Forgive But Never Forget: Pres Students Learn from Holocaust Survivor


Sarah Vincent, Reporter

After listening to the presentation of Holocaust survivor Gitta Ryle two years ago to my World History class, the phrase that continues to stick with me and is important for every student to learn is “forgive but don’t forget.” Nothing can remove the scars from the Holocaust, but Ryle has made it her calling to help to heal the wounds of and educate people about the Holocaust.

Every year, Ryle visits Presentation in order to tell her story to the freshmen as a part  of the World History curriculum. As a young Jewish girl living in Vienna as Hitler’s army invaded Austria and began attacks on Jewish homes, schools and businesses, seven-year-old Ryle and her sister were left with one option for survival: leave their family for France and register with the Ouvres de Secours aux Enfants, an organization dedicated to ensuring the safety of Jewish children.

The next seven years of her life were spent in hiding, not knowing if she and her sister would remain safe or where her father was after he left for Belgium to try to find safety. Finally, the war ended, but the repercussions of Ryle’s time in hiding did not.

When Ryle’s children were around seven years old–the age she was when her life was turned upside down due to the Holocaust–the memories of her experiences returned. Both Ryle’s physical and mental health declined as she remained trapped in her past.

Rather than continue to allow ulcers, anxiety, depression and more consume yet another section of her life, Ryle went to doctors to take care of both aspects of her health, while becoming an advocate for therapy.

Through her transformation, she realized that “he [Hitler] controlled her past, but she controls her future,” according to Amy Fields, history teacher. This serves as an example to all Presentation students who are battling with their own struggles. No matter someone’s situation, Fields hopes that students continue to take away the idea that students “choose their own tomorrow.”

The lessons that she teaches our community are invaluable demonstrations of hope and perseverance. In the midst of stressful and unfair situations, many may find it difficult to reflect upon how they can grow, but people must remember that they can seek help and turn bitterness into positive energy.

As time passes, our society is threatened by those who refuse to acknowledge the events of the Holocaust. After listening to survivors who are brave enough to share their personal stories, including Ryle, people are able to form connections that place a significance upon the numbers that they learn about in textbooks.

Despite exposure to materials detailing the number of people killed or displaced during the Holocaust, many students fail to realize the importance of the information they study, or simply do not know how this information should influence them.

Even at Presentation, where students read first-hand accounts of the Holocaust through sources such as Night by Elie Wiesel, nothing compares to the emotional breakthrough students experience when a guest speaker directly addresses students through sharing personal stories of the Holocaust.

Fields states that after presentations from Ryle, there are no longer students who talk in disbelief about the events of the Holocaust. “I can see something shift in their perspective of the Holocaust,” states Fields about how students react to Ryle’s presentation.

As a community prided upon its values of advocating for justice and opening our hearts to those in need, it is our responsibility to ensure that our community adapts as time passes to ensure that we continue to hear the stories of those who survived.

One way that Fields is making sure that Presentation students can still form connections with Holocaust survivors, Ryle in particular, is by filming the presentations so that future classes may have as personal an experience as possible.  

Unfortunately, the Holocaust is not the only event that demonstrates the cruel reality of genocide hiding behind the guise of war.  “We are not short on genocides and refugee crisis, and in having speakers come in from different areas, we will still be able to get to ‘what is the heart of war?’ and particularly people being attacked simply for who they are,” states Fields.

In her presentations, Ryle teaches students about the hate  that has been shed on different groups of individuals, and helps students to connect between the numbers they learn about in their textbooks and the stories about the genocide she lived through.

While students of future generations might not have the chance to meet someone who lived through the Holocaust, Presentation students who do have this privilege can continue to share the stories of survivors to ensure that future generations both understand the gravity of the Holocaust and learn the stories and lessons from survivors.