By Elizabeth Schmitt
English Teacher, Lakehill Preparatory School
As a teacher, I am committed to bringing history and literature to life for my students. I have organized field trips to museums and plays, but find it most effective when I bring in an expert speaker to share their experiences. This week, I had the privilege to introduce Max Glauben, a Holocaust survivor, to an assembly of the sixth through twelfth grade students. We all sat rapt listening to his testimony.
At Lakehill, our study of the Holocaust begins in sixth grade with the Diary of Anne Frank. It is often difficult for an eleven-year-old to imagine that such persecution could have happened, that people would have to go into hiding. In ninth grade, our freshmen read Night, Elie Wiesel’s brief, but powerful memoir of his experience in the concentration camps. With Wiesel’s death last year, I was spurred with the urgency of having a survivor speak to our students. As my freshmen read the text and watched Schindler’s List this January and February, a spike in Anti-Semitic threats and desecration of Jewish cemeteries occurred across the United States. I proposed that we have Glauben speak to our students, and it was arranged through the Dallas Holocaust Museum.
Glauben was 11 when the Nazis invaded his homeland of Poland; 13 during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; and 15 when the war ended. He told his story without embellishments or visual aids. This simplicity made his words all the more vivid. I was struck by his matter-of-fact description of how his father was one of 100 prisoners taken as hostages because 10 others did not return from a work detail. He spoke of last seeing his father lying face down on the ground. The next morning all that remained were his father’s shoes. Glauben knew that his father had been killed, and that he was now an orphan at 13.
His perseverance and will to survive were driven by a phrase in the Talmud, the ancient Jewish legal text: “He who saves one life saves the world entire.” If Glauben could save himself, he would be able to make a difference, sharing his story and speaking for the more than 1,000,000 children who were killed during the Holocaust, including his younger brother.
At 89, he is preparing to make his twelfth trip back to Poland for the March of the Living. (Lakehill senior Zac Aron will be a part of this trip.) He and his wife Frieda have three children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. One of his sons, Barry, attended Lakehill.
This assembly was a highlight of my 16 years at Lakehill for many reasons. My connection to the subject matter is personal. My family is Jewish. My father was a radar operator with the 781st Bomb Squadron of the Army Air Corps during World War II. I remember sitting at the dining room table, listening to him describe flying with two sets of dog tags: one identified him as Jewish, the other did not. He was shot down three times over Eastern Europe. I wouldn’t be here without that second set of tags.
Glauben’s presence transformed an abstract into reality for those assembled. The image of the KL tattooed on his arm will live in all of our memories. His story serves as a powerful reminder that every voice matters.