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“It can happen again.”

Survivor Gideon Frieder defines Holocaust for Solon students
Gideon Frieder (right) was the guest of the Solon Community School District Nov. 16, appearing in the Solon Middle School auditorium to share his experiences and educate students on the genocide inflicted by Nazi Germany leading up to and during World War II. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– “My generation is dying,” Gideon Frieder said to the Solon students gathered in the middle school auditorium. “Twenty years from now, you will have no opportunity to talk to a Holocaust survivor. We will all be dead.”
Frieder was 7 years old in 1944 when he fled the advance of German forces in Slovakia with his mother and sister. Gideon’s father, a rabbi affiliated with a secret Jewish rescue operation, had separated from his family, fearing for their safety. Gideon, his sister and his mother had headed into mountainous terrain, but were caught in an attack by German units in the village of Staré Hory. Gideon was wounded. His sister and mother were killed.
For the next seven months, Gideon lived in a nearby village, Bully, where a Christian family took him in and passed him off as a member of their family. He remained there until the liberation of Slovakia by Russian troops.
Frieder, now 79, was the guest of the Solon Community School District Nov. 16, appearing to share his experiences and educate students on the genocide inflicted by Nazi Germany upon his people.
“Jews were the primary victim of the Holocaust,” he told the students. “The Holocaust was an organized, state-sponsored annihilation of a whole group.”
Projected on a screen behind him were the words “6 million.”
“Six million people,” he said. “People who had everyday lives.”
He asked students to imagine a line of six million people, victims of the Holocaust, lined up in front of them in the auditorium, each announcing their name and age and the date of their death.
If each took 60 seconds, he asked, how long would it take for each of their voices to be heard?
“Every minute of every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “How long would it take?”
Eleven-and-a-half years.
“You will be out of here, you will be out of college, some of you will be married and have kids,” he said. “Eleven-and-a-half years. That’s what six million is. A whole generation.”
In 2012, he said, the Jewish population of the world was 13,746,000 people; had the Holocaust not occurred, that number today would be over 21 million.
Out of the six million victims, 1.5 million were children, Frieder said, and a black-and-white photo of a young girl standing behind a wagon appeared on the screen; his 4-year-old sister.

After World War I, Slovakia had been a thriving democracy in the middle of Europe, Frieder said.
But as the shadow cast by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party spread across the landscape, Slovakia entered a dark period, totally under the influence of Germany.
Bohemia and Morovia became German protectorates, while Hungary, a Nazi ally, annexed portions of Slovakia to the south, he said.
In 1939, Josef Tiso, a Slovak Roman Catholic priest, became president of the First Slovak Republic, a satellite state of Nazi Germany. Under Tiso, Slovakia instituted a census of Jews and entered into an agreement with Germany to exterminate them.
The slideshow that accompanied Frieder’s remarks included copies of those historical documents, among them Frieder’s name on the census and an archive of the agreement which pledged 500 German marks for every Slovak Jewish citizen that was killed.
“That’s what the Holocaust means,” he said. “That’s what hate means.”
Frieder was reunited with his father after the war. His father remarried, but lived only until 1946. With his stepmother, he moved secretly to Israel, where he remained until 1975, when he emigrated to the United States.
During most of his adult life, Frieder didn’t speak about the Holocaust.
“There were books about the Holocaust I didn’t read, there were movies about the Holocaust I didn’t watch, there were lectures about the Holocaust I didn’t attend,” he said.

In 1990, however, his daughter announced she was organizing a Holocaust memorial event at the university she attended in Boston, and he was to be the featured speaker.
He agreed, on the condition she be by his side holding his hand and that the setting be quiet and intimate.
It opened the floodgates, and Frieder, as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Survivor Speakers’ Bureau, became a regular lecturer on the subject.
His visit to Solon was arranged as part of a larger program in Cedar Rapids organized by the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library and Coe College.
Part of the museum’s “Global Voices, Local Actions” series, Frieder was the main speaker at a symposium on the confrontation of genocide and cultural differences held on the Coe campus Nov. 15, according to Dr. Nic Hartmann, director of learning and civic engagement at the museum.
Hartmann said the museum reached out to Grant Wood AEA regarding possible school appearances for Gideon while he was in the Corridor.
Solon High School history teacher Keith McSweeney said the district jumped at the opportunity to host Frieder.
McSweeney said the presentation was originally intended for his Advanced History class, which was studying World War II.
“I decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up and included my ninth grade U.S. History class, too, as we had studied WWII and the Holocaust last quarter,” he said. Middle school sections asked if they could participate as well, he said, and were included.
Frieder told the students one of the reasons he speaks about his experiences is to offer a warning.
Many people, himself included, felt the Holocaust was a unique event which could never be repeated, he said, “ the enormity of the crime was so big that humanity would not ever allow it to happen again. But I was wrong.
“It can happen again,” he said. “It can happen to you.”
Although not an expert on history or an authority on the Holocaust, Frieder challenged students to analyze his definition of the Holocaust, and the conditions that must exist for it to happen again.
There must be victims, a class of people which is hated by some other group, vilified to the point it is believed the world would be better off without them, he said.
And there must be perpetrators, he continued, people who believe that the victims are not worthy of living because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs or their political leanings.
But there is a third condition, he added, one that is often overlooked.
The perpetrators must have the financial, military, political or scientific capability to inflict a massive crime against an entire group of victims.

“I thought Gideon’s presentation was fascinating,” McSweeney said. “Gideon was able to communicate with our students very interesting pockets of his memory and painted a clear picture about how awful the time period was for Jews, as well as other targeted groups.
“His account will hopefully help our students understand the importance of tolerance of religious and ethnic diversity, and recognizing the damage hate can have on any society,” he added.