Living history speaks at AJ Middle School

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Katz cautions students not to forget atrocities committed during Holocaust

By Jesef Williams

Manfred Katz doesn’t want to see the day when people will doubt the Holocaust ever existed.

Katz thinks younger generations may not believe that millions of Jews were forced to live in sub-human conditions. He believes people may doubt that a widespread program was used for nearly five years simply to eliminate one group of people.

That fear of disbelief has driven Katz to tell his story.

Katz, 80, is a survivor of the Holocaust of the 1940s, in which the Adolf Hitler-led Nazi Germany instituted genocide that resulted in the death of about six million Jews.

He spoke of his experience Monday at Andrew Jackson Middle School.

A look of fear and uncertainty filled Katz’s face as he recalled some of the memories from the Holocaust.

Katz and others in the overcrowded Nazi concentration camps were seldom fed. And when they were given food, it was meat and other goods that were spoiled or rotten.

Many people in the camps fell victim to starvation or illness. When Katz was 17, he only weighed 65 pounds.

He said he didn’t make friends while in the concentration camps because he feared they would die. For him, seeing death was almost a daily experience.

“As soon as you became close to someone, the chances are you lost them in the days and weeks ahead,” Katz said.

Katz also spoke of his family – one sister made it to the United States, but his other sister died in a concentration camp. And after all these years, he still doesn’t know what happened to his parents.

In 1945, Katz came to the United States and found his sister. He started high school a year later in St. Louis, Mo. He attended college, married and later had four sons and nine grandchildren.

Katz, who lives in Statesville, N.C., said he didn’t start telling his story until the 1990s. It took a half of a century for him to feel compelled to pass along his experience to his children and others.

Katz said he hates it whenever he hears people speak of how the Holocaust didn’t happen. He hopes the telling of his story will help keep these events alive and pertinent in discussions about history.

“The lessons of the Holocaust need to be heard by any and all audiences willing to listen,” Katz said. “The opportunity for students to hear directly from survivors is disappearing.”

He wanted the group to think about three key ideas:

– We are all God’s children, regardless of how we look. 

– Evil is alive and always will be.

– Take advantage of your education to become productive citizens.

“I’m looking for the young people to ultimately make a difference in this world,” he said. “It (hatred) is still going on. That’s what the problem is.”

Jamison Sexton, a sixth-grader at Andrew Jackson Middle School, said he was honored to meet Katz. He thinks it’s amazing that Katz survived that experience and lives to tell his story today.

“It was very inspirational,” Jamison said.

AJMS teacher Lynn Kelley, who helped arrange Katz’s visit, felt the same way.

“This is a living, breathing piece of history,” she said. “I feel really blessed that he was willing to be here with us.”

– Contact reporter Jesef Williams at 283-1152