JCS Ann Arbor 8th Grade
Published on December 7, 2008 By Larry Kuperman In Current Events

We had a very special 8th Grade Class today. We were privledged to have a guest speaker, Larry Hiss, a Holocaust survivor, who shared his personal exparience.

As readers of my blog know, I teach both 8th Grade Sunday school and Adult Education classes for the JCS (Jewish Cultural School) of Ann Arbor. I asked Larry Hiss to come to speak with the 8th Grade class and to share his experiences.

One of my goals was to ensure that the class understands that history is not just something that you read about in books, but events that people like themselves lived through, that history is a living document. Larry was gracious enough to come and to tell not only his story, but to explain how that awful time effected his life. The most impressive thing was that he never lost his humanity, despite all that happened to him.

Larry was born in 1928, in Poland. His father was an engineer at an oil refinery. On September 1st 1939, when Larry was 11, Nazi Germany invaded and conquered Poland. On September 17th, 1939, Soviet Russia invaded the eastern part of Poland and Larry lived in the area that the Russians had conquered. As he said, "that bought us two years." As bad as the Russians were, life for Jews was better than Jews fared in the German-occupied section. In 1941, Germany went to war with Russia and the Russian held section was annexed.

Larry and his family were forced to live in the ghetto. When he was 13, he was among a group of boys that were rounded up and taken to the police station. A German friend of the family had Larry and one other boy pulled out to do work. All the other boys were taken away by truck and executed by machine gun.

He would eventually be sent to a series of concentration camps, including the infamous Mauthausen-Gusen Camp. He would see his father and mother killed, being saved from death again by the intervention of the German friend.

Larry would survive until liberated by the allies. He spoke of how many of the liberating soldiers were "black" African-Americans. He spoke of how many people who survived the camps, couldn't survive the rations fed to then by the allies.

He lived in a camp for displaced persons, eventually transferred to a camp for Jewish concentration camp survivors. He heard that there was list of people who were seeking to go to America, placed his name on the lsit and eventually came to the US in 1947. Speaking no English and with no marketable job skills, he was sent to an orphanage in Ohio. He would be placed with an American family and would enlist in the US Army in 1948.

Eventually, he would find work as a home salesman, where he would find success. He worked alongside with two fellow survivors. He would marry and his life could well be termed an American success story. He would eventually move to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Despite the horrors he experienced and those that he witnessed, Larry is a man without hate, without anger. He was wonderful speaking with the kids, taking care to be understood.

Our class this year is about social activism, about how individuals can change the world. We have visited a mosque, we will participate in volunteer projects. Larry Hiss has provided a shining example of how a man, despite all that happened to him and his generation, can retain his basic goodness and go on to help others.

on Dec 07, 2008

I too have been lucky enough to listen to a holocaust witness not just once but twice. He was not a survivor but one of the first American soldiers to liberate one of the camps. At my highschool many of our history classes along with our Modern Theological Questions class takes out a period to listen to the speaker who was not only able to tell his story through his words which were shocking enough but also with many black and white photos that he himself was able to take of the mass graves, the sticklike figures, and the huge kilns that many holocaust deniers say "never existed". One of the most powerful and disturbing stories that sticks out in my mind that he told was how they came into a room and all of a sudden one of his buddies started to throw up on the floor. He was at first confused becuase there seemed to be nothing in the room that seemed even remotely as terrifying or sickening as the sights outside and it was then that he realized that all the lamp shades in the room were made out of human skin. Later when they found the person responsible for what they saw in that room he pulled out his gun and was about ready to blow that person's head off when his commanding officer convinced him to back down. That he was able to do that amazes me even now because even though I find myself generally opposed to the death penalty I think I would make an exception right then and there if I had a gun in my hand. The stories that were told the two times that I listened to the speaker were depressing, disturbing but needed to be told. Everyone should know the dangers of what happens when you dehumanize a segment of the human population so that things like this can be prevented. I'm just thankful that Fr. Bob the old principle and teacher of Modern Theological Questions made a conscious effort to incorporate this into our lesson plan. 

on Dec 08, 2008

Leinad0033, if you have a chance, drop Fr. Bob a note of appreciation, I am sure he would be happy to hear from you.

on Dec 08, 2008

sigh! when I read stories like this, It makes me just that much more determined to make sure something like that never happens again kupe, which is why I stay so heavily armed, I know this might sound dramatic to some, but if it does happen this is one Jew that they will wish they did not come to his house.

on Dec 08, 2008

They call that generation here in the states "The Greatest Generation".  I suspect that term applies to the whole world and those that fought against Nazism and its policies.  It is apparent this man is one of the great men. I hope that we never have to find out through a test of fire, but if we do, that he is not unique, just great.

on Dec 08, 2008

After reading stories of the Holocaust, and Shirer's book I finished College and went to Israel. Initially, it was just a trip and I attended an Ulpan at a Kibbutz. I then, along with a friend decided to become a Permanent Resident. Four days short of a year later I was drafted into the IDF. Didn't know a heck of alot of Hebrew when I started, and was never Bar Mitzvahed...but I did learn quickly.

I went to Medical School there, and during the process met several people who were in Lagers (labor camps) and graduates of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and Sobibor. Some were angry but most were pensive.

I was wearing the uniform of a Paratroop lieutenant, listening to these people when I was visited by a cousin from the States. He was an officer during WWII and had been decorated with the Bronze Star and the Croix de Guerre. He was, at the end of the war a Nazi hunter.

He was so proud of me, and I couldn't understand why this man would be. I'll never forget what he said. "When I fought them, the choices were clear: Win or die. I see you have the same choice."

That is the truth regarding out people. We win or we die.

I don't know a single one who isn't a winner.

on Dec 08, 2008

I've read alot of stories about the Holocaust over the years.  I think it all got started for me in 8th grade. 

During that year we read the story "Night" by Elie Wiesel.  It sure opened my eyes and my heart to the plight of the Jews.  He gave a very frank description of the horrors he endured.  It was my first look at what happened during this time.  It was a book I never forgot.  I went on to read many other holocaust stories.  One of my favorites was "The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom.  I read the book and also watched the movie that came out.  Very powerful. 

After we read that book in 8th grade our English teacher also brought in a survivor.  I don't remember any of the details of that stranger's tale but never forgot this book. 

 When my kids were about that age that I was then, I read the story aloud to them every night until we finished.  I wanted them to know what happened then and how history could very well repeat itself.  According to what I'm reading biblically I believe this will happen again, only this time it will be both Christians and Jews who will be targeted. 



on Dec 08, 2008

Hi, JBHL. Thank you for commenting. And as always, thank you Dr. Guy and Moderateman.

For me, the influential book was Simon Weisenthal's The Murderers Among Us.Again, what impressed me most is that Weisenthal survived with his humanity intact.


on Dec 10, 2008

Hi Larry. You're very welcome.

Indeed, what is most prominent in Mr. Weisenthal's writings is his humanity...even in his darkest writings.