Holocaust Survivor Will Present Story at Woodson

Zainab Rentia, Staff Writer

Last year marked 75 years since the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps. The Registry of Holocaust Survivors contains over 195,00 survivors and family members, and of those listed some now work tirelessly to ensure their experiences will be known to future generations. Most of the survivors who remain are now in their 80s and 90s, but some continue to share their past through visits and publications. One such survivor is Irene Weiss, whose story Woodson students will have the unique opportunity to hear in late April.

Irene Weiss. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

Mrs. Weiss was born in Bótrágy, Czechoslovakia, in 1930. After first being forced to move to the Munkacs ghetto with her family in 1944, she was sent to Auschwitz and Ravensbrück before being liberated by Soviet forces in 1945. Two years later she emigrated to the United States where she then married and started a family. She also launched a career as a teacher in FCPS, and her children attended Woodson High School.

Currently, sophomores have been reading Night by Elie Wiesel in their English classes, while starting to learn about World War II in their history classes. The book is a memoir of Wiesel’s life before and during his time in the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz, the same one Weiss was in. Students read about Wiesel and how as a teenager, the same age as his Woodson readers, he witnessed unimaginable atrocities and lost his parents and younger sister.

In order to gain an understanding beyond the pages of a book, Woodson sophomores will be able to watch a recording of Mrs. Weiss speaking about her past and answering questions students have submitted. The presentation will be a duration of one English class period, but it has not yet been determined where or when it will be shared; however, it will be at the end of April. The recording will include a background of the events during the Holocaust, Mrs. Weiss’s story, and will end with her answers to questions that organizers have chosen from the submissions of Woodson sophomores.

Dr. Paula DiSalvo, assistant principal, is one of the event organizers. She believes, “it’s especially important that we have students learn about her story during this time… it strengthens the community and people are so happy about it [and] contacting me to say they’re so pleased to know we’re going to continue even during this crazy year.”

In past years Mrs. Weiss has helped students understand the importance of coming to one’s own conclusions instead of simply believing others, and comparing sources to combat propaganda such as the rumors surrounding Jewish people before and during the Holocaust. She also discussed how a lack of empathy and displays of cruelty towards others can lead to horrific behaviors.

This comes at a crucial time as hate crimes are currently on the rise. The number of Asian Americans being targeted has gone up during the pandemic, and there were also at least half a dozen neo-Nazi groups involved in the recent insurrection at the Capitol. This visit will hopefully ensure that future generations are taught to empathize and turn away from bigotry and hatred.

“We need to keep the conversation going since it’s an important part of history that needs to be addressed,” said Dr. DiSalvo. “It has a powerful impact on our community and leads to important conversations for all [minority groups].”