Survivors’ stories teach ‘personal’ history

Nikolai Gentes, News

On April 14, Martin Rumscheidt and Katy Preston gave a presentation on the importance of memory and sharing their stories with juniors, seniors and staff at Pembroke Academy. 

Rumscheidt is the son of a Nazi officer, and Preston is a Jewish-Hungarian who was hidden during the Holocaust. Both told their life stories and spoke about topics such as forgiveness, bigotry and prejudice. 

Rumscheidt spoke first about how his experiences growing up in Germany during World War II affected him, describing himself as an “anti-Semite in remission”.

Preston then shared her story as a young Jewish girl living in Eastern Europe at the time. 

When each presenter was finished, they fielded questions from students and teachers. When the presentation ended, both stayed behind to accept handshakes, hugs and answer additional questions from students. 

Both speakers currently give presentations throughout the country.

English teacher Mrs. Ficken, one of the presentation’s organizers, believes that the presentation was important for students. 

“Those presentations are becoming few and far between because there are fewer survivors,” said Mrs. Ficken. “If we don’t have them here now, we lose the opportunity to get that story.”

Mrs. Ficken also believes that presentations offer a more personal account. 

“Firsthand accounts of traumatic events are super important because in the educational environment we are often inundated with dates and numbers, but it’s just a statistic. It doesn’t have that human element of it,” she said.

Similar Holocaust presentations have been held at Pembroke Academy in the past, but they were halted the past few years due to Covid-19. 

Ms. Ficken has also helped to organize presentations in the past with the help of former English teacher Ms. Montgomery. A Jewish woman, Ms. Montgomery was a big supporter of Holocaust education before passing away unexpectedly on April 7, 2021.

Ms. Ficken dedicated the event to Ms. Montgomery’s memory.

“In terms of this particular event we wanted to do it in honor of Ms. Rachel Berger-Montgomery,” said Ms. Ficken. “She was a huge supporter for Holocaust education being of the Jewish faith herself.”