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‘Do all the good you can’: A Holocaust survivor speaks to Carson students

By Maggie Blackwell

For the Salisbury Post

CHINA GROVE — Holocaust survivor Zev Harel challenged Carson High School students to pursue their aspirations as he recalled the fears of a teenager held in Nazi death camps.

Harel is a survivor of Auschwitz, Mathausen and Ebensee concentration camps. He was liberated by the U.S. Army’s 3rd Cavalry when he was 15.

“Even though I cannot see your face close, close, close, I appreciate your being here, because in life there are things we want to do and things we feel we have to do,” Harel said at the school Friday.

“In two months, I will be 89 years old, but what I am sharing with you happened when I was younger than you are today.”

Harel is a tall man and slender. He stood and recounted his experiences with the students for almost an hour without rest.

Softly and gently, he recounted his idyllic childhood in rural Transylvania, where he went to a cow if he wanted milk and climbed a tree if he wanted fruit. He received minimal education from a teacher who could read and add but likely couldn’t multiply.

He moved to a larger city at age 10 and witnessed the beginnings of what would become the Holocaust. It began with the government limiting the time Jews could be outside to two hours a day.

A German teacher came to his school and lectured Jewish children about how unacceptable they were.

Then Harel couldn’t go to school at all. Soon, all the Jews had to move to the ghetto, an area the size of the school where he was speaking.

Finally, Jews were loaded into cattle cars and transferred to Auschwitz.

“I vividly remember the night I arrived at the camp,” he told the students. “It was a brilliant, star-filled night. I arrived with the son of our rabbi. He prayed to the heavens in Hebrew. He prayed, ‘God, evil has entered your kingdom. I pray that you save us.’”

At Auschwitz, Jews younger than 15 and older than 50 were of no use to the Germans. They were taken to the crematorium and exterminated. Harel was only 14 at the time. He recalls the kapo, or German guard, who told him to lie about his age. “Say you are 15,” the guard told him, then turned him away from the crematorium.

Harel recalls another kindness when he was at Ebensee. A young girl sneaked food to him when it was his turn to clean the barn.

“She held one finger to her lips,” he said, “to warn me not to thank her. She brought me bread or pasta, anything I could hold with my hand. She added to my nutrition that was close to nothing. Thanks to her, I could eat.”

In May 1945, the 3rd Cavalry of the U.S. Army arrived and rescued Harel and the other prisoners.

“As I was walking out, I fell into a ditch. There were African-American soldiers in the 3rd Calvary, but they were not treated as equals. A young African-American soldier picked me up from the ditch. I don’t know how many hospitals he carried me (to). Nurses would tell me in German, ‘One black soldier.’”

Harel had typhoid. The soldier had saved his life.

Harel also told about his military life with the Hagana, the largest of the underground Jewish defense forces; about receiving a high school diploma at age 33; and about moving to the U.S. at age 35.

He ultimately earned a master’s degree, then his Ph.D., and is professor emeritus at Cleveland State University.

Carson students sat in rapt silence as he shared his story. No faces were illuminated by mobile phones. No one whispered or teased. Harel had their attention.

“Teaching about the Holocaust is one of the things I feel I must do,” Harel said. “Young faces, I would like to make a small dent in your thinking caps.

“First, I challenge you to aspire. What would you like to achieve? Aspire and believe you can achieve.

“Second, achieve. Achieve the positions you want to hold. You can and you will.

“Finally, be as good as you can be. Don’t let bad things happen around you. Do all the good you can. If you do that, your own life, your family life, and your community will be better.”

Students asked questions and talked with Harel after his presentation, but it was close to class change and Principal Angelo DelliSanti released them to the next class. Those who wanted to were allowed to remain and ask further questions. About 30 students remained and waited for their turn.

“People say things happen for a reason,” said McKenzie Riley. “Do you believe this happened for a reason?”

Harel thought before answering.

“I really do not have an answer for you. I like to see good things happen. At my university, I did research projects to find out how things happen and what can be done for them not to happen. This is why I keep repeating, ‘Do all the good you can.’ Will you do that for me, little face?”

McKenzie nodded.

As he left, Harel repeated, “Thank you; do all the good things you can.”

Later in the day, Harel reflected on his presentation at the school.

“It’s very, very important that we prepare our young people to pursue good in their futures,” he said. “I feel very thankful that I can do this. In those years, I lost most of my family, so I am doing what I can and I am thankful that I can do what I can.”

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