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Holocaust Survivor Speaks at Sachem East

Shares stories from his past for assembly with social studies students.

Werner Reich, a Holocaust survivor, recently visited Sachem High School East to discuss his experiences living in Europe under the Nazi regime.  He spoke to 325 students in the auditorium.

His message was about doing the right thing even when it is not the popular or easy decision. To do that, he offered the acronym JUST: for Judge the situation,Understand the problem, Solve it, and Take action; the reason is that indifference kills.

His impressive 270-slide PowerPoint presentation took the students through the rise of the Nazis, how it led his family to flee Germany in search of safety, and eventually led to his capture in Yugoslavia, from which he was transported to Thereseinstadt concentration camp and then Auschwitz. 

From ages 14 to 17, Reich was a prisoner of the Nazis. He came face to face with death on a daily basis and even had frequent encounters with Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous SS Officer and physician who performed countless inhumane experiments on prisoners. While Reich was not experimented on, he was forced to run back and forth in front of Dr. Mengele and others Nazis, at which point those who did not look energetic enough were shot on site or removed for experimentation.

When asked if he is still angry, Reich replied that he is more upset with the “good people who did nothing,” than the Nazis who he described as “sick people.”

Reich said never debate someone who denies the Holocaust happened.

"You cannot debate two plus two equals four," he said. "Truth doesn't need a defense."

Reich helped students to understand the tragic events of the Holocaust by relating it to their lives and more current events. He likened the actions of the Nazis to the 38 people who did nothing but admitted to hearing the cries of Kitty Genovese as she was killed at 3 a.m. in Kew Gardens, Queens, and the hate-crime against and murder of Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.

Everyone who attended the assembly spoke of its powerful message and how it brought history alive. 

Mr. Jannace’s ninth and tenth grade global history classes experienced an even more comprehensive day, as they took part in an eight-period Holocaust and Human Rights Assembly. The beginning part of the day included an introduction to the Holocaust through a lesson co-taught by Jannace and his History Honor Society Members, Elizabeth Anderson, Elizabeth Attard, Ryan Fazziola, Brian Holt, Andrew Lorenz, Aaron Luo, Hifza Malik, Tyler Piazza, Colleen Sweeney and Brandon Thorne. 

Then, other classes joined Jannace’s classes to hear Reich’s presentation. After lunch, Jannace’s classes took part in a two-period closure activity that debriefed the day’s events and helped the students to understand the importance of studying such events. 

The History Honor Society students created and facilitated the closure activity while Jannace supervised. Their lesson was excellent, as it helped the students to assign responsibility to different groups involved in the Holocaust and discuss ways to prevent such inhumanity in hopes of making sure the good people always do something.

Cindy Halpern February 23, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Thank you for teaching lessons of the Holocaust. My mother is a Holocaust Survivor, but she now as Alzheimer's Disease. It is important for survivors who are still able to tell this important chapter in history.

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