Before the end of the school year, I had the privilege of hearing Osi Sladek speak. Osi Sladek is a survivor of the Holocaust. He was born in 1935, in Czechoslovakia. As a child, he spent several years hiding from the Nazis in the mountains. He wasn’t a particularly elegant speaker, although he was passionate. He was soft-spoken and seemed to think carefully before he responded.The ESL Teacher arranged for him to come to speak at our school and I had one of my classes (Sophomores) attend the lecture. It was an amazing experience – hearing someone speak about their experiences during World War II and Nazi occupation. Mr. Sladek is 78 years old. Survivors of the Holocaust will not live forever and there are probably very few opportunities left to hear them tell their stories. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This is why I took my English class. I wish that I had thought to bring my own sons to school with me that day.
There were several things about Mr. Sladek that struck me. He was quite educated. Maybe not in the traditional sense; he speaks something like seven languages. He lived in several different countries (hence the different languages). He had amazing experiences after World War II and he only had a few minutes to share those with us. He had a career as a musician, married and spends time with his extended family.
The think that struck me the most was that he still has faith in the goodness of people. He was just a child, when the Nazis took over in Czechoslovakia. He had family members who were taken to Nazi concentration camps, he survived in the mountains (with his parents) with little food, he lived in fear for over three years and he still believed that people were good.
One of the students asked him why it seemed that the Jews just went along with things? Why they didn’t fight back? Mr. Sladek told the students that Jews were hopeful that things would get better. That Jews were optimists and had faith that things wouldn’t continue. After he said that, I had goosebumps all over. Another student asked him why he shared his story. He explained that he wanted people to know that they had to stand up for what was right and that he hoped his story would help people understand why they had to speak out. It was eye-opening.
If you’d like to read more about Osi Sladek, there is a great article here –