Holocaust Survivor Speaks to SOMS Sixth Grade Students

Author of Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Holocaust Childhood visited the sixth grade

History came alive, once again, for the SOMS 6th grade students of Caroline Pew and Katerina Karis on the 12th of April. Following the study of the Holocaust and World War II in their social studies and language arts classes, the students were visited by Gerda Bikales, a Holocaust survivor and the author of Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Holocaust Childhood.

You could hear a pin drop as Bikales related her riveting tale of survival which involved narrowly escaping capture by the Nazis during the years leading up to World War II in Europe. Her story is one of a child-in-hiding, constantly on the run in Nazi-occupied Europe, living in Germany, Belgium, France, and eventually Switzerland. Bikales was fortunate enough to escape the Nazis and be reunited with her parents after the war, unlike many other Jewish children at the time.

Students were deeply affected by the story, as well as the fact that they will be the last generation to have the opportunity to hear about the Holocaust from survivors who can deliver eyewitness accounts. “I found her talk inspiring. It made me extremely emotional. To be constantly on the run, knowing that your life is at risk. I can’t comprehend how that must have felt,” said student Emma Kelley.  Caroline Cerny commented, “It is really sad to think that in just a few years there will be no one left alive to tell us what really happened. We will have to rely on books and documentaries.”

Bikales left a lasting impression on the students. “Gerda's talk was great! It was interesting to hear a story like that, because it was very different from most of the Holocaust stories I've heard. I had never heard of the organized resistance she talked about. If only more people could have helped, the Holocaust might never have happened,” said Sam Forman, a sixth grade student who, along with his classmates, will not soon forget Bikales’ story or how fortunate they were to hear it directly from her.


Theresa Burns April 24, 2012 at 01:50 AM
What a great way to interweave history, social studies, and language. The two teachers who brought Ms. Bikales to SOMS are exhibiting excellence at teaching content "across the curriculum." Those students must have been thrilled.
Eve Morawski April 25, 2012 at 03:03 PM
We at the South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Committee - and specifically, the sub-committee that coordinates these visits - are very proud to do so. Ms. Pew in particular is to be admired for her enthusiasm in asking us annually to bring in Survivors willing and still able to share their stories with her students, who then become witnesses to history too. Ms. Bikales commented at our Commemorative Service this past weekend how well prepared the children were for her visit and the intelligent questions they asked. By all accounts a mutually enriching experience. For further info or to schedule a visit by one of our (sadly) decreasingly available speakers, please contact us at rememberandtell@gmail.com. Thank you! Eve Morawski Co-Chair
Nancy Heins-Glaser January 24, 2013 at 11:51 AM
We can't forget art teacher Ellen Hark who brought another way to teach lessons of the holocaust through art for 3 years. Ms. Hark's commitment to be part of this very important conversation and story telling takes this in another direction too. I had the pleasure of interviewing her along with student Jake Gruber and Mom Brenda Amarant for local cable TV. We must be forever vigilant. "Remember and Tell" is required when discussing days of unspeakable horror. The local cable TV broadcast of 2012 service is important. Tho rain prevented the amazing march last year, the words spoken, the candlelighting and feelings in the room are unmistakable. The 2013 services will be on the campus of Seton Hall U where the idea was percolated by religious leaders, Sr. Rose and government leaders. Its due to the hard work of Sr. Rose Thering & Rabbi Yehiel Orenstein and so many others doing the work necessary to bring messages and lessons to us now. This important legacy presentation for SO/MA is the longest running Interfaith Holocaust service in N.J.. Thanks to all those leaders - past and present - who began, got (and stay) behind this important day of remembrance. I'm certain Sr.Rose would be happy that 2013 services will be held on campus. To add to the learning, all should watch "Sister Rose's Passion" - the 2004 Academy Award nominated documentary providing context to her pursuit for justice and change. The ripple on the water by these people continues. Thanks!


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