Class Spellbound by Holocaust Stories; A Survivor Visits Fletcher and Recounts the World War II Horror Stories

By Fitzroy, Maggie | The Florida Times Union, November 10, 2007 | Go to article overview

Class Spellbound by Holocaust Stories; A Survivor Visits Fletcher and Recounts the World War II Horror Stories


Fitzroy, Maggie, The Florida Times Union


Byline: MAGGIE FITZROY

As a Catholic school girl growing up in World War II Vienna, Austria, she lived each day in fear of the ruling Nazi regime.

Helena Zuber remembers feeling as if she was "under a microscope all day and all night."

Nazi guards sat in the corner of her high school classrooms to monitor students and teachers.

Not knowing who she could trust, she couldn't even tell her parents where she was going when she left the house to go out with friends.

"Don't take freedom for granted," Zuber, of Ponte Vedra Beach, told Fletcher High School students in Karyn Katcher's Holocaust history class Nov. 2 when she visited there as a guest speaker.

Taking the Fletcher teens back to her world when she was their age, Zuber told them how she joined the Austrian underground resistance against German dictator Adolf Hitler when she was 16.

How she was captured by the German secret police, the gestapo, and shipped to four concentration camps.

How she and her fellow prisoners struggled to stay alive.

She told the room full of students who barely moved during her 90-minute talk that she "envied" their teenage freedom.

"You are almost in paradise," she said.

"The Holocaust" is one of three new elective social studies courses offered at Fletcher this year.

Students requested it in a survey last spring, along with history classes on the Vietnam War and the Civil War, Principal Dane Gilbert said.

Katcher took a course last summer offered to teachers of Holocaust history about the systematic, bureaucratic persecution and murder of millions of people in Europe by the Third Reich between 1933 and 1945.

About 6 million Jews and millions of other people in targeted religious, ethnic and other groups, including gypsies, people with disabilities, some Slavic peoples, homosexuals and political opponents were captured, enslaved and killed by the Nazi government and its collaborators during that time.

By bringing Zuber and other Holocaust survivors into the classroom as guest speakers, Katcher aims to enhance the lessons she teaches about that era through books, newspaper articles, historic photographs, films and more.

"We cry," Katcher said. "They are so interested."

In this class, "there is no such thing as un-askable questions," she said. "But there are unanswerable ones."

"It was amazing to learn about everything she had to go through," Fletcher junior Amanda Gantt said after Zuber's talk, which included laughter and tears. Afterward, Gantt presented a beaming Zuber with yellow roses on behalf of the school.

"She's a nice lady," Gantt said.

Zuber grew up as part of a close-knit family in "beautiful" pre-war Vienna, a "very cultural" city with a symphony, ballet, museums and a university.

Her father was a professor at the Academy of Science but when Hitler annexed and took control of Austria in 1938, the wonderful life young Helena knew came to an end.

The Nazis closed the universities.

Many professors were sent to concentration camps because Hitler saw their influence with the younger generation as a threat.

"If they were not pro-Hitler, they were against him," she said.

In school, "You had to say 'Heil Hitler.' It was an atmosphere of fear."

To fight the regime she hated, Zuber joined the underground resistance movement, whose members met in secret in restaurants and parks.

As a typical teenager, she moved around the city observing and reporting troop movements and numbers of tanks.

Underground members used pre-arranged signals to alert each other to danger and "we were very clever devising communications," Zuber said.

Opening an umbrella meant one thing.

Closing it meant another.

One member who was a cabaret singer sang a certain song whenever she sensed the Gestapo's presence. …

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