S. Allegheny middle-schoolers get history lesson from British veteran
South Allegheny Middle School eighth-graders applied “The Diary of Anne Frank” to a conversation with a British World War II veteran.
“Anne Frank thought people are basically good,” Rae Zurovcik, 88, of Port Vue told teacher Janel Vitai's classes on Thursday. “People are basically good, but some are not.”
Anne Frank died of typhus in a concentration camp a few weeks before fighting ended between the Allies and Nazis.
“There were 6 million Jews who died in the concentration camps,” Zurovcik said. “There were 6 million others, Gypsies, homosexuals, those whose religion wasn't right, those whose color wasn't right.”
Those in Britain heard rumors about the camps.
“I don't think people really believed it at first,” Zurovcik said. “It was mind boggling.”
“Did you ever see a concentration camp?” student Devin Brown asked.
“My friend did,” Zurovcik replied. “She said the smell is horrible.”
The friend was in a group visiting Auschwitz when they spied three teens laughing.
“One of the group grabbed them and said, ‘Look at them,'” pointing at the ashes, Zurovcik recalled. “Some of the prisoners had to sift the ashes and break up the bones because the Germans wanted to cover up what they did.”
Zurovcik was 15 when World War II began in 1939. In 1940 she was evacuated as the German blitz of London began.
“We lasted all of three weeks in the country with an aunt,” she said. “We thought we still heard the bombs.”
She went to school in the air raid shelters. She and other Britons endured the Luftwaffe aircraft as well as the rockets.
“You knew when the buzz bombs were coming,” Zurovcik recalled. “When the engine went off, you knew it was coming. The A-1 and A-2 bombs, you did not know when they were coming.”
The Germans never invaded Britain, but Zurovcik and others were ready if they did.
“We had a few things ready,” she said. “Grandmothers were making poison candy.”
Her stepfather and all but one of her brothers served in World War II. One brother was evacuated from Dunkirk and later served in Burma.
Zurovcik was a Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineer.
“What made you go into the service?” student Austin Boyd asked.
“I really didn't have any choice,” Zurovcik said. “Every man, woman and child had to register (for the draft) between the ages of 18 and 45.”
She learned how to weld — and deal with tanks brought back for repair.
“The mud on the tank tracks smelled terrible,” she said. “There were fingers in there.”
Everyone carried small boxes. She said they weren't lunch boxes but contained gas masks — and she had to train in tear gas-filled rooms, with and without a mask.
“After that, they made us run through a field,” Zurovcik said. “I wanted to die.”
Zurovcik came to the Mon-Yough area after the war and was reacquainted with the man she eventually married. She's in an organization of women from 23 countries who married American soldiers.
Even her daughter didn't believe her experiences. She saw a picture of St. Paul's Cathedral on fire and was told her mother was there.
“You couldn't have been,” the daughter said, “because you're alive.”
Joseph and Rae Zurovcik have been back to Europe.
They've seen a military cemetery where his brother was laid to rest. She met Queen Elizabeth II at the 2005 unveiling of a memorial to women who served in World War II.
Zurovcik said there is a lesson to be drawn from Anne Frank's story: “It is up to you young children to make sure this does not happen again.”
Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.