Holocaust survivor encourages students to learn

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010
— Holocaust survivor Anna Brzezinski had a simple message for Janesville students Monday.

“Stay in school and learn,” she said. “It’s your future.”

It’s an opportunity she didn’t have.

She finished school in the former Soviet Union, and then “Hitler came.”

German soldiers snatched her from her family around the age of 19, sending her to work in a canning factory to prepare food for German soldiers.

Brzezinski, 86, shared memories of the following years with about 40 students of the Human Relations Club at Franklin Middle School after school.

“You have such a good opportunity to learn to do something,” she said.

She worked hard on the farm growing up and begged her mother for more time to do homework. Students today are lucky to have such good teachers and schools, she said.

She still lives in Janesville with family after coming to Indiana in 1951 on a sponsorship. Her family later moved to Janesville, where her late husband, Waclaw or “Vince,” worked for the city.

Even though she wasn’t Jewish, Brzezinski explained how soldiers rounded up her and 98 other women, aged 16 and older, to work 12-hour days in the German canning factory.

She never saw her family again.

The hunger she suffered in the factory still lingers in her memory.

“It was just terrible hunger,” she said.

She recalled a time when she was peeling beets in the factory and slipped a slice into her mouth.

A guard promptly hit her over the head for her actions.

“I saw all the stars in the sky,” she said.

Several students asked about how the Germans chose who would be killed.

If they didn’t like you, they killed you, Brzezinski said. She recalled several times people disappeared and never were seen again.

“You have to do what they say, otherwise they shoot you,” she said. “They just shoot you.”

Human Relations Club adviser Edna Feldman-Schultz said students needed to hear Brzezinski’s story so history doesn’t repeat itself.

The discussion brought to life books that sixth-grader Taylor Holcomb has read about the Holocaust.

“I learned a lot more about it,” she said after listening to Brzezinski. “It’s pretty sad, but interesting.”

Last updated: 1:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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