SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Holocaust survivor Peter Fleischmann shared his extraordinary journey on Thursday, March 15, when gave a heartfelt, enlightening, and educational presentation to a group of students at Union Catholic. Fleischmann detailed his remarkable path to freedom from Czechoslovakia to the U.S. 77 years ago.
Speaking to Mrs. Kathleen Webber’s English class, Fleischmann, now 91 years old, told the story about how he and his Jewish family avoided capture and persecution when they escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe during the Holocaust.
Fleischmann was a 14-year-old when his parents (Paul and Helene) and older brother (Henry) left Prague on March 31, 1941, and embarked on a 70-day journey that took them to France, Spain, Portugal, Cuba and finally to New York City on July 11. The long ordeal included several train rides and a voyage on a cramped ship to Cuba.
Fleischmann and his family were nearly sent back from Spain to home because Paul Fleischmann’s name appeared on a list of people who fought against the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War.
“The key to our survival was a complete stranger who heard what was happening and came to our assistance,’’ said Fleischmann, who raised his family in Scotch Plains and now lives with his wife, Bernice, in Clark. “This stranger put us up for the night and explained to the police that we weren’t the same family that was on that list. He was able to convince them, and we remained free. That stranger saved our lives.’’
The Holocaust survivor stressed how important it is to help those in need.
“The important part of my whole story is to be an upstander and not a bystander,’’ Fleischmann said. “Don’t turn a blind eye or a deaf ear when you see something that isn’t right. I tell my story to the next generation so that they understand the importance of taking on responsibility and acting against wrongs in this world."
Mrs. Webber said it’s important for students to hear Mr. Fleischmann’s story and message.
“We stress to our students to stand up for those that need help, and he (Mr. Fleischmann) emphasizes that,’’ said Mrs. Webber. “So I think it’s important for the students to hear from someone who experienced having someone stand up for him and his family.’’
To further educate students about the Holocaust, Mrs. Webber is a coordinating a trip for several UC students to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. on April 23. The trip is being sponsored by Holocaust Remembrance Journeys.