Holocaust Survivor Alfrede Myerson Speaks At Normandin
NEW BEDFORD -With today marking the first day of Hanukah it's important to not only remember the horrors of the Holocaust, but to also continue to educate younger generations about those atrocities so they aren't repeated.
That's the opportunity students and staff at Normandin Middle School got on Tuesday afternoon. They welcomed 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Alfrede Myerson, who spoke about growing up in Nuremburg, Germany as a Jewish teenager during the rise of the Nazi regime and throughout World War II.
Alfrede was born in Nuremburg in 1927 as the only child to a successful businessman in her father, while her mother took care of her at home as a “happy housewife,” Raised in a Germany severely debilitated by the end of World War I and the Treaty of Versailles, Alfrede described the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi party, and anti-Jewish sentiment from her point of view.
Alfrede says she vividly remembers Kristallnacht - The Night of Broken Glass - when Nazis across Germany destroyed Jewish businesses, homes, and other property in November of 1938. Only 11-years-old at the time, she remembers the destruction of her father's business and his eventual arrest for rumors that he had an affair with a non-Jewish woman. Alfrede never saw her father again as he was sent away to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp, where he and thousands of others were murdered.
“That was really the beginning of the worst,” Alfrede said. “I remember kids in school calling me a 'dirty Jew' and there was nothing my parents or I could do about it. I remember that you could see all of the broken windows on homes and stores the next day.”
Eventually, things got so bad for the Jewish community in not only Nuremburg and the rest of Germany that Alfrede says that her mother reported her missing when she was a teenager. She says that she went into hiding in the countryside with a sympathetic family. Alfrede says she lasted almost until the end of the war in hiding until she was eventually caught by police and put into a forced labor camp with English and French prisoners of war. She was only 15 years old at the time of her arrest.
“I was in hiding and of course I had no identification papers,” Alfrede recalled. “If you were caught not wearing your star it was the end of your life. The family that took me in took an enormous risk in hiding me.”
Alfrede also told the students about the liberation of her labor camp by the U.S. Army and how she eventually made her way to America, and more specifically New Bedford, through an organization that placed Jewish and other European refugees throughout the country following the end of the war.
Normandin Principal Dr. Zachary Abrams says it was “unbelievable” for his students to have the opportunity to hear the story of Alfrede Myerson. As the Holocaust and other crucial parts of the 20th century are being covered in class, Abrams views the mix of an educational and moral lesson about the horrors of this period to be one that had to be taught.
“I told the students that it's a once in a lifetime opportunity that in 2017 to have a Holocaust survivor here to speak with them,” Abrams said. “In 10 years that might not be the case so that's what we really messaged to them and what we're talking about: Everything going on in the world and about standing up against any hate and any bigotry,”
Alfrede took questions from a number of fascinated students and school staff ranging from the feelings she has towards the Nazis to her treatment in the forced labor camp.
When a student asked her if she ever saw Adolf Hitler in person, Alfrede explained that she saw him standing at a podium during a Nazi party rally in Nuremburg before she cleverly said, “I wasn't close enough to kill him, though.”
Finally, Alfrede spoke about her feelings towards the country she was born and raised in and left the crowd at Normandin on a positive note.
“This past July my son took me back to Germany. I wanted to go back to Germany, it's my home and I missed it. I miss my German culture. I miss my poetry, my folks, and anything German culture,” Alfrede explained. “When I went to Germany this summer I met a different kind of Germany, and I would go back again.”