Holocaust survivor shares story with Rogers-Herr

Feb. 04, 2014 @ 05:59 PM

Renee Fink got a kick out of the Rogers-Herr Middle School student who politely asked the Holocaust survivor on Tuesday to make sure her talk lasted until the end of the school day, which was 2:20 p.m.

Whether intended or not, Fink, 76, honored the request with a spellbinding tale about how she survived the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands as a child, and the seventh-graders and guests packed into the school’s auditorium enjoyed every minute.

The school’s sixth-and eight-graders watched Fink from their classrooms via a live Internet stream.

For nearly two hours, Fink shared the story of how she was whisked away on the back of a bicycle by a stranger at age four to escape Nazis who had orders to kill Jews.

Separated from her parents by design, Fink was taken to live with a Dutch Catholic family until the war ended in 1945.

“It was very difficult for Jewish children to survive the Holocaust,” said Fink, who had turned eight at the end of the war.

Her parents were not as lucky.

They eventually were sent to a Nazi death camp, where they died, victims of the madman Adolf Hitler’s murderous regime.

“I didn’t know, and my parents didn’t know, that we would never see each other again,” Fink said

In spite of the war and being separated from her parents, Fink, an only child, has fond memories of living with the Dutch family, which consisted of eight children and their parents.

Fink refers to the Dutch children, all dead now, as her brothers and sisters. Their parents became her parents, she said.

The family put itself in great danger by allowing her to live with them because the Nazi’s routinely murdered and imprisoned people found helping Jews.

Fink, with her dark hair and dark eyes, was kept mostly out of view so she wouldn’t stand out among the other children with their blond hair, blue eyes and other Nordic features

“For them, it was just the right thing to do,” Fink said. “They couldn’t imagine not doing the right thing. It was just that simple.”

Throughout her talk, Fink wove in messages about bullying and urged students to do what’s right when they see such incidents occurring.

“Stand up when you see an injustice,” Fink said.

On occasions when the Nazis came to the Dutch family’s home, Fink said, the family would sometimes sit her in a corner and put a dunce cap on her head to hide her hair.

The family would pretend that she was a little crazy and the Germans would show little interest in her.

Other times, the family would put Fink in a separate bedroom and tell the Germans that she had tuberculosis.

“The Germans were cowards and they ran every time,” Fink said.

Even though food became scarce and times were hard, she said that she found the period after the war tougher.

She came to America in 1948 with her grandmother and eventually went to a family that she said mistreated her. 

“They didn’t want me and they could not give me back,” Fink said.

More than 6 million other Jews and millions of others died during the Holocaust, or Shoah, as Fink prefers to call it.  

Sharon Halperin, daughter of two Holocaust survivors and a founding member of the Chapel Hill-Durham Holocaust Speakers Bureau, reminded students that there are still people who believe Jews are lying about the Holocaust or exaggerating the number of people who died.

“I want you to listen really hard,” Halperin told students. “It’s not just so you can remember what you hear because, unfortunately, there are people in this world who say the Holocaust never happened.”

By hearing Fink talk, Halperin said students can bear witness that the Holocaust did indeed occur.

“You’re here today to say ‘No, that’s not true. The Holocaust happened. I saw and I heard a survivor,’ ” Halperin said.

She said survivors are becoming rare and will be more so in the years to come.

“We have a rare opportunity, it’s a gift,” Halperin said. “You’re going to see and hear a Holocaust survivor and that’s going to be increasingly rare in the days, months and years to come because these Holocaust survivors are getting older and more frail.”

Students listened carefully to Fink throughout her presentation, hanging on every word.

“It was very informative and it taught me a lot of things I would never have thought about,” said seventh-grader David Madzivonyika. “I hope to meet another Holocaust survivor someday.”

Madi Jakes, also a seventh-grader, said she enjoyed Fink’s presentation, which included photos of her parents, grandparents and her rescue family.

“I thought it was amazing,” Jakes said. “I can’t even think about how difficult it must have been.”

Fink, also a member of the Chapel Hill-Durham Holocaust Speakers Bureau, was brought to campus by Kelly Stevens, a seventh-grade social studies teacher.