GCISD summer school history students and teachers experienced a rare presentation last Monday, as they listened to the stories of Jerry Valfer, a survivor of the Holocaust during WWII. Mr. Valfer recalled his experiences during the war and entertained questions after to give the history students a first-hand account of some of the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.
Valfer, who was born in Germany in 1924, first spoke about his life as a Jewish child growing up during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930’s, as well as the persecution he suffered before the war.
“They told the teachers not to talk to us anymore in school and, eventually after three or four years, they threw us out of school,” he said. “All in all, I only received six years of education and that hurts in later life.”
He continued his story, talking about his parents’ deportation to the concentration camp system as well as being saved by the Danish government. “The Danes took 500 kids out of 22,000 people and sent them all over the country to work,” he explained. “Luckily, I was in that small group.”
Valfer, along with other Jewish children, was kept safe in Denmark and worked on a farm until 1943. That year, he and more than 400 other Jews were rounded up and sent to Thierestenstadt concentration camp, which is located in the modern-day Czech Republic.
“That camp was open from 1941 to 1945,” Valfer said. “Over 155,000 people went through that camp. Only 5,000 came out.” He discussed the rough living conditions and day-to-day life in the camp, as well as a heartwarming story that he is thankful for to this day.
“When I came to the camp, I found my parents,” he explained. “They had been in the camp for a year and a half. We were the only [complete] family that survived in the camps anywhere.”
After being liberated in 1945, Jerry and his family helped with the re-location effort for Jews displaced by the concentration camp system. He then followed his parents to the United States in the late 1940’s and has been living here ever since.
When asked what she took away from the story, senior Lauren Renfro was moved by the strength of Valfer’s resolve to survive.
“He went through a rough life,” she said. “He just stayed through it and never stopped believing he’d get out; it’s amazing.”
After his speech, Valfer shook hands and took pictures with several students and teachers, all of whom were very thankful to hear his story. This peek into the past gave students a sobering tale of the human spirit and provided them with a strong message from Mr. Valfer, which was to “honor everybody and don’t be prejudiced towards other people.”