Holocaust survivor shares story of resiliency at Tomah High School

Eva Zaret speaking

TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT)– Tomah High School students are learning about the holocaust directly from a survivor. Eva Zaret visited the school Friday afternoon to tell what happened to her family and the message she has to share for others.

Zaret’s visit started with a trip to the library to meet with a group of students in an alternative education program. Tomah High School started the program earlier this year with the goal of teaching subjects in a different way. The students in the program are overcoming adversity and dealing with trauma. That’s exactly why their teacher thought it was important to have Zaret at the school.

Zaret was a child in Budapest, Hungary, during the war. Most of her family members were forced into concentration camps, including the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“They were murdered some of my family murdered. Gassed and burned,” said Zaret, who now lives in the Milwaukee area.

She lived with the few family members who survived in the Budapest ghetto. Zaret recounted seeing people shot to death by the Nazis, babies killed and other unspeakable horrors.

“I saw a lot of horrible things that hatred can do,” Zaret said.

While it may be hard for these students to imagine the extent of what she went through, they may have something in common.

“They’re coming from all different walks of life,” said Rebecca Kennedy, an alternative education teacher at Tomah High School.

Some students in the group, and other students at the school, are struggling with the loss of a parent, substance abuse, or suicide in the family. Kennedy initiated the visit as a way to show others know their pain and so they can learn to overcome despite whatever they’re dealing with.

“Many people come throughout their lives with a lot of trauma and adversity. And there are ways to overcome that trauma and rise above it,” Kennedy said.

For Zaret, that means talking about how hatred breeds hatred. Instead, people need to accept other people’s differences.

“I like to go out and speak to students and tell them to love,” Zaret said.

It could be easy to hold on to anger and the pain of what the Nazis did to her family and millions of others. But she has learned to let go because she is still alive.

“I hold on to the good in life because life is good,” Zaret said.

After speaking about how she was liberated from the ghetto and immigrated to America, a student asked if she thought the experience made her stronger.

“Yes. It made me stronger. And I have a real fighting spirit in me,” Zaret said.

“I feel like that can resonate with a lot of the students here,” said Finn Austin, a junior at Tomah High School.

Austin said Zaret’s message of resiliency goes beyond their differences in experiences.

“To move past your trauma and to make it almost motivation to go on and get better or help other people,” Austin said.

A spirit Zaret hopes to have for the rest of her life, and maybe these students can learn to as well.

The speech was provided completely free of charge through the Holocaust Education Resource Center in Milwaukee. The organization’s speakers bureau brings survivors and their loved ones around the state to tell their stories. More information on how to request a visit can be found on its website at HolocaustCenterMilwaukee.org.