NMS students speak to Holocaust survivor
By JEN LAZENBY
NWS Staff Writer
Courtesy of the Northwest Signal
Technology can open a lot of doors, and students at Napoleon Middle School utilized Skype to meet and talk to a survivor of the Holocaust who lives in France.
In the John L. Johnson Auditorium Tuesday, students used the video conferencing program to ask questions and talk to Simone Arnold Liebster, who is 81 years old. She was sent to a reeducation home in Konstanz, Germany, when she was 12 years old. Two years prior, her father was arrested and taken to a concentration camp and her mother was arrested and taken to a camp several months after Liebster was taken to the penitentiary house.
However, the family was not Jewish, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
During a presentation to students last week, Kristi and Bill Keller provided background information on why the Jehovah’s Witnesses were targeted by the Nazis.
Kristi Keller explained the Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first to be captured and sent to the concentration camps beginning in 1933 because they refused to Heil Dictator Adolph Hitler, which was the German salute all were expected to say. However, that salute translates into “salvation comes from Hitler.”
“They could not give to man what they gave to God,” Kristi Keller explained.
Liebster agreed, and one student asked if she felt out of place because she would not give the salute.
“I did not want to give the salvation that belongs to God to Hitler,” she said, but noted it was easier to accept because she was determined. “I had made my decision. I expected the worst, I did not expect a good relationship.”
Bill Keller stated there were three distinctions which separated the Jehovah’s Witnesses from other groups which were persecuted. They were the only religious group to take an organized stand against the Nazis, members spoke out boldly through books about the evils of Nazism and they were the only ones offered a deal where they could renounce their faith and be freed.
“Only very few actually did sign the document,” Bill Keller said.
Kristi Keller noted Hitler offered the deal because, while he was trying to remove individuals who were not like him, Jehovah’s Witnesses were white, German people. However, the declaration to renounce their faith stated they would give up their beliefs and turn in others who followed Jehovah’s Witnesses teachings and most refused to accept.
While Liebster was not in a concentration camp and so was not offered the opportunity to sign the declaration, she did go before a judge two times and was given the chance to escape her sentence but did not renounce her faith.
While at the reeducation school, Liebster said the Nazis mainly taught about their political ideals and the evolution of the human race, including the so-called super race of Germans.
“There was a big distinction about their own race and the other people of the world,” Liebster said.
However, Liebster was able to sneak a Bible into the school and hid it in the bedsprings of a room she was assigned to clean and would read it while she was supposed to be working.
“I was never at ease,” she said, adding she would immediately start cleaning when someone came in to check on her.
The children were not allowed to speak to one another and so Liebster did not become acquainted with any other students. Aside from one time where she talked to another student, Liebster was very obedient but never changed her way of life. Before she was taken to the house, her mother instructed her to be kind and polite.
“I have been taught not to retaliate,” she said, adding this was not only physical, but also through actions, words and behaviors. “This helped me a lot. Retaliation does not bring any good.
“I never thought of giving up,” she continued. “I was at peace with the decision.”
At one point, Liebster feared both of her parents were dead, but said that was not uncommon in Germany at that time, so while they remained in her heart, she tried not to dwell on it.
“I didn’t make it a drama because the whole situation was a drama for those years,” she said.
After the family was reunited, they did not discuss their experiences at first, but eventually shared some of what happened to them.
“Those experiences were very difficult,” she said, adding both her father and mother couldn’t walk when they returned and her father had lost his hearing and his teeth due to being beaten.
Liebster later met her husband in New York, where he was a printer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they were able to share their experiences as Max was in a concentration camp for six years. They were both missionaries and formed the Arnold-Liebster Foundation to promote peace, tolerance, human rights and religious freedom by peaceful and nonpolitical means. The foundation also seeks to share information, especially with young people, about racism and violence.
“Don’t believe your way of thinking is better than any other,” Liebster said, encouraging students to practice honesty and moral principles. “No one has the right to force a person to do something … to take liberty away.”
Bill Keller noted individuals now can take much away from studying the Holocaust, including making a decision to go along with others or stand up for what you believe in; whether there are any beliefs you have that you would maintain even under threats; and deciding when the conscience and human kindness should override national law.
Liebster agreed, telling the students to stand up for what they believe in, but to ensure what they believe is worth defending.
“If the conviction is not strong enough, you will give in,” she said, adding it is equally important to know what that belief is based on. “Be sure what you defend has a value to be defended.”
One student asked whether Liebster felt a similar situation to the Holocaust could happen again, and she said it continues to happen around the world as thousands are still dying because of discrimination.
“This proves that they haven’t learned much,” she said. “That is why learning about it is very important.”
Liebster shared her story in a book titled, “Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe” and encourages others to continue to learn about the Holocaust.
“Thousands of people have followed the Nazi regime,” she said. “If they studied it, they would have realized it was wrong.
“People would have been able to say ‘no’ and stand up,” she continued. “These were victims with no means to defend themselves and a nation of cowards who heard of the camps but closed their ears.”