Emily Kahn, staff writer
During sixth period on March 14, Holocaust survivor Manny Mandel spoke to a small group of students about his early childhood in Hungary and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp he spent time in.
He is part of the Portraits of Life program, which reaches out to students by exhibiting photographic panels and arranging speakers at the school.
The program and panels are through Montgomery College and the Holocaust Museum in D.C.
Mandel’s daughter, Lisa, introduced him to the small crowd in the auditorium.
She talked about how special she feels being a daughter of such a strong man.
“It wasn’t something we talked about in school,” Lisa Mandel said. “We need to pass on the torch to the new generation with the number of survivors dwindling.”
Before letting Manny Mandel tell his story, she emphasized the importance of being educated of the horrific history of the Holocaust.
“It was beneficial because it gave us a concrete person to look at who has endured the holocaust and could tell us specific experiences of his and it causes students to want to be more engaged in class discussions if they can relate, ” sophomore Rebecca Golub said.
Manny Mandel began his story with where he grew up in Budapest, Hungary.
At the beginning of World War II Hungary was not touched by the German Nazis because of their alliance with Germany.
Only towards the end of the war was Hungary invaded.
“Our teachers can tell us the facts about the holocaust, but you don’t really understand the significance of it until you partake in an experience with a true survivor,” freshman Max Fowler said.
The family’s terror began at their grandparents’ house one morning in Novistad when Nazis knocked on the door and told them there was a census.
They were instructed to put on warm clothes and walk until they were told to stop.
A few hours later when they came to a fence on the river, some unfamiliar policemen told them they could return home, but not before they witnessed a massive pogrom where all the people were lined up and shot directly into the river.
After this traumatizing event for young Mandel, the family returned then to Budapest.
“Home is safe. If you consider it home, it is a safe place,” Mandel said.
At home, the situation began to change as Jews had to wear gold stars on their clothes to signify their religion.
Mandel recalls feeling that the star meant honor, while the elders knew it meant danger, but still embraced it.
Mandel recalled the story of how he could not have a bicycle because while the money and the traveling to the park was not a problem, when he got to the park anything could happen to him as he was a lone Jewish boy.
“This part of the story was touching because it makes you wake up to the reality of the situation,” freshman Sara Cohen said.
The Nazis finally invaded his town of Budapest in March 1944.
Two leaders of the town tried to save the majority of the Jews by making a deal with the Nazis.
In the end, 1,700 people from Budapest were taken away in cattle cars including Mandel.
They were supposed to end up in a neutral zone, but instead were taken away to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Mandel did not have much to share about his experience at the camp but he did say it was short.
The war ended on his birthday, March 8, 1945 so he got the best birthday present possible: his freedom from the concentration camps.
During the period about one third of the auditorium was full and students asked many good questions.
“The speakers’ story was really interesting and indescribable. We should have more speakers. It was really beneficial,” sophomore Fara Moskowitz said.