Maclay upper school students and faculty gathered inside Cartee Gym on Jan. 26 to honor the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated on Jan. 27, but Maclay acknowledged this event a day early this year. Students and faculty were greeted on Zoom by Holocaust survivor Halina Herman, who shared her story and experience of living as a child through the Holocaust. It is important for students to learn about the Holocaust in order to critically think about history, human behavior, humanity, abuse of power and roles as individuals. 

“There are so many other terrible events that have happened in history, which often get overlooked,” Herman said. “Holocaust Remembrance Day allows us to think about the personal stories which have happened. For instance, you may think of a sister who is writing to her brother telling them that their mother is gone. These stories that are written by survivors tell us the story of the Holocaust and its immediate aftermath. It left so much pain and anguish.”  

Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated on Jan. 27 because it marks the day when the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated in 1945. Each year across the world, millions of individuals come together on this day to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. By hearing from Herman, the students and faculty at Maclay were able to get a glimpse into what life became for millions of Jewish families during the Holocaust. Herman, along with many others, were challenged with living in multiple different homes throughout the Holocaust in order to protect their true identity. 

“I have three names,” Herman said. “It’s not that I have been married many times or anything like that, but that my identity during the war was that of another person. Because I was quite young, I didn’t realize how many names I had until I was 10 years old.”  

Even though Herman did not face the same events as the average adult who survived the Holocaust, her experiences as a youth altered the way the rest of her life planned out. Herman was born in Warsaw, Poland at the start of World War II. Just after the Germans occupied Poland and her family was forced into a ghetto, her father was taken away and she never saw him again. 

“I never really had a childhood,” Herman said. “I basically had no family other than my mother because all of our family was killed and murdered during the Holocaust. My father perished on the way to the concentration camp when I was only two years old. I can hardly remember my father. I always thought that one day we would both survive and see each other on the streets somehow and throw our arms around each other, but that did not happen unfortunately.”

Herman has recently created a memoir, “My Mother’s Daughter”, about her full experience of living through the Holocaust which can be found in the Holocaust Museum bookshop. 

“I’m hopeful that students took away the importance of being an upstander,” Holocaust Literature and Film teacher Lauren Fantle said. “I also hope that they were heavily impacted by her resilience and her intention to live a happy, productive life.”