7th-Graders Asked to Retell Holocaust Story

Holocaust Survivor: Never Forget
Posted on 05/16/2019
Steen Metz speaks to 7th-graders about the Holocaust

If you see a Northbrook Junior High seventh-grader, chances are they will have something to tell you about. It’s their homework assignment, actually.

The students have a story to share that they heard from an increasingly rare individual, a Holocaust survivor. Steen Metz, now 84, was 8 years old when he was sent to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in what is now the Czech Republic. His presentation capped off eight weeks of studying the Holocaust through historical documents, timelines, historical literature and documentaries in language arts.

Mr. Metz was sent to the concentration camp with his mother and father, all citizens of Denmark. He and his mother were separated from his father, who eventually died there of starvation. He and his mother were able to stay together for the 18 months they were at the camp before they were liberated by the Swedish Red Cross.

He tells the students of the three-day trip packed inside a windowless ‘cattle car’ train with no food or water, and the conditions of the camp, where his mother worked long days of hard labor and he worked as a boy messenger. He says they were subjected to harsh conditions and hunger but were not hurt by guards.

“It is more important than ever to spread the word of the Holocaust,” Mr. Metz said. “You are the last generation who will hear firsthand accounts from Holocaust survivors.”

For him, the loss of his father was more life-altering than time in the concentration camp. He eventually settled in the U.S., living mostly in the Midwest where he met his wife, Eileen, and had a career in the food industry, working for Sara Lee before he retired. “I was always in the food business. Maybe subconsciously I was trying to make sure there was always food.”

Mr. Metz didn’t start openly talking about his experiences in the concentration camp until 2007, when he published a book, “A Danish Boy in Theresienstadt: Reflection of a Holocaust Survivor.”

Since then, Mr. Metz has spoken to more than 75,000 students, and about 1,400 NBJH students in the seven years he has been coming to the school, including presentations on May 15 and 16.

“Steen's visit is always powerful,” said Sarah Avallone, a seventh-grade language arts teachers.

Mr. Metz urged students to follow the lessons he has learned as a survivor:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated;
  • Be respectful of others;
  • Be an Upstander, not a bystander: If you see someone being bullied or mistreated, and you can’t do anything yourself, tell an adult; and
  • Don’t give up; don’t lose faith.

And, for homework, he asks students to tell at least four people about what they heard from him.

When asked if he ever felt like he wanted revenge, he said, “my revenge is to talk to students so we never forget the Holocaust.”

It is the hope of all the language arts teachers that the students take their homework seriously.

“Hearing Steen’s testimony and sharing it with others is a privilege and a great responsibility,” said teacher Velvet Thomas.  “We hope that students actively engage in his ‘homework’ assignment and share what they’ve learned from him with at least four people.  His message that they can recognize the signs of persecution and stand up against it is very empowering.”

Michael Daniel shakes hands with Steen Metz after Metz' presentation 

Seventh-grade student Michael Daniel shakes hands with Steen Metz, a Holocaust survivor. Mr. Metz has given a firsthand account to seventh-graders at Northbrook Junior High for seven straight years.