A Holocaust survivor talks to Paly – Le Campanile
HOn Wednesday, locaust survivor Ben Stern spoke to Social Justice Pathway students about his experience during World War II and the importance of learning the stories of survivors.
“I want to thank you for giving me the chance to speak,” Stern said. “I know it’s hard to connect (to me), but I’m here to pass on (my story).”
Stern, 101, was born in Poland in 1921 to Jewish parents. He was separated from his family by the Nazis at age 17 and survived ghettos, death marches and multiple concentration camps. He was liberated by the US military in 1945 and has said he uses his Holocaust experiences to advocate for social justice.
Stern showed the students his award-winning documentary “Near Normal Man” which tells his story as a Jew during the Holocaust.
Stern’s daughter, Charlene Stern, accompanied him to the speakers’ event. Charlene Stern is writing a book about her father’s experience, which will be released next week on Amazon’s Barnes and Noble.
Charlene Stern said the main idea she wanted students to take away from the event was that the best way to fight injustice is to have compassion for others.
“Weapons of courage, kindness and hope are the best way to live a life of integrity, purpose and meaning,” said Charlene Stern. “I encourage everyone to find their courage, kindness and hope because you never know what life has in store for you.”
Eleventh-grade Social Justice Pathway English teacher Mark Tolentino said he invited Ben and Charlene Stern to speak because SJP students study existentialism in the memoir “Night,” written by the survivor of the Holocaust Elie Wiesel.
“We explore existence and religion, and the role they play (in the book),” Tolentino said. “Students were bringing these theories into their interpretation of Night.”
Tolentino also said the speakers’ event was a rare opportunity to bring history to life.
“Unfortunately, Holocaust survivors are getting old,” Tolentino said. “We don’t have many more opportunities to have this (event).”
SJP student Eloise Dumas said the audience was filled with emotion at the event.
“(Ben and Charlene) are so well spoken and deep,” Dumas said. “People were crying in the audience.”
Dumas also said the speakers’ event was helpful in putting into perspective what the students had learned.
“You’ve read about the Holocaust, but it’s not so real to you,” Dumas said. “But then you get someone who is a real Holocaust survivor, and that makes it so much more real.”
Charlene Stern said Ben Stern’s mission to stand up for oppressed groups and show kindness to everyone following his experiences in the Holocaust was inspiring.
“My father’s story is the story of someone who lost everything,” said Charlene Stern. “He got up, let go of the hate and opened his heart to the world.”