his home via a screen in the Shallcross Meeting Room.
He introduced himself by saying, “Thank you to every one of you for listening and having the patience because it’s not easy to hear this kind of story, and it’s not easy to tell this story. And, believe me, it was not easy to survive two and a half years [in the concentration camp]. But I survived, and I am here today to tell you this story.”
Mr. Herskovitz, who recently turned 92 years old, was born in 1929 in the small town of Botfalva in the former Czechoslovakia. In March of 1944, when he was 15 years old, Nazi soldiers took over his town. Within weeks, his family’s grocery business was taken from them and they were transported to a ghetto. In April 1944, he was sent with his family to Auschwitz, where the rest of his family was immediately killed. Michael’s wife, who was assisting off-screen as he spoke, added, “I don’t think that Michael and the other younger people realized that they would never see their families again.”
After six months in Auschwitz, Michael was transferred to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen, work camps in Austria. The camps were liberated in 1945. Michael, who had contracted typhoid fever, was sent to a hospital to recover. After the war, he moved to Israel for several years and eventually settled in Philadelphia where he became a business man.
After Michael spoke, Upper School History teacher Danielle Saint Hillaire asked him if his faith and religion had helped him through the experience and if it had changed his faith at all. He responded, “I don’t think it helped me, but I was Jewish, and that’s all I knew! … We were just trying to survive another day.” Another student followed up by asking, “Did you ever question your Jewishness?” Herskovitz responded emphatically, “No! I still go to the synagogue every morning and every night!”
Herskovitz speaks regularly at schools, colleges, synagogues, and various organizations with the goal of educating the public. He has traveled extensively throughout the United States and abroad.
We are very grateful to the Jewish of Federation of Greater Philadelphia for sharing this opportunity with Friends’ Central students.