On December 1, eighth grade students had the extraordinary opportunity to meet and speak with Michael Herskovitz, a Holocaust survivor.
The students have been studying Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, Night – an autobiographical account of the author’s experiences in Nazi concentration camps. The eighth grade also makes a trip to the United States Holocaust museum in Washington, DC, each year. Keino Terrell, Middle School Assistant Principal and Language Arts teacher, wanted to arrange a speaker for the students in connection with this unit of study. Working with several Middle School parents, Terrell was thrilled to make contact with Michael Herskovitz, who lives nearby and speaks regularly, both in the area and nationally, about his experiences. Herskovitz has written two books that detail the years of his survival during the Holocaust – Early One Saturday Morning and Our Cherry Tree Still Stands.
Born in the small village of Botfalva in Czechoslovakia, Herskovitz was 15-years-old when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in the spring of 1944. He spent several months at Auschwitz before being transferred to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen, a death camp. In May 1945, Gunskirchen was liberated by the British. Herskovitz, his older brother, and his two sisters survived the camps, but his parents and five-year-old brother all perished in Auschwitz.
After the war, Herskovitz moved to Israel and fought for the Israeli Army. In 1959, he and his family relocated to America, settling in Philadelphia, where he became a successful businessman. Since his retirement, Herskovitz has dedicated a great deal of his time to making certain that the Holocaust is never forgotten.
As Keino Terrell pointed out, Herskovitz’s story closely mirrors that of Elie Wiesel in Night. For students to have in front of them someone who directly experienced the Holocaust is invaluable; it makes that part of history real and tangible.
Herskovitz gave the students a detailed account of life during the Nazi occupation, what life was like in the ghetto into which his family was forcibly moved, and the experience of being transported to the camps.
“His account resonated with the students and made it real for them,” said Terrell. “There were lots of tears. The kids were certainly moved. Although he is an older man now, they could see themselves in his childhood.”