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Survivors Share Firsthand Holocaust Lessons with MCCC History Students


West Windsor, N.J. – Learning history from a book is one thing.  Learning it from people who lived it is quite another.

Four survivors of the Nazi Holocaust shared their stories with Mercer County Community College (MCCC) history students on March 26.  This is the last of three sessions they have presented this year.  The Mercer County Holocaust-Genocide Resource Center (MCHGRC) welcomed back Dr. Vera Goodkin and Dr. Charles Rojer, and newcomers Henry and Ruth Eisenberg, who were escorted by their son Shelly, of Hamilton. All shared their harrowing stories of struggle and survival during World War II.

In introducing the program, Dr. Goodkin, an MCCC Professor Emeritus and member of the MCHGRC Advisory Commission, told students that sharing these stories doesn't get any easier. "I get queasy in the stomach every time.  But we share them because it’s something you need to know.  You must remember what unites us – not hatred, but our common humanity.  This is not just 70-year-old history.  The world has not yet learned.  Young people are our hope."

Ruth Eisenberg says she is not a public speaker and would not have wanted to get up in front of a large group.  “But this was a cozy setting.  The students were very attentive. We made a connection. It was very gratifying.”

Her son, Shelly, who escorted his parents to the Holocaust Center, agrees that it's important for survivors to tell their stories.  “For students to actually meet someone who was in a camp, who survived the war, is a real opportunity, especially as my parents' generation gets older.”

History student Richard Ward, who is of Cuban descent, found the interaction compelling. “History in the flesh is priceless. To hear a first-hand account was wonderful and to have these survivors in front of me really drives home how many people were affected,” he said, adding that he is writing a paper on the Holocaust for his class. 

Ward notes that his grandmother was driven out of Cuba by the Castro regime.  “This was like talking with my grandmother about her history.”

Ward added, "I believe in the end that humanity will win out over hatred."

Danielle Schneck, who is enrolled in Dr. Craig Coenen’s "Holocaust and Other Genocides” course, attended the event with her mother, Diane Schneck, a teacher in Lawrence Township.  Both were very moved by Ruth Eisenberg’s story.  “I was choking up,” Danielle said.  Her mom added, “You can learn all you want out of books, but hearing from people who lived through it makes a lasting difference.”

Student Richard Ward with Dr. Vera Goodkin.
Dr. Vera Goodkin has made the sharing of her Holocaust story with young people a priority.
History Professor Craig Coenen introduced the participants.
Ruth Eisenberg found it meaningful to share her story one-on-one with MCCC students.

Front row, from left, participants Dr. Charles Rojer, Dr. Vera Goodkin, Henry Eisenberg and Ruth Eisenberg; second row, Professors Jack Tabor (English) and Craig Coenen (history).

Mercer Co. Holocaust-Genocide Resource Center

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