Education

Holocaust Survivors Speak with Sparta High School History of Genocide Students

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Steve Schels' History of Genocide class had the experience of having Holocaust survivors speak about their experiences.
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SPARTA, NJ- Sparta High School students in the History of Genocide class with teacher Steven Schels had the honor of guest lecturers on Friday.  Dr Norbert and Gerda Bikales, World War II Nazi Holocaust survivors, spoke to an enraptured group of students in the lecture hall in the auditorium of Sparta High School.

"It was really amazing.  We read and study about what happened during the Holocaust but we had people standing right in front of us who actually lived it," says senior Connor Dericks. "It was pretty amazing ."  Their experiences left an impression on him as well as the fact that "soon there won't be any survivors left to tell their stories."

Dr. Norbert Bikales was born in Berlin, Germany in 1929 and was a child during the Nazi Holocaust.  He was very fortunate to be sent into France by his parents so that he might survive even if they did not.  While his parents did not survive the Holocaust, he was taken in by kind and decent French rescuers in the southern part of that country.  Intervening as moral 'upstanders,' the residents of Chabannes, France chose to provide a safe haven to Jewish children in a region of France that was not occupied by the Nazis. 

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Bikales appears in a 90 minute documentary titled "The Children of Chabannes."  This highlights how, in the midst of all this hatred and prejudice, there were still good people who acted on behalf of their fellow human beings.  People who did the right thing.  Norbert was able to earn a Ph.D in Chemistry in America and had been a professor of chemistry in the science department at Rutgers in the 1970s.

Gerda Bikales, it is fair to say, survived by constantly being on the run and hiding from her would-be killers. Born in Breslau, Germany (today part of Poland) her Holocaust journey took her through Germany, Poland, Belgium, Switzerland and France.  She was always managing somehow to outrun and elude the Nazis, again with help from others and in some instances sheer luck.  Both Norbert and Gerda were able to survive this horror and emigrated to America, where they met each other and married. Gerda is the author of a wonderful memoir titled Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Holocaust Childhood. 

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Schels shares, "how impressed our speakers were with our students.  They found them to be 'exceptional' based on both how much they knew already and how attentive they were and how much they cared.  Numerous students, certainly a majority of those who were present, approached Dr. and Mrs. Bikales and personally thanked them and shook their hands.  This meant a great deal to them, I can assure you."  

The students will be asked follow up with reflective thank you letters so they could write about what the presentation meant to them.

"Two German Jews who did not know each other at any point during the Holocaust found one another in the United States and were able to build happy lives for themselves and their family in their adopted country, the United States," explains Schels.  "They currently reside in Livingston, NJ and are active in the Holocaust Survivor community, attending various events and commemorations.  They are genuinely grateful to share their testimony with interested young people - it warms their hearts to know that people care, will always remember, and will act on the side of goodness in a world still plagued by hatred and violence."  

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