In January, my daughter Gail and I journeyed to Germany for a two-week trip with one goal: to help further the ZACHOR Holocaust Remembrance Foundation’s mission to make sure we never forget the Holocaust and to honor International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
During those two weeks, I shared my story — and more important — my messages, to schools across the country. What were my messages?
That now, more than ever, we need to SHOUT-OUT. As anti-semitism rears its ugly head again, we need to speak UP and OUT and remind people that both love and hate are contagious; it’s important we choose love.
My journey was incredible! The first half of it, we stayed at the Zedakah Guest House Bethel, located in the Maisenbach area of the stunning Black Forest. This House is remarkable — they believe in the survival of Israel and take in elderly and poverty-stricken survivors to assist them. While I was there, I spoke three times at the guesthouse to those visiting on retreat programs.
I can’t imagine how many people my message will touch from those talks alone!
During this time, I also spoke to hundreds of kids from 14-18 years old at schools throughout Nagold, Neuenburg, and Althengstett. My message was unwavering; to teach love instead of hate and to not be embarrassed of their past. I made it clear that I don’t fault the son for his father’s sins and hold no grudges for choices these children had no control over.
I also addressed the core of the Holocaust — bullying — which is why I started I-SHOUT-OUT. Hitler was a bully. The Nazis were bullies. They silenced more than six million voices through their bullying. Today, no matter where you go, bullying exists and it’s a problem. There needs to be a change, and that time for change is now. I ended each lecture by having the students stand up and hold hands, repeating three times “Never Again, Never Again, Never Again” and then in German “Nie Wede” once.
On my third day, I met with Rainer Höss, the grandson of the Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Höss, and members of his Footsteps team to spend time together and discuss future collaborations. We’ve worked together in the past to help keep our world from developing amnesia.
To have that kind of turnout was surprising and brought an overwhelming sense of positivity. I am speaking in the same halls and schools where Hitler was promoting Nazism, and today a survivor has the attention of grandchildren and great grandchildren of Nazis, and they are interested in what I have to say. Even after I finished so late, these people who had been standing for hours didn’t leave. They lined up to shake my hand and say thank you. Some were older and had seen the Holocaust from their perspective, but didn’t know the history of their own neighborhood, and then all of a sudden, here was the other side right before their eyes. It was a truly moving experience and one I will never forget.
My schedule remained packed — it’s hard to keep someone with a mission down! Over the next two days, I spoke at two more schools and with Rainer at an ancient church. I watched as students listened, their eyes widening as they began to understand the importance of what I saw saying.
We had a heart-warming visit from the honorable Dietmar Fischer, the mayor of Bad Liebenzell, at the Zedakah House. During that time, we discussed society today and the threats that are rising in Germany, Europe and the United States. Before he left, he gave me the honor of signing the official GOLD BOOK of Bad Liebenzell. Now my signature and words of remembrance and peace are among the many dignitaries from around the world that have visited this very famous and historic town. I am truly humbled by the privilege.
Then, on Jan. 31, Emmanuel Rothstein, of the History Channel Germany and the director and producer of “The Liberators, Why We Fought” hosted us at the Reichstag Bundestag (Parliament) in Berlin for a ceremony to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 73rd anniversary of liberation from Auschwitz. Survivor, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch delivered a powerful speech, reminding the audience that “hate is toxic and ultimately it consumes the hater.”
After the ceremony, we visited the Anne Frank Centre offices in the heart of Berlin and met with Federal Minister Katarina Barley and German actor Clemens Schick. Schick then moderated a Q&A with tenth grade students who had just watched “The Liberators.” The Centre is home to one of the last remaining hiding places behind a revolving pantry wall — a place where you can feel the ghosts and understand the suffering and fear. So, we went together — class and myself — and closed the wall to demonstrate the grim reality that I, and so many millions of others, felt during the Holocaust.
Being at the Anne Frank Centre obviously brings back many memories — Anne and I would have been the same age at that time – but what I liked about the exhibit is that they show her perspective on one side of the room each year as she aged and then what was happening in Nazi Germany at that same time on the opposite wall. I was moved by the youngsters who had a lot of questions and was very impressed with Katarina and her knowledge about the Holocaust as she answered a lot of the students’ questions.
So many places, so many faces.
Nearing the end of our trip I was honored to tell my story at the very law firm that specialized in the prosecuting Nazi War Crime Trials. Here I met up with an old friend whom I had the privilege to speak with in Los Angeles a few years back, prosecuting attorney, Ali Mohammed.
And finally with friend Ali accompanying me, we visited the House of the Wannsee Conference. You wouldn’t imagine that this beautiful river scenic mansion is where they held the conference to the “Final solution of the Jewish question.” –It was fascinating yet eerie. It was here that I donated my autobiography “Living a life that matters: From Nazi nightmare to American dream” for their historic library campus.
The two weeks were a whirlwind and we will be forever grateful to Zedakah for making this mission possible and for having the ability to encourage so many people to SHOUT-OUT and remind them to never forget, ZACHOR.
To learn more about me and my history, please be sure to read my autobiography, “Living A Life That Matters: From Nazi Nightmare To American Dream.”
To learn more about ZACHOR or our youth campaign to stop intolerance please visit: