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Holocaust survivor speaks to students

Ben Lesser speaks to students about his life. Holocaust Remembrance Day came to life for students at Clark Jr. High and Huddleston Intermediate as they had the opportunity to hear from one of the last living survivors of the Holocaust.

Ben Lesser, who survived several Ghettos, four concentration camps, two death marches and two death trains, shared his story of survival and encouraged students to stand up for their beliefs. Born in Krakow Poland in 1928 to a family of seven, Mr. Lesser and his older sister, Lola, were the only family survivors of the Holocaust. 

“It was truly amazing to have the opportunity to hear first-hand what really happened to the people in the concentration camps,” Clark 8th-grader Madison Bissell said. “It's also just surreal to think that we will be one of the last generations to hear the stories of victims of the holocaust in person. I can definitely say that I will never forget this experience, and one day when I have children, you can count on the fact that I will educate my children on the horrible things that happened in the holocaust.”

Following Mr. Lesser’s program, the students had the opportunity to join the grassroots campaign, I-SHOUT-OUT, to speak up and out against bullying and intolerance.

The movement, founded by Mr. Lesser, enables participants to stand up for those who cannot by signing the I-SHOUT-OUT virtual wall.

“When someone is being victimized – whether by a school-yard bully or by a maniacal national leader – those who are not victims make the choice to join the bullying, to become the bystander that does nothing or to stand up for others,” he said.

Because of his experiences, Mr. Lesser has made it his life’s mission to share his story and put an end to the bullying, hate and intolerance that was the root of Hitler’s regime. The goal of the I-SHOUT-OUT campaign is to garner 6 million SHOUT-OUTs, one for each of the 6 million voices that were silenced by the Holocaust.

Students from Clark and Huddleston hear message. “It really stood out to me when he spoke about the amount of people who died in the Holocaust,” said Rayna Samples, Clark 8th-grader. “He said that when we hear, ‘6 million,’ we know it is a lot of people, but we cannot fully grasp how many people that truly is. To us that is just a statistic, like he said, not 6 million individuals with families and lives and personalities that were viciously murdered. The Holocaust is an event we all learn about, but it seems worlds away. He changed that for me. His words really impacted me, and I am eternally grateful for his perspective and actions toward eradicating hate.”

Mr. Lesser’s anti-bullying message made an impact on the students.

“I think Mr. Lesser is a huge influence and inspiration on us kids,” said North Porter, Clark 8th-grader. “He made us open our eyes to the past and realize how these mistakes are still made in our society today. The world is in our hands and we must help to change it for the better.”

Recent studies indicate nearly 1 out of every 5 school children between the ages of 12 and 18 experiences bullying. Lesser said he is thrilled with the Princeton students’ response to the I-SHOUT-OUT effort, with hundreds of them joining the campaign on the site,

“The Holocaust was a time of hatred and violence,” 8th-grader Austin Brown said. “We must keep sharing Ben's story so that hatred dissolves.”

Mr. Gunnels introduces Holocaust survivor. Mr. Lesser displays the book he wrote. Mr. Lesser was brought to Princeton by Clark English teacher Khara Barnard, who had the opportunity to hear Lesser speak to high school students while teaching in Las Vegas. Barnard said she knew Mr. Lesser’s story would help educate the students on the lessons of the Holocaust and motivate them to stand up and make a difference.

“I am so proud of our students’ response to Mr. Lesser’s message,” Ms. Barnard said. “When he spoke, you could have heard a pin drop because they were so moved by his story.  It was a powerful message to our kids about the importance of taking a stand to support each other.”