Reflections on Anti-Semitism with a Holocaust Survivor

Emily Wu and Allison Liu

Helene Bargheer, a junior at Lexington High School, recently interviewed a Holocaust survivor for her class Facing History and Ourselves: The Holocaust and Other Genocides. 

In the project, students selected a genocide and endeavored to understand the human experience of genocide beyond the information presented in history books.

“When we don’t just regurgitate information, it helps us understand that genocide on such a deeper personal level, realizing that this action that’s done at a state and international level, causes people’s lives to be drastically different,” Jessica Antoline, the instructor of the course, said.

The idea behind the project was born a few years back when Antoline connected with Hanni, a Holocaust survivor from Austria. Last year, Antoline used her connection to help Bargheer conduct an interview with Hanni.

As a native German, Bargheer could culturally connect with Hanni.

“[Hanni’s] an amazing person … She’s 92 now and has all these things going on. And she went hiking in the Himalayas and Mount Everest when she was 82. I definitely learned more about the Austrian perspective,” Bargheer said.

Additionally, this interview provided insight into the generalization of religion and the complexities that fueled extremism during the Holocaust.

“Certain things that were really interesting to me was how [Hanni] dealt with her [own] relationship to Judaism, because she told me she wasn’t really religious, her family in general, and how [she] felt to be put in the spot: ‘Okay, you’re Jewish and people want to kill you’, but you don’t even feel Jewish,” Bargheer said.

Overall, Bargheer described her experience as meaningful because while she grew up in Germany, she had never met a Holocaust survivor. 

“Being German, I think the Holocaust is always really present in Germany, and there is a responsibility to ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again,” Bargheer said. 

In addition to discussing the Holocaust, Helene asked insightful questions regarding Hanni’s thoughts on antisemitism and the unfair treatment of Jews in the present day. 

“My last question [of my interview with Hanni] was, what advice would you give young people, and one of the things she said is just, ‘don’t live with prejudice’ … because you can never put people in one box,” Bargheer said. 

Antoline and Bargheer believe that people, especially young students, should be aware of the dangers of antisemitism and how it manifests within our communities.  

I think one of the most important things to know is that antisemitism is like a virus … It can change forms very, very quickly … We have to be really vigilant about how we document those new ways it’s appearing. We address that with young audiences and really help them interact with how it has changed forms and how they can really see it ingrained in all aspects of society around them,” Antoline said.