Over 15 survivors of different traumatic experiences spoke to Secaucus High School and Middle School students for the whole day on Friday, Oct. 21. Each had a different story to tell.
Holocaust survivor Ella Weissberger was forced to sing in the opera “Brundibár” in Czechoslovakia with other Jewish children being held in her concentration camp during World War II. Originally written as a children’s opera, Nazi officials had kids perform it during the war to encourage hope in Nazism.
The opera was performed over 50 times in the camp, and each time the Jewish girl was forced to remove the Star of David from her clothing, Weissberger said. She’s still performing the opera around the world, but now she still carries her original Star of David.
“I lost my mother, and she said if I survive I have to go to America, meet her sister, and tell my story.” – Ray Fishler.
“I lost my mother, and she said if I survive I have to go to America, meet her sister, and tell my story, and that’s what I did,” Fishler said.
Friends and 9/11 survivors Gary Smiley and Brian Branco talked to the students about the day the Twin Towers fell. Both are volunteers who share their stories at the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum.
Smiley is a medically-retired Rescue Paramedic from the New York City Fire Department. “I was there six minutes after the plane hit,” Smiley said. He’s had seven surgeries in the hospital after getting stuck under the rubble of the North Tower.
“I watched my friends get sick and die,” Smiley said. “I knew four guys with cancer.”
Branco worked in the South Tower for five years before the incident. He and a colleague walked down flights of stairs together. “I left before the planes hit,” Branco said. “My colleague forgot something and went back up. I never saw him again.” When Branco got out of the building he walked up Church Street.
“This program is living survivors, and to hear Holocaust stories, and even stories from a friend, it’s inspiring,” Smiley said. “It’s not easy being a survivor.”
“Having survivor’s guilt is still something that lives with you every day,” Branco said.
Elia Zedeno survived the Feb. 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing thanks to a fireman who rescued her. Then when the buildings were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, she walked down from the 74th floor. “I had problems months later, and had to get an operation in my throat and nose,” she said.
Many of those who inhaled the dust from the falling towers have had medical conditions.
Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops appreciated the program.
He said, “In my opinion they truly are heroes who have faced tremendous adversary in their life.”
He added, “Mark Barden dedicated his life to speaking on gun reform after losing children to gun violence.”
“When a parent asked their child what they learned that day in school, I hope they say ‘I learned from a soldier in World War II, Mark Barden [about] the dangers of gun violence, and a Holocaust survivor who escaped a moving train going to a concentration camp.”