January 26, 2021

Remembrance is a Teacher

Eight decades ago, our world experienced one of the most horrific times in history, with the Holocaust. Six  million Jewish people were killed during this time. On January 27, 2021 the world remembers and honors the lives of those who are no longer with us and those who survived.

Many years ago, in 1985, I was a 7th grader at Garrison Junior High School in Baltimore, Maryland. I walked the halls with friends to World History class. Upon entering the room, I noticed a short aging woman standing next to my history teacher wearing a bright smile. I did not know who she was but quickly learned that she was once a student at Garrison Junior High many years ago. Our class was in the middle of the World War II unit and had been learning about the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Once students settled, the woman began speaking with a thick European accent unfamiliar to me. She introduced herself as Tekla (unfortunately I do not remember her last name) and told us that she studied history in the same classroom. Tekla also asked if we wondered why she was teaching class today. While surveying the class, she pulled up her sleeve showing us a tattoo on her forearm stating, “I am a Holocaust survivor and want to share my experience with you”. She had our full attention. Our guest shared explicit stories that included being forcefully removed from her home, taking trains to camp, being forever separated from family and how she would never forget the smell of death. Tekla was living history and brought our classroom lessons full circle through her lens of experience.

Tekla also shared truths from camp that sustained her until liberation. Though often hungry, tired, and emotionally depleted she conveyed a reality that was not noted in the history books. She began to tell us about the richness of making the best of their circumstances. Bonds were formed between people from different countries. Together they shared knowledge, spiritual and practical gifts with one another in hopes of motivating desires to keep pressing ahead. I will never forget her saying, “The Nazis took everything from us, but they could not take away our virtue”.

That was one of the most influential moments of my life because it helped me to see hope in the face of opposition. I have lost track of Tekla over the years but never forgot her name nor have I forgotten her personal declaration. She wore an armor of resilience, grace, and belief in the power of the human spirit.

As we pay tribute on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, join me in lighting a candle for Tekla, survivors and the millions who were persecuted as we honor their lives, legacy and virtue.

Messages to Tylia Barnes - MIA-MGA Emerging Leaders Fellow

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