Holocaust Remembrance Day was Thursday.
Walker Valley teacher Stacey Wielfaert said she put together the workshop as an “all-day, in-house field trip for about 400 students in order to talk about tolerance. We used the Holocaust from 1933 – 1945, the oppression of blacks in the South from post-Civil War to present day, and the Native American Holocaust in the early 1900s as the vehicle.”
The workshop featured Holocaust survivor Arthur Pais and his wife. Pais has told his story to groups for several years. He is also one of the survivors highlighted by the Tennessee Holocaust Commission.
Originally from Lithuania, Pais now lives in Knoxville.
His presentation focuses on the day World War II started, his life during the war and his life after the war. A main theme is “Never forget.”
“If one or two really takes away the knowledge, it is worth it,” Pais said.
According to his biography, Pais’ family was moved from their home to the Kovno ghetto and later to the Dachua Concentration Camp. The camp had already started a death march when liberation came. Liberation was realized for Pais when he woke up one day, and all the guards were gone.
During the vast collection of Jews to be sent to concentration camps, Pais’ family was separated. His sister and mother were taken to one camp, and he, his father and brother were taken to another. His sister and mother were taken to the Stutthof Concentration Camp, according to the Tennessee Holocaust Commission.
After liberation, Pais was reunited with his sister and learned his mother had died about a month after liberation. Both his brother and father also survived.
The survivor said he always leaves time for questions at the end of his presentation. Although he sometimes has to coax students to ask questions, he said they always have interesting ones.
During his presentation at Walker Valley, one student asked if Pais would forgive the Nazis and the people who had run the concentration camp where he was held. Pais told the students he had forgiven them. To him, harboring unforgivingness toward them would only be hurting himself
Students said the workshop also highlighted the rile that propaganda played in the Nazi’s campaigns.
“Even the songs were very powerful,” Morgan King, an 11th- grade student, said. “It was geared to the youth.”
Jodyn Joyner, a 10th-grade student, said remembering the tragedies of the past is a way to keep history from repeating itself.
Tenth-grader Zyan Kirkland said she believes propaganda is more subtle today because of an increase in access to information.
During the workshop, students also learned more about mass destruction of other races, such as Native Americans.
“It also showed how the past is tied to the present ... and how we discriminate,” Chase Harris, a ninth-grade student, said
“In a lot of things today talk about bullying is a big issue. It definitely ties into that — bullying and discrimination against any race,” Kirkland said.
There are four basic roles in a bullying situation.
“Are you going to be the victim, perpetuator, the bystander or the rescuer? It (the workshop) made you think about who you would be,” King said.