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The Times
  • Holocaust survivor shares her experience with Poland students

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  • POLAND — It’s been about 70 years since Helen Sperling experienced the horrors of the Holocaust.
    The memory, however, remains.
    Sperling shared her story with fifth and sixth graders at Poland Central School on Monday during a two-hour presentation, where she discussed growing up in Poland, life in ghetto in German-occupied Poland and her eventual transfer to concentration camps in Germany.
    Sperling introduced herself to students after they settled in their seats at Walker Auditorium.
    “My name is Helen Sperling. I am a Jew and I’m a survivor of the Holocaust,” she said.
    “I hope when you leave this room, you will be a little bit different,” she told the students.
    Sperling said she grew up in a small town in Poland named Otowek in a “typical, middle-class family.” Though troubles had been brewing with the Nazi regime in neighboring Germany, Sperling said, “we thought we were safe.”
    She said it was during a vacation home from her school the Germans came to occupy her town. She talked about the details she remembered from that time, including the kind of boots the German soldier wore.
    She and her family were eventually moved to the ghetto in German-occupied Poland, and spoke of the hellish conditions there, including the epidemic of typhoid fever.
    She was eventually imprisoned in Ravensbruck, and then later Buchenwald from 1942 to 1945.
    Sperling said in a news release from Poland Central School she still has nightmares about her experiences.
    “The days are mine, and the nights are still Hitler’s,” she said.
    After her presentation, the students gathered with her to have a group photo taken. Blue bracelets were distributed at the event with the words “Thou Shall Not Be a Bystander.” Sperling noted how bullying has become a hot topic issue over the past few years.
    “I have been talking about bullies for over 40 years,” she said.
    Kristen Riggles, a sixth-grade teacher at Poland Middle School, said her students are learning about the Holocaust and are reading novels about the experience.
    “We find [the students] come to us knowing very little about the Holocaust,” she said.
    Having the students listen to Sperling is a “culminating experience” for them, she said.
    Jason Mitchell, principal at Poland Middle School, said Sperling had visited with sixth through twelfth graders at the school district on the first day of the 2012 - 2013 school year, and said this was an opportunity for other students to hear her speak.
    “A lot of students will not have the opportunity to hear from a Holocaust survivor,” he said.
    Sperling, 93, also noted she wants to continue to give these talks while she still can.
    “My time is running out,” she said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Sperling said she has been talking to schools, colleges, churches, prisons and other venues for over 40 years about her experience as a Holocaust survivor.
    Sperling also said during her visit, “You can live without food, but you can’t live without hope.”
    Approximately six million Jews were systematically killed during the Holocaust by the Nazi regime and its collaborators, according to the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website. The Allies discovered thousands of survivors when they freed the camps in 1945.
    The Jewish Community Center, at 2310 Oneida St., in Utica, will host a Holocaust Lecture at 7 p.m., April 28, which is also Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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