Hearing a first-hand account of the atrocities and persecution that pervaded the Holocaust is a rare opportunity, especially considering the advancing ages of the remaining survivors.
At-risk teens had that opportunity recently, when an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor, Kelly Awerbach Zippel, spoke at the Heritage Residential Treatment Center. Zippel talked about the two years she spent in a Nazi work camp.
Zippel was living in Holland at the start of World War II. The situation in her country seemed normal enough, until the day she awoke “to the terrible noise of planes,” she said.
She experienced the effects of the war soon after that ominous day with the death of her brother, a Dutch soldier.
Zippel and her family were subsequently forced to register as Jews and wear yellow Jewish stars on their clothing in public at all times, she said.
When her family heard about whole villages being taken from their homes and transported to concentration camps, they prepared for possible departure by filling a rucksack with only the most necessary of their material possessions.
On Feb. 18, 1943, Zippel heard banging on her front door.
She recalled the “big boots” the German soldiers used to break her family’s pictures before forcing them to leave their home for the Westerbork concentration camp, in the Netherlands.
Life at the camp was difficult, but Zippel didn’t know at the time how fortunate she was to be one of the Jews allowed to stay at Westerbork, she said.
Each week, various Jews were called to leave for Auschwitz, later discovered to be one of the camps with gas chambers Nazis used to kill more than 1 million Jews.
Zippel told of a time when her name was called to leave one week, but her parents’ names had been omitted. Her father protested to the Jewish manager and fortunately received permission to keep her at Westerbork.
Zippel’s brother and sister weren’t as lucky. They arrived at Westerbork, a few months after their family, and were immediately taken to Auschwitz, where they were discovered later to have died, Zippel said.
Even though 65 years have passed since Canadian soldiers liberated Zippel from the camp, she still recalls the time she spent picking potatoes and barely surviving on meager meals.
“I still think very often about it,” she said.
Tami Harris, chaplain for Heritage Schools, called Zippel’s visit to the school “an honor.”
“Her life experiences are an inspiration to us all in how to overcome our challenges,” Harris said.
Heritage invites inspirational speakers on occasion to help motivate the teens to overcome their struggles.
Zippel came to Utah to visit her son, Rabbi Benny Zippel, executive director of Chabad Luubavitch of Utah. He visits Jewish students at Heritage semimonthly as part of an outreach program that focuses on strengthening Jewish awareness across the state.