By Thayne Jackson
On Thursday, March 22, students at Cactus Canyon Junior High got the rare privilege of meeting with a Holocaust survivor. Fountain Hills resident Magda Herzberger, who survived three German death camps, including Auschwitz, spoke to students for about an hour about her experience.
This meeting was put together by seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher, Sheryl Anderson. For the past few weeks, eighth-grade students have been studying the events of World War II. The tragedies of the Holocaust were a major focus of the unit.
“When I was 18 years old, not much older than you, I was thrown into an environment where love and care was dead and hatred ruled,” said Mrs. Herzberger. “In the three death camps I was at, I was threatened with death on a daily basis. What kept me going was love in my lord and not letting hatred ever enter my heart.”
While in the camps, Herzberger witnessed unspeakable horrors. For example, she was forced to work until she collapsed and was on the verge of giving up life.
“While in the camps I thought optimistically. I kept thinking to myself ‘Ok, maybe tomorrow I will be free’ I wasn’t. ‘Maybe next week.’ I wasn’t. ‘Maybe in a few months.’ I still wasn’t. For a year and a half I had to tolerate constant torture and the deaths of loved ones,” said Herzberger. “I want to tell students, do not give up on dreams that seem impossible. Do not be afraid to reach for the stars and think the most positive thoughts that you can.”
After being liberated from the German death camps, Herzberger vowed to keep alive the memories of the nearly 6 million Jewish people that died during the Holocaust. This is why she started writing and public speaking.
“When I was young, my uncle would always tell me that if I want to succeed, I have to endure the pain and trials that come with (being successful),” she said.
While listening to Mrs. Herzberger talk, students were mesmerized by the stories being told. Numerous experiences were shared with the students, making them an “eye witness” of these accounts.
“It was an amazing experience,” said eighth grader Taylor Simmons. “I really enjoyed my time listening to Magda talk. I never thought that anything as horrible as the Holocaust could happen, or let alone that anyone could survive it. I am really appreciative that my school was able to do this for us students.”
Herzberger said she wanted students to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, but still leave having had a positive experience.
“I want students to take away from this, not a tear, but a smile,” she said. “A smile because of the knowledge they have gained and the moment that they have just experienced.”