On Tuesday, March 4 RHHS will have the honor of having Holocaust survivors Chaim Mealmed and Vera Hoffman speak for a select group of less than 90 10th graders. Mr. Mealmed, who lived in Jewish ghettos for three years and several concentration camps for one and a half years, and Mrs. Hoffman, who spent a year and a half in mixed concentration camps as well, will speak to students about what it was like to live through the terrors of the Holocaust and the turbulent era of World War II as a whole. I spoke with Mrs. Robin Thompson, who organized the program, about why we invited Chaim and Vera to speak and what she hopes students will take away from this once in a lifetime experience.
Q: What kinds of things will Mr. Mealmed and Mrs. Hoffman speak with the students about?
A: He usually shares his experiences for the first 15 minutes, and he asks that students have questions prepared. That just generates better discussion for him. He likes it to be a more one-on-one type situation, where he’s not just speaking. He gives background: where he grew up, how he ended up in the concentration camp, how he was liberated after five years and how he made it to the United States.
Q: What made you want to invite Mr. Mealmed and Mrs. Hoffman to speak?
A: I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Living in Savannah, I know that their community is rich with Jewish history. One of the synagogues downtown is the third oldest in the world. So I knew we had a lot of Jewish history in the area. This time, when I taught it [the Holocaust] it just dawned on me that we should get some people to come talk about it. I thought, if there is somebody in Savannah that we could invite, it would be a great opportunity for the students.
Q: What do you want the students to take away from this experience?
A: I think when they read Elie Wiesel’s Night, of his account, they get a glimpse of what happened. But to actually see and hear someone - literally this man is a walking piece of history - and to be able to see him and experience his experiences in the moment, I just think it makes the experience more real to them and helps them understand the significance of what happened. Also, being able to have the opportunity to ask questions is important. With the book and the video, you're not able to literally see that person and ask them personal questions that you may have on your mind. So this experience enables students to see a piece of history in the moment, and be able to interact with it on a more personal level.
Q: What do you hope to take away?
A: It’ll probably be a very emotionally draining experience, because I’ve already shed too many tears about it before he’s even gotten here. Just being able to experience, and see this man who shouldn’t be here, and just to hear his story of survival and how he did it.