Eighth-graders learn about Holocaust from survivors

Holocaust survivors Robert and Lucy Matzner speak to Riverview Middle School eighth-graders. — Submitted photo Holocaust survivors Robert and Lucy Matzner speak to Riverview Middle School eighth-graders. — Submitted photo Eighth-graders at Riverview Middle School in Plymouth recently heard haunting tales from people who experienced Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust first hand.

The students, who are in the classes of social studies teachers Julie Overby and Kelly Schroeder, are learning about Hitler, the Holocaust and how to prevent genocide.

“We hope our students will learn how they can lead to avoid a holocaust happening in their own lives and stopping it elsewhere in the world,” Overby said.

Students researched the qualities of a leader, discussed how Hitler had these qualities, and noted the effects of Hitler’s power. They also researched a topic related to the Holocaust and created a museum based on their research.

“We learned how genocides are usually started by leaders who control their country and the characteristics that make them a strong leader, whether it is positive or negative,” Schroeder said. “Students then were asked how they could be leaders against these events and how they could lead to avoiding a holocaust or genocide happening in their time.”

Students also picked a Holocaust survivor, followed their journey and created memory boards for each survivor. Students participated in a memorial service on the Holocaust National Day of Remembrance by sharing a poem written by them about their holocaust survivor and sharing it with the class during a candle-light cer- emony.

Gerda Niehus, who lived in Germany during the Holocaust, shared her experiences with some of the classes. She met her husband, Bob, when he was a U.S. solder stationed in Germany during the Korean War; their daughter Lisa Miller teaches at Riverview.

Students also heard from Holocaust survivors Robert and Lucy Matzner of Sheboygan. Mr. Matzner detailed his experiences after the Germans crossed into Poland when he was 13 years old - about the same age as the Riverview students.

Mr. Matzner’s family store was seized in 1939 by the Germans and his family was forced to live in a crowded ghetto until one day in 1942 when they were gathered in the courtyard and told to walk to the railroad station. Those who couldn’t make it - including his 70-year-old grandmother and his mother who was helping her - were killed.

Many who did survive the walk were sent to an extermination camp, but he was deemed able to work and was sent to Germany. He spent time in six different camps, all about the same, with little food and 14 hours of hard labor. The one exception came when he was assigned to help a surveyor because he could speak German; the surveyor had a heated office and a secretary who risked her freedom to bring Mr. Matzner sandwiches each morning.

“If she wouldn’t have done that, I would have died there,” he said. “That’s what kept me alive.”

Eventually, as Russian forces neared, the prisoners were sent on a Death March. Along the way, they spent a night in a barn; Mr. Matzner took the opportunity to hide in a hayloft and stayed hidden for two days until he was sure the Germans had gone. The farmer found him and handed him over to the retreating Germans, but he was able to blend into a crowd and eventually get “adopted” by American soldiers who moved in.

When coming to speak to students, Mrs. Matzner noticed that one of the Holocaust survivor posters - created by student Emily Radue - featured her brother, Paul Argiewicz, who died in December.

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