Sunday, October 31, 1999

Speaker: Hate begat Holocaust

Tolerance, acceptance the only cure

Enquirer Contributor

        MASON — Cornelis Suijk came to Mason Middle School to tell students about the terrible events he lived through five decades ago.

        He left it to them to debate whether the Holocaust could happen again.

        Mr. Suijk, now the International Director of the Anne Frank Center USA, was 19 when he was arrested near the end of World War II. But unlike Anne, he survived a concentration camp and was freed at the end of the war.

        He was arrested when Nazi officials spotted identity papers concealed in his socks to take to Jews his Christian family was hiding in his home in The Netherlands.

        He spoke about how easy it was for Hitler to gain a following in Germany in the aftermath of the country's devastating defeat in World War I. Hitler rallied masses in search of scapegoats at a time when many were unemployed, had lost their self-esteem and respect for life, he said.

        It was a story 13-year-old Laura Kranz had heard often from her mother. Laura's great aunt disappeared one day from the Polish factory where she worked during the Holocaust, never to be heard from again. She was Jewish.

        “I think it was a great experience (to listen to Mr. Suijk), so (we) could learn about what happened from someone who was there. My mother has told me lots of stories about my great aunts and grandmother, who lived through it,” Laura said, adding that some of her relatives had talked to filmmaker Steven Spielberg about their experiences.

        “If somebody would try to do this today, we would resist,” Mr. Suijk said, referring to the Holocaust. “But it did happen.”

        Teasing people, stereotyping people and isolating them can lead to the kind of mentali ty exhibited by the killer students at Columbine High School, similar to the same kind of mentality that helped produce Hitler's murderous followers, Mr. Suijk said.

        He spoke of how Otto Frank, the father of Anne, learned not to hate the Germans even though his family died in concentration camps. For if he was to hate Germans, he must hate himself, too, for he was German, Mr. Suijk said of his friend.

        “Stop grouping whole groups of people together,” Mr. Suijk urged. “If you do, one of them could have been Anne Frank.”

        Mr. Suijk also made a visit last week to Anderson Township, to discuss tolerance in a community recently rattled by the appearance of swastikas on homes. In China, where 13-year-old student Stacey Ma grew up, there is discrimination based on income, with a big disparity between the rich and poor, the eighth-grader said.

        “All the things he said were very emotional,” Stacey said after Mr. Suijk had spoken. “It's very hard to understand because I never experienced what he experienced. It seems too unreal. The people back then were so cruel, so different from today's world.”

        Yet Stacey, Laura and 14-year-old Chanel Wood all said they believed it could happen again.

        “There's so much hate and chaos,” Laura said.

        Chanel said she sometimes feels put down because she lives in a smaller house than some classmates do and has less money.

        Her mother, she said, experienced racism and has told Chanel about it.

        “Sure it could happen today,” said Chanel. “There's still racism and criticism of many races.”

        Suijk will speak again on Monday at 1:30 p.m. at La Salle High School in Green Township. Information: 741-2338.


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