WESTFIELD, NJ -- Eighth graders at Edison Intermediate School recently heard compelling, and sometimes emotional accounts from a group comprised of children of Holocaust survivors who shared facts, photographs and a common message that hate cannot be tolerated anywhere.

“The Holocaust was the systematic murder of 6-million Jews and other populations,” said Lydia Fogelman to a class of 8th graders. “We are here now to tell you the stories of our mothers and how they survived.”

Fogelman was one of six members of the Second/Third Generation Holocaust Survivors Group to visit Edison to share their family stories of loss and survival.  The group was co-founded by Claire Bornstein, Rita Geller and Faye Bodenstein at Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains in 2015 and includes members from throughout the area.

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“The group’s objectives are to share stories, provide support, to learn even more about our history and, most importantly, to create opportunities for Holocaust education in our schools, synagogues and community,” says Barbara Simon whose maternal and paternal grandparents, an uncle, and three aunts were among her family members to die during the Holocaust.

Simon says the visit to Edison was the group’s first experience speaking in a school.  “We hope to continue,” she says.  “Our goal is to instill our ‘be an Upstander, not a bystander’ philosophy.  We hope the students understood the message that we cannot change the past but they should participate in the future.  We wish to instill confidence in the kids to not only be able to recognize hate but to also feel empowered to realize that staying quiet should not be an option.  Hate is not OK.”

Joining Simon and Fogelman in speaking to three 8th grade language arts classes were Claire Bornstein, Rita Geller, Debra Feldman and Gila Glassel.

“Edison’s 8th-grade language arts classes are currently involved in a social justice book club unit.  Students are reading a number of books that deal with the themes of prejudice, righteous individuals, bravery, and morality,” says principal Matthew Bolton.  “We are incredibly fortunate to have members of the Second/Third Generation Holocaust Survivors Group share their compelling stories of sadness and survival with our students.”

Bolton says Edison students will also hear from a Holocaust survivor who will visit the school next month.

“The teaching of the Holocaust and genocide has been part of the K-12 curriculum in Westfield Public Schools for more than two decades, with a multidisciplinary, age-appropriate approach at all grade levels,” says Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan.  “This visit by members of Congregation Beth Israel and other presentations on the Holocaust provide important real-life context to classroom experiences at our intermediate and high schools.”