Speakers share Holocaust stories of family members

Speakers share Holocaust stories of family members

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Speakers share Holocaust stories of family members

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On October 18th, Shaler Area High School hosted guest speakers Uwe and Gabi von Seltmann, who spoke about their family ties to the Holocaust. Uwe, the grandson of a German SS officer, and Gabi, the granddaughter of a victim of the Holocaust, hosted an assembly geared towards Holocaust students, Freshman history students, and AP Literature students.

The assembly, which lasted 8th and 9th period, allowed Uwe and Gabi to talk about different aspects of their story, and allow students and teachers to ask questions.

One topic that Uwe and Gabi talked about was the importance of discovering family histories, even if they might be strange or uncomfortable at times. For Uwe, he grew up not knowing about his family history. Uwe’s grandfather committed suicide when Uwe’s father was very young. His grandmother died shortly after, leaving Uwe’s father an orphan, who knew nothing about his father apart from his name.

gabi-and-uwe

Gabi and Uwe von Seltmann holding pictures of their grandfathers Photo Credit: gabiuwe.com

When Uwe was old enough to decide on a career, the curiosity of the unknown inspired him to become a journalist, which later prompted him to dive into his family history. This led him to the discovery that his grandfather worked as a Nazi SS officer, someone who assisted in the murders of thousands of Jewish people during the Holocaust. Uwe’s grandfather fought against the Jews in the ghettos in Warsaw, and was deeply involved in the Nazi movement.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Gabi’s grandfather was a Jewish teacher from Poland who was eventually killed in Auschwitz. The Nazi’s targeted teachers and other authority figures, in hopes of extinguishing leadership that could create a threat of the Jews fighting back. The rest of Gabi’s family was forced into hiding, where they survived only by accepting food from their neighbors.

Uwe and Gabi met at a Jewish Festival in Kraków, Poland, where they found the mutual connection between their families and the Holocaust. They married shortly after, and their conflicting histories eventually inspired them to write a book,“The Future Of The Past”.

For those who attended the presentation, Uwe and Gabi’s story provided hope and an example of how the world can learn to tolerate and even love one another.

[Uwe and Gabi’s] story is inspiring.  If the granddaughter of a Holocaust victim and the grandson of a Holocaust perpetrator can find common ground, even love each other, it suggests there’s hope for reconciliation between any opposing groups of today,” Nicholas Haberman teacher of the Holocaust Class said.

The couple was brought here by AP Lit teacher, Mr. Christopher Gaul, who had previously met them on a Classrooms Without Borders trip.

“[I saw] two people who had dealt with their shared heritage from the Holocaust with love and understanding. When I heard they were coming to Pittsburgh, I thought that hearing them was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience for our students,” Gaul said.

The Holocaust holds a unique place of meaning for Gaul. Many could never realise the scale of atrocities that were created from the Holocaust, and Gaul hopes that students learn more than just the facts. After meeting Uwe and Gabi and spending time in Poland where so many of these tragedies took place, Gaul’s whole perspective on the Holocaust changed. His biggest hope is that people will realize this is something we need to learn from to make sure it never happens again.

“This was an event when a small group convinced a population
that the murder of about 11 million people, who were innocent of any crime other than their heritage, was not only justified but necessary. What was initially dismissed as just talk turned into action… and that action continued to spiral.  Students and adults need to be able to recognize that this pattern existed and still exists,” Gaul said.

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