Holocaust survivor inspires Plum middle-schoolers
Alana Jump enjoys dancing competitively.
Alana, 12, a seventh-grader at Oblock Junior High School, at times gets frustrated when she struggles to complete moves that appear easy for other dancers.
After hearing Severin Fayerman, 92, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Reading, speak Friday about his experiences and perseverance, Jump has a new perspective on challenges.
“I'm not going to give up,” Jump said.
During the program, Oblock's eighth-graders watched a film narrated by Fayerman, in which he told his story of surviving two concentration camps — Auschwitz in Poland and Buchenwald in Germany — between 1939 and 1945, during World War II.
Fayerman then spoke with students in some of the seventh- and eighth-grade social studies classes.
Unlike many people who were targeted during the Holocaust, Fayerman is not Jewish. His family lived in Poland, and, he said, his family's factory was seized in 1939, after the Germans invaded the country.
His family members were arrested and separated. Fayerman was sent to Auschwitz, where he described how life for prisoners was difficult — with little food and hard work.
“We had to dig trenches for crematoriums,” Fayerman said. “The work was very difficult. And the only way to survive was to find additional food.”
Fayerman was able to get more food by helping a prisoner who was assigned to supervise the other prisoners by cleaning his barracks and volunteering to teach him English.
Fayerman also survived the concentration camps by having the skill to work as a tool-and-die maker in a factory in Germany.
“You wouldn't survive if you didn't get out of the Auschwitz camp,” Fayerman said.
“The work was interesting, and I was treated well at the factory.”
Fayerman said a highlight of working at the factory was getting to see his mother, who also worked there.
“My mother said, ‘Oh, my baby,' ” Fayerman said.
Fayerman was reunited with his family in Austria after the war ended.
“It was a beautiful spring day in April (when he was freed),” Fayerman said. “I was overjoyed. It was one of the most exhilarating periods of my life.”
Fayerman and his family immigrated to New York after the war ended. Fayerman took a job as a tool-and-die maker and eventually bought that type of business in New Jersey.
“My story began in a concentration camp and ended happily in America,” Fayerman said. “It could only happen in America — the greatest country in the world.”
Fayerman wrote a book titled “A Survivor's Story,” about his experiences.
He said he particularly enjoys speaking to middle school-aged children.
“These kids are like sponges,” Fayerman said.
Harley Craig, 13, a seventh-grader, said she was amazed by Fayerman's story.
“It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience (to hear Fayerman's story),” Harley said. “I never thought I would meet someone like him.”
Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.