Albert Leonard Middle School students took a hard look at World War II and the Holocaust recently from people who lived through it.
They met with a survivor of the humanitarian crisis of the 1930s and 1940s, and they heard the unsparing account of the war and concentration camp conditions from veteran Alan Moskin, who helped liberate a camp in 1945.
"You are the last generation that's going to hear from people like me," Moskin, 92, told the students. His visit was organized through the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center (HHREC).
Moskin spoke of the buddies he'd seen killed and of the miserable conditions in the camp he liberated. He told of a camp inmate who hugged him upon being freed, his head and nape covered with sores and lice. Moskin's talk was blunt, and he made it clear from the start he would brook no disrespect.
"This is a heavy subject," he said. "No slouching. No fooling around. If you're not interested, get up and leave now." No one left. The students sat rapt.
"He was brutally honest," student Awani Mastafa said afterward. "I didn't expect that, but I appreciate it."
Sixth-grade students met Holocaust survivor Mark Schonwetter and his daughter Ann Arnold, author of Together, A Journey for Survival, a recounting of the Schonwetter family's harrowing experience on the run from the Nazis in Poland while the war raged around them.
When Principal John Barnes asked the father and daughter about people who leave swastikas and other symbols of hate as graffiti, they said they believe the people who draw, paint or scratch the signs into surfaces do not understand the meaning of the symbols and that if they did, they would not commit the vandalism.
As further study of the era, eighth-grade students visited "The Courage to Remember" poster exhibition on display in the library. Created by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the posters "offer compelling new insight into the Holocaust," according to the HHREC, which loaned them to ALMS.
Moskin said he gave his talk to be sure the students did understand. He said he could not talk about the war for 50 years after his service. When he finally did speak publicly, it was cathartic. He continues to speak about the horrors and atrocities, in part on behalf of the friends he lost.
"They can't speak, but I can and I will," he said. "I bear witness, do you understand? I want you young people to bear witness for me. That's why I'm here. I want each one of you to be my messenger for future generations. ... You young people must absolutely make sure it never happens again."