Survivors inspire another generation
By MELISSA EVANS,
First there were signs saying no Jews were allowed in public pools. Then it was in parks.
Fear started to set in when Helga Carden and fellow Jewish classmates were told to stand up and leave school.
She is in her late 70s now, but when she grew up in Germany in the 1930s, she was only a few years younger than the students from San Marcos High School she spoke to Tuesday.
Instead of reading about the Holocaust -- Adolf Hitler's murder of 6 million Jews during World War II -- in textbooks, the students learned from Santa Barbara residents who lived through it.
"It was very touching," sophomore Zac Curhan said. "People's lives changed forever because of this."
Local donors pitched in to pay for school buses that carried three history classes from San Marcos to the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation's Holocaust exhibit. The exhibit, which opened a year ago, features photographs, short biographies and memorabilia of 40 local residents who survived the Holocaust.
A handful of those survivors, including Ms. Carden, served as docents who shared their experiences with the classes on Monday and Tuesday.
"Nobody did anything," Ms. Carden said, describing the day she witnessed the storefronts of Jewish businesses in Germany being destroyed by Nazi soldiers. "People were standing on the street, going about their business. They thought this was a Jewish store, and they got what they deserved."
The goal in bringing teenagers to the museum is to show them an example of what can happen when people fail to act out against discrimination, said Shelly Katz, executive director of the federation.
"That's really the lesson we want kids to come away with," she said. "You shouldn't stand by and do nothing. You have to stop and stand up for people who are being picked on."
The students from San Marcos were the first formal classes to visit the museum since it opened on Nov. 9, 2003. The federation invited teachers to the museum last spring and this fall in the hope of inspiring them to return with students during their history lesson on the Holocaust.
Ms. Katz said the exhibit was not intended as a history lesson but as a celebration of survival. Each of the residents featured has a unique story. One woman who had been lined up before a firing squad escaped by crawling into the woods after she fainted. Others were sheltered or smuggled to other countries with help from Christians, Muslims and other sympathizers.
Ms. Carden was in sixth grade when her parents put her on a train to England with 200 other children the country had agreed to accept. For the next eight years, she was raised by an adopted Jewish family.
She was later reunited with her mother, but her father and the rest of her family were killed in concentration camps, she told the students.
Barbara Marx, another docent, shared her husband's survival story with the students. He was 3 when his family fled the Nazi regime.
"There was always a bittersweet happiness about living in America," she told the students. "There was always a sadness about leaving their happy life behind. You never know when the finger pointing is going to start again."
Ms. Katz said she hopes to set up a permanent endowment to pay for the high schoolers' transportation to the exhibit.
"There are a lot of lessons to be learned here," she said.
RAFAEL MALDONADO / NEWS-PRESS PHOTOS