Students at P.S. 71 gathered on Monday, February 13, to listen to stories from Harlem native Rebekah Bieber, daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.
Beiber is a member of 3GNY, an organization that gives children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors a place to share their family’s’ experiences with one another while also learning to share those same stories with students.
The eighth graders at P.S. 71 have been studying the events surrounding the Holocaust for the last few weeks as part of their Social Studies curriculum.
As she told her mother and grandmother’s story, Beiber had the attention of the 26 students in Samantha Lanaro’s eighth grade class.
Bieber related the story of her grandmother and grandfather – Irene and David Kozak – and her mother Mireille Bieber who had to fight against the Nazi’s to staytogether.
Irene married David in 1940 before he went off to fight the Nazi’s in the French Army.
David was captured that same year and was forced to work with German soldiers to decode morse code.
Bieber said her grandfather then escaped from the Nazi’s to southern France to be with his wife and where they felt safer.
There, the couple secretly worked to help the Jewish community – David as an ordained rabbi and Irene as a nurse for the Red Cross.
In 1944, they were captured again by the Nazi’s and imprisoned.
However, at that time Irene was pregnant and gave birth to Bieber’s mother Mireille while detained.
Bieber said her grandmother was able to smuggle the infant out of prison to Beiber’s great grandmother – whose name is also Rebekah – in France.
There, Bieber’s great grandmother raised Mireille and never let her leave the attic of their house in fear Nazi’s would find her.
That same year, while the Nazi’s were transporting Irene and David – along with many other Jews – by train to a concentration camp, the train station was bombed by British forces.
The couple escaped the train and lived in hiding until they were able to recover Mireille and live in a refugee camp in northern France in 1945.
The eighth grade class stayed entralled throughout the story, shared how much they knew about concentration camps and eagerly asked Bieber questions.
“I would have to go back and remember each individual class but they were the most engaged,” said Bieber. “They asked the most questions and most interesting questions.”
Ana Martinez, a teacher at P.S. 71, said the school doesn’t believe in common methods of teaching students.
“We don’t just open a textbook and say, ‘Read Page 35 and answer these questions,” said Martinez. “It’s more engaging.”
“We tell them that history books are written by human beings and they have their own perspective and that perspective might not be the right perspective,” added Raquel Quesada, assistant principal for the middle school at P.S. 71. “So as historians you have to investigate and come up with your own perspectives.”
Bieber was the first of five speakers who spoke about the Holocaust.
At a later time Quesada said the school hopes to have a speaker who has ancestors that were slaves discuss the horrors of slavery.