WMS Students Skype About Holocaust

Jarrod Peace, an eighth-grader at Wawasee Middle School, was one of several students to ask questions to Holocaust-era survivor Simone Liebster during a Skype conference Tuesday morning. (Photo by Tim Ashley)

Eighth grade language arts students of Wawasee Middle School studying the Holocaust heard a different perspective concerning one of history’s darkest eras. Many familiar with the Holocaust are aware the Nazis targeted the Jewish, anyone not thought of as belonging to the Aryan race and political enemies.

But not often talked about is Jehovah’s Witnesses followers were targeted by the Nazi regime because of their religious beliefs.

Tuesday morning, through the use of Skype video conference technology, approximately 160 eighth-graders gathered in the cafeteria at WMS to see Simone Liebster of France, a survivor of the Holocaust, answer questions posed to her mainly by students.

Last week, Bill and Christie Keller, representing the Arnold-Liebster Foundation created by Simone Liebster and her husband, Max, in 2002, visited WMS to speak with the eighth-graders and prepare them for the Skype conference. The foundation was created to keep the memories alive of those persecuted for religious beliefs and victims of dictatorships and also exists to support historical research and educational programs.

Simone Liebster, age 82, was born in 1930 in a small village in France. Both of her parents were arrested and taken away by the Nazis to concentration camps. Simone was spared from being sent to a camp, but was sent to a Nazi “reeducation center” in Germany for about two years. The Nazis tried to force her to submit to their regime and embrace Adolf Hitler, but she steadfastly refused.

Though reeducation centers were not nearly as difficult to endure as concentration camps, Liebster nonetheless said her days were filled with hard work. “We spent hours cutting wood and splitting huge stumps,” she said.

She said she relied on her deep faith in God and knowledge of the Bible to deal with the harsh reality of being separated from her parents. “I loved reading the Gospels (in the Bible) and the truth about Jesus being so merciful,” she said.

The Nazis were persistent in their efforts to get Liebster to submit, but she refused. “They warned me I could be sent to a concentration camp,” she noted, adding she was given documents to sign demanding her allegiance to the Nazis.

Being reunited with her father after his return from the concentration camp was something Liebster had longed for, but was still unexpected because so many others had died in those camps. But she could not hug him because he was so frail and literally exhausted after his time in the camp.

Liebster said something similar to the Holocaust could still happen today because “people are still so selfish and use discrimination.” She said it is extremely dangerous to follow ideologies and she learned from her personal experiences “you need to stand up for what is right and good.”

Chris Noel, language arts teacher at WMS, said she has taught about the Holocaust for several years and had never heard of the Jehovah’s Witnesses angle before. “It gives a different perspective on the Holocaust,” she said. Jessica Clayton, another language arts teacher at WMS, also helped with the Skype presentation.

A total of 15 questions were posed to Liebster during the Skype conference. One at a time, students walked up to a computer and read their questions to Liebster. Among the questions asked were “Did you have a favorite Bible verse you would read when you were supposed to be cleaning?” “How did you have the courage to do what you did even though your parents weren’t there to help?”

Also, “Are you afraid something like this would happen again?”

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About Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley, associate editor for The Mail-Journal, has been with The Papers since March 2004. He edits articles for The Mail-Journal, as well as several other publications of The Papers. Ashley also covers Wawasee school board meetings, activities at Wawasee High School and Wawasee Middle School and monthly Kosciusko County Area Planning Commission meetings. A 1996 graduate of Oral Roberts University with a degree in journalism, he lives in Goshen. Staff Writer tashley@the-papers.com
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