GRAFTON, Mass. — “My story is a sad one,” said 89-year-old Thea Aschkenase as she spoke to 250 Grafton Middle School students on Tuesday morning.
Dressed in white sneakers and a brown sweater, she spoke in a soft German accent about surviving Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp, when she was a teen-ager.
The event, pulled together by seventh-grade teacher Karen Healy, is the third year Aschkenase has spoken to the students.
“After five days, the train stopped and it said ‘Auschwitz’,” Aschkenase said to the 13-year-olds. “There was a sign that said, ‘Work Makes Free,’ which one assumes is a working camp. But it wasn’t. When we were marched into Auschwitz, there was Dr. Mengele, maybe you have heard of him. He did the experiments on people and he selected who would live and who would die.”
When the lecture was over some of the students came on stage and hugged Aschkenase.
“It’s important to hear this first hand,” said Healy, after the event was over. “We won’t have people like Thea forever.”
Aschkenase’s presentation is tied into a book the class is reading, “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” a novel about a modern day Jewish girl who is transported back to a Nazi concentration camp and learns the importance of knowing this moment in history.
“The kids can now connect better with the literature,” said Healy. “It’s important for them to know that something so horrible can happen.”