Youth & Prejudice Conference impacts students

The Muhlenberg College program focused on the historical realities of the Holocaust through the stories of survivors.
Posted on 04/13/2021
Mickey Freeman's face is shown on a large screen in the QCHS auditorium as he speaks t students about the experiences of his mother, Judy Beitscher Freeman, a Holocaust survivor.  By Gary Weckselblatt

Every time Mickey Freeman gets to one part of his mother’s horrific Holocaust experience he grabs a tissue and begins to choke up.

He’s reading her words to Quakertown Community High School students who are seated in the school’s auditorium and watching him via video conference on a large screen. Despite the physical distance, the thoughts of his mother from 1944 as she stood in an Auschwitz gas chamber were gripping.

“Strange things go through your mind when you’re about to die,” Mr. Freeman read from the writing of his mother, Judy Beitscher Freeman. “Why live? Wouldn’t it be better to stop the suffering?”

“But she wanted to live and tell their stories,” Mr. Freeman said. Though many more dreadful episodes would find her, on this fateful day the sound of air raid sirens saved her.

QCHS sophomore Janice Nganga, who is the same age as Mr. Freeman’s mother was when she endured the suffering at the hands of the Nazis, said the story was “inspiring the way she found hope despite what she was subjected to.

“It’s such a sad story. They weren’t treated as humans. There were many bystanders, German citizens, who could have helped them but didn’t.”

The program, the Youth & Prejudice Conference on Reducing Hate, presented by the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding at Muhlenberg College, was one of three at QCHS last Friday. Social Studies students heard from Mr. Freeman and Holocaust survivor Eva Derby. The school’s Social Justice Alliance listened to Ayden Levine, whose great-grandmother became a "mother" on the run for six years to save her four younger siblings.
"The students were really interested and touched by the stories that the presenters shared," Social Studies teacher Trevor Smith said.

Dr. Carrie Duncan, a programs specialist for Muhlenberg’s Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding and coordinator of the Youth & Prejudice program, said one of its primary goals “is to teach the historical reality of the Holocaust, and to make that history real and relevant by introducing students to people whose lives and families were directly impacted by these events. With this knowledge, students are armed both to challenge the pernicious lies of Holocaust denial and to stand up against hatred and prejudice in the contemporary world.”

QCHS Assistant Principal Kim Finnerty, who advocates for student exposure to anti-discrimination programs, said “The expression that ‘history can and does repeat itself’ is true. The purpose of the Youth & Prejudice Conference is to remind students that great atrocities have been committed in the not-so-distant past, and we also know that students are witnessing incidents of hate in the media and their lives today. Students also need to know that they have a choice in how they respond when they encounter incidents of anti-Semitism, racism, bullying, or other forms of prejudice. This program helps remind them of this fact. We also hope that survivor's stories of resilience will inspire students to act in positive ways to support their peers.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].
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