Holocaust Survivor Speaks to Students
He is, he good-humoredly points out to his young audience, easy to spot in the old photos he projects dating from his boyhood days in 1930s Germany; always, he is "the smallest one in the picture."
In a less tangible way, 82-year-old Pinehurst resident Ralph Jacobson is a giant.
"I can forgive what happened," the Holocaust survivor and retired lawyer told 75 fifth-graders at Robbins Elementary School during a recent visit. He was referring to the slaying of his father, his aunt, his grandmother and millions of other European Jews by the Germans during World War II. "But I cannot forget it, and we must never let it happen again."
Jacobson had initially turned down fifth-grade teacher Tiffany Garner's invitation to address her class but changed his mind after reading the questions her students had prepared for him.
"Did you know Anne Frank?" several children had asked, referring to the 13-year-old author of the posthumously published, "Diary of Anne Frank," which documents her family's ordeal while hiding from the Nazis in wartime Amsterdam. Although Jacobson never met the girl whose story has come to symbolize the senseless brutality of the Holocaust, coincidentally, he grew up with Peter van Pels, the boy Anne Frank writes about in her diary. Like Anne, Jacobson's childhood friend would later perish in a Nazi death camp.
On a more positive note, Jacobson says he counts among his friends today nearly 20 other Holocaust survivors.
"Did I suffer?" he responds to a student's question. "Yes. Did I suffer terribly like some others? No. I was one of the fortunate ones."
In January 1939, shortly after Jacobson's father, Ernst, was murdered by the Nazis, 11-year-old Ralph and his mom had fled Germany and joined Jacobson's older sister, Elsa, in the United States, where she had found refuge with an uncle. The rest of his tale was classically American: He had graduated from college, then law school, worked for Sears, Roebuck and Co., married, and raised two children in Chicago with his wife, Vivian, who accompanied him to Robbins. After he spoke, she reminded his listeners how fortunate they were to live in a democracy where no one is persecuted for their religious beliefs.
"If someone is different from you," she advised the ethnically diverse audience, "learn from them, accept them with their differences, and treasure them forever."
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