ROCKVILLE, Md. — An 83-year-old Holocaust survivor visited Tilden Middle School in Montgomery County Wednesday to counsel students on the impact of antisemitism and the responsibility to confront it. The visit comes on the heels of a rise in hate language or symbolism found across Montgomery County Public Schools.
As a child, Josie Traum was hidden by nuns in Belgium during World War II, and escaped the war alive despite the murder of other family members. She was called to Tilden by administrators after the school was struck for the second time since April with incidents of vandals scrawling swastikas on desks.
Tilden is among three schools to have been hit by antisemitic incidents in the past week, according to Montgomery County School authorities. The other impacted schools were Wootton High School and Silver Creek Middle School.
“ I think it went very well, I was very pleasantly surprised," Traum said after she met with Tilden students during a session that was closed to the media.
Traum said she emphasized a famous quote from Pastor Martin Neimoller, a German christian who became a Nazi resistor during WWII. The quote recalls the regret faced by individuals who did not speak out about atrocities until it was too late.
“I always emphasize this to the kids," Traum said. "They could be bystanders or they could get involved. Each child, each person, can make a difference.”
Parent Tamar Lechter applauded administrators for inviting Traum.
“The historical meaning of these symbols and why somebody would be upset by it is important," Lechter said. "I think while we still have Holocaust survivors that are alive, it's great to be able to still hear their voices. I feel really lucky that my kid gets to take part in this.”
Some parents say Montgomery County Public Schools should be adding more curriculum content to battle antisemitism.
School authorities and police are still trying to identify who has been scrawling swastikas, promising to hold them accountable. A $5,000 reward has been offered by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
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