A Witness to History
A Witness to History
Posted on 01/27/2018

By Stacia Harris, Communications Department Dr. Walter Ziffer has endured quite a journey. Now living in Weaverville at age 90, his childhood was marked by terror and suffering at the hands of Nazis. Ziffer is a witness to the Holocaust, and this week, he shared his story with 7th and 8th graders at North Buncombe Middle School.

“I feel it's a privilege to be invited to a school like this,” said Ziffer. These are wonderful opportunities [to educate others], and we need to use them as much as possible because [Holocaust survivors] are disappearing,” he said.

His mission is to educate and inspire these young learners to become critical thinkers who never stop asking questions.

“I want the kids to know that the most important thing, educationally speaking, is asking questions. We would be nowhere if there weren’t people asking questions about the universe or medicine,” said Ziffer.

Eighth grader Madeline Spagnuolo was moved by the lecture. She had only studied the Holocaust in textbooks. She says the experience of hearing about it from a first-person perspective was powerful.

Eighth grader Madeline Spagnuolo was moved by the lecture. She had only studied the Holocaust in textbooks. She says the experience of hearing about it from a first-person perspective was powerful.

“It was very intense. I can’t imagine living through it,” says Spagnuolo. “It’s different because he described things that you wouldn't read about in a book. I feel like it was very impactful, and it's incredible that he survived,” she said.

Chris Brown, 8th grade social studies teacher, says these types of presentations make history real for students and put a face to words printed in black and white text.

“Our students had, what for most of them will be, a once in a lifetime opportunity with Dr. Ziffer,” said Brown. “They are the last generation that will have the honor of learning, in person, about the Holocaust from a person who survived that dark period in world history.  In speaking with them, Dr. Ziffer was able to allow them to make a more personal connection with the things they have been taught in their history classes.”

“I think the Holocaust is receding into the past. All the information available [in the future] may only be a few paragraphs in a book. It makes a tremendous difference to hear it from someone who lived it,” said Ziffer.

Ziffer grew up in Czechoslovakia. His town was annexed by Poland in 1938, and he was soon caught up in the violence and anti-Semitism leading up to World War II. He survived seven concentrations camps. He was liberated by the Soviet Army in 1945 at age 18. He weighed only 87 pounds.

“I think the Holocaust is receding into the past. All the information available [in the future] may only be a few paragraphs in a book. It makes a tremendous difference to hear it from someone who lived it,” said Ziffer.

Ziffer’s life mission is to lecture to as many people as he can. He believes our students are the future of our community and the world. If he can imbue in them the importance of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, they will be ready to tackle the challenges of their world. He also stresses the importance of students acting on their knowledge. He hopes students take their education and ask themselves “How do I apply this to my life?”

“As they [our students] continue their educational journey, we would hope that when they are faced with situations where they can step-up and make a difference, they will choose to do so,” said Brown. “Through the presentation, we wanted them to not only learn about what happened to one of the millions of people who had their lives forever altered during the Holocaust, but to also garner life lessons that we hope will change how they choose to live their lives and interact with the world around them,” Brown Dr Ziffer speaks to a student after his lecture.added.  

 

The most fundamental lesson, however, that Ziffer hopes to convey is the power of learning to respect each other.

“We are all made of the same stuff; the DNA is the same,” he said. “We have to respect each other and know that we are brothers and sisters. That should lead to action. Simply thinking about it isn't good enough. This has to be translated into what am I going to do, and how am I going to live?”

Dr. Ziffer has published many articles and three books. If you’d like to learn more, you may visit this link http://bit.ly/2DJDvvO.

He also says he’s always open to answering any questions people may have about his life and experience.


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