GREENFIELD — As she listened to a speaker describe the treatment Jews endured in Nazi concentration camp, Elle Kunkel covered her face and squirmed.
With dozens of her classmates at St. Michael School sitting beside her, Elle, a seventh-grader, listened as Ed Davidson described the way German soldiers packed their prisoners into the poison gas “showers” so tightly that some died standing up. They had no space to fall, Davidson said — and the students’ faces showed their shock.
Davidson works for the Bureau of Jewish Education in Indianapolis. He visited St. Michael School in Greenfield this week to talk with students, who are learning about the Holocaust, when six million Jews were murdered in Europe during World War II.
Davidson’s talk centered on his family’s experience in Nazi-run Germany. He and his wife, Esther, have multiple connections to the Holocaust, he said: Ed Davidson’s father was a translator for the Nuremberg Trials; Esther Davidson lived in Poland during the war and her Jewish family members escaped captivity.
Esther Davidson was not able to attend the presentation at St. Michael School, but her husband shared both their stories as well as his experience visiting the Dachau concentration camp in Germany later in life.
Esther Davidson was born in a small village south of Warsaw, Poland. Her parents, Polish Jews, knew they were in the cross-hairs of the Nazis, so they convinced a Christian neighbor, Reba, to take Esther in as her own while they went into hiding.
Ed Davidson’s father, who was born in Latvia, learned both Russian and German before immigrating to the United States. He was later hired as a translator for the Nuremberg Trials, the international court proceedings to bring justice to the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
The details Ed Davidson shared with the children were vivid. He told them how prisoners were forced to remove the hair and gold fillings from the corpses of the murdered people before their bodies were shoved into ovens and cremated one after another.
He illustrated the relatively short amount of time it’s been since Adolf Hitler’s rise to power — 1939 — by asking the students about movies that came out the same year, like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind.” He showed pictures of Christian and Jewish memorials at Dachau, emblazoned with the words “Do not forget.”
Seventh-grade teacher Storm Murphy arranged for the couple to speak to her class through the Bureau of Jewish Education website. She’s used the organization’s educational materials in the past, but this was the first time she’d invited speakers to visit the school.
Murphy was glad to see her students’ emotional reactions to Davidson’s message as the stories from their textbooks came to life.
“Wrapping my head around why people would do that gives me the chills,” Elle said.
Ed Davidson’s talk resonated with Elle’s classmate, seventh-grader Kaya Billman.
It’s not easy, hearing these things — but silence isn’t the answer.
“It’s something we have to talk about,” she said. “Otherwise, it’s like he said, we’re doomed to repeat it.”